Story by Anne Z. Cooke and photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

It was 6:01 a.m. in Turrialba, Costa Rica when we heard them barking, an insistent “huh-huh-huh-huh” floating through the rain forest canopy and over Pacuare Lodge.   

The luxurious Linda Vista Suites, high up in the rain forest canopy and with screened walls on three sides feels like being outdoors. Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica.

“Howler monkeys,” said Steve, squinting at his watch.  Then a toucan weighed in, two long, raspy “screeches” close to our deck, in the Rio Pacuare Forest Reserve, in eastern Costa Rica’s Barbilla National Park.      

Like much in Costa Rica’s rain forest, the Pacuare Lodge’s “Canopy Adventures” zipline orientation starts up in a tree. Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica.Up in a flash, we grabbed the binoculars and dashed outside, where a chorus of honks, chirps and whistles ushered in the dawn.  

“Shhhh! Steve said, hopefully, peering over the railing into the underbrush. “Listen! Was that a growl?”

Wildlife on parade is a predictable event at most Costa Rican eco-lodges. Coatis, Capuchin monkeys, birds and butterflies lead the early morning walk, followed by sloths, bacillus lizards (Jesus lizards because they “walk” on water) and green frogs. Howler monkeys, tapirs, armadillos and tarantulas bring up the rear. But big cats, ocelots and pumas? Once in a green moon.     

“Jaguars? Maybe, but don’t count on it,” said Travel Planner Alison Carey, three months earlier when she called to talk about our trip. A Latin America specialist with Scott Dunn Personal Journeys, Carey and her colleagues research and book custom, personalized adventures for individual travelers.     

We’d been to Costa Rica before, but just briefly, on a cruise ship stop-over. This time would be different, we agreed. Hence the call to Scott Dunn Personal Journeys, a leader in the growing trend toward custom travel.  

“You’ll like Pacuare Lodge,” said Carey. “It’s on the river, an easy, four-mile raft ride downstream,” she said. “It’s known for wildlife, and wild cats, too, though they’re rarely seen. It’s isolated, but that’s part of the appeal. You know what they say: Costa Rica is one of Central America’s safest countries.” 

Was it? Sporadic upheavals have plagued Central America for decades, from corrupt governments and armed insurrections to civil wars and more recently, drug trafficking. Would Costa Rica be that different?  We were willing to chance it.

A half-hour’s hike from Pacuare Lodge leads to a hidden waterfall.Then our itinerary arrived in the mail, a spiral-bound notebook listing dates, places and our contacts at each, with blank space for notes. The last three nights would be on our own, joining well-heeled friends for a reunion at Villa Manzu, a palatial mansion on the Papagayo Peninsula.

But the question lingered. 

“Is it true? Is Costa Rica Central America’s safest country?” I asked Abel, the Scott Dunn driver who picked us up at the Juan Santamaria International Airport, in San Jose, the capital. 

“We think so,” he said, heading for the Finca Rosa Blanca hotel, north of the city. “It’s because we have no military,” he continued. “The money pays instead for schools, high school and college, and for health care and doctors. And it’s all free,” he said.   

“Of course, there are always people who don’t want to work and are tempted to steal. But most people here have jobs,” he added as we reached the hotel, a restored, 14-suite Spanish Colonial house and coffee plantation, with a pool and a popular open-air restaurant.  

On time for the day’s coffee plantation tour, we expected to hear about sales and marketing.  But the two-hour uphill walk with Naturalist Manolo Munoz was as much about sustainable farming as it was about a good cup of joe. 

Stepping off the trail and among the coffee trees, planted in volcanic soil between banana and poro trees in a mixed-species forest, Munoz explained that “trees add important minerals” to the soil. “A mix of sun and shade grows better “cherries” (coffee beans) than the big commercial farms do,” he said. 

That evening, as the sun slipped between the palm fronds and Miguel, the hotel waiter, came around with menus, I decided to see what he’d say. “Uh, Miguel, why do people say Costa Rica is Central America’s safest country?”

“Because we don’t have an army,” he said.  “After the civil war, in 1949, the government decided that paying for education, hospitals, culture and parks was more important than guns and soldiers.”   

Local police handle regional crime and a national government-supported 70-man team of “commandos,” a trained “security and intervention” group is available for extreme emergencies. But beyond that, no army.

Hike through the grounds at Nayara Springs Resort and get lost in the landscaping, a green with tropical plants and flowers crowding every path, enhancing every pool and flanking every restaurant. Highlighted by fully grown trees, with bushes, flowers and even animals –-large, strange birds and families of sloths – the botanical gardens are what make this luxurious, full-service resort so unique. Most plants are native species; all are identified by a common and scientific name. Nayara Springs Resort, Costa Rica.

And the belief in education, health and environmental awareness seemed to be part of the daily fabric. No wildlife sighting went without an informed talk about Costa Rica’s species, and their adaptation to the country’s 12 climate zones, ranging from sea level to 12,533 feet, atop the volcano Cerro Chirripo. 

This pool is one of four at Nayara Springs Resort. The resort ranked #1 Central American luxury resort in 2016 by Travel & Leisure magazine, has everything: lounge chairs, umbrellas, a swim-up bar, patio dining, in-pool dining, lush landscaping, and on the down-hill side, classic views of Arenal Volcano.Rafting through the Pacuare River’s narrow gorge, paddling down river to Pacuare Lodge, our guide pointed out the differences between the trees along the river gorge and those on the mountain side above, typical howler monkey habitat.  

And the lodge itself, alone on a bend of the river, was equally habitat-conscious.  Self-sustaining (electricity is limited to several hours daily), it manages to be both rustic and luxurious. Candles light both floors of the lodge – the bar upstairs and the dining room and river-side deck downstairs, where the meals were served.

Most bungalows have several screened walls, a smart – and mosquito-free – way to bring the outside in. The oldest bungalows, built along the river, were recently remodeled. The luxury suites, each feeling like a treehouse, are terraced up the mountain.

Every day was busy with discovery hikes, wildlife prowls and visits to the indigenous village nearby. But we managed to fit in an plunge-pool dip and a nap in the  hammock. At each candle-lit dinner, shared with other like-minded guests – the only sound was the river. 

It was a startling contrast, indeed, to our next destination, Nayara Springs Resort, in central Costa Rice, on a paved road near Avenal Volcano National Park. Greeted by a uniformed bell boy, we thought we’d made a wrong turn.

Nayara Springs Resort, near Arenal Volcano National Park, is centrally located for hiking, zip-lining, spelunking and mud bath treatments. Nayara Springs Resort, Costa RicaBut this popular vacation and honeymoon village only masquerades as a sophisticated hotel. Despite its sumptuous suites – elegantly costumed and with its own plunge-pool – Nayara Springs’ swimming pools, shaded patios, bars and pubs, a spa and gym, restaurants and shops, and even guided tours, are tucked away in a shady maze of serpentine paths, each hidden from the next.

A five minute walk beneath the trees – alive with resident birds and 30-odd sloths -- was a stroll in the woods. Two nights wasn’t enough; we left planning to return.  

As our Scott Dunn-planned trip ended, we said goodbye to our driver, Andreas, who dropped us off at our last destination. This was the Villa Manzu, a privately-owned two-story stone mansion on Costa Rica’s northwest coast, flanked by grassy lawns and trees, pools and patios.

This luxurious hideaway, with rooms for up to 22 guests, runs with a staff of 12, including a butler and three chefs. Located on five shaded acres at the end of the road, overlooking the ocean, it guarantees privacy for those with deep pockets: celebrities, tech-company millionaires, movie moguls, industry titans and sports greats. We were lucky to have generous friends among them.   

Because this will be your vacation retreat – for the duration -- everything’s included. This means meals, wine, cocktails, snacks, sports equipment, fishing gear, a car, guides, and as always, Costa Rican hospitality.


River runners rafting to Pacuare Lodge encounter easy Class 2 rapids getting there; and when they leave, heart-pounding class 4 and 5 rapids downstream. Pacuare Lodge, Costa Rica.

Scott Dunn Personal Journeys, a leader in the newest trend in travel, researches, plans and books personalized vacations and adventures to world-wide destinations. Contact them at


Finca Rosa Blanca: double rooms start at $254 per night;

Pacuare Lodge: all-inclusive rates for three nights, for two in a bungalow start at $766; look for discounts.

Nayara Springs Resort: bungalows for two start at $351; look for discounts.  

Villa Manzu: the all-inclusive rate for the entire house is priced per night. Multiple guests, groups or families can share the cost. Call for dates, availability and current prices.

GOING THERE: Fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport, in San Jose. For Villa Manzu, in Guanacaste Province, fly into Liberia Airport. The chauffeur does pickups.  

My bio: Anne Z. Cooke writes about travel and its effect on global warming. Contact her at; or Twitter at @anneontheroad. 

©The Syndicator 2018, Anne Z. Cooke.

Winter Escape to Catalina Island

By Carole Jacobs

Located just 22 miles from Long Beach on the Southern California mainland, Catalina Island is technically part of LA County – but it’s no chip off the old block. The minute we stepped on the Catalina Express in Long Beach for the hour-long voyage to the isle, we left behind the grit, grime and gridlock of LA, skidding across a sea of glass as the city skyline receded into the soupy smog. 

In 45 minutes, a rocky, mountainous mirage appeared on the horizon. Sparkling beaches lapped by cerulean seas ringed around a toy-sized isle just 22 miles long and eight miles wide at its widest. In less time than it’d taken to polish off a drink from the ferry’s cocktail bar, we’d gone from 21st century LA to Shangri-La.

As the ferry pulled into Avalon Harbor, I trained my binocs on the vista ahead: Crowding the horizon was the quaint city of Avalon, Catalina’s only incorporated burb with 4,000 souls and still as charming as the day it was born in 1887. 

From a distance, the city resembled a life-size wedding cake, its multiple tiers spilling down steep slopes before surrendering to the Pacific.  But up closer, Avalon looked like it had dropped from a Victorian storybook. Turn-of-the-century mansions peeked from sagebrush hillsides, crayon-colored gingerbread houses and craftsman-style cottages marched down the steep residential slopes and the seaside promenade was chockablock with cafes, candy stores, boutiques, toy stores and seafood eateries that served spiny lobster hauled from the Pacific 10 minutes ago.

Escape from the snow

Less than five hours ago, we had fled the dead of winter in the high-and-dry Eastern Sierra, having decided to seize the op to fast-forward to spring via Catalina Island’s “Best of Winter” packages. The joint offering by Catalina Express and Paradise Hotel Partners included a 60 percent weekday discounts on lodging at our pick of Avalon’s 20 landmark hotels, free ferry transport to and from Catalina, complimentary breakfast, afternoon wine-and-cheese, and free entry to island festivities galore, including First Fridays at the Catalina Island Museum and An Evening with Oscar at Avalon’s world-famous Casino.

We settled in at the Avalon Hotel, a 15-room icon of early California architecture located on a quiet side street just steps from the Crescent Street pedestrian mall. Our gorgeous room threatened to hold us captive with its deep soaking tub, designer bed and furnishings and a private balcony overlooking the harbor. But hunger intervened, so we reluctantly left our cushy crash pad behind for the real world beyond.

A few blocks away, we nabbed a window table at the unimposing Lobster Shack for a just-caught seafood feast courtesy of owner/commercial fisherman Caleb Lins, who plies the waters in his 40-foot boat, Money Matters, for spiny lobster, local white sea bass, yellowtail and sand dabs.

Back at the hotel, we headed up to the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of the twinkling harbor and capped the night with a glass of wine courtesy of the hotel.

Morning on the ropes

We awoke to sun flooding through our balcony windows and the smell of breakfast on the hotel’s garden patio, complete with a koi pond, fountain and fire pit. After fueling up on organic coffee, fresh-squeeze OJ, yogurt, granola and homemade muffins, we followed the oceanfront pedestrian walkway past decorative pavers, fountains, palm trees and the Casino to Descanso Beach Resort, Catalina’ hip-and-happening luxury beach resort.  Here you can lodge in an open-air cabana, dine at the beachfront resort and bar, get a massage in the spa cabana and enjoy the ultimate moonlight rush, the “Night Zip,” which ziplines you from the mountains to the sea through a rugged canyon at speeds approaching 45 miles per hour.

We decided to brave the resort’s Catalina Aerial Adventure, an extensive ropes courses suspended in a grove of towering eucalyptus where you can swing, Tarzan-style, from tree to tree on a challenging series of rope ladders, log bridges, balance beams and zip lines tucked in deep forests. Just looking at it made me tired, and after our “swinging adventure” we were almost too pooped to think about doing lunch down at the beach club.

Almost. The shrimp and artichoke quesadillas, beer-battered onion rings and a “Buffalo Milk.” Named after the island’s wild and wooly critters, it’s a milkshake made with regular milk, not buffalo, and fortified with four kinds of booze. A few sips more than revived us for the afternoon’s outings, although the walk back to the hotel remains a complete blank.

On top of Mt. Ada

Cars are a rarity on the 76-square-mile island and there’s currently a 14-year waiting list for locals, so nearly everyone gets around by golf cart.  Before renting one, we decided to take a nap to snooze off the booze, although even pedal to the metal, the golf cart went no faster than we could walk.

We took a back road up, up, up, following the sound of chimes to a long, vertical staircase. After climbing hundreds of steps, we arrived at the Chimes Tower, perched high above the sea. Built in 1925, the chimes have been tolling on the quarter hour ever since.

Back in the cart, it was a short hop over to the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, a Hopi Indian-style oasis sprawled across a cactus-covered hillside. The late author penned many of his Westerns here.

It was a nearly vertical drive up to the Inn on Mt. Ada, the white colonial palace I had glimpsed from the ferry landing. The mansion turned out to be the former home of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who purchased a controlling interest in the island in 1919 (his baseball team, the Chicago Clubs, needed a warm place for spring training). He chose the setting for his new home (named after his wife, Ada) because it received first sunlight in the morning and the last rays at sunset. During his time on the isle, Wrigley spent millions developing and preserving the island, purchased two steamships to transport tourists to the island and built the world-famous Casino.

We toured the gracious living and dining rooms and, in a vain attempt to pass ourselves off as hotel guests (the hotel costs $700 a night), hit the sundeck to watch the mist rise from the mountains and darken the sea below. As the wind picked up, the yachts and sailboats anchored in the harbor rocked in unison and I got seasick just watching them.

A starched waiter approached us and explained that “prospective guests” were welcome to have breakfast or lunch at the hotel (and for a price that wasn’t much higher than the food at Denny’s). Alas, we only had the cart for another hour and the prospect of doing that climb on foot was less than appetizing.

Crowning glory of Avalon

We spent the next hour exploring the Botanic Gardens, located at the summit of Avalon and home to the 37-acre Wrigley Memorial Garden, showcasing endemic plants that grow naturally on one or more of the California islands, but nowhere else in the world.  

Back down on the waterfront, we returned the cart and walked over to Lloyds of Avalon, Catalina’s favorite candy store, for a sugar fix. Torn between the homemade salt water taffy, peanut brittle and fudge, we finally decided to splurge on a box of handcrafted buttercreams.

Night on the town

Gourmet restaurants of every stripe line the Avalon waterfront, where the intimate side streets and cobblestone walkways almost make you feel like you’ve been transported to Paris’ French Quarter.  We started with killer margaritas at Maggie Blue Rose, an authentic Mexican restaurant, then headed to Ristorante Villa Portofino, an authentic Italian restaurant with white-linen service overlooking the harbor and casino where two small plates of linguine with capers and halibut set us back nearly $50.

 “Welcome to island sticker shock,” our waiter said. “They have to bring everything in.”

Hubby was hot to recoup some of our losses, so we followed the waterfront promenade to the Catalina Casino, where we were surprised to discover it wasn’t a gambling hall at all but an ornate, art-deco theater, ballroom and concert hall with rose-hued walls, black art deco reliefs and a 50-foot ceiling from which hung not one but five Tiffany chandeliers. There was a green room that had been used by Errol Flynn and Cary Grant, a stage where Benny Goodman played before adoring fans and an editing room where Cecil B. DeMille viewed the rushes of the days’ movie shoots.

The Casino also housed the Avalon Theater, one of the nation’s first art deco movie houses built in 1929 to embrace the advent of talking motion pictures. Adorned with murals designed and painted by John Gabriel Backman of Mann’s Chinese Theater fame, art deco furnishings and lighting fixtures and the historic Page Pipe Organ, the historic stunner features golden oldies as well as first-run Hollywood flicks.

Morning at the museum

The following morning, we walked up to the beautiful Catalina Island Museum, a 60-plus-year-old museum once located at the Casino and now occupying the new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building on a side street above town. We wandered through a fascinating exhibit that traced the history of Catalina from the Native Americans who inhabited the isle 8,000 years ago to Hollywood’s more recent mark on the island. The early 1900s was a golden age for Catalina when movie stars flocked to the island to chill and escape their fans. Charlie Chaplin fished off his boat, Winston Churchill famously caught a marlin in 20 minutes and John Wayne threw quarters to the kids, who would dive into the water to retrieve them.

Other fascinating exhibits included 100 years of Catalina advertising design and the work of José Guadalupe Posada, Mexico’s legendary printmaker. The museum also hosts music and dance performances, lectures by guest speakers from the world over, and the finest in silent, documentary and international film.

Goodbye to Catalina

With a half hour to spare before catching the ferry, we raced through town taking keepsake photos. It had rained that morning, and Catalina was luminous under a just-scrubbed sky.

We caught the ferry with five minutes to spare. As we sailed back to LA, we congratulated ourselves on having finally (after living in Southern California for 40 years) found the time to cross the water and get a glimpse of Catalina.

And a glimpse is all it had been: Unlike many beach towns in the U.S., Catalina doesn’t shutter down during the winter. And while Catalina is a wee isle, in 48 hours we had barely scratched the surface.

On a cocktail napkin from the ferry’s snack bar, we listed all the things we’d wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our visit. There’d been no time to take the night tour of Avalon to see the distant glow of city lights; no time to spy on the fish on the glass bottom boat tour; no time to board a fast boat and chase dolphins and sea lions; no time to hike the early 19th century stagecoach route across Catalina’s pristine wilds; no time to jeep across the East End wilderness and wave at the buffalo; no time to hike through the unspoiled beauty of Cape Canyon – and not a spare minute to snorkel Lover’s Cove, parasail over Avalon Harbor or get a massage at the Island Spa Catalina.

Hubby said the only solution was to come back. “And this time, let’s not wait another 40 years!”


Information: Catalina Island Company,; Catalina Express, www.Catalina; Avalon Hotel,; Lobster Trap,; Descanso Beach Club,; Catalina Island Casino,; Catalina Golf Cart Rentals,; Lloyd’s of Catalina, www.catalinacandy.comCatalina Island Museum,; Catalina Chamber,


By Nancy Clark

Spencer Penrose and his wife Julie pinned their intentions on The Broadmoor, spending $2 million (equivalent to $32,539,823 in 2017) building the resort when it opened in 1918.

Pinning in general became a Post-WWII ritual signifying a couple’s eventual engagement and later marriage. It said, “She’s mine.”  

At Play at the Broadmoor, my family got “pinned” in January in a weekend-long celebration of someone’s 65th birthday (I’m not telling whose.) By my experience, bowling is the ultimate way to engage an extended family fresh off the highway, particularly the youngsters who have been patient car passengers. Best yet, Play offers bowling shoes for the littles (and, of course, adults) plus balls of varying weights so no one is schlepping more than necessary while on vacay. Bowling, after all, is a surprisingly inclusive sport.

Reserve ahead to get a private lane in Play. Or you can reserve a table to dine before or after your session on the lane. The menu at Play…well, I can pin my palate to that. Call it Comfort Food or Retro fare. Refreshing beverages appeal to all ages: CAKE BATTER $6.75 Just like mom used to make! and Shaved Ice—the original summertime Americana thirst quencher. Build Your Own Burger, Spirits & Playful Adult Cocktails, Wood Fired Oven Flatbread (read: Pepperoni & Cheese Pizza New York Style). No complaints here.

When couples get pinned, they often declare their song, one that means something to them in particular. Maybe it’s the song playing when they first exchange glances. Maybe it’s the music playing in the background when the first of the two declare their affection for the other.  To honor our Clark Convention, we wanted an everlasting reminder…a photograph of all 10 of us.

Photo by

Photographer Becky Kercher has earned her pixels as Best of the Knot Winner 2013, Wedding Wire
Bride's Choice Winner 2009 & 2010, Best of Colorado Springs Winners, Photographer: 2007 & 2008 Colorado Springs Independent Newspaper.

She quotes Lewis Wickes Hine, American sociologist and photographer in the late 1800s and first four decades of the 1900s: “If I could say it in words, then I wouldn’t need to photograph.”

She adds, “No truer words could be spoken in my case.” She was given a camera at age 13 and hasn’t put it down since. She formed Black Forest Photography in 1999 and strives to capture a moment that tells the store. She’s one of the handful of photographers allowed on the Broadmoor property and managed to capture all 10 of our group in Play. It’s the single photo each group in our entourage shares as a reminder of this special weekend.

We didn’t keep score in our 1.5 hours on the lane. Instead our appetites and souls were filled with hugs and bowling misses. Play offers a bowling ball ramp so that even the kids can push a ball from the top of the ramp that has enough power to reach the pins. The satisfied grin on the face of the three year old in our group was, to use an overworked word, priceless when his bowling ball edged oh-so-slowly toward 10 standing pins, veering right and taking out three. It was a victory no matter what the math said.

The Broadmoor has dozens of events and activities for couples, singles, families and groups. Reserve ahead at Play and fall in love with family time all over again.

Five Easy Highs in Colorado

By Rich Grant

Locals are obsessed with climbing one of Colorado’s 54 peaks that soar to 14,000 feet, or standing exactly a mile above sea level on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver or crossing the Continental Divide, the ragged mountain line that divides the state in two.  If you’re in Colorado, you’ll just want to get high. Here are five easy ways to do it.

  1. Enjoy the Rooftop with a View.  People in the Mile High City love to live outdoors, so there are 46 outdoor cafes on just the 16th Street Mall and more than a dozen rooftop bars in downtown Denver alone.  But the only one big enough to actually call itself “The Rooftop,” is the massive 38,000-square-foot pleasure dome on the top of Coors Field.   Although it’s only open when the Colorado Rockies are playing, you don’t need a ticket to the baseball game to go to the bar.  You can purchase a $14 access ticket that lets you go anywhere in the stadium, except to a seat.  You can circle the playing field, wandering past food booths selling ice cream dots, corn dogs and buffalo burgers, or head to the Rooftop, where there are cabanas, outdoor fire pits, deluxe food stations and two levels of balconies offering spectacular (but standing!) views of the ballgame and the sunset over the Rocky Mountains.  Best of all?  Your access ticket is a credit for $6 at any food station.    And just to make sure you know you’re in Denver, look for a giant purple “5280” floating on a girder above the cabanas.  The girder is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level.  One mile high. And for the record, the bar down below is 52 feet 80 inches long.
  2. Drive up Mountain Evans.!ut/p/z0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPyBcqYKBfkO2oCABZcx5g/?position=Not%20Yet%20Determined.Html&pname=Arapaho&ss=110210&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&pnavid=null&navid=170000000000000&ttype=detail&cid=fsm91_058388  The 60-mile road trip from Denver to the 14,260-foot summit of Mount Evans passes through five climate zones as you snake and zig-zag your way to the highest spot reached by any paved road in North America.  It’s insane.  The road has no guardrails, and there are more than a dozen spots where a miscalculation on a turn would be unforgiving.  But the views make up for that.  You’ll almost certainly see a herd of Rocky Mountain goats that live here.  You’ll pass through a forest of Bristlecone pines – 2,000-year-old trees, bent and gnarled by the wind that are among the oldest living things on earth.  It can snow at any time (the road is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day because of snowfall), and even on a nice day, the temperature drops 3 degrees for every 1,000 feet elevation gain, so it will be 24 degrees colder here than in Denver.  Bring a jacket and some nerve, but leave the carbonated beverages at home. They don’t do well in your stomach with the elevation gains.
  3. Climb the continent’s highest sand dunes.   Alright, this one’s not so easy.  There are 26 square miles of sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and no trails.  You just take off your shoes, wade across shallow Medano Creek, and have at it anywhere you want in this gigantic pile of sand.  The highest dune is 750 feet above the valley floor.  The challenge is that for every step you take up, you slide three-quarters of the way back.  The pure physics of the sand says that it can’t be piled at an angle steeper than 34 degrees.  Seventy percent of the grains of sand are the width of a human hair; stacked any steeper than 34 degrees, and they simply give way to gravity and cascade down.  And so will you.  But it’s fantastic to get over the first ridge and be in valley like Lawrence of Arabia, completely surrounded by sand mountains.  You can get specially designed sandboards and sand sleds at the Oasis store just outside the park. The sleds work (unlike cardboard which has too much friction) and they let you slide down the dunes.  But don’t forget you have to walk back up.
  4. Ride a Free Gondola in Telluride.    The Telluride Gondola just celebrated its 21th year as the most unique transportation system in North America, and it is especially good in summer and fall.  There are three gondolas that take you from center of Telluride to Mountain Village Center at 10,500 feet, and then on to Town Hall Plaza.  And they’re all free.  You can hop on at sunrise (they start at 6:30 a.m.) or take a sunset ride.  They lead to mid-mountain hiking and biking trails, or to bars and restaurants in the modern developments. The gondolas are even pet friendly.  But the ride is the thing.  Especially at night, when the steep gondola slides silently down into the twinkling lights of Telluride village below, one of the most scenic of all Colorado mountain towns.  It’s possibly the best free 13-minute, 8-mile ride in the world.
  5. Climb Aboard the Summit County Stage  This incredible network of free buses makes it possible to stay anywhere in Summit County, CO, without a car and easily get from Breckenridge to Boreas Pass, Keystone, Frisco, Copper Mountain or Silverthorne.  Rent a bike, travel around on paved off-street bike trails linking the resort towns, and throw the bike on the bus when you’re tired of pedaling.    The Stage carries 1.9 million passengers a year.  Here’s some of the destinations:
  •   This historic old gold mining town is now a living Christmas calendar with horse drawn carriages, bars, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, outdoor cafes and shops, all painted a kaleidoscope of colors.   A stream flows through the village and you can take a free gondola from town to the lifts.
  •  Another mining town lined with colorful buildings and flower baskets, Frisco is a pretty little village on the edge of Lake Dillon.  There’s no skiing here, but there is a tubing hill, a marina with kayaking and sailing and a wonderful paved 9-mile bike trail to Breckenridge.

Copper Mountain:  Bike here from Frisco beside a stream in summer, or ride the Stage in winter to this modern ski resort which has all the amenities, including what many say is the most perfect ski mountain in Colorado, divided equally into expert, intermediate and easy terrain.

Silverthorne:  There are more than 50 brand outlet stores here, in a wonderful riverside setting connected by bridges.

  •   The original Dillon is now buried at the bottom of the reservoir, but the new town has a marina, restaurants and thrilling views of the lake with the Ten Mile Range in the distance.   Bike trails circle the reservoir, but beware of those hills!

And of course, there be another reason that Colorado’s state song is “Rocky Mountain High.”  It was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana and today there more than 500 dispensaries in Colorado selling joints, marijuana laced cookies, candies – even ice cream.  But don’t smoke and drive.  It’s a heavily enforced law with penalties as stiff as drunk driving.


By Pamela McKuen

Waterparks are for kids, right? I mean, all those slides and chutes and tubes and stuff. All that splish-splashing around and loud shrieking noises. All that wetness.

Photo By Schlitterbahn

Such was my thinking before I was invited to spend a couple of days at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels, Texas. I hadn’t been to a waterpark in, well, ever, and I wasn’t so sure about this one. I didn’t have children or grandchildren to oversee, so I failed to see the point. But I agreed and focused my diva tendencies on what to wear (more about that later).

Photos by Pamela McKuenAny doubts evaporated like dewdrops soon after my arrival. Our first activity was a Boogie Bahn lesson. Boogie Bahn is the world’s first surfing ride, and it was developed by the creative minds at Schlitterbahn. You lie stomach-down on a bodyboard and slide headlong into a humongous wave rushing toward you.

The idea, of course, is to not fall off, but also to ride the wave’s rhythm and force as long as you can. When you get good, you can spin round and round, hands-free, kneeling, maybe even standing, without wiping out. I didn’t get good, but I laughed myself silly trying.

At whatever age, “your inner 7-year-old comes out with the first splash,” says Winter Prosapio, Schlitterbahn’s corporate director of communications and government relations, who guided me around the park one afternoon.

Schlitterbahn New Braunfels is a family-owned waterpark in South-Central Texas with 51 attractions and rides on 70-plus wooded acres flanking the spring-fed Comal River. It is the first and flagship operation in the Schlitterbahn portfolio of waterparks. (“Schlitterbahn” is an amalgam of the German words for “slippery” and “road.)

For 20 years running, the New Braunfels site has been named the World’s Best Waterpark by “Amusement Today,” the industry publication that sponsors the annual Golden Ticket Awards.

Photo by Pamela McKuen

“We see college kids and grown-ups without kids all the time,” Winter says. “People don’t really outgrow us, mostly because there really is something for every age: rivers, floats, wild and mild.”

She continues: Schlitterbahn is a choice destination for girlfriend getaways, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and honeymoons. Recently, 16 novelists gathered for a writers’ retreat. Bavarian Halle, an onsite venue that offers catering and a bridal consultant, welcomes weddings, reunions and other gatherings.

The property has been a leisure destination for more than 50 years. In 1966, the Bob and Billye Henry family moved to New Braunfels to take over a small riverside resort. Initially, they added waterslides as a guest amenity. One thing led to another, and by the 1990s, the re-named Schlitterbahn had grown to hundreds of guest rooms and miles of inner-tube chutes. The family continues to invest not only in frolic but also in environmental sustainability and innovative water-conservation features. They also developed Schlitterbahn waterparks in South Padre Island, Galveston and Corpus Christi in Texas and Kansas City, Kansas.

Photo by Pamela McKuen

But enough talking. After our turns on the Boogie Bahn, we headed to Dragon’s Revenge--the first uphill water roller-coaster. Two-person inflatable rafts shoot along an undulating course, through pitch-black tubes, fiery holograms and dragon-ish roars before gliding to a soft finish.

Then on to the Master Blaster, another uphill water-coaster, which takes off from the top of a 60-foot wooden tower. Sorry, no elevator. No gentle initiation, either. Your raft immediately plunges three stories, followed by a twisting tunnel and a freaky pretzel-shaped downward spiral.

After those two breath-stopping rides, I was ready to experience water closer to ground level. The Falls is a 3,600-foot-long manmade river and a no-wait attraction. Slip into an inner tube, and let the current take you through a circuit of alternating fast- and slow-moving water for an endless float. Sweet!

During the remainder of the visit, I experienced more adventurous thrills. I also found plenty of ways to relax: sandy beaches, heated pools, swim-up bars, and cabanas equipped with cushioned furniture, refrigerators, televisions and ceiling fans. Some have barbecue grills.

Photo By Schlitterbahn

So here’s my final take: I splished and splashed, and got really, really wet. I let out a few shrieking noises. And the experience was pure joy. Maybe it was a good thing not to have children along. I have my own little kid inside of me, and she happily got to do everything she wanted.


You don’t have to overnight at Schlitterbahn, but there are great deals if you do. Room rates include waterpark admission and extended hours for registered guests. A variety of room types are available, ranging from value-driven hotel rooms to luxury suites and from romantic cabins to crowd-pleasing vacation homes. Parking is free.

My stay was at the upscale SchlitterStein Lofts, a short complimentary tram jaunt from the park. The lofts feature two bedrooms, a full kitchen with laundry, greatroom for dining and lounging, and a balcony overlooking tubers float down the Comal River. In the gorgeously tiled master bath are a glass-enclosed shower and a corner whirlpool tub, both sized for two. Both baths were amply stocked with Spa Therapy-branded toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames.

Photo By Schlitterbahn

The Riverbend Cabins are located footsteps from Blastenhoff Beach and the Master Blaster water ride. The Treehaus Luxury Suites, lavished in rustic woods and modern conveniences, sell out every year, so reserve early.


Tasty and affordable food and beverage options, including beer and wine, are offered at more than 25 locations throughout the waterpark. Park chefs smoke the barbecue and hand-stretch the pizza dough. Menus list burgers, chicken and turkey, wraps, tacos, salads, funnel cakes and ice cream treats. You can bring your own picnic fare, but no glass or alcohol.

The flavors continue in the town of New Braunfels, where you’ll find steakhouses, ethnic eateries, barbecue joints, pizzarias, sandwich shops and taverns.


Consideration of a waterpark adventure is sure to raise questions of apparel, especially for women of a certain age. Like me. Here’s a bit of advice:

“If you have body issues, come to Schlitterbahn,” Winter says. “Honestly, after a few minutes, you just don’t notice what anyone is wearing, and they don’t notice you, either.”

A Boomer who happily dives into the water with her guests, Winter prefers a one-piece bathing suit with a skirt. That would have been a better choice than my board shorts and tankini top. Rushing water on the roller coasters pulled my shorts downward, necessitating an awkward yank before I stood up after each ride.

Photo By Schlitterbahn

“The most important thing is to wear some sort of water shoe,” Winter says.

You’ll also want a hat and a waterproof protector for your cell phone. Get one that loops over your head, so you don’t drop it in the water.


Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort

400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels, TX 78130


Open during spring break and most weekends starting March 10 until September 16, 2018. Daily May 11, 2018 through August 26, 2018. Hours vary by date.


By Jessica Dixon

Indian Hot Springs entranceFor Denverites, Idaho Springs represents a symbolic marker on your way to or from the ski resorts. On your drive west from Denver, it ushers you into the mountains proper. Going east, signs for Idaho Springs often signal a break in the I-70 traffic.

An easy drive from Denver, Idaho Springs is more than a pit stop for gas en route to somewhere else: it’s the perfect evening getaway.

This winter, my city-weary friend and I decided, like so many before us, to go west in search of adventure. We took I-70 into the mountains, and in less than 40 minutes, we reached Indian Hot Springs.

Ute and Arapahoe people had long considered these hot springs sacred, and they deemed the healing waters neutral territory. In the 1850s, miners encountered the hot springs in their search for gold – by the 1860s, Harrison Montague owned the property where the Indian Hot Springs Resort now sits, and he built the gazebo that still stands in the indoor swimming area.

Indian Hot Springs GazeboThe resort offers options (at varying prices) for following the footsteps of one-time bathers Jesse James and Walt Whitman: indoor private baths, outdoor Jacuzzi tubs, and geothermal caves carved into the rocky mountainside.

For $20 per person, we chose to experience these famed healing mineral waters in the main swimming area. There are small, recently remodeled changing rooms with lockers – you can purchase tokens at the front desk, which activate the locks. You can rent a towel, but if you’d like a full-size beach towel, bring your own. Flip-flops are handy as you venture down the damp hallway from the locker room to the doors to the swimming area. Passing through them to the pool is like passing through a portal to another time.

The large pool sits under a translucent dome, and tropical plants grow throughout the building, breathing the warm, humid air alongside bathers. Coming from Colorado’s dry climate, it was a unique experience to find ourselves in the tropics. We eased into the warm water, which averages 96 degrees and is replenished by 115-degree mineral water. Those who prefer hotter temperatures (and a quieter atmosphere – the main pool is family-friendly and can get boisterous) might try the geothermal caves, where water can reach 112.

We settled into a corner of the pool in time to watch the sun set. When we had arrived, the pool area was bright, and as the sun slid behind the horizon, we watched the light change through the translucent ceiling. We felt like we had stumbled upon a secret world, with cold drips of condensation singing their rhythm as they dropped off lush plant leaves and the dome above us.

Inside the BuffaloFeeling our spirits refreshed, we reluctantly left the pool, hoping to take our new-found relaxation with us. After a quick rinse in the locker room showers, we bundled up to brave the outdoors as we hurried to the car.

We continued to The Buffalo, a historic restaurant that was recently remodeled, for dinner. The renovation preserved some of The Buffalo’s iconic décor, including the original bar, built in Chicago in the 1880s, adding to the western-chic vibe. The restaurant now adjoins Westbound & Down, the brewery next door, where they brew generously hoppy beers using Colorado snowmelt and rain run-off.

We perched at the full-service bar for – what else – buffalo burgers, accompanied by a heaping cup of shoestring fries, warm and just crisp. The handmade cocktails were too intriguing to resist; my Spring Honey Mule was sweet and tart and served in a copper mug, and my friend’s drink tasted more of tequila than I like, except on very special occasions. Thankfully, we both preferred our own selections.

The BuffaloSatisfied in body and soul, we drove back to Denver. We are already planning our next getaway – the geothermal caves are calling.

Indian Hot Springs:

302 Soda Creek Road, Idaho Springs

The Buffalo:

1617 Miner Street, Idaho Springs

Lajitas Golf Resort

By David R. Holland


It was once called golf's ultimate hideout. Today, Black Jack's Crossing Golf Course is simply Texas' No. 1 ranked public golf experience.

Dive downward is a theme all day – that's what happens to your golf ball when you reach the elevated tee box of par-3, 167-yard 13th. 

PGA Tour Hall of Famer and designer Lanny Wadkins said the word is “wow”.

Scan a vista that reaches miles past the Rio Grande River into Mexico, hit pause, linger and recall the rich history. And on most days you can reload a few times.

The hole is a blast to play for one, and historically this is a place where Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing commanded a U.S. Cavalry Post when Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries threatened settlers in far West Texas. "Crossing" comes from Pershing chasing the bandito and his men back across the river.

Black Jack never caught Pancho.


Lajitas, meaning “little flat rocks” is also a place where Comanches camped out, staging raids into Mexico along the Rio Grande River for horses and silver. And it became part of the pony path named The Great Comanche War Trail.

And now this vast land is home to Texas' No. 1 public golf course (7,413 yards) and Lajitas Resort & Spa in the massive Big Bend country of far West Texas. This is also home to the rugged Chihuahuan Desert, Chisos Mountains and Big Bend National Park.

To say Wadkins designed a winner is oversimplification.

This is definitely a crescendo golf experience. You finish one beautiful hole and you climb to the next elevated tee. "There’s no golf course like this in Texas and no land like this in Texas with the incredible Big Bend scenery and great golf challenges," Wadkins said.

Just for grins I picked the back tee of the extreme elevated tee par-5 eighth, 649 yards, and attempted to bomb one 200 feet down to the fairway. With dormant grass scooting as fast as a stimp meter at Augusta I hit one as square as I could. Slight draw -- I pushed the button on my GPS and headed downhill.  When I rolled up to my ball the screen read 305.

Oh, yeah. I love this golf course.


Perhaps the most handsome hole, however, is the 14th, which displays the Rio Grande River beyond the green and rolls out 406 yards from yet another elevated tee box.

For all the beauty, however, the No. 1 handicap hole will slap you upside the head.  No. 7, a 444-yard, par 4 has an approach over water that presents itself like a stair-stepping stone river bed with collection area that continues past the hole down into a creek bed cart path heading to the next hole.

The green is sloped and slanted from front to back toward the water and if you go over the green a double bogey is the norm. When you start driving to the eighth stop and put your hand in the water – it is a hot spring that was redirected to present the water feature.

Wadkins selected paspalum turf, one developed to withstand seaside salt and extreme conditions.  At an elevation of 2,200 feet, the temperature is a perfect 70 most off-season days, but for summer you might have plenty of 100-degree days. Don’t worry there’s plenty of water stations and GPS on the carts.

A huge driving range waits for those who like to practice along with putting green and short-game workers.

No matter what time of year you come here the golf is entertaining and the resort experience is like visiting another era.

A little more history of Lajitas Golf Resort and olden days


The history doesn’t stop with the old trading post pro shop (with bullet holes in the walls), the next door Longhorn Museum, and it didn't stop with the old barracks turned into lodging, or a beer-drinking goat named Clay Henry who was once the honorary town mayor.

Eighteen-hole golf came here in 2006 when designers Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell of Austin opened The Ambush at Lajitas.  It was a fun layout, mainly laid out in the Rio Grande's flood plain with a novelty par-3 hole where you hit over the river in to Mexico to a funneled hole location (with no retrieval of your golf ball).

But disaster stuck in 2008 with a 100-year flood event that destroyed the golf course. Enter Wadkins and a new history emerged.

Lajitas Golf Resort: Away from the golf course


If you are the kind of traveler who likes to venture into the boondocks this is the resort for you.  There's 27,000 acres of solitude, natural beauty, rugged desert and starry skies.

The resort offers a 5-stand sporting clay shoot, cowboy action shoot, Equestrian Center for family horseback rides, zip line, mountain biking, river tours, and guided hunt for native Aoudad sheep.

For those who want a more relaxing experience, guests can enjoy a massage at the Agave Spa, relax by the swimming pool, watch a movie at the Flat Rock Theatre, or enjoy the quiet of Big Bend.

Dining includes the Candelilla Café, Thirsty Goat Saloon, Licha's Bakery and General Store Deli for sandwiches.   Candelilla Café has the most extensive offerings including breakfast, lunch and dinner with prime cut steaks, chicken, seafood and a selection of signature side dishes. Choose from creative selections such as Queso con Rajas, Fajitas, or a tasty filet. It also offers an interesting twist on traditional Tex-Mex cuisine.

Old-West Lodging


At Lajitas Golf Resort every room has a distinctive charm. Together the Cavalry Post, La Cuesta, Badlands Hotel, Officer's Quarters and the Boardwalk Condos offer 101 rooms with individual charm. Each features a unique theme and décor designed to transport visitors back to the days of the Old West. My Officer's Quarters room looked over the golf course.

Weddings are special here and company meetings are also offered for a working getaway.

What else? Maverick Ranch RV Park at Lajitas Golf Resort opens you to all the amenities of the resort and you can also visit on charter flights are also available into Lajitas International Airport.  From Dallas Love Field you can sign up for a getaway that includes two nights, three days with airfare, double room accommodations and three rounds of golf. They also service Houston, Midland/Odessa, San Antonio and Austin by demand for groups of eight or more.

Whether you have the time to make the drive (it is 588 miles from Dallas) for a short visit you will not regret putting Black Jack's Crossing Golf Course on your bucket list.


By Yvette Cardozo


I was tired. The snow had devolved into slick slush and it was snowing and foggy. I caught an edge and before I knew it, I was on my back, one ski released, the other leg bent awkwardly. A few more turns on the trail and I would have been within sight of the lodge.

A ski cliché if there ever was one.

My ski buddy got my left ski off. I was sure that was the injury but knew enough not to try and stand. So we called the patrol. They came, strapped me into a toboggan, and down we went.

Me, head first, on my back. If I could have gotten to my cell phone, I would have videoed the trip down. The view was like being in a soupy blender.

At the lodge, we got my boots off and decided the injury was to my right ankle...probably a bad sprain. I went home, actually driving myself. And went to a business event in downtown Seattle that night. Driving. In the rain. I still thought it was just a sprain.

Two days later, I gave up and went to a doctor. Indeed, it was not a sprain. It was a break. He called it a distal fracture. All these years skiing, all the crashes, and I had never broken anything before. And this was an ankle. I didn’t know that was even possible with modern ski boot tech. Ankle breaks are the stuff of 1950’s ski lodge pictures...a guy in front of the fireplace with his leg in a cast, resting on a pillow.

I had just left a message for my boot fitter days before, saying my boots were getting loose. He came back into town and said, yup. And also, yup, you certainly can break an ankle today skiing. He’s got three pins and a plate in his ankle to prove it. 

The good news is I’m not in a cast, not on crutches, didn’t need surgery. I’m just wearing a medical boot (I’ve named it Igor) for six weeks. The bad ski season was over three days after it began.

Yeah, at age 73 I don’t bounce like I used to. And yeah, I’m grateful it wasn’t a knee. Ankles heal. Knees are another matter.

I canceled one ski trip but am doing another where I will be writing about all kinds of non-ski activities and trying out something called a “snow limo” that gets non-skiers up on the hill, and also down, via a run at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia, Canada.

So there are a few lessons here.

1. Don’t get sloppy about your gear. If you think your boots need re-fitting or your bindings need a check or your skis need tuning, do it NOW.

2. If you just want to do “one more run” and you are really tired...DON’T.

3. Don’t assume you know what the injury is but if it’s swollen and getting black and blue, it may very well be a break. GET AN XRAY. SEE A DOCTOR.

4. And don’t grind your teeth too much. Get back into the gym or on your bike or walking or whatever when you can and get back into shape.


Sun Peaks -

Big White -


Story by Anne Z. Cooke and Photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

Ranking Blachford Lake Lodge has never been easy. 

Creative, rustic, “one man’s folly,” and gold-star luxury are just a few of the adjectives that befuddled lodging associations have applied to this remarkable eco-lodge, deep in the heart of Canada’s Northwest Territories. And it’s that last adjective -- luxury – that misses the mark.

The winter sun on the eastern horizon greets early risers at Blachford Lake Lodge, Canada’s Northwest Territories.

Yet it’s just how repeat guests -- travelers who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid -- describe this deliciously inviting hilltop oasis. It’s certainly not London luxury, according to English artist Diana Pullman, on her second day at the lodge.

The lounge, plus dining room, bar, library corner, sofas and wood stoves, makes a single gathering place.“The difference is we’re in the wilderness here, off the grid,” she said, knocking the snow off her boots. “Log lodges don’t need Persian rugs and gold-framed paintings to be special,” she pointed out, curling up next to the wood stove, where we were drying our socks.   

“Just look at these timbers, they’re classic log cabin,” she said, gesturing at the peeled massive beams, the unfinished pine paneling and the plywood floors, painted an unobtrusive dark-maroon. ”The open-space design, high ceilings, big windows, light from all angles. It’s contemporary. Get the basics right – great food and good beds – and you don’t need frills.”

Flying on a ski-plane from Yellowknife and landing on the frozen lake, we were greeted by a snowmobiler hauling a sled. Beyond him came the welcome committee, a half-dozen smiling Gen Y guides swaddled in thick jackets and wool hats, young adults who bustled about, sorting the luggage and checking our names off a list.

Volunteers hired for two-month stints from a half-dozen foreign countries, they were as eager as we were to be there, experiencing a true sub-arctic winter. They weren’t what I expected, but it was impossible to ignore their enthusiasm and energy, talking all the way as they escorted us up the hill.

“Here, let me carry your backpack,” said Adrian Allen from Australia, pointing out the skating rink in the cove below, the circular hilltop trails and the Nordic skis and poles stacked on the rack near the front door.

Off-the-grid lodges, like Blachford Lake Lodge need a lake, for float and ski plane deliveries, piped water and sports activities.

“It’s this way to the teepee, around the back, and that way to the sauna,” said Maude Bergeron-Lambert, from Quebec who waited on the hilltop, ready with a brief orientation. “Your room is the big one upstairs, where Kate and Will, the “royals,” stayed when they were here.”   

Looking back to the lake below, where our transportation – an uninsulated Twin Otter with fold down seats -- picked up speed, lifted off and disappeared over the endless forest, I suddenly felt alone. The fact that the rarely-visited Northwest Territories (one of Canada’s three northern territories) contain 520,000 square-miles of mountains, lakes and canyons, twice the size of Texas, was sobering. It   didn’t take the 28 of us guests very long to introduce themselves.     

View from the hill of arriving and departing guests and their plane, a Twin Otter, connecting in Yellowknife.

Ray, in the room down the hall, compared it to the speed with which he made friends as a twelve year old at summer camp.  As for me, this four-day getaway felt like a country house party of yore – think Downton Abbey – with the duke’s good friends gathering for fresh air, bird shooting, trout fishing and candlelit dinners. 

There were differences, of course. Candles were thin on the ground and there were no silk draperies, crystal chandeliers or marble-tiled bathrooms. Also absent were minibars and television along with 24-hour room service, air conditioning and intermittent internet access.

It’s warmer than usual; five degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, says Maude. Perfect for a snowshoe hike.With no roads, no cars and no traffic, the only sound was the wind; the only essentials, the fresh air, the trees and the lake. With stacks of equipment available at no charge -- Nordic skis, snowshoes, ice skates and hockey sticks – and a hole in the ice for fishing, there was no reason not to be outdoors. 

The most popular sport were snowshoe hikes on a series of signed trails. These began at the lodge and looped away over the hilltop, through the trees, beside the meadows and back. Clumping around at a moderate pace on what look like homemade tennis rackets was both the easiest and the most fun. It also added comic relief each time one of us toppled over into a snowbank.

Hockey fans put on skates and headed to the pond (a small bay where kayaks dock in the summer). Alpine (downhill) skiers who’d never tried cross country skiing – and were confident they had the right stuff – went down to the lake where the staff, using a snowmobile and roller, had laid down a series of circular and looped groomed tracks.

The longest track headed straight down the lake for a mile, circled a small island and returned on the far side, an exercise in swooping strides that quickly revealed unknown muscles. A shorter track curved in and out of the adjacent coves, a bonus for multi-tasking photographers.     

Not everything depended on aerobics. We joined the igloo building session, a chance to prove you were handy with a saw, cutting blocks from hard snow and angled the edges fit into a dome shape. Not to mention escapes to the hot-tub, the sauna, and the teepee, where we gathered roast marshmallows over a campfire.   

Power from solar panels, a wind turbine, five sets of batteries and a generator makes the lodge self-sufficient.The teepee, canvas with traditional poles, a smoke-vent and a flap-style door, stood on a north-facing ridge with a view of the nightly aurora borealis. A ghostly ribbon of green it rose in the sky, shape-shifted as the minutes passed then slowly faded. Though sightings are never guaranteed, Blachford Lake Lodge’s unique location under the magnetic north pole, makes viewing chances better than most.  

For “off the grid” lodges like Blachford Lake Lodge, the biggest challenge are the essentials:  electric power, water and heat, according to General Manager Sarah Van Stiphout, one of four paid employees on hand (others are based in Yellowknife).

“When owner Mike Freeland bought the property in 1981, it had one small cabin – now restored and named Old Trapper’s Cabin -- and nothing else,” she told me. “No electricity, gas, water, lights, nothing. Friends who came out to visit brought their camping gear.” 

Thirty-odd years later, environmental sustainability has created an eco-smart model that would work anywhere. At Blachford Lake Lodge you can switch on the lights in your room and read. You can charge your camera batteries, drink the water, use the modern bathroom, take a hot shower and stay warm in your shirtsleeves. You can ask Chef Carla to make a blender-whipped smoothie and never notice that hidden machinery is at work.

The library corner, a quiet spot beside a wood stove, in a popular retreat.Four sets of solar panels installed on the roof get a boost from a single wind turbine connected to five sets of batteries. With a backup diesel generator, the system produces more power and heat than the lodge needs or uses, even in the coldest winters. The water you use to brush your teeth is drinkable, filtered on-site by a plant that also turns waste water to grey water for use in gardens and shrubbery. Meanwhile, a waterless process installed below the main floor converts solid waste to compost. 

The “contemporary” open spaces that Pullman admired circulate warm air and bring guests and volunteers together on the ground floor, a single space that encompasses the bar, dining tables, sofas, the library corner and the open-counter kitchen room. Before you know it you’ll be drinking the Kool-Aid too, proof that wilderness and luxury can go hand in hand.


The lodge is open in summer and winter, whenever the plane can land (on solid ice or open water). Five rooms and five cabins are outfitted to sleep four or more, in king, queen and/or bunk beds. Child rates depend on the season and date. All meals are included, and are served buffet style; two chefs prepare everything on site, from breads to salads and main dishes. Summer activities include kayaking, canoeing, swimming and hiking. Fly a commercial plane to Yellowknife and spend the first night there, with a lodge pick-up the next day. For more see

Writer Anne Z. Cooke talks to readers at, and on twitter at @anneontheroad

©The Syndicator, Anne Z. Cooke.


By Rich Grant

To read Part I:

Shortly after 10 p.m., on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth walked up the back stairs of the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C. and entered the private box overlooking the stage.  There was no guard.  As an actor, Booth knew the play being performed, a comedy from England called “Our American Cousin.”  There was a particular line in act three, scene two, that always drew laughter.  Thinking the laughter would conceal the sound of a shot, Booth waited for the line, then as the audience howled, he walked up, placed a .44 single shot derringer pistol behind the head of President Abraham Lincoln, and squeezed the trigger, changing all history.

We’ll never know, of course, what would have happened had Lincoln lived, but it’s easy to see the immediate effect his death had on the great Civil War and the surrender of the remaining Confederate armies.  It caused havoc. 

You can visit the site where this second, post-assassination surrender (the largest surrender in American history) happened at Bennett Place State Historic Site, Durham, North Carolina, and relive the tense few days where the end of the Civil War hung in the balance.  It’s a quiet place today, re-creating exactly what the homestead looked like in 1865.  But the story told in the museum here is quite suspenseful.  But for the thoughtful and brave actions of a few men, the American Civil War might have broken up into guerilla warfare and, like other civil wars, lasted for decades.

Most people mistakenly think the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.  But there were, in fact, still 90,000 armed Confederate troops in the field and Confederate President Jefferson Davis wanted them to keep fighting. 

The Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnson, did not.  Johnson had been a classmate of Robert E. Lee at West Point and had fought with distinction in the Mexican and Seminole wars.  He was against both slavery and secession, but as a Virginian, he felt honor bound to fight for the South.  However, Johnson disagreed greatly with President Davis on strategy.  Davis wanted the South to hold territory and aggressively attack the Union army.  Johnson, realizing the South had much fewer resources, wanted to follow the strategy George Washington had used against the British in the revolution – that is to avoid pitched battles, retreat when necessary, and outlast the enemy. 

By the end of the war, Johnson’s military career had been mixed.  He had won some battles, lost many others and had been relieved of command several times, both by wounds and by presidential orders.  But in 1865 with the South in ruins and facing its final crisis, Davis had no one else to turn to, and he re-appointed Johnson to command the last great Confederate army. 

Facing Johnson was his old adversary, William Tecumseh Sherman.   Sherman had fought and defeated Johnson in the battles leading up to Atlanta, and had become, after Grant, the most famous and well known general in the Union Army.  Once accused by the press of being insane, the volatile red-haired Sherman had recovered public esteem and won brilliant victories at Atlanta and on his March to the Sea campaign.  His main strategy – eliminate the South’s ability to wage war by destroying their farms, railroads and factories – is often credited with ultimately winning the war, but also credited as the first “total war” waged by armies on civilians in modern times.

By April 1865, both Sherman and Johnson realized the war was over and they both wanted peace.  To continue it, Johnson wrote, would be “murder.”  Johnson asked for a truce and it was agreed the two generals would meet on April 15.   However, on his way to the meeting, Sherman got one of the biggest shocks of his life.  A coded telegram arrived stating that not only had Lincoln been assassinated, but Secretary of State William Henry Seward had also been attacked by an assassin with a knife, and though Seward lived, in the hysteria surrounding Washington, it was believed there would be further assassination attempts made on Grant’s life, and even on Sherman’s. 

Fearing what his troops would do when they heard the news, Sherman swore the telegraph operator to secrecy.   He then continued under a flag of truce to meet Johnson on the Hillsboro Road.  After introductions on horseback, Sherman asked, “Is there somewhere private we can talk?”  Johnson said he had just passed a small farmhouse.   And thus an obscure frame farmhouse belonging to James and Nancy Bennett was to become one of the most important sites in American history.

The original cabin burned down, but today, a home from the same era that looks just like it was placed on the foundation.  The chimney is original.   The surrounding Bennett Place park, like Appomattox, puts cars way off to one side so that once you enter the historic area, you can get the maximum time capsule effect of going back to a different era.  There are a dozen structures and barns lining the original country dirt road.   It’s difficult to imagine the shock of the Bennett family in this remote rural area when Generals Sherman and Johnson tied up their horses, knocked on the farmhouse door and asked if they could use their house for a few minutes.

As soon as the two generals were alone, Sherman handed Johnson the telegram.  He wrote later, “I showed him the dispatch announcing Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, and watched him closely.  The perspiration came out in large drops on his forehead, and he did not attempt to conceal his distress.”

Realizing now the importance of ending the war immediately before the north took vengeance for Lincoln’s death, Johnson proposed that rather than just surrendering his 90,000 men, what if he could surrender all Confederate forces throughout the South?  It would be a brilliant stroke ending all potential fighting at once.  Sherman and Johnson agreed to go back to their commanders with the proposal and meet at Bennett Place the following day. 

There, on April 16, after hours of discussion back and forth, they hammered out surrender terms, which they both signed.  An interesting anecdote was that Johnson brought along John C. Breckenridge, a former U.S. Vice President and now a Confederate Major General.  Breckenridge was a lawyer and it was thought he could help with the language.  At the start of the meeting, Sherman went to his saddlebags, brought out a bottle of whiskey, and allowed everyone to pour a large glass.  He put the bottle back in the saddlebags. 

At some point in the meeting, Sherman, heavily distracted and without thinking, went over to the saddlebags, poured himself another large glass of whiskey, and put the bottle back without offering any to the Confederates.  Breckenridge, a Kentuckian, never forgot that and later told Johnson. “General Sherman is a hog.  Yes, sir, a hog.  Did you see him take that drink by himself? No Kentucky gentleman would ever have taken away that bottle.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, there was total chaos with Lincoln’s funeral, unimaginable grief, a new president and fear of future assassinations.  But that was nothing compared to the reaction when Sherman’s surrender terms finally made it to Washington.  Back in March 1865, Sherman and Grant had met with Lincoln to discuss surrender terms, and Lincoln had told both his generals that he wanted to go easy on the Confederates and unite the country and his only concern for a military surrender was that the rebel troops lay down their arms, go home and obey the laws of the United States.

Sherman either didn’t understand this, or was bamboozled by the Confederate officers in his haste to end the war.  But at any rate, his surrender terms went far beyond military matters and offered pardons to all Confederates, government and military, and allowed the soldiers to take their weapons back to arsenals in their own states.   In the vengeful attitude that had seized Washington after Lincoln’s assassination, this was tantamount to treason.  The surrender terms were rejected, Sherman was blasted as a traitor (or a fool) in the press, and Grant was ordered to go to Raleigh, take control of the army and force the Confederates to accept the same terms as Lee, or the truce would end and the war would start again in 48 hours.

Two courageous things happened that saved the country from future bloodshed.  One took place because of the great friendship that existed between Grant and Sherman.  Rather than embarrass his friend, Grant charted a private boat and train and traveled to Sherman in secrecy.  In Raleigh, Grant explained the situation, and left it up to Sherman to handle.  No one in either army at the time ever knew that Grant was there.  He came and left in secrecy and by doing so, saved Sherman’s career and reputation.

When Sherman told Johnson the surrender terms had been rejected, Johnson conferred with Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  Davis exploded.  He ordered Johnson to send him all the cavalry troops and to break the infantry up into small guerilla bands that could fight on their own, or later be brought back together as an army.  The war was to continue.

It was here that the second courageous act happened.  Joe Johnson blatantly disobeyed his orders and on his own authority surrendered his forces under the same terms given to General Lee.  The final, third meeting of Johnson and Sherman and this last surrender also took place in the Bennett farmhouse.  The war, for all practical purposes, was over.

Strangely, Johnson and Sherman, who had never met before Bennett farm, became good friends and remained so for life.  When Sherman died on Feb. 4, 1891, Johnson traveled north to be an honorary pallbearer.  It was a cold rainy day and Johnson was repeatedly begged to put on a hat or go inside, but he said of Sherman, “If the positions were reversed, he would not do so.”   Joe Johnson died one month later from pneumonia that he caught at the funeral of his friend.

IF YOU GO:  One of the great things about visiting Bennett Place is that you can stay nearby in Chapel Hill, one of the most beautiful college towns of America.  Home to the University of North Carolina, the downtown is a long main street lined with bars, breweries, bookstores (with cats napping in the window), coffee shops, church steeples, restaurants and grand spreading shade trees that lead off into a picture book campus of lawns and historic buildings.   Somethings not to miss:

Carolina Inn.  Located on the campus, the 185-room inn dates back to 1924 and offers the ultimate in Southern hospitality in a gorgeous setting.   Afternoon tea is served 2:30-4:30, Thursday-Sunday, or stop by their outdoor patio for a cocktail after strolling through the pretty, tree-shaded campus.

Top of the Hill Restaurant, Brewery, Distillery  North Carolina’s growing reputation for craft beer is exemplified here with outdoor rooftop decks, great food, and a very attractive bar.  There are eight breweries and countless bars in Chapel Hill, but this is the one not to miss.

Silent Sam.  Erected in 1913, this statue of a Confederate soldier faces Franklin Street from the UNC campus, and has been controversial almost from the start.  It was put up either as a memorial to dead Confederate soldiers, or as monument to white supremacy, depending on who you talk to.  Campus legend says that if a virgin walks by, he’ll shoot off his rifle…thus he is “Silent Sam.”  Following the riots and violence over a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA, there were demonstrations in front of Silent Sam also calling for its removal.  By state law, it would take an act of the North Carolina Legislature to remove a historic monument, and no bill has yet been introduced. 

Carrboro:  This funky, quirky, artsy little town is where the railroad came to Chapel Hill.  It’s more of a neighborhood then a separate community, being only about a 10-15 minute walk from the campus along Franklin Street to Main Street.   It’s an entertaining walk of bars, restaurants, the Carr Mill Mall (built in an 1898 cotton mill) and the famous Cat’s Cradle nightclub, known for 40 years of live music.  The town’s motto is:  “Feel free.”  Enough said.

Historic Hillsborough:  This is a charming small town America type of place that looks almost New Englandish, which is appropriate since it dates back to the American Revolution.  The downtown backstreets are lined with wonderful historic homes and gardens.  The town is justly proud of its River Park, which has paths following the scenic Eno River, as well as a reconstructed Occaneechi Indian Village, showing native life from the 17th century.  Nearby, the Ayr Mount Historic Site is the big attraction for the area with a sprawling 265 acres of grounds surrounding a powerful 1815 Federal-style plantation home. 

Johnston County:  Interstates 40 and 90 intersect in Johnston County, making it an important stop for people crossing the state in any direction.  Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site is here, marking the last full-scale action of the Civil War on March 19-21, 1865.  Once you get off the main highways, Johnston County is deep North Carolina, filled with great food, drink and Southern hospitality.

 Broadslab Distillery has a fun tour where owner Jeremy Norris will pour you samples of their authentic “moonshine,” which is a distilled corn whiskey made the same way four generations of his family have made it – many of them illegally in the days of prohibition or late at night under the moon to avoid paying taxes. 

The Redneck BBQ Lab in Benson offers pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ribs, chicken, green beans, collards and cornbread, all prepared by members of the Redneck Scientific competition BBQ team.  Why is it called a lab?  Visit it and find out, but go hungry.

Johnston County has a “Beer, Wine & Shine Trail” that will guide you to deep South breweries, moonshine distilleries and wineries.  Very fun is Hinnant Family Vineyards, which has a series of wines honoring the most famous local daughter of the region, Ava Gardner.  There’s also a museum devoted to Ava in Smithfield that is definitely worth a visit.   Ava Gardner grew up in this area, and although she was one of the most glamourous of Hollywood stars and lived for years in Spain and London, she chose to be buried back here close to the place of her childhood in nearby Sunset Memorial Park.  The museum has costumes, photos and mementos from her amazing 50-year career, which included three marriages:  to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Mickey Rooney; to one of the big band swing era’s most famous musicians, Artie Shaw; and to one of the world’s most famous crooners, Frank Sinatra.  But she always maintained she was a North Carolina country girl at heart.

For more info on Johnston County,


By Yvette Cardozo

A family friendly Mardi Gras. Seriously?    

When most folks think Mardi Gras, they envision New Orleans, drunken parties, rowdy crowds.    

But almost every city, town and wide spot in the road along the Gulf Coast seems to have its own version of this pre-Lent party. And Lake Charles, across the state from New Orleans, bills itself as not only the second largest but also the friendliest Mardi Gras.    

We’re talking nine parades, a chicken run with waist high tykes scrambling across the landscape after running roosters, couples in matching feather costumes, sweet cherubs in party dresses.   

And, oh yes, Cajun food.    

But while you’re in the area there’s lots more ... eco tours to see incredible numbers of birds, gator rescue operations, a rum factory, restored plantations.   

For those who don’t know, Mardi Gras also called Fat Tuesday, is all about partying down before the sacrifices of Lent. Parties, liquor, costumes, really rich food ... all those things you’re supposed to deny yourself in coming weeks as a pious person. What became a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875 has its roots in ancient Rome where wild pagan parties were folded into the new Christian faith.   

Lake Charles, meanwhile, wanted a kinder, gentler version of all this revelry.   

The parades are major. If you’re on a float, you toss beads. If you’re on the curb, you catch them.    

Ah yes, the bead tossing. I asked. I got answers. Lots of them. The one that made the most sense was it’s a modern version of a pagan ritual of throwing flour as thanks to the gods for surviving yet another winter.   

Sounds good to me.   

Meanwhile, my introduction to this was the Children’s Parade, where I got a chance to ride the Buccaneer float with pirate Ken, who showed up with his own coat, feathered hat and huge rings on each finger. Our one float had 50 boxes of plastic beads, each holding 60 dozen strands per box. And we were only one of some 100 floats in this parade.

The beads all said “made in China.” Obviously, Mardi Gras single handedly supports the Chinese economy.

As for the bead tossing ... well, who knew flinging handfuls of beads to tiny, outstretched hands could be so much fun. A rainbow of purple, green and gold ... the official Mardi Gras colors ... darkened the sky.

A few days later, this time at night, we were the catchers. There’s a trick to snagging a strand in mid-air without being beaned on the noggin, though I never did quite figure it out.

Between parades was the Royal Gala at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Anyone can come. A few dollars gets you a seat in the bleachers to watch 50-plus krewes strut around the arena.

A krewe is actually a social group. Originally only men, now couples and some for just women, they hold parties throughout the year, do charity projects but most of all, concoct out of this world costumes for Mardi Gras.

One story is the word krewe was coined in the early 19th century by an organization calling themselves Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus as an archaic affectation for crew and over time, it became the most common term for a Mardi Gras organization.

It’s the feathers, though. Yikes, there’s a LOT of feathers. One woman, who weighs all of 108 lbs, was being strapped into her 35 pound array of four-foot-tall, blinding white plumage. These things are worth thousands of dollars, take weeks to assemble and no, they are NOT worn outside on parade floats. Way too fragile.

Back in the arena, the announcer introduced each krewe...a parade of delicate feathers, scary dragons that towered 20 feet, Gumbeaux the local alligator mascot, movie themes…and yes, Star Wars. It was a furious march of colors.

But honestly, my favorite event of the week was the chicken run.

Iowa (pronounced I-O-Way) is this tiny town of maybe 3,000 people that is part of the Lake Charles area. The chicken run has been tradition for nearly 40 years. This year, as it has for many decades, the day started with Mary Victorian, 80, stirring a huge pot on a stove in the local community center.

The roux (a secret mix of flour and fat), augmented by broth, was bubbling away. The idea was we would go out on floats, stopping along the way, dancing and singing for bags of ingredients that would go into Mary’s gumbo. Onions, bell peppers, celery (the holy trinity of gumbo), along with sausage, chicken, spices.

“We’ll feed 500 today,” Mary told me.

But the main event was the chicken run itself.

Rodney Victorian had his prize roosters in tow. At random houses along the way, he strutted about, holding one of the handsome birds high in the air. Oddly, considering these birds have done this before, they were amazingly calm about it all.

That is, until Rodney flung the bird of the moment into the air and total mayhem followed as a dozen pint size kids scrambled after it.

The first speedy little fowl made a run for the woods, making his bid to return to the wild. The next birds, in a blur of knees, sneakers and hands, were caught, usually by some agile 10-year-old who would stand there, shy, proud grin on his face, bird clutched to his chest.

No, the birds weren’t destined for the pot. Athletic roosters don’t make good eating. Rodney would care for them till their run next year.

When the week was over, I found myself waiting to board the jet back to Seattle with other Seattleites -- taciturn descendants of Vikings who don’t look at strangers, much less casually talk to them. I was already missing the warmth and outgoing friendliness of the south ... a place where total strangers say good morning and hi and how are you today and wait for an answer because they really want to know.                            


Mardi Gras is scheduled 47 days before Easter and can occur on any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. In 2018, it’s Feb. 13. Parties are scheduled leading up to that date.

In addition to the partying, there’s a lot more to do and visit, especially if you drive the coast back east towards New Orleans:

MANSIONS - Many mansions from Civil War times have been restored and are open to visitors. Some tours even include their current residents. Perhaps the most fascinating is Oaklawn Manor, a Greek Revival plantation in Franklin, LA, whose twin claims to fame are its use as backdrop for the 1975 movie Drowning Pool starring Paul Newman and a chance to meet its current resident, former Governor Mike Foster, who at 85 still enjoys coming down for a chat that is a time warp glimpse into another era. Foster talks fondly of a tiny Confederate flag rescued from “alien hands” up north and his disdain for former Governor Huey Long, who he views as a socialist. His home is overflowing with antiques, art and, especially, four-foot-tall original Audubon books filled with original sketches.

ECO TOURS - Folks here don’t think it’s strange that an oil company runs eco tours on reclaimed wetlands, but for outsiders, this is a fascinating look at co-existence. Sweet Lake Land and Oil built a dike around 500 acres of marsh to keep it flooded year around. And  now, it’s home to 400 species of birds who come through each spring, sometimes in flocks so thick, they blacken the sky. Grosse Savanne Eco Tours take visitors out regularly. Late spring is the best time for birds.

SWAMP TOURS - Among the many is the curiously named Annie Miller’s Son’s Swamp and Marsh Tour (think the History Channel show Swamp People).  Good ‘ole boy Jimmy Miller will take you down the bayou to view birds and, especially his favorite gator, LollyPop. Along the way are anhingas, cormorants, bald eagles and a lot of local color. After, grab an authentic Cajun lunch (fried just about anything) at Bayou Delight Restaurant where Jimmy’s boat docks.

OIL DRILLING PLATFORM TOUR - A chance to visit a real (retired) oil drilling platform, now docked in Morgan City, LA. Built in the early ‘50s, the affectionately named Mr. Charlie, was the first transportable, submersible drilling rig. Regular tours include a chance to see crew quarters, the mess, lounge and all sorts of techie stuff while it’s all explained. Even better, if an offshore crew is being trained or a Navy Seal wannabe course is happening, you get to watch.

ALLIGATOR RESCUE CENTER - There are towns here with twice as many alligators as people. But baby gators, also, are sometimes abandoned by their mothers. Enter the Gator Chateau at the Jeff Davis Parish tourist office in Jennings, LA at, of all things, the Lousiana Oil & Gas Park. There’s someone to tell you everything gator and a chance to hold the little ones. The babies are fed soy pellets while they’re of handling age. Later comes their fave, chicken. And hopefully, when they’re released at around age five, they will have totally forgotten snuggling with people.







By David R. Holland


Most die-hard travel golfers remember Jack Nicklaus’ famous quote: “If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play it at Pebble Beach. I’ve loved this course from the first time I saw it. It’s possibly the best in the world.”

So, how about Greg Norman, where would you play if you were just an average guy who liked to play golf on his vacations?

"You mean the world is my oyster," Norman asked, “where would I travel to?”

Here’s The Shark’s list:

1.            Melbourne, Australia: “Because there are great semi-public golf courses in a five-mile radius – best conditioned and best golf courses in the world.” He named Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Huntingdale, Yarra Yarra, Commonwealth.

2.            Southwest Ireland:  Ballybunion, Lahinch, Old Head, Doonberg. Some say Ballybunion has always been great, but when they relocated the clubhouse in 1971 to the southern end it became an even better finish.

3.            Northeast, Midwest Scotland: Norman bounced around on this answer – just too many to pick from. “I think Machrihanish is one of best links courses ever,” Norman said. The list continued to Turnberry, Prestwick, Royal Dornoch, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle.

“Andrew Carnegie was smart enough to know there’s a warmer gulfstream air flow where you can play in winter at The Carnegie Club,” Norman said.

Machrihanish is a journey. It was said that Old Tom Morris needed a train, a steamboat and a long carriage ride to get there. It’s easier today.

Check out Greg Norman’s designs at


By David R Holland

So you’re gonna tee it up with a Hall of Fame golfer. How's that gonna play out?

Actually, it was awesome.

Photos courtesy of Sandals Emerald Bay.

My invitation to the kickoff event of the 2018 Tour, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, included 18 Pro-Am holes with Greg Norman, who designed the golf course.

"The Shark" was genuine, encouraged everyone by name, and welcoming to others for photos and autographs. It was so laid back that not one member of my team was intimidated or displayed the paralyzed swing of a star-gazed admirer. We scored a respectable 60, just one stroke out of the prizes.

Imagine a breezy, sunny, beautiful day along the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Then combine that with Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course's back-nine ocean holes that are as scenic as you can find in the world.  Do they rival Pebble Beach?  No doubt about it.

Watching the Shark's golf shots all afternoon didn't make me think here's a guy past his prime -- they made me recall his days of excellence, winner of 91 professional events around the world, including two British Open Championships and 20 on the PGA Tour.

"Golf technology has come a long way," he mused. "I hit the ball 30 yards farther at 62 than I did at age 35." And he’s probably the most physically fit at his age in professional golf.

Photos courtesy of Sandals Emerald Bay.

Knowing that Norman's business portfolio is massive we did ask him how much golf he plays these days. "Last year I played 10 times because I was entered in a father-son tournament. The year before that maybe five times."

So what about Emerald Bay Golf Course?

Several words come to mind: scenic, difficult, challenging, and narrow. The front nine holes wind through a mix of seaside dunes, ponds, and no recovery mangroves while the back nine plays along the rocky peninsula of Emerald Bay.

So when I met tour player Nick Rousey he asked me a question: "Did you ask Mr. Norman why he made this course so tight?"

Normally, golf courses located on windy coastlines have wide, forgiving fairways.

"The narrow fairways are a result of the real estate opportunities," Norman explained. "Actually, when I first arrived this development was a Four Seasons and the real estate component was laid out for houses on the water on the back nine (where the ocean holes are). We talked them out of that and it actually saved money. That way you only have one road, one pipeline, one electrical path."

Amen for that decision.

And thank Sandals for breathing life into the project which actually sat deserted for three and a half years. "Once I got the lay of the land I knew this could be a real diamond in the rough," Norman continued. "The front nine had lots of opportunities to use the ecosystem (jungle) and the back nine ocean holes are spectacular."

"Strategically it is difficult because the narrow corridors -- everything got squeezed down, but you should have seen it before. It was so tight, like single file, but if you pick the right tees you can utilize the maximum playable width. Originally the undergrowth would not allow you to miss a foot off the fairway, but today thinning out the undergrowth is ongoing maintenance."

Norman said he liked Emerald Bay so much he bought two adjoining lots and believes that the Bahamian government will soon recognize its value.  Exuma is much more isolated that other parts of this island nation, but the tiny one-gate George Town airport is just minutes away.

"It's easy to get in and out of here and there's golf, a great beach, and off-shore recreation," Norman said.

Photos courtesy of Sandals Emerald Bay.

Highlights of the golf course

No. 11 is a very playable par 3 of 148 yards and ditto to No. 13 another par 3 of 122 yards. Grab your camera -- this hole is like its own peninsula and the view is awesome -- surrounded by the pounding surf.

It's the 12th, a 418-yard, par 4 that will possibly make you pucker and pump a hook into the ocean left, somewhat like the No. 18 drive at Pebble Beach.  You can birdie No. 14.  It’s a blind 303-yarder so take advantage.

Then beware of 15, a 572-yard, par 5, handicap No. 2. It will challenge every skill you have, especially on the second shot which has little room for bailout -- blue waters left or deep brush right. My team struggled here, but Mr. Norman just pounded one over all the trouble to the green.

Even though the golfers are extremely talented this golf course yielded the highest scores of the entire 2017 season because of high winds (40 mph one day) that caused 46 rounds of 80 or higher one day. Just schedule your golf when the wind is not blowing – good luck with that.

Photos courtesy of Sandals Emerald Bay. Norman’s latest business deal

“For the past four years I've been working on something called the Shark Experience,” Norman explained to us at dinner. “Club Car is building 50,000 carts with Bluetooth-enabled screens that can stream music, sports, news – whatever applications the world can imagine – through speakers designed, by the shape of the cone and its angle of mounting, to keep the sound within the cart. To grow golf in these times you need to give people the choice of staying connected.”

Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD) is recognized as one of the best course design firms in the world, featuring more than 100 courses opened across 34 countries and six continents, with many having won esteemed design awards.

What’s my favorite Norman design? Easy, it is Red Sky Ranch near Wolcott. There's a reason I live in Colorado -- beauty, altitude and downhill tee shots.

Sandals is simply superb

Even if the golf course humbles you, Sandals Emerald Bay will pamper you.  It boasts 249 rooms and suites among 500 tropical acres with a mile-long white sand beach. Voted the Caribbean’s Best Golf Hotel, it also features a world-class 150-slip marina, tennis, two freshwater pools, 11 dining options, unlimited land and water sports, and a 29,000 sq. ft. Red Lane® Spa.

Dining here is top shelf from Bombay Club to Kimonos to Il Cielo to La Parisienne. Stick your bare feet in the sand at Barefoot by the Sea, have pub fare at Drunken Duck and my favorite for breakfast was the Bahama Bay buffet. The Jerk Shack serves tasty Caribbean chicken and sweet potatoes.

The resort is all-inclusive meaning you don't ever need to pull out a credit card or cash. There's premium alcohol selections, room service, optional butler service and bunches of beach fun.

Photos courtesy of Sandals Emerald Bay.

Those olden day beach activities go a little wacky when one mentions swimming with the pigs. Uh, say what?  The swimming pigs of Exuma have evolved from a little-known secret to one of the world's most sought-after experiences. In an archipelago of 365 islands known for their blue waters, these snorting animals swim freely on their own island. And when you stay at Sandals Emerald Bay, you can meet these barnyard creatures in a unique Swimming Pigs Adventure.

Web connections

Twitter @SharkGregNorman

Instagram: shark_gregnorman

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. "Multiple careers" best describes this world traveler (he's visited 36 countries), who achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving at the U.S. Air Force Academy. His final Pentagon assignment took him to Monterey, Calif., where he daydreamed a lot below the fairways of Pebble Beach and began thinking about his next move -- travel golf writing. He has a journalism degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Follow Dave on Twitter @David R_Holland.

On a wing and a prayer in Fiji

By Carole Jacobs

I hate small planes, ‘copters – any mode of travel where they strap you into a motorized tin can and up you go, with less separating you from the elements than the insulation in a ski jacket. Should an errant comet ever come hurling towards earth, you can have my seat on SpaceShipTwo – honest. I’m staying down here.


Just last year, I was homeward bound, flying high above  California’s Mojave Desert on the last leg of journey during which I’d scaled 17,000-foot peaks without mishap, when the winds suddenly picked up, tossing the plane like a wind-up toy and then suddenly flipping it, leaving me hanging upside down in my seat for the most terrifying three seconds of my life.

“Ride ‘em, cowboy!” roared my three fellow passengers–all combat pilots returning home from Afghanistan. But I was not amused and vowed there and then to never again step foot in a miniscule aircraft. Alas, given the fact that flying in small planes is an occupational hazard in my line of work, the promise lasted two days, or until the Fijian government called to invite me to island-hop around their far-flung archipelago.


The only way to get there is by tiny plane

‘So you’re saying it’s impossible, basically, to reach any of these islands by boat or ferry?” I asked the government official.

“Not impossible, Miss Jacobs,” he said, “but meanwhile may I email you a map so we can review this together?”

Ok, I got the picture: Not exactly impossible, but with 333 islands and 550 islets scattered across a 7,100-square-mile expanse of sea, highly impractical and extremely time-consuming, unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life on a boat or just visit the main island of Vitu Levi, home to both of Fiji’s international airports, 70 percent of its 600,000 inhabitants and for all intents and purpose, the only Fijian island you can reach without boarding a pint-size small plane.

“So how small are we talking about here?” I wondered. “The remainder of Fiji’s airports are much too small to accommodate jets, he said. The only way in was via small commercial 12-seaters orteensy-weensy4-6 seaters where I’d fly in with the mail, cassava and chickens.

I told him I wanted to visit resorts/places run by local Fijians rather than huge international conglomerates and that as a former Peace Corps volunteer who had lived in her share of thatched- roof huts, I wanted to visit native villages where I could talk to the chiefs, mingle with the kids, check out the schools and clinics and maybe even sit down with a family or two for a home-cooked meal of sweet potatoes, taro, fish curry or stew.

Before I had a chance to drum up more jitters, we’d sketched out a game plan wherein I’d get my feet wet with a visit to one of the country’ most authentically Fijian beach resort, nestled on Viti Levu’s “Adventure Coast and --  Eureka!--  reachable by bus! From there, I’d have to suck it up and board tiny planes bound for several distant isles floating in the vast northeastern and northwestern regions of Fiji’s archipelago.


Spoiled rotten at Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji

So what do you want to hear about first -- my thatched-roof bure with its ridiculously romantic poster bed with mosquito needing (and my darling hubby so far away --sigh), the private plunge pool and hot tub out front, the sugar-white beach a steps west with sapphire seas rippling to shore, or my personal “buddy” Pela, a member of the local village and assigned to me to do, well, pretty much anything my little heart. She had me at hello and before I could protest, had run me a fragrant coconut bubble bath with two frangipani blossoms floating in billowing suds, was ironing one of my saris (something none of my clothes had experienced for years) and wondered if she could fetch me tea and cookies to savor as I soaked.

That night, following a Torch Lighting Ceremony on the beach, a traditional Kava Ceremony during which the men of the village crushed kava kava roots into a large bowl, added water and passed around a murky beverage rumored to be mildly hypnotic for the guests to take. I’m a small fry down here at five feet and 82 pounds dripping wet, so suffice it to say that the multi-course bacchanalia which followed (tuna sushi, tempura eggplant, pork belly, snapper, coconut cream brulee) was mostly lost on me, although (blame it on the kava kava?)  I slept like the dead – and through two alarms.

The next morning, Pela awakened me with a plunge pot of just-brewed Fijian coffee and homemade carrot, coconut and pineapple muffins still warm from the oven, insisted on ironing my hiking pants and t-shirt as I showered and then escorted me over to the resort’s beachfront Kanavata Restaurant, where the local village choir serenaded me with Sunday morning hymns as I attempted, without much success, to make a dent in my leaning-tower-of Pisa stack of pancakes layered with lady fingers, bananas, vanilla bean pod ice cream and drizzled with Fijian honey.

As I was finishing breakfast, a member of the choir approached me to ask if I wanted to hike to the top of Beqa, a jungly isle steeped in local lore located just off shore, kayak the Deuba River through a tunnel of hushed mangrove forests or slip-slide down a muddy trail to a trio of lost waterfalls plunging from unseen heights in a nearby rainforest. We did it all, a lesson in every landscape and an hour left over for me to take a paddle boarding lesson. The emerald seas were asstill as glass and while I never got up, I did manage to work up a killer appetite for dinner.


The private air limo to Yasawa Island Resort & Spa, Fiji

From the resort, it took nearly all day to reach Yasawa Island, Nanuku’s brooding rainforests a distant memory as we sailed high above a sun-bleachedFiji where scrubby mountain isles and grassy hillsides dotted with blooms looked more like Catalina Island than Fiji. And while the flight in the resort’s 4-seater plane had been initially terrifying -- the gentle Fijian pilot had insisted I sit up front with him so we could hold hands and talk the whole way – and despite my gasp as he began our descent, circling just for fun an volcanic crag that looked close enough to touch, by the time we landed on a vertical runway strung between two hillsides, I was beginning to believe I could get over all this and finally join the ranks of fearless flyers.

Even the resort itself reminded me of California, with its airy villas, palm-shaded cabanas, flower-ringed spaand sophisticated California-meets-Fijian style cuisine, as did the day trip to Sawa-I-Lau-Caves, where we swamacross the underground caves and caverns featured in Blue Lagoon, the 1980s movie starring Brooke Shields.

The indigenous Fijians comprise more than half of Fiji’s total population and own 80 percent of the land, none of which can ever be bought or sold. If a developer wants to build a resort on their land, he must first get permission from the village and then lease the land.

As at Nanuku, the entire resort is run by local villagers and one morning, we got permission from the chief to visit their village.  A complex of thatched roofed huts faced the sea, colorful laundry flapped and snapped in the brisk sea breeze and chickens and roosters pecked and squawked in the hard scrabble dirt. As a teacher in impoverished regions of the Caribbean, I had lived in many such villages during the ‘70s and it was all so achingly familiar. As one Fijian family after another invited me into their homes with their tidy swept dirt floors, kerosene lamps and neatly stacked canned goods, I had to fight back tears against the memories.

Before leaving, we dropped by the house of the village chief to pay our respects and thank him for allowing us to visit. He waved us in and he proved to be a well-educated and well-traveled man with one food in traditional Fiji and the other in the 21st century.


So far away

One morning, the resort boated me to a remote island and dropped me off for the day. This was no Castaway experience: they had thoughtfully provided me with everything I’d need to sustain myself for the next six hours: a sumptuous picnic lunch, a beach umbrella and blanket, sunscreen, snorkeling gear and explicit instructions about when and where they pick me up, although the island was small enough to walk around in a hour so there wasn’t a remote chance I’d get lost or be stranded. That said, it was the first time during the jam-packed trip that I had had a chance to catch my breath and reflect on everything I had seen and experienced. As I gazed out overendless miles of turquoise sea, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasfurther away from home than I had ever been in my life, or 12, 182 miles from my log cabin abode on the Pacific Crest Trail in California’s wild andruggedEastern Sierra.

The mail run to Qamea Resort & Spa Fiji

Given its vast expanses, unusual geography and lack of inter-island flights, “You can’t there from here” is often the norm rather than the exception when it comes to traveling in Fiji. And while the island of Qamea is only 180 miles from Yasawa as the crow flies, the only way I could get there was to backtrack all the way to Vitu Levi and then catch another small plane to Taveuni, where a motorboat would be waiting to whisk me 10 miles across the sea to the island.

The 254-mile journey took all day and as we arrived, the sunset blazed pink, purple and purple before surrendering to a canopy of stars. The villagers had assembled on the beach to welcome me in song and as I stepped out the boat in the sea, one raced up to me to drape a beautiful homemade lei around my neck. My cozy beachfront bure came with a “Do Not Disturb” red coconut, but who were they kidding when just a few steps away were more ways to bond with the Great Outdoors than you could cram into a month-long visit: wind surfing, catamaran sailing, snorkeling, shark diving, and sea kayaking. A tiny spa tucked in the rainforest offered traditional Fijian treatments and every night at sunset, the conch horn sounded to beckon us to dinner followed by a traditional Fijian ceremony.

 One morning following a breakfast of just-picked tropical fruits, home-baked bread and omelets made from eggs still warm from the chickens, we boated back to Tavenui for a hike up into Bouma National Heritage Park. We followed a trail that coiled up past a thundering plunger, continued on up a vertical ladder trail and ended at a second cascade where we stood under the pounding spray and admired the rainbow mist.

On the flight back to Vitu Levi, another amusement park-sized aircraft where the mail, coconuts and sacks of rice and potatoes occupied the rear seats, I met a fellow traveler who was a more fearful flyer than I’d ever been.  She was white before the plane left the ground and proceeded to turn green as the plane lifted into the heavens, spending the next two hours crying, hiccupping and succumbing to yet another bout of air sickness. I felt her pain and was so concerned with her that I barely registered the plane ride as it soared over miles of turquoise sea, swooped over ranges of upholstered green mountains and made its final descent into the crowded shanty town city Of Nadi. By the time plane landed, I knew I was cured.


By Yvette Cardozo


The umbrella painting, for me, was, well, a disaster.

The idea was to paint something pretty on a paper parasol. One guy in our group painted delicate branches and blossoms. One woman had a totally red umbrella laced with flowers.

Mine, sadly, looked like Godzilla meets the butterflies.

But no matter. The point was we were learning how local art is made. Over the course of our week in Hangzhou, China, between visiting pagodas, temples, the famous West Lake, a wetland park and eating more Chinese food than I’ve encountered in a while, we learned a bit about life there and got to try more than a little of it.

Back in 1983 when I first visited China, it truly was a trip to another planet.

In the early years, the emphasis was on showing us daily life ... visits to pre-schools with four-year-olds trying to sing a welcome song in English, visits to factories, to Chinese medicine hospitals, demonstrations of that then exotic treatment, acupuncture. And even a visit to a prison.

Since then, I’ve made some half dozen more trips. And EVERY single time, China has reinvented itself.

Now it’s been 15 years since the last trip and yes, the place is once again, a whole different world.

If you come, you probably won’t be visiting pre-schools or prisons. But you can get a lot of hands on activities to learn about culture and history.

Hangzhou in southeast China, only 45 minutes from Shanghai on the Bullet Train, is a natural beauty. Its shining glory is West Lake, whose beauty really does live up to the reputation.                 

Water lilies line the shore. Soft far off mountains frame it like, yes, a Chinese painting. And should you venture out in early morning, you will find the locals doing graceful tai chi and sometimes, painting calligraphy on the sidewalks with giant brushes dipped in water. Yes, you are welcome to join in the tai chi.

What else? The Grand Canal, the world’s oldest canal, begins at Hangzhou and ends 1,200 miles later in Beijing. Silk, tea and porcelain go back thousands of years here. And there are workshops, which, along with painting parasols, include visiting tea plantations, learning how to carve a chop, silk weaving and more.

So, of course, my friends and I went to pick tea. And more importantly, learned how to brew it properly.

Meijiawu Tea Village sits at the west end of West Lake. Once poor, it now is famous for its Longjing (Dragon Well) green tea. Famous enough that these days, it gets a million visitors a year. Each family gets to work a portion of the hillside, which is covered in a waist high carpet of tea plants so thick, it looks like you could walk on top of the green blanket.

“We pick only the very young leaves,” said Yuan Le Ha, standing there holding a delicate yellow tea blossom. She pointed to the tiny, light green, brand new leaves. These would be cooked ... yes, cooked ... in an electric wok while someone with a truly hardy hand stirred with this hand constantly for three hours. Then up to the roof for sun drying, another session with the wok, more sun and, voila, green tea.

You do NOT steep green tea in boiling water, we were informed. Wait a few minutes. The best temperature is around 180 degrees. The first cup is for sniffing, not drinking. Wait for the second. And you do NOT steep green tea covered. “That will destroy the nutrients,” Le Ha added.

From a local website comes a couple of added intriguing bits:

* Best time to drink tea is between meals. Otherwise, it could spoil your appetite (diet anyone?).

* And my favorite ... green tea is best for office workers because it contains substances that “help prevent computer radiation and supplement moisture content of the human body.”

Le Ha followed with a graceful tea ceremony where she warmed the glasses, prepared and poured us tea. Well, sigh, the stuff looks like cooked spinach and, honestly, to me, tastes like cooked spinach. But everyone else in the group loved it. And the beautiful tins filled with tiny green leaves make great gifts.

The session I loved most was learning how to make a chop, also called a seal. Chops have been around in china since 1600 BC, eventually spreading to other Asian countries. Initially used only by emperors, lords, and samurai warriors, over time they made their way down the social ladder to everyone.

They can be made of anything from metal to wood but mostly stone. Soapstone is especially popular since it’s easy to carve.

And so, we climbed well worn, rough stones to a top floor at Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society, which looked more like a temple (complete with pagoda) than a school.

Teacher Wang Zhen has probably carved 1,000 chops over the past 13 years and while in his hands, it looks swift, graceful and easy, be assured that for the rest of us, it really was not.

We sat at a long table where each person had a slender block of stone, pen, ink, tissue thin paper, small chisel and a white glove to hold our stone.

We drew (with Zhen’s help) the character on the paper with ink, transferred it to the stone and then chiseled the pattern into the stone. Hey, it’s not easy. Mine looked like so many messy scratches instead of solid, bold lines.

The one I made says cat. Or maybe meow. My husband, who reads Chinese says he sees a bit of both in the characters. Zhen inked it and then transferred the marking to a beautiful piece of paper inscribed with his name, the name of the school and the date.

Zhen declared mine the second best, to my utter surprise. He also carved each of our names into another chop. Turns out Yvette becomes three extremely complicated words in Chinese.

No trip to China is complete without temples and we got our fix gloriously at the Lingyin Temple, a Buddhist complex. It’s some 400 carvings cut into limestone dating back nearly 2,000 years. The place is huge, with grottos, temples, pagodas, libraries, museums, caves and so very much more.

The star of Hangzhou, though, is West Lake, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. It has three causeways, numerous islands, plus pagodas, tea houses, temples and gardens.

Tour boats nicely keep to an ancient style ... dragon boats, rowing boats, painted boats ... each looking like it stepped from the pages of history.

Meanwhile, if the lake’s water and light show, “Impression West Lake” is performing (mid-March to January), do NOT miss it. The director is the same guy who put together the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It’s a love story ... love found, love lost, war, sorrow, people transforming into swans. Someone said it’s a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. More than 300 performers gracefully glide through ankle deep water on a submerged stage against colored lights, flying feathers and beautiful Chinese houseboats. At one point, an army beats soaked drums with each strike splashing water a foot high.

We also rode down the Grand Canal, built by hand 1,500 years ago and stretching 1,200 miles between Hangzhou and Beijing. Cargo boats drag long loads. Ancient bridges gracefully span the water. New and old homes line the banks. And yes, there are shops and more than one coffee house.

            Our other boat ride involved XiXi National Wetland Park. This once was home to 20,000 people in a dozen villages. They were moved out when the park was created, leaving behind 23 sq. miles of protected wetland, six rivers, assorted ponds, swamps and preserved homes that now house silk weaving demonstrations, sample kitchens and bedrooms.

A word, here, about shopping. It turned out that one of my best buys in silk (which seems to be THE thing in these parts) was at XiXi Park. I got a gossamer light scarf the size of a tablecloth for about $6.

One night we also wandered from our hotel down to a silk shop (there are MANY) and found a selection that included all silk, silk with cashmere on one side (keeps the shawl from slipping off your shoulders) and all cashmere. Prices ranged from $4 to about $30.

And, of course, there was the Wensli Silk Museum, where you can buy a silk embroidered “painting” for a mere $250,000, a Marc Rosier scarf for $450 or, closer to reality, a signature Wensli scarf for $150.  That’s in addition to the blouses, shirts, nighties, robes, pillows, ties and, yes, a silk iPad case.

Each silk cocoon, by the way has nearly 5,000 feet of silk thread and it takes 300 cocoons to make a single yard-square scarf.

Our last day, we hit Qinghefang Ancient Shopping Street. It recreates a bit of old China, with a football field-long street of shops, stands and just about any trinket for sale from tea to scarves, tiny cloth animal key chains, spices, toys, bone combs, fancy fake designer sunglasses, snacks and my favorite, the guys pounding sesame seed paste into sheets of candy.

There’s little left of the China I saw in 1983. But today’s China is still absolutely fascinating.



My experiences and workshops were held at: tea plantation - Meijiawu Tea Village, seal engraving - Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society, parasol painting - Workmanship Demonstration Pavilion.

Best time to visit Hangzhou is spring or fall. Summer temperatures can hit well over 100 degrees. Winter is cold and can be rainy. Peak time is spring (mid-March to early June).

Several airlines fly nonstop (though not daily) flights from select major US gateways to Shanghai, the nearest major airport to Hangzhou. These include Delta, United, American, China Eastern and Hainan.

From Shanghai, it’s 45 minutes by Bullet Train (at speeds up to 155 mph) to Hangzhou.

Delta, meanwhile, has a neat bag tracking program through its Delta app (available on iPhones and android). You enter your flight information and you can see if your luggage is on the plane, avoiding the usual end of trip suitcase arrival anxiety.

The food, by the way, will be familiar to anyone who has eaten in a good Chinese restaurant in the US.

China blocks virtually all social media. You will not be able to access Facebook, Instagram, other social media programs or anything connected to Google. Success with other sites can be spotty. For instance, Time Magazine’s daily digest comes up and its links to stories work. The NY Times daily diary comes up but links to stories do NOT work.

Some travelers (and most people in China) get around all this by using WeChat, a free messaging and calling app. Other people use VPN, which creates a virtual private network.

Oddly, my own cell company, Sprint, which allows wi-fi calling in 200 countries, blocks it in China (along with Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria and, oddly, Australia and Singapore). If you have a smart phone, check with your cell company about wifi calling, which if offered, will be free.

There are banks and ATMs for changing money. For the ATMs, though, you need a credit card with not only a chip but a pin number. For the banks and at hotels, you will need to present your passport. And if you are exchanging US bills, they must be crisp and new ... no folds, wrinkles, markings, tears. Get brand new bills at a bank.

For information on Hangzhou: Http://

For information on tours: Asia Luxe Holidays:

* Meijiawu Tea Village -

* Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society -

* Workmanship Demonstration Pavilion (parasol painting, embroidery, paper cutting, wood carving and more) -

* China Photo Diary:


By David R. Holland

Author of the Colorado Golf Bible

When the marine layer rolled in on Torrey Pines South on Sunday of the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open, the leaders were suddenly facing chilly, windy conditions so tough that someone said the 2008 U.S. Open broke out.


Summer turned to winter in La Jolla, California.

No. 4, a formidable 488-yard par 4 along the Pacific Ocean coastline, was so nasty the leaders were struggling to hit the green on their third shot. Lucas Glover, only a shot out of the lead when the day started, carded a double bogey after hitting it in rough so gnarly he could only advance it a meager distance -- twice.

Cold, wind, impossible rough -- need any other challenges?

"This golf course is a beast and you've got to realize that," Harris English said. "This is like a U.S. Open."

"This golf course is a big, ball-striking course," J.B. Holmes said. "So you've got to hit it in the fairway, you've got to hit some good approach shots and give yourself a chance for some birdies. Then, you have a lot of 10-footers for par. The rough probably plays worse today than it did in the 2008 U.S. Open."

Does this sound like a challenge you want to tackle? You can because the South and North Course at Torrey Pines are open to the public. But most days are postcard perfect with sunny weather and 70-degree temperatures.

In 2018 the PGA Tour comes to Torrey Pines with the Farmers Insurance Open Jan. 25-Jan. 28 and the U.S. Open returns in 2021.


Renovation muscled up Torrey Pines South

Rees Jones turned Torrey Pines South into a big boy golf course in 2001. His $3.2 million facelift completed for the Buick Invitational (now the Farmers Insurance Open) lengthened the par-72 course to a brawny 7,569 yards, more than 500 yards longer than before the makeover. And its brash new bunkering distanced it from the original South Course designed by William Bell Sr., which opened in 1957.

The scorecard even has the words "permission only" where the back tees are listed.

The United States Golf Association likes Torrey Pines South so much that it has been selected for the 2021 U.S. Open. Tiger Woods, who won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South in a classic duel with Rocco Mediate, will be 45.

Changes by Jones started on no. 1, a 452-yard par 4 where a bunker was added just at the length where the big boys hit them today. The ninth was lengthened from 540 yards to 610 yards and no. 14, formerly 390 yards, is now 440 yards. You get the idea. More length, more bunkers, higher rough, tougher putting surface targets with contours, greens moved to edges of bluffs.

And even though length was added from 515 yards to 570 yards at the par-5 18th, Jones didn't change the famous water fronting the green called Devlin's Billabong. It was during the 1975 Andy Williams San Diego Open that Bruce Devlin came to the last hole in contention and his approach nestled halfway submerged in the water. It took him six swings to get the ball on the green and a plaque commemorates this ultimate boo-boo. It's the only water hole of the 36 at Torrey Pines.


Torrey Pines North Course's recent redesign

Ask a local who has played Torrey Pines North countless times about Tom Weiskopf’s recent $12.6 million redesign and he’ll talk about several aspects.

There’s green size, contours and tiers.  There’s quick bent grass (a Tyee 007 blend) instead of poa annua. There’s missing trees and there’s bunkers that were either removed or moved up to be in play for the tour pros.

Following a comprehensive nine-month renovation, the North Course, originally designed by William F. Bell and opened in 1957, is as popular as ever expecting 80,000 plus rounds a year.

Possibly the best thing about Torrey Pines North is being paired with locals who have been playing the course for years. Keep those cameras ready at the 12th. It's a sensational downhill 174-yard par 3 for the mortals with sweeping views of the Pacific and La Jolla.


Stay and play at The Lodge at Torrey Pines

It is tough to get a tee time at Torrey Pines for non-residents, but stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines because it has daily reserved tee times.

Resplendent, but earthy -- that's The Lodge at Torrey Pines. Since opening in April 2002 this striking property is a must for travel golfers. It is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World.

Luxury is found in rooms that range from 520-1,500 square feet. Indulge yourself with the spa's signature coastal sage scrub or dine at A.R. Valentien. Casual diners can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at The Grill, just steps from Torrey Pines' practice putting green, a great place to watch the pros during tournament week.

My first of three stays here gave me a huge smile.  I walked into my "room" to find a large suite that opened up on the South's 18th green.  Now that's being spoiled.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. "Multiple careers" best describes this world traveler (he's visited 36 countries), who achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving at the U.S. Air Force Academy. His final Pentagon assignment took him to Monterey, Calif., where he daydreamed a lot below the fairways of Pebble Beach and began thinking about his next move -- travel golf writing. He has a journalism degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Follow Dave on Twitter @David R_Holland.

David R. Holland, Author, The Colorado Golf Bible


By Yvette Cardozo

When we arrived in Iceland, the sun was shining (a sometimes rare event in fall). And this was the vew of the waterfront from our hotel, the Hilton Nordica  in ReykjavikYes, it’s a staircase. But this one was metal and made such a nice pattern. So here’s my friend Reed on the Hilton Nordica’s spiral staircase.Reykjavik's tourist waterfront at the Old Harbour is lined with boats just waiting to take people to see puffins and northern lights. And just across the street from this shop is a whale museum with a full size minke whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.Reykjavik Fish, a local fish & chips restaurant in downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. The fish is better and cheaper than at the usual tourist cafes. In a town where a simple snack can cost $30, we got killer fish and chips PLUS beer for that $30. Inside, the menu is on a chalkboard lit by lamps made of cod fish. And yes, owner Hreinn (who also goes by “Mr Clean”) has a great sense of humor. Okay, here’s that killer fish and chips and of course, Viking beer.There are better shots, but this proves you can also see an eruption from your commercial jet. So here’s a view of erupting Bardarbunga volcano seen on our way to eastern Iceland. What we saw was this plume of hot steam but those who got closer on a tourist flight saw bubbling red lava.Sheep are EVERYwhere in Iceland. There are five times more sheep than people. They are allowed to roam free in summer, then are rounded up each fall and spend winter indoors.Yes, they do know how to cook fish here. In all its forms. This is arctic char, a northern fish that looks and tastes like salmon, served with potato, sliced beet and on a bed of risotto. (Finally, after years of hearing Gordon Ramsey scream about his chefs’ attempts at risotto, I got to actually eat the stuff. Truly addictive.)Sliced reindeer. It was rare and so tender, you could cut it with a fork. And no, it didn't taste gamey. Reindeer were imported to Iceland in the 18th century but plans to farm them never quite worked out so now they run wild, mostly along the east coast and are hunted by lottery.Sunshine pancakes are served all over Iceland when the sun finally returns to this arctic island. It's a thin crepe with berry jam and topped with whipped cream. At this farm, the sun returns on Feb. 7.- Duck breast pizza. For reasons no one can explain, folks in these northern latitudes LOVE pizza. Norwegians eat more pizza per capita than any other people on Earth. And the Icelanders can’t be far behind. View of a small eastern Icelandic village from a window.- Cabins at Mjoeyri Guesthouse in the small town of Eskifjordur in eastern Iceland. That boat is actually a hot tub with a fantastic view of the town's fjord by day. That night, I saw a glimmer of northern lights while soaking in the nice, hot water.Corrugated metal is used virtually everywhere in Iceland for modern buildings. It stands up to the weather better than wood and is certainly an improvement over the sod houses many folks lived in as recently as the years before WWII.Gorgeous landscape in eastern Iceland. This range of mountains is near the small town of Neskaupstadur.Hot cup of cappuccino topped with chocolate flakes in the town of Seydisfjordur in eastern Iceland. Ah, another thing Icelanders do so very well.



The height of tourist season is July and August, though people do visit Iceland year round. Activities in summer focus on the out-of-doors with trips to glaciers, waterfalls and riding stables.

Activities in winter turn to cultural events in Reykjavik, a city where 200,000 people have two dozen theaters.

The weekend bar scene is wicked year round and Christmas month (all of December through the first week of January) is one huge party and buffet.


Icelandic Tourist Board - And for the best fish and chips downtown, Reykjavik Fish -


Icelandic Men’s Choir singing in Icelandic

Pirates give way to one-armed bandits in Macau

By Bob Schulman

Our jet-powered ferry backs out of the dock at Hong Kong with a giant WHOOOOSH, then straightens out for the 40-mile run down the Chinese coast to Macau. I’d made the trip before, back in the 80s when the ferries still had shoulder-high poles on each side and scratch marks where barbed wire had once been stretched out on the deck. 

Macau is dotted by eye-popping hotel-casinos. Photo: Macau Government Tourism Office.

There was a time – up to the late 40s – when the poles had been used to mount machine guns, which with the barbed wire helped fend off attacks by pirates. No wonder my first trip to Macau was a scene right out of Milton Caniff’s old-time Terry and the Pirates comic strip as we first skirted the hidden coves and towering, mist-shrouded peaks of Lantau Island. The perfect spot for an ambush by the Dragon Lady, Caniff’s arch villain. Or maybe she’s on one of those suspicious looking junks up ahead, waiting to pick us off on the 20-mile swing across the mouth of China’s Pearl River.

Fantasies of the Dragon Lady, American adventurer Terry Lee (the strip’s hero), his buddy Pat Ryan and the rest of Caniff’s characters fade into an earlier era as the peninsula of Macau comes into sight. Hilltop forts loom above us as we enter the harbor, their ancient cannons standing silent vigil over what was once the crown jewel of Portugal’s 16th century trading empire.

Photo: Macau Government Tourism Office.

We made today’s trip in just under an hour (no pirate attacks... the buccaneers were chased out in 1949 when communist armies took over China). I’m among hundreds of passengers pouring off the ferry, itching to try my luck with another kind of brigand: one-armed bandits (slot machines). And at the fan-tan, blackjack, roulette, baccarat and the other gambling tables and wheels in the city’s four dozen hotel-casinos, many with familiar names such as Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Marriott, Hyatt, Wynn, MGM, Venetian and the Sands.

All told, the casinos’ cards, ivories and machines rake in a whopping $45 billion a year, said to be five times Las Vegas’ revenues.

Chihuly-class glasswork in the lobby of a hotel-casino. Photo: Dawna Robertson.

Gambling – banned elsewhere in China –  has been the big draw here ever since the local games of chance were legalized in the 1850s. Tourists from across the world, mostly from China, packed the Hong Kong-Macau ferries until 1995 when Macau’s international airport opened next to a close-by island. Many of the territory’s visitors still come here on water ferries, but a growing number fly in, mostly from airports across China and from terminals in Taiwan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Outside the casinos, hordes of sightseers – together with the gamblers accounting for 30 million visitors a year – jam the city’s narrow lanes. Among must-see sights is the Macau Tower (about as high as New York’s Empire State Building), the iconic facade of St. Paul’s Cathedral (built by Italian Jesuits in 1602) and a slew of old-world Portuguese fortresses (from which sharp-eyed gunners fought off four Dutch invasion fleets).

Facade of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a tourism highlight. Photo: Macau Government Tourism Office.

Long gone are the days of the double-decker steamers poking along the Hong Kong-Macau run carrying passengers such as Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in the 1952 movie Macau.

Hallway with Roman Bath in a villa of Macau’s opulent The 13 resort. Photo: The 13.Once known for the sleaze of its five original casinos – Macanese businessman Stanley Ho described them as “scenes from a bad Chinese gangster movie” – Macau’s early gambling dens have been replaced by some of the world’s most lavish hotel-casinos. One, named The 13, features 200 multi-level villas reportedly built at a cost of $7 million each. A stay at the ultra-luxury resort (including comped use of a chauffeured Rolls Royce Phantom) will set you back as much as $100,000 – that’s right, 100,000 U.S. smackers – a night.

A little history: The story of how Portugal wrangled control of the Chinese peninsula of Macau along with two nearby islands -- all told an area about a third the size of Manhattan – is a little fuzzy. Anyway, the deal, cut in 1557, wound up being good until 1999 when Macau went back to Chinese control, ending the last (and 442 years earlier, the first) European colony in Asia. Great Britain got into the act in 1842 when the Brits won a war with China over opium imports and among the spoils of victory gained control of Hong Kong, a much bigger and better trading port than Macau. As a result, Macau lost a great deal of its trading revenue – which the Portuguese offset by swinging a deal for China’s exclusive gambling rights. Hong Kong went back to Chinese control two years before the Portuguese flag came down over Macau.


By Yvette Cardozo

“Puffin. I want to eat puffin.”

"Ah ... puffin? Why don't you try something a bit more, um, standard. Rack of lamb, perhaps," the helpful tourism representative from Iceland was saying on the other end of the phone.

His efforts to steer me away from what he suspected I'd have second thoughts
about failed. I'd been set on tasting something truly and uniquely Icelandic ever since I decided to visit Iceland.

Today, Iceland ... an Ohio sized chunk of volcanic rubble practically atop the Arctic Circle ... is all modern buildings and hordes with their cell phones and polite manners. Visitors forget these folks are descendants of bold, fearless, somewhat bloodthirsty Vikings. They also forget that snowy volcanic rubble doesn't produce much food and in early days, people weren't very fussy about what they ate.

Since the lack of arable land meant traditional agricultural staples weren't available in Viking days, the people welcomed any protein that fluttered or swam within arm's reach. It led to some truly intriguing cuisine choices. Enter marinated puffin, boiled sheep's testicles, singed sheep's head, rotten shark, plus an endless array of concoctions made with sour milk. 

Thus, nothing is more dear to an Icelander than food. And in February, after a damp, dark winter where genetic instinct has been screaming, "eat!!!" it all comes to a head in the frenzy of the Thorrablöt festival. Outsiders have to be a bit adventurous for Thorrablöt but to a local, this month of gorging on old Viking food is nothing less than treasured history.    

Everybody has at least one Viking meal for Thorrablöt, (translated roughly as “homage to Thor,” the Norse god of thunder, war ... and agriculture). So they descend on the local grocery and stock up on lamb parts, blood sausage, rotten shark, steamed volcano bread, and endless varieties of herring.          

But you don't have to wait for February to experiment. Plenty of restaurants in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city, serve the stuff year round, sometimes complete with snarling Viking in costume as your guide. Along with rotten shark, there’s usually dried fish and (to a visitor perhaps more appealing) meat soup which is a hearty broth of lamb and veggies.

This is exactly how it went for me on my trip to Iceland. Ever curious about native food ... hey, I actually LIKE seal oil ... I absolutely had to try old (very, very old) Viking food.         

On my latest trip to Iceland, I was in the far eastern town of Eskifjordur at Randulff’s Seahouse, an old herring processing cabin that is now a rustic restaurant, when I came upon their rotten shark, or Hákarl.      

Okay, most people gag.

“They really didn’t pee on the shark. It only smells that way,” a friend once told me. It was the fermenting and hanging that led to the taste and rumors of that “secret” ingredient.     

But to me, the shark was soft, silky, rich, yes, a bit fishy and if I really tried, I could sort of taste a hint of something acid-like. I liked it. You’re supposed to chomp a cube and chase it with the local schnapps, appropriately named Black Death. But, geez, that kills the taste which, as I said, I like.

The dried fish I also tasted was crunchy and, yes, fishy. And of course I liked it, too ... so much so that the manager gave me a bag of the stuff to take home. My cat promptly tried to bury it, but who’s accounting for taste?  

On my last trip to Iceland, I visited a Reykjavik restaurant that, sadly, is no longer open. But I had a chance to taste a wide array of Thorrablöt foods.

The sous chef, Jon Bjorgvinsson, hovered over his wooden tray and explained the goodies as I nibbled. There was no mistaking the sheep's head, which was singed, then boiled.              

"The meat just under the jaw is best," Jon confided as he handed me a forkful. It was tender and intensely flavored.

Next came Slatur (slaughter), a combination of guts, blood, fat and unidentifiable meat bits all neatly stuffed into sausage casings made of stomach lining. It's like haggis but not as spicy. The smoked lamb had a distinct taste of campfire, as did all the smoked food I encountered in Iceland. It was a treat compared to the chemical smoke taste we get at home in North America.

Most meat in the old days, however, wasn't smoked but packed in sour milk, which turns out to be an extremely effective preservative. This led to a host of somewhat mouth puckering dishes involving sausages, assorted lamb parts, and ram's testicles.

At Jon’s restaurant, the latter were an anticlimax. They were chopped and pressed into disturbingly round pink chunks with aspic jelly. But the bottom line is they tasted like lunch meat.

Jon added that people today tend to modernize their Thorrablöt prep routine. They use Tupperware for the marinade, sugar to cut the sour taste of the sausage, gas lamps to singe the hair off the sheep head.

However, rotten shark is still made the old way ... buried after gutting and beheading the shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in sand. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and in the old days, stones were placed on top of the sand in order to press fluids out of the body. These days, though, the pressing is done in a plastic container with drain holes. The shark ferments in this fashion for 6–12 weeks depending on the season. It’s then cut into strips and hung to dry for four or five months.

It is possible to witness the traditional preparation process at Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum on the Snfellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland.

Icelandic food, though, is not all about boiled ram's jewels. Traditional Icelandic dishes include lobster so tender it's almost ephemeral, steamed bread -- it used to be cooked in thermal pits -- that tastes like cake, the most delicious lamb you’ve ever tasted, reindeer so tender you can cut it with a fork and skyr, a milk curd with cream that's like yogurt but much livelier.

What about the puffins? Despite the tourism fellow's misgivings on my last trip, I scarfed down three helpings of this soft, dark, faintly fishy meat with the berry aftertaste. It didn't taste like chicken. It was more reminiscent of liver. And I finished every bite.


1. Winter is a great time to visit with mid-February to the end of March being the best time. When the skies are clear, the northern lights are fantastic and along the coast, the temperatures are mild, barely dipping below freezing thanks to warm ocean currents. Even at its darkest, there is light ... a dreamy blue that is starlight and moonlight reflected off the snow.  And there are plenty of winter activities from snowmobiling to caving, skiing and camping on glaciers.

2. Virtually all Icelandic people speak English. They study it from early grades on.

3. Vikings never wore hats with horns (though they probably drank local grog out of them). Credit this myth to Wagner's Valkyrie opera. Nor did they "bury" their dead by sending burning ships to sea. We've got a Kirk Douglas movie to thank for that.

4. You never hear of “Viking moms,” but there would have hardly been any Viking exploration without them. Your average Viking, we learned on a half day tour of Viking lore, was maybe 17. Before the trip, mom washed him, sewed his clothes and packed food in a special wooden chest for the boat before admonishing him to “be a good boy.” Whereupon he and his buddies set forth to, yes, rape and pillage. And, also, especially important, look for good farmland.

5. It takes about five hours to fly here from the US from the east coast, seven or eight from the west.

6. The Island is slightly smaller than Cuba and is one of the youngest landmasses on the planet.

7. Iceland is the least densely populated country in Europe.

8. Icelanders LOVE grilling (BBQ’s can be found in almost every garden and balcony). And they grill during blizzards as well!

9. If you get lost in your average Iceland forest you only need to get off your knees and stand up to see where to go.

10. Oh, and Leif Erikson found America – not Christopher Columbus


The height of tourist season is July and August, though people do visit Iceland year round.

Activities in summer focus on the out-of-doors with trips to glaciers, waterfalls and riding stables.

Activities in winter turn to cultural events in Reykjavik, a city where 200,000 people have two dozen theaters.    

The weekend bar scene is wicked year round and Christmas month (all of December through the first week of January) is one huge party and buffet.   

Should you prefer more standard fare, Iceland also does grilled fish (especially salmon and trout), eggs, lamb, cheese, skyr and these days, things at upscale restaurants can get quite gourmet)


Cafe Loki (click on English in dropdown link) -

Fjörukráin -

Sægreifinn (The Seabaron, click on British flag on top for English) -

Randulff’s Seahouse in Eskifjordur in the Icelandic east:

And for the best fish and chips downtown, Reykjavik Fish -


Icelandic Tourist Board -

Thorrablöt Festival -

Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum -    

Winter Wonderland Weekend

By Carole Jacobs

Is there anything more depressing than the first week in January, when the holiday lights have come down, the once-majestic tree’s been dragged to the local landfill and the holiday glow has faded to the color of dirty snow? Well, not in my book. So, if it’s pushing January 10 and you’re still dreaming of a White Christmas (if not like the ones you used to know than perhaps, perchance, in some terminally quaint European ski village), I hear you.

December 25th may be a distant memory, but it’s not too late to ski (lodge, dine, drink) with a French accent by heading to the cobblestone village of Mont Tremblant in Quebec’s breathtaking Laurentians. Located just over the border, this crayon-colored town outlined by fairy lights is the closest you can get to skiing in the Alps without getting zonked by jet lag or tanking your bank account on a trans-Atlantic flight (although there are now plenty of new direct flights within the U.S. and Canada to Mont Tremblant).

Instead of spending two days cooped up at 30,000 feet in an embryo position, you could bag the long, bad trip and enjoy nonstop joie de vivre practically in your own backyard:  Imagine schussing along 1,000 acres of powdery slopes or down the highest peak in the Laurentians, twirling around crystal lakes, tucking into 5-star French cuisine and wines, staying at luxurious digs, skipping the night fantastic at sophisticated wine bars and hanging around ski villages that look like they were air-lifted in from Chamonix.


You’ll feel right at home in Quebec

Forget about the language barrier. Just because you don’t speak French doesn’t mean the Quebecois don’t speak English (and probably more fluently than you do). Same deal with changing money. Hand them a loonie and they’ll probably take you for one.

Meanwhile, if you’ve come to ski (and there’s so much to do in Mont Tremblant, you may have trouble fitting it in), you’ll find the slopes to be as civilized as the natives (translation: no gonzo snowboarders running you off the green slopes or taking tokes on the lifts).

Au contraire, in Mont Tremblant the skiing is tres orderly, with slopes for all levels—from the steeps of Versants Edge and Soleil to long cruises for intermediates; easy runs where beginners can exit the indignities of the bunny slope and feel like real skiers as they glide all the way down the mountain on wide, user-friendly slopes from Bob Vivant or Nansen to designated snow parks for snowboarders, who, let’s face it, are a different species from most middle-aged skiers.


Even if you no longer ski

Even if you hung up your skis years ago and now prefer a softer and more dignified landing, Mont Tremblant has plenty of fun-in-the-snow that doesn’t entail breaking your neck navigating the moguls or boarding to oblivion down a black-diamond slope.

Surrounding the resort and town of Mont Tremblant is the 583.05-square-mile Mont Tremblant National Park, where hundreds of miles of trails ring around the resort for breathtaking cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-biking through a Currier & Ives landscape.

Creeks tinkle under snowbanks, icicles hang like tinsel from swooping pines and animal tracks pattern the windswept snow and invite you to follow them to their enigmatic endings. If you want to up the ante, there’s also dog-sledding or snowmobiling (a sport that was born here) through miles of enchanted forests, ice-climbing in sparkling natural cathedrals and invigorating zip-lining through frosty skies and on to Popsicle status.

And while we know you all love your kids (and grandkids), should you want to dump them for a day and say, soak in hot springs or get a massage, Tremblant’s Kids Club offers all-day day care, or you can send them to children’s ski and snowboarding school, which ends with binging on maple taffy on snow.



4 p.m. Arrive at Mont Tremblant Resort and settle into Hotel Quintessence, a 5-star all-suite boutique hotel nestled on Lac Tremblant just a few steps from the village and including Clagett’s Cabin, an 1885 rustic hideaway tucked in the woods; an award-winning gourmet restaurant, a wine bar with a cozy fireplace and nearly 4,000 bottles in the cellar, and a luxury spa.

5 p.m. Relax from the drive or flight in with an in-room massage in front of your suite’s fireplace, or for a revitalizing Shiatsu and Swedish massages, head to the hotel’s Spa Sans Sabots. Follow it up with a soothing soak or steam.

7 p.m. For a deluxe French dinner with fine wines, follow your nose to La Restaurant La Quintessence & Winebar, featuring locally sourced produce, beef, fish and chicken and traditional Laurentian flavors plus an award-winning wine list. Have dinner in the main dining room or, for a romantic meal, in one of two private salons. If you’re a certified foodie, sign up for the tasting menu with the chefs in the “glasshouse” next to the kitchen. Then watch them prepare tantalizing dishes like French onion soup made with red wine, Swiss cheese and Cheddar from Île-aux-Grues; beef tartare with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan; foie gras served with gingerbread smoked duck breast and red wine pear; caviar, fried oysters, and for dessert, hot pecan tart with vanilla ice cream, and, of course, decadent crème brulee.

9 p.m. Head over to Le Grande’s Whiskey Bar for a stellar nightcap, more types of brandy than you can shake a stick and a chance to mingle with the locals when they’re unguarded (or inebriated). if you still have energy to spare after dinner, there's no shortage of bars and discos in the Laurentians. Saint-Sauveur has dancing till dawn while Au Coin in the Mont Tremblant Hotel features cold beer, hot music and the chance to walk off your hangover in an enchanting village that twinkles and blinks with a billion fairy lights.


Day 2

7 a.m. Mont Tremblant is home to many bakeries where cream oozes from every flat surface and countless cafes and espresso shops. Or have crepes, a Laurentian tradition, at The Maison de la Crepe Experience, an historic chalet where 50 different types of crepes, from salty, sweet or very-very sweet crepes are made right before your eyes with fresh seasonal ingredients and served with a full line of Starbucks coffee. If you’re running late, you can get the crepes and coffee to go and savor them on the ultra-scenic ride up the mountain via the Express Gondola.

7:45 a.m. Rise with the birdies, board the Express gondola at 7:45 a.m. and you’ll be the first to hit the slopes at 8:00 a.m. for a cruise along empty, sun-splashed runs and into untouched powder bowls. 

10 a.m. Revive yourself with coffee, crepes and pastries at the Grand Manitou, a cafeteria-style eatery perched atop the summit of Tremblant near several lifts. Take your pick and spend the rest of the morning exploring Versant Soleil, the resort’s newest ski region with daring tree runs like Bon Vieux Temps and Brasse-Camarade off Toboggan plus virgin powder at Les Bouleaux off Ryan Haut.



9 a.m. If you don’t want to ski, sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast of your choice of Eggs Benedict at Eggspress Matins.  Try the Swiss Eggs Benedict, the Bree Eggs Benedict with mushrooms and a side of bacon, or the Ham Eggs Benedict, all served with homemade hollandaise sauce and potato medallion fries. Or head to Creperie Catherine for breakfast crepes stuffed with eggs, bacon, cheese and you name it; chocolate crepes, and the house specialty, a cloyingly sweet melt-in-your-mouth Sucre a la crème. The creperie also offers a full coffee bar.

10 a.m. Gather up the gang and head to the Paintball Centre at the Tremblant Activity Center. Guides will show you the ropes and then set you free to enjoy paintball target practice in one of 10 playgrounds.

11:30 a.m. Work up an appetite for lunch by going snow tubing. Grab your large inner tube and fly down the groomed hills. A tow-rope will bring you back up the hill while you sit on your tube and take in the laughs and screams of those on their way down.

1 p.m. Meet up with the skiers in your family at Le Grille Saint Georges, offering stick-to-your-ribs (and elsewhere) lunches ranging from homemade gnocchi with boar meatballs to Brie fondant served with fresh arugula salad, freshly made pasta with broccoli rabe and lamb, walleye with pistachios and pesto, braised short ribs and steak et frite. Save room for the crème brulee trio for dessert.

2 p.m. Quebec is the home of snowmobiling and located at the junction of four Trans-Quebec snowmobile trails that lead into the backbone of its's 32,000 mile snowmobile system. Your guide can fashion a 3-hour snowmobiling tour into the heart of Mont Tremblant’s stunning backcountry for a wild and wooly adventure you won’t forget.



2 p.m. Spend the afternoon sampling Mont Tremblant’s many hot springs ops to steam, soak and unwind in the bosom of Mother Nature. The best by far is the rustic Scandinavia Spas Mont Tremblant, a traditional Scandinavian baths experience nestled within the Laurentian forest along the shores of the Diable River and offering Finnish saunas, Norwegian eucalyptus steam baths, outdoor Jacuzzis, Swedish massage and a chance to swim in the frigid, ice-bound river.

5 p.m. Meet up with the snowmobilers back at the village and warm up with a bowl of caffe latte or mocha, tea, hot chocolate and cakes, cookies, sandwiches and chili at Au Grain Café, a sweet little café with a boho vibe.

5:30 p.m. Walk back to the hotel through the village and enjoy some leisurely window-shopping or serious spending. Check out the eclectic goods at Le Walkin Friperie Boutique and the beautiful handmade pottery at Poterie Mont-Tremblant.

7 p.m. Both the town and resort of Mont Tremblant are international foodie havens with an award-winning restaurant on every corner specializing in their take on French Laurentian cuisine. Try SEb L'Artisan Culinaire, housed in a quaint white farmhouse, for hearty regional dishes like pecorino ravioli with hare and rabbit or bison sirloin with mashed potatoes and pumpkin. For regional fare and seafood with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern twist, including zesty curries, tagines, tiger prawns, scallops, spicy Mediterranean fish soup and bouillabaisse with lobster, head to Le Cheval de Sage.

9 p.m. Ice-skating is a popular pastime in the Laurentians.  From the restaurant, head to Lake Moore in Old Tremblant Village, a charming country town on the shore of Lake Mercer between the Resort Village and Tremblant’s downtown area, for a romantic twirl around a lake ringed by fairy lights. Back in the village, take a spin around the enchanting ice rink by the St. Bernard Chapel and then warm up by a crackling fire.


10 a.m. For a blow-out breakfast buffet or brunch, go to Le Comptoir Cuisine du Marche in Tremblant Old Village. The buffet is a culinary blitz that leaves no food group unturned and offers heaping platters of everything from fresh fruit, crepes and omelets to fresh salads, shrimp and scallops.

11:30 a.m. Before heading home, browse the shops for hand-made treasures. Look for beautiful, hand-blown glass Christmas tree ornaments at L’Atelier du Père Noël in Old Tremblant Village, boxes of crepe mixes at local creperies and homemade maple syrup at the Sugar Shack. Or, if you’ve down to your last loonie, take snapshots of the village, river and mountains for the sort of memories money can’t buy.


Story by Anne Z. Cooke; photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

A slow afternoon in the pool, at Villa Manzu, Costa Rica.For most visitors to tropical Costa Rica, home of Central America’s finest coffee and coffee plantations, it’s the memory of that first, early-morning cup of joe that’s likely to linger longest. 

But for a very few, very lucky travelers, their most treasured experience will be the week they spend with friends – or family – at Villa Manzu, a private mansion on the exclusive Papagayo Peninsula, on Costa Rica’s northwest coast. 

More than a luxury resort, more than boutique hotel, more than an adventure lodge, this remarkable private home, among the trees on an ocean cliff, promises a dream vacation: luxury, comfort, outdoor discovery, fine cuisine, impeccable service and no-stress days.

If peace and quiet is in your stars, float in the pool, watch the monkeys chattering in the trees or lounge under an umbrella on one of three quiet patios. If you’re a type-A traveler, dig into outdoor activities ranging from surfing, kayaking and deep-sea fishing to yacht outings, golf, wildlife parks and helicopter-sightseeing.

When friends celebrated their anniversary at Villa Manza and invited us to the party, we weren’t sure what to expect. What we saw, rounding that last corner, was a three-story contemporary stone mansion divided into connected wings. Surrounded by five acres of green lawns, native trees, flowering bushes, terraced pools and shaded patios, it was a universe unto itself.   

The design and décor in Villa Manzu’s interiors reflect the arts of local and Southeast Asian indigenous cultures, Villa Manzu, Costa Rica.“Make yourself at home,” said our hostess, Stephanie, greeting us with giant hugs. “Take in the scenery. Join us in the pool; it’s heated,” she said, motioning toward the infinity pool on the patio. “But first, meet our butler, Luis Morera, who makes the most marvelous cocktails.”

Melting away to greet other friends, she left us to admire the owner’s collection of art and artifacts lining the corridors and living room walls. Two chefs looked up to smile “hello” from a professionally-equipped, open-air kitchen adjoining the living and dining rooms. A quick tour of the lower level revealed a theater, another bar and a casual party room opening onto a waterfall and second swimming pool.

From there, a path led down the hill to the beach, Instead, we followed a second path through the garden to the cliff, where a barbecue circle and seats faced the west, a set-up designed for sunset viewing. Upstairs we checked into one of eight enormous bedrooms, each decorated with a different theme and style of sleeping arrangements, and equipped with huge closets, mini-bars and spacious indoor-outdoor bathrooms. 

Maintained by a trained staff of 12, including the managers – a husband-and-wife partnership – and the butler, three chefs, ground crew, maids and drivers, the house provides not just seamless luxury ut complete privacy. Priced accordingly, it’s a favorite hideaway for celebrities, tech-company millionaires, movie moguls, industry titans and sports greats. For us, this little bit of heaven was a case of good friends and dumb luck.   

Bold forms, both inside and out, echo the rugged cliffs of the location, on the Papagayo Peninsula, Villa Manzu, Costa Rica.“Sit at the counter and talk ingredients with the chefs,” said Stephanie, reappearing. “They’re happy to share their recipes. Or ask about tonight’s recommended wine-pairings.” Tomorrow, she insisted, we must walk down to the beach and try snorkeling. “Or you can take a car to the beach club, or to play golf. It’s ten minutes away. Villa Manzu has guest privileges.”

We came by plane, landing in Costa Rica’s Liberia airport, 35 minutes away, where Villa Manzu’s driver picked us up. Next time, he explained, come by yacht and dock in the local harbor. Maybe next time, we promised.

Your best bet?  Plan a trip with family or friends and share the cost. The Villa sleeps 22 adults and/or children, and sometimes a more, depending on ages. While you’re there, the house is yours, thus everything’s included: Meals, wine, cocktails, snacks, sports equipment, fishing gear, a car, guides, and as always, old-fashioned Costa Rican hospitality.

At Villa Manzu, the all-inclusive rate for the entire house and staff is priced per night. Call for dates, availability and current rates. Or go to More questions? Send them to Anne Z. Cooke at

Palm Springs is for the Dogs (and we’re jealous!)

By Carole Jacobs

Chloe, my 4-year-old Australian Shepherd, is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a daughter, which may explain why she travels everywhere with me. My husband says we have the same temperament (Princess and the Pea) and friends say we even look alike (although Chloe’s hair is black on top and blond on the bottom while mine is the exact opposite).


On a recent trip to the Palm Springs, the city’s stunning scenery (sweeping desert climbing to craggy peaks), its sharp, clean air and the city’s slew of dog-friendly amenities had us at hello. Despite its glitz, glam and stiletto-teetering celebs, it was clear to both me and Chloe that Palm Springs was for the dogs.

Our pet-friendly room at the Hyatt Palm Springs was no exception: It had the deep soaking tub and high-thread-count sheets I craved while Chloe had a separate living room outfitted with sleek, unfussy furnishings and a cozy corner where she could curl up with her ratty rawhide bone and alternately chew and snooze.

It’s a dog’s life

About three years ago, a photo popped up online from a local animal shelter. Chloe was chained to a fence in a dark cell and sitting straight up posture-perfect, gazing beseechingly into the camera. She looked so eager to please and desperate to make a good impression that she reminded me of someone, but who? I showed my husband Tom the photo -- he had never had a dog and wasn’t eager to get one --and he just groaned. “She’s you with fur,” he said. “You might as well go get her.”


I had never had a dog, either. Anxious to be a good mother, I purchased a dog crate, lined the bottom of it with a down pillow covered with a 1,000-thread-count Egyptian cotton pillow case, installed an official doggy water bowl and food bowl and clustered some new toys in a corner. Since I live three hours away from the shelter, I filled the doggie bowl with “the world’s healthiest” (and most expensive) dog food (Organic ‘Jammin Salmon) so Chloe could nosh in style all the way home. In fact, she bolted it down as soon as she got in the car and then, channeling Peggie Lee, looking at me beseechingly. (Is that all there is?)

At home the following morning, Tom poured some Walmart kibble into Chloe’s bowl. She gave it a suspicious sniff (You’ve got to be kidding) and looked at me hopefully. I replaced the kibble with Jammin’ Salmon and she wolfed it down pronto. “See that, she loves it!” I exclaimed. “She should since it costs more per ounce than caviar! replied Tom. “I thought we were getting a dog, but Chloe’s no dog, she’s…the reincarnation of Julia Child!”

Sniffing out Palm Springs

After settling into our deluxe digs at the Hyatt Palm Springs (Chloe not only had her own pillow—she had her own room) we took the industrial-style elevator took us down to the hotel’s pint-sized park, basically a scruffy and yellowed patch of grass. Chloe, who’d quickly become accustomed to our 400-acre spread where she could do her business in privacy, sniffed the grass, tilted her head and looked at me quizzically:  Huh? You expect me to pee and poo in public?

In search of a bathroom she could call her own, we wandered around downtown Palm Springs past swank sidewalk cafes, trendy restaurants, sleek hotels and women in diamonds and stilettos with prancing little pooches in tow.  At Cold Nose Warm Heart, one of Palm Spring’s many fetching pet store, Chloe introduced herself to a fluffy white miniature poodle about a fifth her size wearing a rhinestone-studded collar. As the two of them sniffed away (give it up, Chloe, he’s not your type) I looked around the store to see if I could find Chloe a new bone.

The night before, Chloe had mortified me by trotting into the Hyatt’s swank lobby with her beloved rawhide clutched between her teeth - a ratty, malodorous bone I thought I had thrown in the garbage two weeks ago. The store’s collection of designer bones was exorbitantly pricy, but at least they were clean and didn’t smell. I put the cheapest one ($24!) one on the floor so Chloe could sniff it, but before I could pay for it, she clenched it her teeth and bolted out the door.  By the time I caught up with her, she was digging a hole in the Hyatt’s manicured flower gardens.

Back on the streets, we finally found a dog park, one of Palm Spring’s many designer versions with a beautiful fence created by a local artist and several adorable fire hydrants made from recycled plastic. Chloe paused to sniff each one before lifting her leg: Mine-mine-mine-mine-mine....

By now it was 11 a.m. and already too hot for Chloe (who wears her fur coat all year), to hike in the desert.  To beat the heat, we followed a steep, winding highway into the rugged San Jacinto Mountains that hover wall-like over Palm Springs. We finally arrived at a densely-wooded plateau where a trail pushed into the trees. As we set out, the pines parted to reveal a startling view of 9,000-foot-highTahquitz Rock shooting from the forest floor like a guided missile. I gasped and Chloe panted, but I think we were saying the same thing.

Doggone awesome digs

The new morning, we vacated our palatial suite at the Hyatt for a deluxe Spanish-style casita at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in neighboring Rancho Mirage. The 9-acre sprawl boasted championship links, lakes, waterfalls, spurting fountains, gourmet restaurants, cool bars, an elegant spa – and it also put on the Ritz for visiting canines: Chloe promptly got comfy in her Heavenly Dog Bed and totally related to the hotel’s adoption project, which works with a local animal shelter to provide temporary homes for homeless dogs. Guests can visit the resort’s swank canine digs to see if they might find a furry friend to adopt, and Chloe was ready to take home Spock, a pint-sized Chihuahua mix that was the hotel’s 20th adoptee.

That night, we headed to the resort’s pet-friendly Fireside Lounge Bar and Restaurant, settling into a plush outdoor patio overlooking gardens and a crashing waterfall. The waiter brought two menus to our table – ours and Chloe’s.  Chloe’s 3-course canine meal, which made Jammin Salmon look like chicken feed, included raw organic beef and veggie appetizers, chicken-flavored mutt-zo-ball soup, nonalcoholic beer and peanut butter and banana cookies.

Chloe wolfed down her gourmet chow with undisguised gusto, but Tom prayed she’d forget all about it before we got home.



Box 1: More pet-friendly stuff in Palm Springs

Pet-friendly restaurants: Several of Palm Spring’s hottest eateries not only cater to canines, but are named after the owners’ dogs. Check out the elegant Spencer's Restaurant; Jake's Palm Springs, a hip bistro; Copley’s, a swank eatery located at the former estate of Cary Grant, and LULU, a cool California bistro.,,,

Dog who take the plunge: Desert Hot Springs Inn, a natural hot spring resort co-owned by Dr. Paula Terifaj, D.V.M., a retired Palm Springs veterinarian, has no pet fee, size or breed limitations. The resort has a dog park, pools, mineral springs, a restaurant and more. Provided dogs are accompanied by their owners, they can go anywhere on the resort without a leash.,

Latchkey dogs: At the Pet Hotel at Barkingham Palace, Fido can take Pilates, get a massage or a relaxing Klay-9 Ultra Luxury Treatment, snooze in a plush private suite, doggy paddle in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, trot on the treadmills and get deluxe grooming.

Box 2: 6 Tips for Dog-Friendly Travel

Palm Springs veterinarian Paula Terifaj, D.V.M., owner of the pet-friendly Desert Hot Springs Inn, offers these tips on safe and happy vacations with your dog.

  1. Do your homework: Research dog guidebooks and websites to ensure your vacation destination has plenty of pet-friendly amenities.
  2.  Crate your dog during car travel: This will prevent your dog from getting loose if you break down or have an accident.
  3. Avoid feeding pups right before a car trip:  Feed puppies at least six hours before leaving to prevent carsickness.
  4. Flying your dog to your holiday destination?  If the airline can’t guarantee you that your dog will travel in a temperature-controlled part of the plane, leave your dog at home with a dog-sitter.
  5. Don’t change your dog’s diet on vacation: Bring your pet’s usual food and stick to his normal feeding times to avoid stressing your dog out.
  6.  Make sure you are really up to traveling with your pet: If the notion of taking care of your pet on vacation overwhelms you and/or you already know it’s going to be a hectic trip, do yourself and your pet a favor and leave him at home with a dog-sitter.


Story by Anne Z. Cooke/photography by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

On September 29, the first snowfall of the season dusted Colorado ski resorts, dropping   just enough white flakes for impatient snowboarders to score a downhill run through the trees.   But the storm was just an opener for the main event.

A couple of days later another white-out blew over the Rocky Mountains, leaving a foot  of feathery-soft snow on most resorts, from 12 inches at Snowmass, in the Roaring Fork Valley, to14 inches at Loveland and 18 inches at Steamboat, in the Yampa Valley. And within the week, three more inches.

At the top of the Alice-in-Wonderland trails, Winter Park Resort.

“I was ready to get my skis out, but it didn’t last,” lamented Sara Reed, in Estes Park, Colorado.

Though the official ski season doesn’t launch until Thanksgiving, when nighttime temperatures are cold enough to make and keep snow, an early winter could mean a long one.

And for recreational skiers – like me – it was a reminder. Time again for the annual online marathon in search of resort news, up-to-date weather forecasts, stay-and-ski family discounts, new bumps clinics and affordable lodging.

 At Keystone's River Run base area, walking past the ski rental shop.

Before the internet, pre-season planning was simple. You skied at the same place you skied every year. Now it’s a bite-your-fingernails chore guaranteed to turn anyone’s hair a lighter shade of grey. With millions of bits of data socked away in dozens of poorly organized resort websites, navigating from one screen to the next is headache fodder.   

Just for fun, type “ski resorts” into your favorite search engine. I did and produced a formidable 3,410,000 hits. “Lake Tahoe skiing” scored 60,600 hits, but that included ski lodges and restaurants. Vail Resorts found 472,000 results, including resorts, hotels and real estate investments. That’s a lot of choices to winnow to one.    

Do you know what you want? That’s step one. Trail maps and advanced bumps clinics?  Popular kids’ stay-and-ski-free programs? Or maybe you’d like to earn some points at an independently-owned and managed ski mountain, one of those much-loved outliers known for its special ambiance and home-grown culture?    

When I started looking, I decided that if a website site didn’t have a home page that popped up with an easy-to-read, color-saturated photo of skiers schussing down snowy mountain trails, it was probably doomed. Visuals count. And if it didn’t include an in-your-face list of sub-topics, I stopped looking.

 Getting ready to roll on Dercum Mountain, Keystone Resort.

Then I took the easy way out. I started with last season’s two best favorites, Snowmass Ski Resort, in Colorado, and Park City Resort, in Utah, just to see what’s new. Faster chairlifts, redesign of the trail system, new top-of-the-peak restaurants, that kind of thing.

Snowmass, (, one of the Aspen Ski Company’s four resorts, next door to each other, is big and broad, a fresh-air destination at any time of year. The runs here, rated for all skill levels, fan down from four high peaks: black diamond widow-makers plunging down vertical steeps, gentle beginners’ green trails, and miles of swooping intermediate blue runs. 

The on-slope restaurants are as good as anything you’ll find anywhere, and ski-in ski-out lodging tucked into the trees is a feature, one I’m too spoiled to give up. When I first started to ski, in Southern California, the parking lot was 500 feet from the snow, walking in stiff, plastic boots and humping skis, poles and a day pack. That was then. Nowadays I want to step out the door and glide away. 

As for the Aspen-Snowmass website, it didn’t disappoint either. A single site with four divisions, the graphics were inviting and easy to follow, with story-telling photos, charts, maps, lists of lessons, kids’ ski school signups, apres-ski events, other winter activities and daily and weekly rates. Once you’d navigated through Snowmass, the others were easy. 

 Views of the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen Ski area.

My other resort favorite, Park City Resorts, in Utah (, is an authentic destination on two fronts. It’s not just a big, newly-renovated family-friendly ski mountain but a historic base area village, a restored mining town with great restaurants and hip shops. But Park City, now merged with the Canyon, is a Vail property, one of 17 ski resorts owned or managed by the real estate investment giant, Vail Resorts.  

 A trip down Spar Gulch is like a ride through a salad bowl, Aspen Ski area.The result is a single website ( for all 17 ski areas. This is an advantage for Vail, of course, facilitating resort-wide promotions. For skiers there’s a handy list of names, a quick click from one to the next. But forcing 17 geographically dispersed, very different ski resorts into a single mold homogenizes – and commercializes -- the ski experience.  

Some of the best ski areas have created clubs, joining forces to compete. The first is the Mountain Collective (, whose shadowy green home page charms like velvet. An association of independent ski areas, the Collective is a club of 16 charismatic, unique and sometimes wild and wooly resorts dedicated to promote unforgettable adventures. 

Some of the members you’ll know – Aspen-Snowmass and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, in California’s Sierra Nevadas. Others you may not, including Coronet Peak, in New Zealand, and Revelstoke, in Canada, known for the continent’s longest vertical drop: a wowie 5,620 feet.

Gas up the station wagon (or the Ferrari), buy the Collective’s 33 ski-day adult pass, for $489, and the 12-and-under youth pass for $99, and you and your 11-year-old can ski two days each at six of the 16 – say, Sugar Bush, Taos Ski Valley, Mammoth Mountain, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole  and Banff Sunshine – and still have 21 ski days left.

The other essential website is Colorado Ski Country (, a bright and eye-catching site representing Colorado’s 21 large and small ski and snowboard resorts. As a hub, Colorado Ski posts each site’s latest news, weather reports and special offers, along with photos, a slide show and general information. 

From there, links to each individual site lead to the nitty gritty. Ever skied at Eldora, or Monarch, Wolf Creek or Powderhorn? Ever taken the kids to Howelsen or Sunlight? Colorado has more skiable mountains than Saturday Night Live has skits.

But without snow, no website helps. With weather patterns changing, snowfall is an increasingly dodgy topic. Depending on long range forecasts, maybe – just maybe – it’s better to wait a little longer before booking lodging and lift tickets.

Ski resorts aren’t weather forecasters, but do post ski conditions online, with current temperatures, past and recent snow levels, and sometimes even charts showing annual snowfall every month of every year for the past decade. Nonetheless, it’s better to consult science. 

 Two skiers catch their breath at Snowmass’s high point, the Cirque – elevation 12,510 feet.

If you’re planning to ski more than two weeks in advance, advises former Olympic snowboarder Erica Mueller, at Crested Butte Resort, near Gunnison, Colorado, “look for a science-based website, like” Founded by skier Joel Gratz, a Colorado-based meteorologist, the site has been monitoring weather forecasts and future storms for the last six years. “That’s where most of the ski resorts I know go to look ahead,” says Mueller.

Like most skiers, Gratz’s search for the best powder snow began as a hobby. Then it evolved into a full-time occupation.

“What separates us from other sites is that we know what powder skiers like,” says Gratz.  “So we focus on which resorts are likely to get the next powder storm.” After a year of testing, the site went online in November 2011, and so far, it’s a success.” 

For more information on all things ski, from weather forecasts to package deals and late-season discounts, I go to When it comes to planning the best ski vacation ever, you can never know enough.

Writer Anne Z. Cooke plans to ski the top indefinitely. Contact her at; on Twitter at #anneontheroad; and on Facebook.


By Nancy Clark

Cars are the only reason motels ever existed. Highways were the reason they thrived. As early as 1914, Americans traveling in their 1.7 million cars bunked down in cottage courts, individual cabins dotting the nation’s random road system.

The word “motel" was first coined by the Motel Inn of San Luis Obispo located at the mid-way point between San Francisco and LA, then a two-day drive. Neither city had commercial passenger airports yet. (San Francisco leased 150 acres of cow pasture as a temporary experimental airport in 1927. LA purchased a private airport called Mills Field in 1937, later known as LAX.)

The Spanish Mission architecture of the Milestone Mo-Tel featured individual bungalows in the tradition of the earliest motor courts and as well offered the newest architectural twist: attached guest rooms integrated under one roof.

In the ’30s and ‘40s, motels gained popularity, the attraction being that guests could pull their automobiles right up to the front door. By the ‘50s, motels were built around a public lawn and in some cases a welcome swimming pool.

It wasn’t until 1956 that the United States got its official “I” system when President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Construction of 47,000+ miles of new roadways was to take more than three decades to complete. But immediately the promise of improved logistics along with the 10-fold increase in automobile ownership meant Americans were on the move.

The ’50s and ’60s became the Golden Era of Motels. Motels were located along the highways while hotels were generally located in urban centers. Families found motels an affordable means of getting from Point A to Point B. Salesmen preferred the motel stay over hotel stay for budget and convenience.

In 1964, 61,000 motels operated across the USA. By 2012, that number had dwindled to 16,000.

The demise of motels was a socioeconomic phenomenon. Always regarded as a cheaper alternative to hotels because they offer fewer amenities, motels struggled financially and it showed in their upkeep. As time passed and care lapsed, many were razed while others became home to transients and long-term residents unable to scrape together rent money but for once a week. Family-owned motels passed from the first generation to the second, but for the most part the third generation wanted nothing to do with the 24/7 demands of a motel. They wanted out.

Notably, the American Hotel and Motel Association removed “motel”' from its name in 2000, becoming the American Hotel and Lodging Association. While the association believed the term “lodging” more accurately reflected the scope of hospitality from luxury and boutique hotels to budge and extended stay iterations, motels had developed a bad reputation. The use of “Roach Motel” said it all. 

Chains operate the majority of motels today, with the largest owner being Holiday Inn Express, according to researchers at In his 2012 book Life Behind The Lobby, Pawan Dhingra reports that one out of two motels in the US is now owned by Indian Americans. Indian Americans own 22,000 hotels and motels across the USA valued at $128 billion.

Trends in vacationing today give tenacious motel owners hope. The AARP Travel Research: 2017 Travel Trends report:

  • Millennial and GenXers more open to Weekend Getaways than Baby Boomers.
  • Millennials and GenXers also are more likely than Baby Boomers to set a budget for their trips and are more likely to have been impacted by the cost of rising airfares.
  • Fifty-seven percent of travel is motivated by the desire to spend time with family and friends. Spring Break, family reunions and weddings and graduations are drivers.
  • Forty-six percent of domestic travelers get to their destination by car; 41% by air.
  • Fifty percent of domestic travelers will stay in a hotel or motel.
  • And free Wi-Fi continues to be the most important hospitality perk with 4 out of 10 travelers claiming it’s a must.

Simplicity is the new buzzword of modern travelers, according to the International Luxury Travel Market that convenes annually in Cannes. Travelers from Baby Boomers to Millennials seek personalized experiences over marble-wrapped suites and motels, particularly the individually-owned sort, have the potential to deliver uniqueness.


On North Highway 85 in Greeley, Colorado at a point some refer to as the wrong side of the tracks is the Rainbow Motel, built in 1953. If it were human, The Rainbow Motel would become eligible for Medicare this year. The irony in that isn’t lost on Baby-Boomers.

The Rainbow is family owned. By my family. A curious evolution when I consider all the years of travel writing in my portfolio. My children and I have had opportunity vis à vis my journalism assignments to bed down in some of this country’s finest thousand-count bedsheets. We’ve been fortunate to travel on assignment to rare international destinations. For the last couple months our travel has been limited to weekend drives from Denver to Greeley for gritty and unglamorous work to revive this diamond in the rough.

All 6,412 sq. ft. of this 16-room motel on an 18,555 sq. ft. lot competes for our attention. Even the iconic signage that first enchanted us needs fixing and the estimates to repair it have, well, more zeros in the number than we expected. Priorities were set and then a new issue would come along and were reset overnight. The overarching plan was to demonstrate that improvements were coming to the Rainbow by showing passers by the improvements to the exterior first.

Landscaping crews swept in to clean up the exterior. The overgrown evergreen shrubs were pruned away and a 6 ft. lamppost was discovered underneath it all. The center court, run amok with weeds, was leveled and “landscaped” with Astroturf, recalling the product introduced in the ’60s. The existing landscaping stones were dug out and fashioned into a pad upon which the rare Design Within Reach Airstream sits proudly, ideal to serve lemonade to guests in the heat of the summer…next summer. The exterior work was our subtle way of saying someone new is in the house.

On the first day of ownership, the same morning as the first total solar eclipse in 99 years, I met my first motel guest as he was squinting into the sun from the middle of the Rainbow parking lot. “That was it?” he remarked to me, still a stranger. “Yep, aren’t you glad you didn’t drive all the way to Wyoming for that?” I quipped. We soon learned he was an atypical guest, English speaking, professionally employed, and gracious—the kind of guy you’d meet at a country club. He’s been a guest for six months.

Greeley was founded as Union Colony in 1869, an experimental utopian society later renamed Greeley after Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune, who came to Colorado in the 1859 Pike's Peak Gold Rush. Built on farming and agriculture, Greeley was always ahead of the curve when it came to adapting new technologies. Telephones were in town by 1883 with electric lights downtown by 1886. Automobiles were on the roads by 1910 and the Greeley Municipal Airport was built in 1928. Today Greeley is home to 100,777 residents. Twelve thousand students are enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado.

Curiously, Greeley is the largest community on the Front Range not situated along I-25, a decision made to prioritize preserving good farmland over easy highway access. Traffic is growing every day on U.S. 85, and planners estimate its daily volume will nearly double by 2035 forever changing Greeley.

In that same mode of change, the two men who could become Greeley’s most influential people you never heard of are both named Jarod, only spelled differently aka Jarod and Jared. The first Jarod Clark, found and negotiated the deal to buy the Rainbow. He’s good at that, good at finding the odd and unusual opportunities. The second Jared is Jared Simmons, Manager of the Rainbow. He’s truly the one guy in the deal who cannot be replaced. Like any business, key employees are essential to the point that the business would be doomed to failure if not for them. In a motel setting, there’s often just one key player or a couple sharing the role of manager, reservationist, cleaning crew, marketing, record keeping and policing problems.

Quintessentially American, the Rainbow Motel has the potential to become regarded once again as a fun, clean and affordable boutique motel. “We’re resurrecting what was best about the greatest era in motels and refining it to suit modern travelers’ expectations, bringing it back to be a roadside icon,” Clark said.

The artful new entry door opens to the lobby that has been stripped of its stale carpet and heaps of overfilled file cabinets. It took the better part of a day to remove Rotary Club stickers from the windows dating back to the ‘90s. The walls and ceiling smart with fresh white paint and new-issue mod ceiling fans cool the room. The carpet is an artistic array of rainbow-colored carpet squares. The sleek mod Swedish desk where guests check-in is pure glossy white and the desk chair is rainbow colored upholstery complementing the two retro Acapulco chairs, mid-century classics. Behind the scenes, the commercial washer and dryer that washed at half value have been replaced with energy efficient powerful laundry machines that clean, really clean the bed linens and towels.

Two of the 16 guest rooms, formerly the butt of jokes like, “The ‘50s called and wants its furniture back,” are wholly transformed. Stripped of decades-old matted carpet and mattresses that smelled slightly of urine, the reveal of the new digs is astounding. Recent guests claim the rooms easily compete with the new Doubletree by Hilton Greeley at Lincoln Park, albeit without the spa, restaurants, meeting rooms and pool. A shower shield was installed instead of the tattered shower curtains and the vanity sink replaced with a custom travertine sink manufactured at the new shop next door to the Rainbow.

Of course, the Manager’s unit was a priority…a proactive move to ensure some level of comfort and satisfaction when the going got going.  Deep oversized chairs and a long sofa upholstered in matching denim paisley (a tribute to the era) provide a place to stretch out once it is lights out.

Room rates are up and so is security with a service hired to guard the premises. Policies are in place, and guests’ expectations are as amped up as the wattage in the new LED bulbs. If there is gold at the end of a rainbow, it will be the reward of guests’ amazed faces when they experience the improvements to the place, concedes Simmons. His career to date—managing a major department store—tees up as if it was always the plan to work in hospitality. He excels in customer satisfaction and that’s what differentiates average from best in both industries. Simmons is all about improving processes, timing room turns as he cleans, implementing modest yet revolutionary system changes.

Road Warriors, families en route to grandmother’s house for Christmas, salesmen on a schedule and budget, travelers and tourists—there’s a new place to check out the next time you’re passing through Greeley. We will likely be over at the Rainbow where there’s plenty to do to keep the shine on. 

Visit our website:


Story and Photos by Patricia Alisau

Photo Credit: Patricia Alisau  Caption: Guests get extra pampering at the resort's beach where sand sifters make it softer to the touch.

Ten years ago, a visit to Puerto Morelos was usually an afterthought following a vacation in Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Long past its heyday as an exporter of mahogany and gum Arabic, the port had morphed into a quiet fishing village along the Riviera Maya.

Located midway between the two large cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos seemed worlds apart from the hubbub of both, but that's inherently part of its charm. Resorts like the newly-inaugurated Ventus at Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort decided to capitalize on this while providing luxury accommodations to travelers seeking the rest and respite of a beach vacation.

An all-inclusive comprised of 290 balconied suites nestled next to a small jungle of mangroves, it's the newest addition to the family-owned El Cid Resorts and opened in November. Shortly after settling into a 3-night stay, I was whisked off to the lobby to receive an orientation of the property.

In business for four-plus decades, the company was started by the Spanish-born Julio Berdeque, a staunch conservationist as well as hotelier, who opened his first resort in his hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico, Ivan Bringas, room division manager, said. Berdeque's son, Carlos, is the current CEO.

Photo Credit: Patricia Alisau  Caption:The infinity pool in the Adults Section steers guests towards fitness with exercise classes.                      

Part of Ventus' blueprint was maintaining an ambiance free of jarring noise, Bringas added. "We're an all-inclusive with no loud music, no Spring Breakers, no foam parties, no dance club, just luxury and low key."  Pointing to the light-filled lobby, he explained that the aim of the construction was to go local using building materials like hardwoods and limestone.

A glance at my bathroom earlier on showed it was stocked with organic shampoo and soaps made from local herbs and plants plus a loofah of Yucatecan sisal fiber. The toilet tissue tied with a yellow ribbon may not have been local and organic, but it looked pretty and festive. As to the rest of the suite, attractive hardwood furniture and the huge walk-in shower paired nicely with an extra-plush bed and feather pillows showing that the resort cared where you laid your head at night. My junior suite was also one of a couple dozen swim-up units with a private pool off the balcony.

The day I arrived, I was welcomed by the signature staff greeting--a hand over the heart, which means, "I salute my guest with my heart,"Bringas said, which, to me, was the same as saying," Mi casa es su casa (My home is your home)," the equivalent of welcoming someone into your home in Mexico. I noticed that some guests found the greeting so addictive that they automatically started copying it. Not a bad thing!

When hunger pangs strike, options include the candlelit Ile de France, named for the ship that brought the Berdeque family to the New World. Guillaume David Ramirez, a Paul Bocuse-trained chef features nouvelle French cuisine using only the freshest ingredients with less calories than classically-prepared Gallic dishes. The wine sommelier, affectionately called "Willie" helped wed the perfect vintage to your meal. For more casual eating, guests head to Mercado de Delores, a lunch spot with six different buffets under one roof. There's Mexican, seafood, Asian fusion, Italian, crepes, and sandwiches and salads. The seventh, a popular sweet's shop called Aroma is open from 7 am to 10:30 at night, so what you save in calories at Ile de France can be splurged on decadently rich desserts here. Its coffee comes from the highlands of Chiapas, rated some of the best in the country.

For evening libations, there's Bar Abnia, where you might catch Luis, the bartender, mixing his killer cocktail called "Kiss of Fire," laced with tequila, chile serrano, and passion fruit. After surviving a few rounds of it, most guests stay to enjoy the live entertainment presented nightly.

Photo Credit: Patricia Alisau  Caption: Snorkelers prepare to swim out to the largest barrier reef in the Americas less than a half-mile from the shores of Puerto Morelos.

A visit to the Mexican Caribbean is always a highlight of my travels and Ventus didn't disappoint with its cool Mayan vibe. What better way to show respect for a 3,000 year-old culture than by honoring its healing rituals. And these it shares at its spa.

I only had a limited amount of time to try one of the options, so an 80-minute Kukulkan massage seemed best. (Kukulkan is Lord of the Wind, according to ancient Mayan beliefs).

Spending time in a water therapy circuit with hot and cold immersions prepped me for the main event. Spa guides led me outside to a gazebo overlooking the ocean where a "cleansing" ritual took place before an altar laden with fruit and flowers to Ixchel, goddess of new beginnings, the guide said. Channeling my "troubles" into a rock crystal and dropping it into a goblet of burning incense symbolically cleared the way for the massage. And this, in turn, left an open field for the eagle, snake and jaguar!

Believing the universe was divided into heaven, earth and the underworld, the Mayans ascribed one of these animals to each level and I was told to try to imagine which one was present in the massage. Massage therapists, Iusfra and Paulo, diligently weeded out knots of tension while I tried to keep track of what felt like a winged eagle, slithering snake and pouncing jaguar. After a while, I decided I didn't care who was doing what and settled into the sound of the ocean waves lapping against the shore. It left me feeling rejuvenated and I mentally thanked the snake, eagle and jaguar for the wild ride.

   Photo Credit: Patricia Alisau  Caption: Sweets galore from 7 am to 10:30 at night at Aroma, popular cafe at the new Ventus resort.

Spa rituals aside, pampering comes with Platinum Club services, for which guests pay   extra. A few highlights include a lounge with free WiFi, a pillow menu, private palapa hut on the beach and a butler. Although the hotel is still working on defining his role, he will carry your luggage, set you up with a pillow of your choice and in-room aromatherapy, shop for you, and bring you a microwave if you order popcorn. Even the beach gets pampering when white-clad workers can be spotted sifting sand to make it softer to the touch.

Ventus is ideal for travelers seeking a home base for exploring the surrounding area and you need not go far to enjoy the largest barrier reef in the Americas, less than a half-mile offshore. It's made for snorkeling and excursions are easy to set up as well as for other water sports. Or bike to the town square of Puerto Morelos to take in the leaning lighthouse and  fishing pier.Ventus is also connected by a short pathway to the sister resort, Marina El Cid, and  facilities are interchangeable at no extra charge.

 Photo Credit: Patricia Alisau  Caption: Massage therapists prepare offerings to Ixchel, goddess of

At day's end, I felt like Ixchel was still smiling on me as the afterglow of the massage lingered on--a true "new beginning" to take home.

For more information, go to For reservations, call 1-866-823-0099.

Mexico’s colorful ‘City of Roses’ had a dark beginning

By Bob Schulman

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- It’s hard to believe this beautiful city, known for its colonial splendor and world-class arts and crafts, was founded by a man of sheer evil. “If the devil had spawned a child,” said Spanish Bishop Vasco de Quiroga, “it would have been Nuño Beltran de Guzman.”

Guadalajara is a jump back in time to colonial Mexico. Photo: Mexico Tourism Board.
Guzman’s bio reads like a primer on late medieval palace intrigue. For starters, he was the son of a High Constable in the Inquisition and also a buddy of Spain’s King Charles V. In the mid-1520s the Spanish regent sent Guzman to Mexico, supposedly to rule an eastern province – but actually to keep an eye on Hernan Cortes, who’d led the Spanish conquest of that country’s Aztec rulers a few years earlier.

The plot thickens

Now, King Charles didn’t trust Cortes, and Cortes didn’t trust Guzman. So Cortes got rid of him by sending Guzman off to plant the flag of Spain hundreds of miles away in western Mexico.

Churches and fountains dot Guadalajara’s historic district. Photo: Bob Schulman.
Having earlier gained a reputation for cruelty in eastern Mexico, Guzman did much the same in the west, slaughtering thousands of the people who lived around there and sending others to Caribbean plantations to work as slaves. Soon to find out why Guzman was known as “the butcher” were villagers in a region stretching down the coast from Sinaloa to Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima and Michoacan (the home states of such modern-day beach resorts as Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, among others).

Historians note Guzman took some time off from massacring local folks along the coast to found the inland town of Guadalajara, which he named after the city in Spain where he was born.

Murals by famous local painter Jose Clemente Orozco. Photo: Mexico Tourism Board.

Mexico’s No. 2 village

History is fuzzy about what the village of Guadalajara looked like when it sprouted up in the early 1530s. There were likely several farms around the area, and perhaps – keeping in mind who the founder was – a couple of slave markets. It’s a safe bet there was a church there, too. And probably a row of posh mansions where the owners of the farms and the slave markets hung their sombreros.

It’s also a safe bet that no one thought the village would someday become Mexico’s second largest metropolis, home to nearly 6 million people. Nicknamed “The City of Roses,” Guadalajara today stretches out as far as you can see along the Atemajac Valley including its crown jewel: an historic district covering a whole square mile.

Tours in calandria carriages enhance the colonial ambiance of the city. Photo: Bob Schulman.

A walking tour of the district takes you on a jump back in time past restored government palaces (some featuring the eye-popping murals of the region’s famous painter Jose Clemente Orozco), block-long museums, a richly decorated cathedral dating back to 1618, swanky mansions of the same era, the ornate Degollado Theater and dozens of parks, plazas, fountains, monuments – and of course lots of rose gardens – among other landmarks that draw millions of visitors a year to the city.

Better still, tourists can enjoy all this by trotting back in time in old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages (called calandrias). While cantering around, don’t miss some of the more recent additions to the district such as a square packed with dozens of mariachi bands – not surprisingly named Mariachi Square – auditioning for local gigs. And leave plenty of time to check out Guadalajara’s arts and crafts mecca edging the city at the village of Tlaquepaque (pronounced teh-lah- key-pah- key). Here, in row after row of wall-to- wall shops, perhaps 200 in all, you can find everything from... well, if a gorgeous work of art can be made by hand, chances are you’ll find it in Tlaquepaque.

Mariachi music comes from Guadalajara. Photo: Mexico Tourism Board.

Guzman meets his maker

Guzman was so brutal that the top chronicler of the era called him “the most depraved man to ever set foot in New Spain (Mexico).” His biographer accused him of “cruelty of the highest order, ambition without limit and great immorality.” Bernal Diaz de Castillo, one of the original conquistadores, said of Guzman: “In all the provinces of new Spain there is no other man more foul and evil.”

With charges like these drifting back to the Spanish court, and at the urging of heavyweight bishops such as de Quiroga and Juan de Zumarraga, King Charles finally got fed up with his man in Mexico. Guzman was arrested in 1536, held in prison for a couple of years, put on trial – where de Quiroga was one of the judges – and then shipped back to Spain in chains.

One of the hundreds of arts and crafts shops in Tlaquepaque. Photo: Bob Schulman.
A broken man, he died in prison in 1550 – ironically, the same year the Spanish crown signed a charter officially declaring Guadalajara a city.

Have fun in the Caribbean, thanks to John Canoe

By Bob Schulman

Photo credit: Tovia Smith, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Do you know who John Canoe was? Probably not – unless you live around the Caribbean. Or in a few places on the Caribbean Rim in Central America. But though he’s hardly a household name, at certain times of the year thousands of tourists pack these spots to enjoy Canoe’s legacy at Mardi Gras-like “Junkanoo” festivals

With only a little nudge, John Canoe turns into Junkanoo. Get it?

A popular legend (among many) goes back to the early 18th century, when Canoe, said to have been a West African chief, led his Ashante and Nzima warriors to a great victory over an army of English-backed invaders. But the victory – believed to have been on Dec. 26, 1708 – was short-lived, and many of Canoe’s fighters ended up as slaves on Caribbean plantations, mainly in the British West Indies.

The slaves brought their traditions with them, one of which was an annual celebration of Canoe’s triumph. So on Dec. 26 when the West Indian slavemasters were recovering from their Christmas excesses, legend has it their workers were freed to frolic that day at street dances and marches dressed in colorful and often scary outfits (mimicking the bizarre clothes worn by Canoe’s troops to frighten their enemies).

In another version of the story, that day off on the 26th stretched to a three-day holiday allowing the slaves to go carousing from house to house decked out in wacky costumes and often getting around on stilts.

Whatever the roots, the revelry of Junkanoo celebrations today draws mobs of tourists to a number of Caribbean islands, most notably Jamaica and The Bahamas. The latter country not only goes bonkers with carnivals on Dec. 26 but also on Jan. 1 and during a summer festival ( in July.

Cruise dock is close to the Junkanoo parade route in Nassau. Photo by Bob Schulman.The wildest, most colorful and largest of the celebrations in The Bahamas is staged in Nassau, the country’s capital. Thousands of masked dancers in outlandish costumes parade through the downtown streets to the pounding beat of African drums, blaring brass, whistles and cowbells as onlookers scramble to find room in bleachers, on benches, on the sidewalks and curbs, in storefronts, on balconies and even in trees. Later, judges award prizes for the best music, costume and group.

Visitors can also get into the Junkanoo action on the nation’s Grand Bahama Island, Eleuthera/Harbour Island, Bimini, The Exumas, and The Abacos. Similar celebrations can be seen on other islands in the Caribbean as well as in cities rimming the Caribbean in countries such as Belize and Guatemala.

Where did the name John Canoe come from? No one knows for sure, but it could be a morphed version of John Conny, an 18th century West African king who ruled a gold-rich country now called Ghana (which was Canoe’s homeland, too). In yet another explanation, Canoe was a European corruption of the African city of Kenu in today’s nearby Nigeria. The name John could have been taken from the English traders who did business on the Gold Coast of Ghana.


Open for Business—the Columbia River Gorge

By Rich Grant

September 2, 2017, started off wonderfully in the Columbia River Gorge.  It was the beginning of Labor Day weekend in one of the nation’s most beautiful scenic areas.  Located just an hour east of Portland, Oregon, this was a busy time for the area’s $100 million-a-year tourism industry.  They had been hurt that winter with 8 feet of snow falling in an area that usually gets just inches.  Interstate 84 was closed and schools and businesses had to shut down for as much as two weeks.


But now on Sept. 2, the weather was beautiful, people were hiking, biking, wind surfing, eating locally sourced foods, drinking craft beer at outdoor cafes and just enjoying the incredible beauty of a wilderness area along a river lined with cliffs, thick forests and waterfalls.

And then at 4 p.m., a fire was reported in Eagle Creek.  Near the village of Cascade Locks, some teenagers had been throwing fireworks off a waterfall into the dry forest below.  By morning, the fire they started grew to 3,000 acres.  With favorable winds, over the next two days it blossomed into a raging inferno, so huge that at one point it leaped across the Columbia River, sending tongues of flame into the wooded hillsides on the other side of the waterway in the state of Washington.  


Eventually, nearly 30 square miles of forest would burn.  The entire town of Cascade Locks had to be evacuated, along with hundreds of other residents throughout the gorge.  Surrounded by flames, 153 hikers were cut off by the fire and had to be rescued.  I-84 was closed.  Clouds of smoke closed schools in nearby Portland, where more than an inch of ash fell on the streets.  Fighting the fire rang up of a bill of $20 million.

And then the fire raced to Multnomah Falls, the highest waterfall in Oregon.  A national icon, the 611-foot waterfall had at its base a famous lodge built in 1925 that attracted 1.5 million visitors a year.   Dozens of volunteers came and heroically fought the blaze throughout the night, wetting the building’s roof and soaking a 100-yard perimeter around it.  By morning, though the fire consumed a wood bridge below the falls and many trees, the historic lodge was saved.


The Gorge Today
So how much damage was done in the end?  Amazingly, the Columbia River Gorge is today a triumph of both nature and man.  On a trip through the gorge in early November 2017, barely two months after the blaze, there is hardly much sign of the catastrophic event.  Sadly, Multnomah Falls Lodge and access to the falls is closed indefinitely, mostly because of damage to the roads.  You can still see the falls, as beautiful as ever, as you race by a vantage point on I-84.  Some other viewpoints and hiking trails are temporarily inaccessible, but compared to the vast amount of wilderness recreation available here, it is very small.  The towns are completely open, I-84 is open, and the burn area is hardly noticeable compared to the rich forest land surrounding it.  In fact, many environmentalists are saying the fire, which burned up the trees rather than torching the ground below, is just part of nature’s evolution.  So here’s a review of just some of the many pleasures open and available in the gorge and Mount Hood areas, starting with ground zero where the fire started.


Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods
The village of Cascade Locks is where the 2,659-mile long Pacific Crest Trails crosses the Columbia River over the very pretty Bridge of the Gods.  A poignant scene was filmed in the Reese Witherspoon movie, Wild, was filmed on the bridge.  During the fire, all residents of the town were forced to evacuate, crossing the bridge as flames approached the village from both directions.  You’d never know it today. The bridge is as beautiful ever, and all businesses are open.  The Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn at the base of the bridge is a pleasant place to stay with balconies overlooking river traffic of barges and pleasure craft.  

Indian legend says there was once a bridge of land here over the Columbia with a huge lake behind it.  Well, for once, an Indian legend actually makes some sense and is backed by geologists, who say there was a land bridge here that eventually washed away, helping to create the spectacular gorge.   You can walk over the manmade Bridge of Gods to Washington, but there’s no pedestrian path on the road.  Better is to have a beer, while you still can, at Thunder Island Brewing on the banks of the river.  They’re moving into town, unfortunately, but their craft beer will be just as good in the new location.


A visit to the gallery and studio of Heather Soderberg is worth a journey.  You’ll be hearing a lot about her in the near future.  She’s the first woman to own a bronze foundry and is currently working on a 55-foot-long, 12-ton cast bronze statue of an eagle that will be the largest eagle sculpture in history.  Bits and pieces of it currently fill the studio, and when finished, it will tour the country.  In the gallery, they’ll explain how bronze casts are made, but good luck understanding it.  Enough to say, it’s impressive to look at.

 The Cascade Locks Ale House across the street is a cozy place for dinner with pizza and salmon chowder.  It’s a favorite hangout for people walking the Pacific Coast Trail.  It must be lonely on the trail.  The hikers we met were a talkative bunch.  As an ice-breaker, ask them what their “trail name” is and how they got it, but make sure you have a beer first.  It’s liable to be a long story.  You’ll certainly want to see the movie Wild before visiting the pub.

This colorful little village is the western gateway to the gorge and a good base for touring the area.  Stop by the historic Barn Exhibit Hall, which is actually not historic at all.  The cleverly built “barn” museum is brand new, but designed to look like it’s been there forever.  Currently, there’s an exhibit on the history of the 75-mile-long Columbia River Highway, the first highway in the U.S. built as a scenic road, and amazingly, the first road to have a white stripe down the center.  You can see why they took such care to divide the road when you drive on portions of it as its twists and turns with sheer cliffs alternating from side to side.  It’s scenic and scary.   When it was built between 1913 to 1922, it was also an engineering marvel.  It still is.

Though it was replaced by I-84, bits of the historic road are still open.  Sections between Troutdale and Hood River have been closed temporarily by the fire, but there is no impact from north of Hood River to The Dalles, our next stop.


Mosier is picture postcard of a little place with a scenic park overlooking the river, the Rack & Cloth cidery, and most important, Route 30 Classics, which has ice cream, espresso and electric bike rentals.  And what a place to rent an electric bike!  A six-mile stretch of the historic Columbia River Highway here has been turned into a paved bike and hiking trail and heads west to the town of Hood River, passing through forest, along cliffs, and burrowing into tunnels on one hell of an exciting bike ride.  It’s hilly and up and down, but on an electric bike?  No worries.  You toggle the bike from one to four on a power scale, change gears, and never pump more than you would on a flat stretch of road.  The famous Oregon rain is also no problem.  Winds gush through the Gorge at this point, swirling clouds and dragging in squalls.  But the winds also bring bursts of sunshine.  Just when you think, well, it’s raining, do I want to be on a bike? Out pops the sun and a view of unbelievable beauty.  If you get wet, dry off in the Rack & Cloth, a cute little place making their own hard cider from apples grown in their own orchard. They’ll walk you through a cider tasting of four hard ciders.  Even if you’ve tried commercial hard ciders and don’t like them, give these ciders a chance.  They are a completely different, tasty product, unlike commercial ciders, and paired with handcrafted pizzas and locally sourced delicacies like squash soup? Delicious.

Hood River to The Dalles
Both Hood River and The Dalles are cool and quirky little towns worth a visit.  Hood River is home to Full Sail Brewery and a sloping main street lined with shops, galleries, and pubs.  This is the ground zero, recreational central of the Columbia River Gorge, and everyone is biking, hiking, sailboarding or doing something else to make you feel guilty if you’re just hanging out drinking craft beer.  Well, not that guilty.  This is Oregon, after all, and there are plenty of other people just hanging out.  

There’s a little more history at The Dalles, which has an 1856 fort (just a house is left, but nice grounds) and Klindt’s Booksellers, which has been hawking books since 1870 and is worth a journey to explore their maps and local recreation guidebooks.   Both towns, in keeping with this area of Oregon, have breweries and wineries and, increasingly, distilleries.  And did we mention marijuana is legal?  

And Now for Something Completely Different
The weird geography of this area creates micro climates that could not be more different.  It’s barely a 30 minute drive south from the misty, swirling clouds of Hood River or The Dalles into Mt. Hood territory, where you come into fruit orchards, rolling hills and incredibly, 300 days of sunshine.  Dufur, just south of The Dalles, is a tiny old farming community on the historic Oregon Trail with a few shops, a heritage museum and a real gem called the Historic Balch Hotel.  This historic building has been transformed into an elegant spa and countryside retreat with gourmet food and an idyllic setting.

South of Troutdale takes you on the western fringes of Hwy. 26, which (along with Hwy. 35) is called “The Fruit Loop,” as it curves and twists around the base of 11,249-foot Mount Hood, passing dozens and dozens of orchards, forests, rain forests, timberline, snow-covered mountains and rivers.  The Resort at the Mountain just east of Sandy is one of Oregon’s premier lodges with a 27-hole golf course, luxury spa, hiking trails, two restaurants and bars, and best of all, fireplaces in the rooms.  On a November afternoon at twilight, with a fire going and college football playing, we noticed someone on the patio peering into our floor to ceiling glass door.  It was three baby deer.   

For a true Oregon evening, head to the nearby Skyway Bar and Grill, a real mountain roadhouse (the address is Zigzag Mile Post 43) that was built by hand in 1972 and is today filled with art, antiques, live music, craft beer and the smell of barbeque and smoked meats.   

And don’t miss the most exciting photo op of the region – Boring, Oregon.  They make the most of the odd name choice with a Boring Brewery and Boring Winery (in the same building!) and lots of opportunities to take photos of the word “Boring.”  It’s cute.  But nowhere cuter than at the blacksmith shop Red Pig, where for 30 years Bob Denman, a semi-retired advertising executive, has been hand-forging gardening tools.  Bob, a life-long gardener, will tell you, there’s only one rule for weeding and that’s King Harrod’s rule:  “Kill them while they’re babies!”  He has researched old garden tools and found that any modern tool that does two tasks is half as efficient at each.  In his blacksmith shop, he hand forges old forgotten tools for special tasks (like weeding between cracks of patio tiles).  The tools are beautiful (if somewhat medieval looking).  Bob has been dealing with customers and perfecting his comedy-set for 30 years and if he’s in the shop, he has a 15-minute routine that is perfect, fun, educational and worth a journey.  At a time where “fire” is not exactly a friendly word in Oregon, you’ll have a lot of laughs around his flaming forge and come away with a lifelong tool and memento of this slightly wacky – but gorgeous – part of the state.


America’s Coolest Comeback Towns

By Carole Jacobs


Once key notches in America’s Rust Belt, these two comeback towns are now as clean, beautiful and trendy as America’s super cities. You’ll find exciting new foodie scenes, swank new hotels (many occupying restored turn-of-the-century gems), swooping ‘scrapers, elegant shopping districts, sleek sports stadiums, glam casinos, quaint residential hoods, historic farmers markets, a treasure trove of ‘20s-style architecture and price tags neither coast has seen in eons. So, move over, New York and LA, and make room for America’s most surprising -- and stunning -- second acts. Here’s where to go to see the best of the new (and the restored) Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Spend a weekend (or a week) in the new and improved Motor City

It’s hard to believe that just four years ago, Detroit went belly-up, declared bankruptcy and became the biggest municipal flop in U.S. history. Since then—and defying people who claimed Detroit would be a ghost town by 2016 --the Motor City has undergone a full-scale Renaissance. Dark alleys and derelict neighborhoods have been transformed into dazzling public spaces that designer hotels and trendy restaurants now call home, and it’s a sign of the times that an abandoned parking structure in a formerly dicey ‘hood is being converted into a plush condo complex. (Note: If you’re a never-home/out-and-about retiree, Detroit has a 400-square-foot luxury crash pad with your name on it.)

Although most of the city’s slums have been or are being leveled, the country’s best examples of 1920s architecture (Beaux-Arts, Romanesque, Renaissance Revival and Neo-Gothic) still stand tall in downtown Detroit, many spiffed up and repurposed for businesses that didn’t even exist four years ago.  Detroit’s once-forlorn waterfront now has a nature preserve, outdoor adventure center, restaurants, shops, bike paths and kayaking on the Detroit River, an industrial river that was once so polluted it routinely burned. The 1.3-mile-long Dequindre Cut, a former rail line-turned- recreational path, passes by the tumbledown remains of buildings “defaced” with ‘50s graffiti which has been left in place as a tribute to Detroit’s long tradition of street art.

Where to stay: The Aloft Hotel is an art-deco treasure tucked inside the historic Whitney Building while the MGM Grand is a swank high-rise anchoring the MGM Grand Casino, built in 1999 and the first luxury resort casino in a major city outside Las Vegas.

Do brunch: Traffic Jam & Snug, a ‘60s restaurant, bakery and brewery located in the historic Canfield neighborhood, saw Detroit go down around it before rising from the ashes. Try the homemade Italian-style portabella soup, the house-brewed doppelbock braised beef brisket and unusual house beers like Chocolate Amber Brew.

Get some culture: The Henry Ford Museum’s claim of being “America’s great history attraction” is only a slight exaggeration.  See the chair in which Abraham Lincoln sat on the night of his assassination, the actual bus that Rosa Parks famously refused to move to the back of, and the Cadillac that carried John F. Kennedy on that fateful day in Dallas. Then wander the museum’s Greenfield Village, where 100 historic buildings were moved from their original settings and arranged in a village setting. Check out the Wright brother’ bicycle shop, Noah Webster’s home, the Illinois courthouse where Lincoln practiced law, and Eagles Tavern, a former stagecoach stop where dishes made from 175-year-old recipes are testament to the days when Americans really ate like they meant it: Costumed waiters serve plates heaped with huge slabs of roast pork that make The Whopper look like a tea sandwich. Wash it down with a strawberry sarsaparilla and save room for the bread pudding. At the Detroit Institute of Art, one of the world’s greatest art museums, ogle Mexican artist Diego Riviera’s wall-sized frescoes depicting the industrial muscle behind Detroit’s growth and get close-up views of famous masterpieces like Picasso’s “Melancholy Woman” and Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait.”

Shop till you drop: Detroit’s 43-acre Eastern Market is the country’s largest and oldest (1841) indoor/outdoor farmer’s market. Six blocks of historic brick storefronts house old-time Italian bakeries, butcher shops and cheese stores while several warehouses are crammed with food stands pedaling Michigan pumpkins to Indian spices and an international array of street food --from Mexican tacos and Polish pierogis to Greek gyros. Taste the best of the Market on a food crawl with Feet on the Street Tours.

Everybody say “Yeah!” Experience the magic of Motown at the Motown Museum, which includes the humble apartment where fledging record producer Berry Gordon Jr. started it all and Studio A, the famous pint-sized recording studio where the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder laid down their world-famous tracks. The staff kept the studio’s candy machine stocked with Babe Ruths, Stevie’s favorite snack, and made sure it was always located behind the fourth knob to the left so Stevie could locate it by touch.

Do the party-bike brew tour: Detroit is a sports-centric town with three downtown sports stadiums -- and innumerable sports bars. Experience the best of the midtown brews with Michigan Pedaler. Following dinner at Bookie’s Bar & Grille, one of Detroit’s favorite hangs featuring three floors of draft brews and seriously good grub (try the Buffalo chicken wrap or black bean tostada burger), hop on the party-bike, with bicycle seats and pedals for 10 riders, and head to Detroit’s legendary midtown watering holes. At Honest John’s, neon signs behind the counter (“Sobriety Sucks,” “Count Your Change) say it all. Or unwind at the Bronx Bar, an old-time haunt with a pool table, jukebox and draft beers.  Feel free to imbibe: The party-bike is equipped with an electric motor that will power you back to Bookie’s in the event you’re too tired or inebriated to pedal.

5-star night on the town: Consider dinner at Santorini, a contemporary Greek restaurant in Detroit’s hip-and-happening’ Greektown. The eatery is run by a woman chef who went to culinary school after bemoaning Detroit’s dearth of authentic Greek restaurants in the early 2000s, then returned home to open her own. Greek specialists include Moussaka—sliced eggplant, potato and beef simmered with Greek herbs and spices and topped with creamy Béchamel sauce.

Or, for the best steak in the Midwest served in an ultra-swank setting, head to Wolfgang Puck Steak at the MGM Grand casino.

Catch a game: Even if spectator sports put you in a stupor, you won’t believe Little Caesar’s Arena. Built by the Detroit family of Little Caesar’s pizza fame, the sleek, high-tech arena is the centerpiece of a 45-block urban renewal project and has an indoor pedestrian mall lined with restaurants and shops, and elegant viewing suites offering catered snacks and booze and a bird’s eye view of the action.

Welcome to The Detroit time machine: Even if you went through high school with a slide rule in in your shirt pocket, the minute you enter The Belt, you’ll seem too cool for school. A refurbished alley-turned-hip shopping/dining district, The Belt includes Z Garage, the only parking structure on earth with artwork on the walls and roof; Standby, a dimly-lit pocket-sized bar where you can party like it’s 1993 while sipping radically creative cocktails (try Mezcal Me Maybe and Dog Days Negroni) and The Punch Bowl, an adult, sophisticated take on Chuck E. Cheese’s. You bring the people and the restaurant supplies the rest: food, booze, a happening party vibe and even an in-house bowling alley where you can work off dinner. How cool is that?



The Steel City never looked or tasted this good

The scene: From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Pittsburgh’s steel industry began to tank as the U.S. entered a new era of de-industrialization. After the 1981–1982 recession, the mills laid off 153,000 workers and one by one, Pittsburgh’s steel mills began to shut down. The city, fueled by innovations from industrialist Andrew Carnegie and others, lost young people educated at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon because there were no jobs for them upon graduation, and the city entered a years-long death spiral.

Today, a bumper crop of new jobs in the tech, health and medical fields are not only keeping recent grads in town but luring scores of educated millennials and boomers seeking a hip place to live with more affordable housing and costs of living than super cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, LA and Seattle.  Meanwhile, move over, Silicon Valley: Google recently built two offices in Pittsburgh, the city is aggressively courting Amazon and Pittsburgh's old U.S. Steel Tower now hears the name off UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

As was the case in Detroit, Pittsburgh’s path to recovery also included developing its waterfront, beautifying its downtown, building new hotels, expanding cultural ops and setting the stage for a smoking-hot foodie scene. Today, chic restaurants are breathing new life into the city’s once-crumbling warehouse and you can forget about burning rivers and blast furnaces. Pittsburgh’s three rivers never been cleaner or prettier, and there’s no fumes or flames at the city’s sole remaining blast furnace, which is now a living history museum.

Where to stay: The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, a restored historical gem located in Pittsburgh’s downtown cultural district, is within walking distance of museums, performing arts venues, 16 restaurants and shopping. Built in 1906 by prominent Pittsburgh architect Grosvenor Atterbury and originally called The Fulton Building, the structure was home to offices, a night club and World War II hospital before opening as a luxury hotel in 2001. Today, the Renaissance is a life-size work of art with mosaic floors made from cut stone and polished black slate, lobby grills made of solid brass, and granite floors quarried from the same Connecticut quarry that supplied the stone for the Statue of Liberty.

Best breakfast: Head to the hip hood of Regent Square and Square Café for homemade, frisbee-sized lemon, berry and ricotta pancakes, everything but the kitchen sink omelets made with locally sourced produce and eggs and creative vegetarian ops like the Brussels Sprout Bowl, a concoction of cheesy grits topped with sautéed shaved sprouts, leeks, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. www.square-café.com

Burn it off by walking the bridges: “The City of Bridges has 446 bridges -- more than any other city in the world, including Venice, Italy, and many listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several are also a great place to walk, cycle, enjoy art and cultural fetes and soak up panoramic views: The beautiful Smithfield Street Bridge, a vision of glittering gold, is the largest ever built in the United States while the Robert Clemente Bridge, built in 1819 as a wooden covered bridge, now links to Pittsburgh’s sports arena and is closed to vehicular traffic on game days. It’s also one of three parallel and nearly identical suspension bridges collectively called “The Three Sisters.” The other two include the Rachel Carson Bridge, which hosted a dazzling lights/wind power display last Christmas, and the Andy Warhol Bridge, which is decorated with Andy Warhol banners, potted plants hanging from lamp posts and leads to the world-famous museum.

Lunch at The Strip: Wedged between the steep slopes of Mount Washington and the Monongahela River, this historic farmer’s market features the food Pittsburgh loves to eat, from Italian bakeries and Polish delis to Primanti’s, a longtime fave of steelworkers for their portable, whole-meal-on-a-bun sandwiches. You don’t even need a lunchbox to try the “Pitts Burger Cheese Steak, a burger heaped with a full order of greasy, hand-cut fries, creamy cole slaw, tomato and onion.   Other must-stops include Mancini’s Bakery for homemade cinnamon bread; Colangelo’s Bakery and Café for dark cocoa coconut maroons, Sunseri’s for killer pepperoni rolls; Enrico Biscotti Café for homemade biscotti and the S&D Polish Deli for handmade perogies. See and taste it all on a Burgh, Bits and Bites food crawl.

For a one-of-a-kind sit-down lunch featuring items from four different restaurants, check out Smallman’s Galley, Pittsburgh’s first food hall and restaurant incubator. The galley hires four aspiring chefs for 18 months so they can spread their culinary wings, build a clientele and learn the restaurant biz before opening their own. Current eateries include IronBorn (handcrafted pizza), Colona (Latin American fare), Banhmilicious (modern Vietnamese fare) and Brunoise (progressive American fare like braised lamb pasta and mac and cheese).

Afternoon at the museum: Occupying a converted music store, The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest in the world devoted to the work of a single artist. Although typically remembered as a long-standing artist of New York’s arts scene, America’s most famous pop artist was actually a Pittsburgh boy, born and raised. See his outsized red Campbell’s soup cans, the room of floating, metallic Silver Clouds and star in your own short movie with the screen test machine.

Ticket to ride: Check out the city and the three rivers that run through it on the Gateway Clipper, which offers narrated tours. Or ride back in time and up panoramic views aboard the Duquesne Incline, a century-old wooden cable car originally built to carry cargo and weary passengers up Mt. Washington’s killer slopes.;

Shop till you drop: The tony hood of Squirrel Hill, named for the chattering critters that live in its many leafy parks, is home to a slew of one-of-a-kind eateries and shops. Go gluten-free at Gluuteny, sip afternoon tea at the Rose Tea Café or chow down ethnic noodles at Tan lac Vien Vietnamese Bistro. Browse Ten Thousand Villages for handcrafted items and buy hard-to-find vinyl at Jerry’s Records, named one of the country’s best record stores by Rolling Stone.

Night on the town: Start with craft cocktails at the Ace Hotel Whitfield, set in a century-old YMCA building.  The Smoking Gun cocktail delivers an intoxicating punch of bourbon, scotch, chipotle-infused agave and pineapple so go ahead and knock yourself out. Then head to Spoon, which launched the city’s culinary rebirth and serves seasonal gourmet dishes like stuffed quail and maple pumpkin turnovers. Or for chestnut fettucine and wild boar, try Bar Marco, a former firehouse-turned rustic-chic eatery. For after-dinner drinks, try Butcher and the Rye, the first in Pittsburgh to be nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award with 300 types of whiskey. Or have a fiery margarita at Tako, a lively downtown taqueria that also serves innovative Mexican street fare. Octopus tacos, anyone?

Into the country: From mid-to-late October, the deciduous forests surrounding Pittsburgh blaze yellow, orange and crimson. See it all on a scenic drive to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a 2,000-acre 5-star playground for adults and kids located about 90 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Whatever you want to do is here: off-road driving, animal safaris, zip lines, an Outdoor Adventure Center, a ski resort with six slopes, a Vegas-style casino, a PGA championship golf courses, several restaurants, two spas, a private landing strip for well-heeled visitors and three deluxe lodges whose faux architecture outdoes the best of the Vegas Strip.

Visit France without the jet lag by staying at The Chateau Lafayette, a dead ringer for the Ritz Paris with a grand reception lobby dripping with crystal chandeliers, a tea room, cigar bar, multi-million-dollar art collection and Lautrec, a five-star gourmet French restaurant whose Sunday brunch (Mississippi mud pies, chocolate tortes, cheesecake and mousse) is guaranteed to put you in a carb-induced coma. Opulent guest rooms have vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, Jacuzzi tubs, floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies overlooking formal gardens and rolling hillside laced with walking paths.

Or up the ante even more by settling into Falling Rock, the resort’s intimate hotel modeled after Frank Lloyd Rock’s masterpiece overlooking the golf course.  The drop-dead-gorgeous 42 suites come with 24-hour butler service, a 10-option pillow menu, a drawn bath menu, milk-and-cookie turndown and on-site access to an infinity pool complex and upscale steakhouse.  

For luxury pampering, The Woodland Spa has all the latest and greatest treatments. Or head to the Holistic Healing Center for integrative treatments, Ayurveda medicine, yoga and meditation classes and the Holistic Garden.  

Looking for a relaxing place to bring the family and kids for Thanksgiving? During Nemacolin’s Thanksgiving holiday weekend Nov. 23-26, the resort twinkles and blinks with a million fairy lights and there’s holiday food and fun galore: free hot chocolate and cider, visits with Santa, craft workshops for kids and a Thanksgiving Day feast with live

‘Sorry, lady, this flight is for men only’

By Bob Schulman

United Airlines airline ad from the 50s. At last, a flight where businessmen can stretch out, put on a pair of slippers, light up a stogie, browse through the latest issue of Playboy, catch up on the market, enjoy a steak dinner and then light up again for a game of poker with the guys. And all without any of those pesky women around, except for the stewardesses (as flight attendants used to be called).

Such were the wonders of United Airlines’ men-only “Executive Flights.” They debuted in 1953 and flew on and off for the next 17 years. Operated on two prime business routes, New York-Chicago and Los Angeles-San Francisco, the womenless hops were flown at first with Douglas DC-6B prop planes and later with 64-seat Caravelle twinjets.

The planes were typically all-first-class seating with one or two lounges, one usually featuring a table for card-players.

The slippers were free, ditto for Playboy and the steak dinner. The cigars were comped, too. Sometimes, United even threw in a couple of free drinks.

Wow, after a tough day of cutting deals in New York, what alpha male wouldn’t like to zip back to Chicago without having to listen to gabby gals and bawling tots? So busy businessmen packed the men-only flights. So what if it cost a few bucks more, their companies were picking up the tab.

The flights, usually operated twice daily on each route, were so popular that United reportedly filled between 80 percent and 90 percent of its seats on its hops through the manly skies. That’s a real jaw-dropper, because back in the 50s and 60s airline execs jumped up and down with joy if they could score “load factors” (the percentage of filled seats) of anything above 50 percent.

For instance, in 1969, the two dozen or so U.S. airlines made $110 million with a load factor of a shade over 50 percent.

So what happened in 1970 to put all those guys in grey flannel suits on co-ed flights? Put simply, wide-ranging cultural changes of the era – sparking reforms in everything from civil rights to gender equality – made it no longer hip for men to fly around in what amounted to man caves.

In a popular song of the times, reggae great Bob Marley urged people around the world to “Get Up, Stand Up (for Your Rights).” And women did.


By Rich Grant

After four years of bloody fighting and nearly 700,000 deaths, America’s great Civil War came to a sudden and unexpected end in April 1865.  In just 17 days and only 109 miles apart, two great Confederate armies surrendered and the fighting stopped.  Soldiers on both sides, who days before were desperately trying to kill each other, shook hands, looked up old friends, traded tobacco for coffee, and swapped stories.  And then everyone went home.

No civil war in history had ever ended like this.  In fact, no war had ever ended like this.  As the surrendering Confederates marched up a dirt road to lay down their arms and flags, the victorious Union army, lining both sides of the road, saluted them.  The rebels returned the salute.  It was “honor answering honor,” wrote General Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Gettysburg, and the Union general who ordered the unique tribute to his former enemies.

So how did America’s bloodiest and most violent war come to such a sudden and honorable end?   It’s easy to find out for yourself on a weekend trip by visiting the two surrender sites, which are only a few hours drive apart in Virginia and North Carolina.   You can stand at the spot where both surrenders took place, stroll down country roads where little has changed since 1865, and -- at a time when people are tearing down Civil War monuments and reinterpreting how we think about the Civil War – reach your own conclusions about the men who actually fought it.   

As historian Shelby Foote said, “Any understanding of this nation has to be based on an understanding of the Civil War.  It defined us.”   And any understanding of the Civil War has to include an understanding of how these unusual surrenders came about and what they meant.   Honor answering honor.  There’s a concept worth a journey to explore.

The Road to Appomattox

At the end of March 1865, both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were worried.  After three years of bloody warfare, Grant and the Union army had encircled Petersburg, the rail junction southwest of Richmond that protected the Confederate capital.  But in a 10-month siege, Grant had racked up more than 40,000 casualties with very little to show for it. His great fear was that Lee and his 60,000 man army would somehow break out of the siege and head south to link up with Joe Johnson’s army of nearly 90,000 Confederates in North Carolina.  Together, the Rebels could continue to fight for another year and a war weary Northern populace might not stand for that and sue for peace.

Lee, on the other hand, faced even greater challenges.  His troops were starving, disillusioned, out of supplies and deserting.  After 10 months of nearly constant trench fighting, moral was at its lowest point.  And Lee knew his lines were spread too thin, and he could not continue to hold Petersburg.

And he didn’t.  In a series of battles culminating at Five Forks, Grant pushed Lee out of Petersburg and forced him to retreat west across Virginia.  Rather than just follow him, Grant was always sure to keep Union cavalry ahead of and to the south of Lee to prevent him from joining Johnson.

By April 9, 1865, near the little village of Appomattox Court House, Lee realized his situation was hopeless.  With his army surrounded and starving, Lee put on his best dress uniform (thinking that he would spend the evening as a prisoner of war), and told his generals, “There is nothing left me to do but go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”  After sending a white flag with a note to Grant, he sat down under an apple tree to await Grant’s reply.

This is the place to join him.  Rather than start at the main visitor center, the best way to enjoy Appomattox Court House National Historic Park is to start about a mile to the west, at a roadside stop on Hwy. 24 called “The Apple Tree Site.”  Because a rumor started that Lee actually surrendered here under an apple tree, the entire orchard was cut down by soldiers looking for souvenirs.  So there are no historic witness apple trees here today, but you can still sit where Lee sat by the Appomattox River in a quiet place that is otherwise unchanged and think, as Lee must have done sitting in his fine uniform, how it all came down to this.

The son of a Revolutionary War hero, Lee had been the second best student in his class at West Point and had fought with bravery in the War with Mexico.  At the start of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee full command of all Union armies.  Although a slave owner (like 12 of America’s first 18 presidents) Lee abhorred the idea and wrote, “Slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.”  But he could not draw his sword against his family and friends in Virginia, so when the state succeeded, he went with them.  As he sat under the apple tree, he knew that in a cruel irony, the U.S. government had seized his house in Arlington, VA, and turned his front yard into a cemetery for the war dead.  All 400,000 graves in Arlington National Cemetery today are on land once owned by Robert E. Lee that the U.S. government took from him.

With Lee in the Apple Orchard

It’s difficult to imagine Lee’s thoughts.  Around him, the South was in ruins. A quarter of the men of military age in the South were dead, and nearly every city, factory and railroad was destroyed or under occupation. 

When he finally received a note from Grant asking him to find a location for a meeting, Lee climbed aboard his famous gray horse Traveler and with just one aide with a white flag, rode down the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road toward the Union lines.

You can follow Lee down this same road through a landscape that is virtually unchanged.  The road is lined with a split-rail fence with views of rolling farm land.  Birds sing and it is deadly quiet out here in the country.  In about a mile, a village of 20 buildings comes into view.  Ten are original from the 1860s or earlier; another ten have been painstakingly reconstructed to what they would have looked in 1865.  All cars are parked some distance away, so you are literally seeing the town of Appomattox Court House just as Lee would have seen it.  There’s a tavern and stores, some farmhouses and even the county jail.  In the center of town is the impressive Court House with its bell tower.  As you walk along the dirt and gravel roads, costumed interpreters will greet you.  When I asked one where the bookstore was, he looked puzzled and said, “Ain’t got no bookstore in town, but there’s a general store over yonder.”  They don’t break character.

It was here that Lee met local resident Wilber McLean and was ushered to his house.  McClean had lived near the first battle of the Civil War in Manassas, VA.  He moved to get his business away from the fighting, so it was with great irony that the war ended in his parlor.

Instead of going into the house, continue on the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road for another half mile up a small hill, with fences and views of the countryside in all directions.  At the top is a cemetery of 18 graves, each with a Confederate flag.  These were the Southern boys who had the hard luck of being the last killed in the last action on the last two days of the war on the eastern front.  It was at this spot that Ulysses S. Grant rode up and met General Phil Sheridan and was informed that Lee was waiting for him in a house down below.

With Grant on Stage Road

An extremely modest man, Grant was, as usual, wearing the uniform of a private with the bars of a Lieutenant General sewn on the shoulders.  He was muddy, from a long ride, and he never wore a sword.

You can now turn around and re-approach the village from the direction Grant would have come.  If anything, this approach is even more beautiful and timeless today as you descend a small hill, the road a dirt ribbon lined with fences as it curves to a small village of white buildings below.

The short walk gives you time to consider the position and feelings of Grant.  He too had gone to West Point and fought with bravery in the War with Mexico, but from there on, his life differed greatly from that of Lee.  Depressed by serving away from his family, Grant took to drinking and was forced to resign from the army.  He failed at every business he entered and became so poor that he was the only US president who lived with his family in a log cabin that he built with his own hands.  By the time the war started, Grant was reduced to working as a clerk in his father’s leather business.

But Grant had gone to West Point and with the war starting, officers were needed.  Grant was given some basic military jobs drilling raw recruits.   Through a political friendship, he secured a small independent command and quickly demonstrated a military brilliance that has had few equals in history.  As he rode down the hill, Grant had many contemporary critics who considered him a “butcher” who won victories only by having superior numbers.  But today, modern historians consider Grant one of the greatest military geniuses of all time with his victories at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and here at Appomattox all masterpieces of military strategy.

As he approached the McClean House, Grant tied his horse Cincinnati next to Lee’s Traveler and the two most famous horses in America, well known to every citizen at the time, chewed grass together, peacefully, side by side.

Inside, Grant was embarrassed by his shabby and muddy uniform and his first act was to apologize to the splendidly dressed Lee.  They reminisced about Mexico and then got down to business.  Grant had conferred with Lincoln, and together they wanted nothing but that the Southern armies would lay down their arms, return to their homes and obey the laws of the country.  Grant added that all Southern officers would be able to keep their side arms, a great military honor at the time.  Lee said this would have a “very happy effect upon my army.”

Lee then mentioned that in the Confederate army, the soldiers owned their own horses, unlike the U.S. where they were owned by the army.  Grant, having been a small farmer, knew the value of a horse in the spring to putting in crops, and allowed the Confederates to take their horses with them.  Again, Lee said, this will have “the best possible effect upon the men.”  Lee also stated that his men were starving, and Grant immediately ordered rations sent to the Confederate camps. The papers were drawn up and signed.  The two generals went outside, Lee mounted, and they saluted each other.

When Lee returned, he was surrounded by his troops, many crying, begging him to break the army up into small guerilla bands and continue the war.  But Lee asked them to accept the parole, return to their homes, and obey all local laws.  He later wrote, “I believe it to be the duty of every one to unite in the restoration of the country and the reestablishment of peace and harmony.”

On Grant’s side, the victorious Union army began celebrating and firing off victory cannons, but when Grant heard it, he ordered an immediate stop.  He told his officers, “The war is over, the rebels are our countrymen again, and the best sign of rejoicing after the victory will be to abstain from all demonstrations in the field.”  He later wrote he was “sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.” 

Over the next few days, some 30,000 parole forms were printed and given to the Southern troops, and in small groups of three to four, they set off walking on the long trudge home to Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and all points south.  Soldiers from the north and south mingled together and shared food and stories.  Even Lee was able to joke, when he saw his old army friend George Meade, who commanded the Union army at Gettysburg.  Lee said, “What are you doing with all that gray in your beard?”  Meade smiled and replied, “You have to answer for most of it.”

It looked for one brief, shining moment that a war as violent as the Civil War, fought over an issue as divisive as slavery, could actually end in a peaceful way.  And then, on April 14, 1865, just five days after the surrender, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  And everything changed.

IF YOU GO:   The modern town of Appomattox moved several miles from the surrender site at the old village of Appomattox Court House, so while today the modern town has chain hotels, restaurants and all services, the National Park site is virtually unchanged from 1865. 

There are plenty of places to stay and eat in Appomattox, but better is to travel an hour more west to Lexington, VA, where Robert E. Lee is buried.  Lexington is the home of the Virginia Military Institute (where Stonewall Jackson taught before the war) and Washington and Lee University, of which Lee was president after the war.  They are both buried here, Lee in a beautiful chapel on the campus, Stonewall in a small graveyard on the edge of town.  Even the horse Traveler is buried here, in a tomb beside Lee, just outside the church.   Lexington is one of the prettiest towns in Virginia, a peaceful, historic place, surrounded by gorgeous homes, all on the edge of the Shenandoah Mountains.  There are many memorials to Lee in town, but it is well to remember, that Lee himself was against any type of monument to the war.  He wrote in 1869 about a proposed Gettysburg monument, “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”

The Surrenders, Part II  (coming soon)

Most people, mistakenly, think that Appomattox is where the Civil War ended.  In truth, there were still 90,000 well-supplied Confederate soldiers ready to do battle, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was ordering them to fight.  It was the second surrender, now preserved as a North Carolina state park, where Joseph E. Johnson surrendered to William Techcumsa Sherman at Bennett Place, that has often been forgotten and overshadowed – but might actually be the more significant of the two major surrenders.   That’s because something dreadful and game-changing happened between the two surrenders.  President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.


By Yvette Cardozo

It’s just the growing tips of Christmas trees that you eat, actually. And the pine flavor is, well, way better than you expect if you are more used to sniffing pine sap from your fingers when handling fresh cut boughs.


When Laura Waters planted Douglas firs on her four acres of land in 2009, she intended to sell them for Christmas trees. “But it takes six years for them to grow and then, all you wind up with is stumps,” she said one late spring day as we inspected the bright green growing tips of her trees.

“I was out there, hot and bothered, mowing to keep the grass down between the trees and I had a pot of strawberries on the stove in the kitchen. I cut a branch and out of curiosity, tossed it in.”

The same way that vinegar adds an essence of sweet/tang to fruit compote, the fir tips added ... something. And it was a sweet and tangy something good. That experiment became Laura’s first strawberry fir vinegar.

A bit of research revealed that First Nations people in the area used to make tea from the fir tips. It was not only tasty, it provided more vitamin C than citrus fruit.

“When Capt. James Cook was on the BC coast, everyone had scurvy and the local natives told them to make tea out of the Doug fir tips. That took care of the scurvy,” Laura added.

Laura’s first vinegar led to carbonated drinks, which led to fir seasoned bread, brie toppers, a drinkable vinegar that you add to evening cocktails, dried seasoning blends and more. She sells all this in her shop, Snowdon House, in North Saanich, a suburb of Victoria on Vancouver Island. While I was there, a group of visitors arrived. They had come up from Seattle by ferry and taken a cab out to the shop.

Along with the visitors, I tasted the fir essence drink, a bottled non-alcoholic drink that was amazingly refreshing. It had a piney back woods flavor that hit the top of my tongue, along with citrus and floral notes. I learned I could pretty much make my own with Laura’s fir vinegar, so I bought a bottle to add to tonic (with a bit of vodka) at home.

We also nibbled our way through her Fir and Fire Brie Topper, which is actually a sweet, piney red and green chili jam that offsets the stringent brie flavor really well. Plus I bought a packet of dried seasoning blend (parsley, lemon peel, Doug fir, dried spinach, ground juniper berries) with which I plan to make a party dip.

There’s a bread mix (with an added blend of Doug fir tips and juniper berries) that results in fresh bread with a pine accent. Laura also makes gift papers by hand and sells outside products such as organic hot chocolate mix wrapped in her hand made gift papers, plus there’s racks of her handmade gift cards. And fresh eggs she sells when her crowd of chickens are in a producing mind.

In addition, she has created a collection of recipes and holds cooking classes. The one she did the day before I visited featured chicken thighs marinated in apricot and bay leaf vinegar, cooked in the vinegar, then wrapped in flat bread with mayo and her apricot/mango topper (yes, she makes toppers that don’t involve fir tips).

If this isn’t enough, on her drawing board are plans to dehydrate the tips for a tea and she was experimenting when I visited with pickling fir tips to make into capers. And then, there was also the Doug fir flavor to be whipped into butter for popcorn topper.

            Plus the B&B she opened this year.

            Meanwhile, her shop is open Tuesday through Saturday 10am - 5pm.

            Yes, Laura Waters is a very busy woman. 

Snowdon House Gourmet Gifts

Strawberry Fir Sorbet

Serves 4, requires ice cream maker

1 bottle Snowdon House Strawberry & Fir vinegar

* Prepare ice cream maker according to instructions

* Place Snowdon House Strawberry & Fir vinegar in ice cream maker and turn on. Nothing more is needed. This will take 20-30 minutes until finished. After processing, the deep strawberry red of the vinegar will change to pink.

* Serve in a sorbet or clear glass dish and top with a strawberry and a dessert wafer.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can place the vinegar in a stainless steel bowl in the freezer and stir the vinegar once an hour for 3-4 hours. You get a coarser product more like a granita.

Cruise passengers get perks on private islands

By Bob Schulman

Photo: Bob Schulman

Do you have a Caribbean cruise set for an upcoming vacation? Is there a stop at the cruise line’s private isand – and are you wondering what kind of shape it’s in after the recent hurricanes? You can rest easy, because most of the lines’ private islands and beaches made it through Mother Nature’s wrath without a scratch. Some had only minor damage (since repaired) and all are now open for business (if you call flaking out on powdery sands and beach sports “business”).

According to the online cruise marketplace CruiseCompete, here’s where the lines’ private islands are and what you’ll find there:

Most of the islands dot The Bahamas, such as Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Cay near Great Abaco. The island offers docking for the Disney ships, which allows guests to easily travel back and forth to their liner (vs. ship-to-shore shuttles). Attractions include the Castaway Family Beach, Serenity Bay for adults, a teens-only activity area called The Hide Out and supervised programs for children at Scuttle's Cove.

Photo: Bob Schulman

Holland America Line’s Half Moon Cay (aka, Little San Salvador) is between Eleuthera and Cat Island. Along its 700-acre lagoon guests can frolic with stingrays and enjoy various water sports, a children's aqua park and a buoyed personal watercraft course. Other perks on the island include beachside cabanas with butler service, showers and misters and eco-tours by glass-bottom boat.

Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian Cruise Line’s island, is located in The Bahamas’ Berry Island chain. Among its features are beachfront cabanas, all kinds of watersports and a 40-foot-high, 175-foot-long waterslide said to be the world’s largest inflatable waterslide. On the drawing board is a “winding river” attraction along with additional nature trails and beaches.

Photo: Bob Schulman

Passengers on Princess Cruises can do some shopping, sample the local chow, down exotic cocktails or just flake out in the Caribbean sun – or cool it in the shade under umbrellas and in tiki huts -- on the line’s Princess Cays on Eleuthera. More active guests can rent aqua bikes, seaboards, paddleboats, clear-hull kayaks, sailboats or float rafts.

The island of CocoCay, which features a 20,000-square-foot aqua playground called Caylana’s Castle Cove, is designed exclusively for passengers of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. Besides beach and water activities popular attractions include parasailing up to 400 feet.

New attractions in the works include a craft market and a shore excursion building. Also on tap is a water park, a ropes course and a zipline.

Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Also in The Bahamas, MSC Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line are reportedly investing in private beach destinations. MSC’s will be in the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve near Bimini, and Carnival is said to be working on a private beach on Grand Bahama Island.

Among private islands and beaches elsewhere in the Caribbean is another getaway of Royal Caribbean and Celebrity called Labadee, a 260-acre beach resort on the northern coast of Haiti. Awaiting passengers there are seven different “neighborhoods” (Buccaneer’s Bay, Dragon’s Plaza, Labadee Town Square, Adrenaline Beach, Columbus Cove, Nellie’s Beach and the Barefoot Beach Club).

Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Norwegian also has a private island at Harvest Caye on the Caribbean rim at Belize. And Costa Cruises offers passengers a private beach on Catalina Island off the southeast corner of the Dominican Republic.

CruiseCompete notes it has been trusted by more than a million cruise consumers since it opened is online doors in 2003. Its Website ( offers a marketplace in which consumers can get a wide range of cruise info and price quotes from competing travel agents. Customers book cruises directly with their selected agent.

About cays and keys: A “cay” (pronounced “key”) is usually a small, sandy island. The word is sometimes spelled “cay” and sometimes “caye.”


By Ginger Dingus

Six Mediterranean islands, eight culturally diverse countries and 22 hot August nights. How do you pack so much of Europe into so little time and still wake up each morning feeling fresh and ready to see more? Just add one stunning cruise ship to your travel plans.

Holland America Westerdam docked in Toulon, France

Cruising through the Mediterranean, as we discovered while sailing from Barcelona to Venice, is the only way to go—especially during the height of summer.

Shipshape travels

Foie gras torchon at Rudi's Sel de MerFirst, the ship. Fresh from a multi-million dollar refit, Holland America’s Westerdam looks gorgeous. The April 2017 refurbishments touched many of the 1,964-passenger ship’s (built in 2004) expansive public spaces. My favorite redos include places for wining, dining and being entertained.

When it comes to the cocktail scene, Holland America replaced Westerdam’s nightclub with the arty Gallery Bar. The cushy chairs and sofas are adorned with puffy throw pillows for color. The walls are decorated with dozens of framed paintings, plus the requisite flat screen TVs to amuse sports fans. The drink menu is all about hand-crafted libations created by “King Cocktail,” otherwise known as master mixologist Dale DeGroff. I’ll vouch for his take on a classic margarita.

Anyone who has been cruising recently has probably encountered an onboard restaurant or two overseen by a renowned chef. Crystal Cruises, for example, has Nobu. Oceania has Jacques Pepin. The Westerdam, while in Europe, features Michelin 3-star chef, Jonnie Boer, of the Netherlands. The Boer inspired pop-up restaurant, De Librije, happens once a cruise, offering a five-course tasting menu paired with wine. With two choices per course, the exquisitely presented dishes include lobster with avocado, crispy pork belly, seared bass, miso glazed duck breast and deconstructed apple pie.

Scented soaps in the market in Toulon, FranceAlso, once per cruise is Rudi’s Sel de Mer (sea salt in French), named for Holland America’s master chef, Rudi Sodamin. It’s his contemporary twist on French classics, much of it seafood. Appetizers may be escargots, foie gras torchon (it’s divine) or bouillabaisse. Entrees include Dover sole, Maine lobster, a fresh catch of the day and rack of lamb. Both classy new menus pop up in the ship’s revamped specialty restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, and both do cost extra.

With the completion of Music Walk, cruisers have the nightly option of three distinctly different music venues—plus the main theater. Walk the walk on Deck 2 between the showroom and the main dining room. Just off the casino, Billboard Onboard showcases two singing piano players who tickle the ivories with their remarkable repertoire of hits. Further along the corridor is B.B. King’s Blues Club where blues and jazz happen in a small theater that doubles as America’s Test Kitchen for port day cooking demos. Near the aft end comes Lincoln Center Stage where a quintet of strings and piano put on a classic and not-so-classic act.

Eclectic shore-side attractions

Bullring in Malaga, SpainBlame it on the generous platter of tapas and the pitcher of sherry. During the ship’s stop in Malaga, I couldn’t get enough of Spain’s iconic flamenco dancers. “It’s the music of the shoes,” commented our guide for the Andalusian Highlights tour. The female dancer’s white shoes were of the large-heeled tap dance variety. Her male partner’s black boots were of soft leather. Together, their dance was an intoxicating blend of tap and Irish folk, as in Riverdance.

Following the flamenco show, our tour moved to another Spanish institution—the bullfight. In this case, we toured Malaga’s bullring and adjoining museum. The ring, which seats 8,000, is still in use. Brightly colored posters out front announced a festival with days of celebrations and bullfighting to begin that very weekend.

A bull, to be qualified for a life-or-death encounter, must be four years old. This detail I learned on a ship’s tour in Cadiz. Bullfighting being a controversial topic, only a handful of us joined the excursion to Los Alburejos Farms, a family-owned establishment where horses and fighting bulls have been bred for generations. Elizabeth, our farm hostess, grew up around the animals on what is now the Domecq family’s weekend retreat. Her grandfather, father, brother and son were all skilled bullfighters who confronted the bulls from horseback. While visiting the farm’s indoor bullring, Elizabeth pointed out photos of such celebrity visitors as Hemingway and a former President of Spain. Our visit ended with tapas (cheese, sausage, chips, olives, omelet squares) and a Domecq-family sherry served on the villa’s shady veranda.

Poster of a flamenco dancer in MalagaOn the island of Palma de Mallorca, I picked up another tidbit at the Majorica pearl factory. These pearls never saw an oyster. They are totally man-made. I dropped into the factory/jewelry shop during a tour to the Caves of Drach (dragon). Deep in the caves, I marveled at a brief, classical concert performed in rowboats (piano included) floating on Europe’s largest underground lake. On my way back above ground, I managed to beat the crowd (600 folks visit per hour) and climb into a boat for a short row across the water.

Moving on to France, my husband and I spent our time in Toulon happily poking around the morning market. Blocks of pedestrian-only streets were packed with locals shopping for fruits, veggies, flowers, fresh fish, clothes and household goods. I found the made-in-Marseille scented soaps irresistible. The fragrant rectangles came in lavender, melon, vanilla and more. Our wanderings eventually led to the Toulon National Maritime Museum. The intricate models of 17th and 18th-century sailing ships kept us captivated for much of the afternoon.

One of Lucca's many towersNext up, Italy. Instead of hopping the bus to crowded Florence from the port of Livorno, we opted for a walking tour of the charming walled city of Lucca. The walls—most still standing and now boasting a parklike hiking/biking trail on the ramparts—were built in the mid-1500s. In those days, Lucca’s silk industry was prospering, and Florence was the prime foe. Today, inside the largely traffic-free walls, narrow streets lead to impressive cathedrals, ancient towers and, of course, outdoor cafes. Having visited Lucca some 20 years ago, I was concerned that it might be modernized beyond recognition. Not to worry. Lucca is as delightful and old world as ever.

While many fellow cruisers chose to end their vacation the following day in Rome, more than 400 of us continued aboard Westerdam. No tears were shed nor bags packed quite yet. The next 10 days revealed totally different ports-of-call in four additional countries—Malta, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro.

Of these, Malta’s island of Gozo astonished us for being extremely arid and dusty. Did I mention the heat, sun and lack of shade? There’s nothing like a first-hand encounter to shatter my illusion of Gozo as a tropical paradise.

Ramparts in Kotor, MontenegroIn sharp contrast, Kotor, Montenegro provided miles of lovely fjord-like landscapes, with steep green hillsides rising from the deep blue waters of the bay. The compact, medieval city of Kotor is ringed by what looks like the Great Wall of China climbing up the cliffsides. Passengers who braved the climb said it took them roughly two hours to reach the top, and “the views were spectacular!”

All great trips must eventually come to an end. Our final port was Venice where our ship docked overnight, giving us ample time to explore one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. Once again, cruising proved to be the only way we could possibly see so much, so comfortably in three weeks’ time.

The Search for Southern-Style Cooking

By Carole Jacobs

Blame it on my hummingbird metabolism, but I’ve always had a hard time gaining weight. So imagine my surprise when I returned from a trip to the South last fall and discovered I had gained seven pounds in just one week.


Specifically, I had spent a highly-saturated week reporting on the record for a magazine south of the Mason Dixon Line, eating my way through the rolling green hills of Upper Cumberland, a collection of hometown counties east of Nashville where the wine, quilt, Tennessee Civil War, beer, moonshine and bluegrass trails rule and it’s not unusual to see American and Confederate flags flapping in the breeze from the same flag pole.

My assignment was to find out if the sort of home-style Southern cooking Paula Dean used to show us All how to make (before she got booted off the air) was having its final hurrah in the Southern hinterlands as the deadly effects of demon cholesterol became more widespread? And nothing says cholesterol louder than lard, a key ingredient in Southern cooking that’s essential for flaky buttermilk biscuits, creamy gravy and crispy Southern fried chicken. Or was Southern cooking still with us, and guaranteed to be so until the lard or the Lipitor runs out?


According to redoubtable sources like Lard cookbook and “Grits” magazine, scientific studies show lard is not only better for you than butter and vegetable oils but tastier, too. Good Earth Magazine claims in “The Lost Art of Cooking with Lard” that if you you’re going to go whole-hog on lard, you’re better off eating lard that comes from happy pigs raised in green pasture rather than lard from discontented pigs raised in industrial confinement.


The only thing I love more than traveling is eating, and the only thing I love more than eating is spending time with my BFF Katy, who just happens to live in the Upper Cumberland metropolitan area (Knoxville) and who also happens to be a health writer who understands the dietary excesses of Southern cooking from a scientific and personal level and has spent the last 25 years trying to sidestep them.


Katy, who grew up near me in the Philly suburbs, only to later become a Southern girl minus the drawl, picked me up in her cute little coupe in the quirky burb of Cookeville. It was her birthday and we intended to get the goods on Southern cooking as well as celebrate.

Located about an hour from the bright lights, aptly-named Cookeville is where Nashville cats come to escape the edgy city scene with its recent influx of gluten-free corn cakes (there oughta be a law) and get back to their artery-clogging roots.  In aptly-named Cookeville, home to 100 restaurants and counting, our search began at Ralph’s Donuts, a tiny shop that’s been named one of the 25 best donut shops in America since it started making buttermilk donuts, butter twists and sticky buns 50 years ago.

 Katy was on a diet and (mentally) muzzled, but there was no stopping me from perusing the merchandise. “Let’s see, I’ll take one of those sticky buns, one of those butter twists, one of those Red Velvet thingies and two cream puffs! “The waitress swaddled my pastries in tissue paper like they were lacy bras from Victoria’s Secret and then placed them in a pretty white box. I told Katy that eating them would be an ideal great way for us to celebrate her birthday while determining if Southern donuts were still loaded with lard, but she just grabbed the box and locked it in her trunk.

With 99 more restaurants in town, we were barely getting started. Over at Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill, the waitress served us heaping portions of jambalaya, crawfish étouffe and fried green tomatoes that Katy said was way too south – like New Orleans south-- to qualify as real Southern cooking. At Father’s Tom’s Pub, the fare was unapologetically Irish, as in Classic Irish Style Beer Cheese Soup Garnished with Red Pepper and Toasted Baguette. The Cooke Restaurant was sticking to its Southern roots with duck tacos made with duck fat, smashed ‘tatoes that were creamy-chunky all at once, braised brisket with creamy white truffle grits and chocolate and vanilla crème burl. Alas, the nitrogen carbonated iced coffee was a wee bit too edgy to pass as Southern, although we had a feeling it would fly in Scottsdale.

After sampling the goods at four more restaurants (it’s a hard job but somebody has to do it), we popped into Cream City Ice Cream & Coffee House for black coffees to go and discovered we still had room for at least two of its 30 flavors of homemade ice cream, including several we had never heard of before, including toasted coconut, Dulce de Leche cheesecake, Tennessee fudge…  

Katy said her scoop of Tennessee fudge and my scoop of pecan praline were definitely Southern ice cream, although the sugar-free sherbets was more Malibu.

Back in our hotel room, Katy began calculating the calories she had consumed that day. “Donuts, cheese soup, a baguette, a scoop of Tennessee fudge and half your pecan praline – it’s a good thing you only visit once a year!”


After a scenic drive on backroads in full Appalachian Spring, we steered into The Bull & Thistle Pub in Gainesboro. The name didn’t sound encouraging, and when Chef Barry O’Connor from Cork, Ireland, pushed icy pints across the bar and insisted we try “a little nip” of his authentic Guinness Stew and his sticky toffee pudding (I should have just sat in cause that’s where it stuck), we knew there wasn’t an ounce of Southern in his entire menu.

We drove on to Cumberland Mountain State Park, settling into charmingly rustic cabins that had been built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the architects of many of America’s spectacular national park lodges. After unpacking, we suddenly realized it had been an entire two hours since our last meal.

We decided to drop in for a before-dinner cocktail at Short Mountain Distillery, located in the small town of Woodburn and founded in 2010 as Tennessee’s sixth moonshine distillery.  Without quite losing its illicit rep, moonshine (we’re talking the legal version made from corn mash) is making a comeback as a luxury spirit in the U.S. and leading a whisky renaissance, and we wanted to see how it was done.

When we arrived at the distillery, co-owner Billy Kaufman, dressed in baggy pants, suspenders and a hillbilly hat, was pitching hay to the horses. I nudged Katy. “Check him out, he’s the real McCoy.”  After shoving his pitchfork in a hay bale and wiping his brow with a red bandana, Billy gave us the grand tour of the joint, showing off his ultra- high-tech distillery, his swank tasting room where he insisted we take a nip of each of his variously flavored moonshines, and then inviting us to join him for lunch in his tres elegant Stillhouse Restaurant, a farm-to-table eatery perched on a hill overlooking his 300-acre spread.

I couldn’t quite nail the menu – it had sophisticated California cuisine like chef salads and grilled chicken and salmon, carb-bomb dishes like chicken and waffles – and beverages made with moonshine, including moonshine lemonade. “When in Rome!” we agreed, although I was already pretty well snookered from the tasting room nips.

As we were served our drinks, Billy explained that he and his brother had founded the distillery in 2010 to create jobs for the local community, create a new Tennessee brand and generate income that would stay in the area.

In the early 20th century, moonshine became a key source of income for many Appalachian residents because one horse could haul ten times more value on its back in whiskey than in corn. During prohibition when moonshine was banned, regions where it had been produced, including Woodburn, fell on hard times.

What a guy, I thought. He’s not only following his heart and helping people, but he’s doing it all in his own back yard holler. But when I asked him what part of Appalachia they were from that had instilled in them such a passion for producing moonshine to help their community, he just snapped his suspenders nervously.

“Actually, we’re from Beverly Hills.”


Bill explained that he and his brother were heirs to the Samsonite luggage fortune. After graduating from college, they had decided to use their inheritance to move to Tennessee, buy a farm and build a moonshine distillery.

“You’re like the Beverly Hillbillies in reverse!” I blurted out, an “ah ha” moment obviously fueled by moonshine. Billy picked up my glass, gave it a whiff and motioned over a waiter. “No more lemonade for her!”

It had been at least two hours since our last meal:  “Time for dinner!” we agreed, and we knew just where to go. We had heard the BBQ Shack in the wee town of Grimsley (population 1,600) was awesome, but good enough to stand in line with what appeared to be the entire town?

We were on our second helpings of beef brisket, pulled chicken with homemade slaw, pulled pork with savory baked beans, buttery biscuits, fried pickles and homemade macaroni and cheese before we came up for air long enough to agree that the cooking in this unadorned (except for a Jesus Loves You-type poster pasted on the front wall) hole- in- the- wall was not only that good but the finest example of authentic Southern cooking we had come across yet.

It was also concrete proof – we could feel it solidifying in our stomachs if not yet our hearts -- that home-style, made- with- lard-and-proud-of-it  Southern-style  cooking was alive and well in America,  and still guaranteed to send your cholesterol to Mars.



Story by Anne Z. Cooke; photography by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

The mountain tour begins, dwarfed by a steep under-the-lift bumps run, at Taos Ski Resort, New Mexico.Winter was still on the calendar when we spotted them, muddy patches of earth poking through melting snow. In former years Snowmass Ski Resort had welcomed us with greeted us with mounds of powder, white-on-white from the Cirque at the summit to the slopes under Sheer Bliss. Where were those 36 inches now, when it mattered? 

“All we need is a couple of days skiing the summit,” griped 15-year-old Dillon, who’d skipped a couple of school days to make the trip. “Is that too much to ask?”

Spoiled by regular visits to Park City Mountain Resort, in Utah, where a decade of powder stashes were as predictable as ham on rye, he grabbed his snowboard and stumped away toward Fanny Hill “to inspect the snow melt.” But as the sun glared down, puddles of water and dripping icicles confirmed the worst. Spring had invaded overnight.

Then shortly before midnight I heard shouting outside and opened the door to find the skiers in the next condo dancing around the parking lot, celebrating an icy wind and whirling cloud of snowflakes. 

What a difference 12 hours makes. By 6:30 a.m. I was drinking coffee and logging on, blogging the news with the following:   

“The blizzard that began late Tuesday night was sheer bliss for skiers at Snowmass and Aspen ski resorts who awoke to the best of all possible worlds: feathery-soft powder snow blanketing mountain peaks, valley trails, forest glades and ski lifts.

The storm, which blew in just before midnight, was still swirling over Snowmass Village at dawn, laying down a foot of new snow on the base area runs before noon and more on Snowmass’s upper slopes.

Riding Fanny Hill lift over Snowmass Village for day’s first run, at Snowmass Resort, Colorado.“This is paradise,” reported Glenn Parker, from Denver, who said he'd spent the earlier part of the week skiing on hard-packed trails, ‘groomed at night …but mushy by late afternoon.’ Joining another group of other early risers who'd seen the snow and jumped into their gear, he snapped on his skis and followed them down to the lifts, hoping to ‘ski first tracks off the top.’

Today’s snowfall promises to be a winner for once-a-year skiers and boarders – mostly families with kids – who come during the annual spring break holiday and for whom good snow can make or break a vacation.”

So much for news blogged out to the world. Skiers in far-away places would read the news and weep, but not us. We were fortunate to be on hand to enjoy a brief reprieve from a half-dozen fickle winters at most of my favorite ski mountains.   

Up and down the West Coast, from California to Washington, some ski resorts got plenty of snow, but not until late February. In Colorado, December and January blizzards brought too much snow, only to be followed by two months of dry weather.  

For now, say climate scientists, extremes may be the new norm. But chancy weather isn’t the disaster it used to be, spoiling a long-planned ski vacation. Instead of booking lodging and lift tickets months in advance and hoping you’ve guessed right, wait for winter to arrive then check the internet for snow levels and expected storms. Once resort managers realized they could reach boarders and skiers instantly, posting lift ticket prices and packages online, everything changed.

When visitor numbers are down, new package deals, super discounts and late-season programs can be designed virtually overnight. If late snows keep the slopes in shape and skier numbers are trending up, resorts can extend the season. And they can stay ahead of an expected rush by hiring additional staff, booking more on-snow events and adding spring specials.

Sheer bliss is a day outdoors, with snowy peaks and valley views, here at Snowmass Village, Snowmass Resort, Colorado.Skiers and boarders also benefit. The amount of resort information now available online dwarfs the little bit once printed in magazines, guidebooks and advertising. Plant your poles on any page in any resort’s website and you’ll find printable trail maps, detailed information on classes and clinics, special events and race dates, terrain park photos and on-mountain restaurant menus.

The week’s snow reports, numbers of lifts and runs, peak elevations and “go-pro” videos of skiers flying off vertical headwalls and through thick glade will make you feel as if you were there, too. As for lodging, most of the sites link to on-slope lodging and shopping options.    

Not surprisingly, instant access online gave birth to a new concept, the idea that a ski resort can be an all-around theme park, offering an endless variety of non-ski winter recreation. The first tentative Valentine’s Day weekends and beer festivals led to rock concerts, hot-air ballooning, chili cook-offs, wine festivals, chuck wagon dinners, horse-drawn sleigh rides and art shows.

When I talked to friends who planned a family reunion at Keystone Resort, in Colorado’s Summit County, I realized that a successful winter getaway doesn’t have to depend on good snow, or even on any snow.

“Oh, no, I don’t ski,” said my friend, Barbara Beckley when I asked about her winter trip to Breckinridge, also in Summit County. “I went to see what it was all about, and I wound up having a great trip. I snowshoed through the most beautiful snowy woods, and I had a lovely spa treatment, and I tried dog mushing and Nordic skiing. It was the best getaway!”   

Though ski resort websites post current snow conditions, they don’t always provide future weather forecasts, handy if you’re planning two or three weeks out. For that you need a trained meteorologist, says Erica Mueller, at Crested Butte Resort, near Gunnison, Colorado.

Fiery sunsets look better when seen from the Snowmass gondola, in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.“Take a look at ,” suggests Mueller, a former Olympic snowboarder whose career depends on powder. “Joel Gratz – he’s a meteorologist and a skier – created the site a couple of years ago. That’s where we go to look ahead. Most resorts use it.”

Gratz, based in Boulder, says that his search for the best powder snow began as a hobby, then evolved into a website and full-time occupation. “After testing it for a year, we went online in November 2011. So far it’s a success. What separates us from other sites is that we know what powder skiers like,” he says. “We don’t report on regional storms, but instead focus on which resorts are likely to get the next powder storm.”

Most of OpenSnow’s reports are available at no charge. For the special reports, pay a modest fee and become a member. I also like OnTheSnow (, a general information website that brings you a wide range of ski news.


A day to remember: kids on skis and snowflakes in the air, at Park City Resort, Utah.Best Websites:

My favorite resort sites:

Snowmass Ski Resort at, or at

Park City Mountain Resort at

Keystone Resort at

Breckinridge Ski Resort at

Heavenly Resort at and at

Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows at  

For quality snow forecasts and reports, go to and

© The Syndicator/Anne Z. Cooke

A look back at sex in the sky

By Bob Schulman

Mohawk Airlines’ Gas Light service. Photo: Mohawk archives.No, this isn’t a story about the famous (some might say infamous) “Mile High Club.” It’s about promotions cooked up by the airlines to boost sales by selling sex.

Flying brothels

The bawdy ball was kicked off in 1960 by Utica, N.Y.-based Mohawk Airlines. At the time, the carrier was transitioning to an all-jet-powered fleet, having sold all but two of its World War II-vintage DC-3 prop planes. Mohawk hyped its fleet upgrade by redecorating the cabins of the two DC-3s to look like what the airline euphemistically called “Victorian-style” parlors – but which looked more like flying brothels in turn-of-the-century decor.

Creating a bawdyish ambiance were touches like gold filigreed wallpaper lining the planes’ cabins, red velvet curtains with gold tassels over the windows and interior lighting by carriage lamps. Still another touch was added by stewardesses (as flight attendants were called back then) dressed like old-time hookers who served free beer, cheese, pretzels and cigars.

Mohawk, which mainly flew to cities scattered over northern New England, got lots of national publicity on what were officially named “Gas Light Flights” (although most reporters used more colorful tags). As a result, passengers packed the two planes often filling them up, according to a Mohawk spokesman.

Mohawk used its last two DC-3s for the Gas Light promotion. Photo: Mohawk archives.The last DC-3 found a new home a little over a year and a half later. But Mohawk – despite the overwhelming success of its promotion – didn’t repeat it. Nor was it copied by other airlines, because after the DC-3 Gas Light Flights the FAA enacted new flammability rules for airline cabins banning things that burned fast like wallpaper and velvet curtains. 

The ‘Air Strip’

Fast-forward a few years to the mid-60s when Braniff International brought sex back to the skies with its famous/infamous “Pucci Air Strip.” In TV ads (, a shapely hostess (as Braniff called its flight attendants) casually stripped off layers of her uniform, unveiling different layers – and successively more skin – against a backdrop of burlesque music and a narrator using subtle sexual references ending with the tag line, “(Braniff) believes that even an airline hostess should look like a girl.”

The promotion won all kinds of ad awards, but it went over like a lead balloon with women’s groups like the National Organization for Women, founded in 1966 (perhaps not coincidentally right after the Braniff promotion debuted).

I’m Cheryl, Fly Me

Braniff ad for its Air Strip.Step on the gas again, this time to 1971 when National Airlines resurrected the sex-sells-seats angle in the era’s crown jewel of double entendres: “Fly Me.” The campaign spotlighted gorgeous flight attendants (as they finally became known) using their first names in ads saying “I’m Cheryl. Fly me” or “I’m Linda. Fly me.” Flight attendants even had to wear “Fly Me” buttons on their uniforms.

Denying a saucy twist to the promotion, a National spokesman said “We had no preconceived idea of injecting a suggestive leer into the campaign."

Passengers were so turned on by Fly Me, the spokesman noted, that the airline’s ridership jumped by a whopping 23 percent in the first year alone. But most of National’s flight attendants hated it. (One attendant reportedly sketched in the words “Go Fly Yourself” right after Fly Me on her uniform’s campaign button.)

Moving tails

National Airlines ad.Some three years later, as passengers started tiring of Fly Me, the sex-in-the-sky concept popped up again, this time in Continental Airlines’ famous/infamous “We really move our tail for you” campaign Again, the airline claimed it paid off, while its flight attendants grumbled about it. Their union, for instance, wrangled a feature story in the Los Angeles Times in which an attendant, pictured with an adorable tot in her lap, voiced protests against being treated like a sex object.

Where are they now? After a series of mergers, acquisitions and the like, what was left of Mohawk ended up flying under the colors of American Airlines. National was acquired by Pan Am, which later was sold off piece by piece until its bones were purchased by Delta. Continental merged with United and now zips through the friendly skies under United’s name. Braniff folded its wings and remains just an airline legend despite numerous attempts to get it back up in the air.

Disclosure: The writer was Mohawk's public relations chief for a few years in the 1960s.

Tour Peru off the beaten track

By Bob Schulman

There are only two places on a new tour of Peru where you’ll see mobs of  tourists: at its start (at the country’s capital of Cusco) and a little over a week later at its end (at the iconic Incan ruins at Machu Picchu). In between, the tour follows a less-traveled route (vs. the popular “Inca Trail”) featuring stops at little-known archaeological sites and mostly tourist-less weaving and craft villages.

Machu Picchu

Called “The Adventurer’s Route to Machu Picchu,” the tour offers multiple en route activities for its guests’ different interests and age groups. For instance, after learning some weaving arts in the village of Huacahuasi, guests can choose between a challenging hike to a town on a turquoise Andean lake or opt for an easy walk to a nearby waterfall before a cooking class and lunch at a mountain lodge.

Besides stops at remote archaeological sites, the tour focuses on the rich culinary heritage of the Incas, the colorful culture of the Peruvian highlands, jaw-dropping views of cloud-covered mountain ranges and plenty of time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas.


The adventure wraps up at the ancient city of Machu Picchu, set on the slopes of the Peruvian Andes almost 8,000 feet above sea level. There, visitors can explore centuries-old palaces, temples, terraced gardens and all kinds of other structures, some 200 in all.

A tip to participants in the journey: Leave lots of room in your closet for “I (heart)” tee-shirts from shops in villages such as Chinchero, Choquecancha, Urquillos, Pisac and Viacha. Or from vendors at the ruins of centuries-old cities like Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, Q’enqo, Ancasmarca, Ollantaytambo, the fortress of Sacsayhuaman and of course Machu Picchu.


The 10-day tour (starting with two days of sightseeing in and around Cusco) is offered by luxury adventure operator International Nature and Cultural Adventures, INCA for short. Eight more departures are scheduled this year between Oct. 15 and Dec. 23 at prices starting at $4,995 per person, double occupancy. Weekly departures are set for 2018 between March 3 and Dec. 20. The tab next year starts at $5,245 per person, double occupancy. Airfares from home to Peru and back are not covered.

Guest lodge in the Peruvian Andes.

For more details see the tour’s website,

Based in Emeryville, Calif., INCA has been creating adventure tours for nearly 40 years to exceptional destinations around the globe. Its scheduled journeys are limited to eight to 16 travelers. 

Photos courtesy of International Nature and Cultural Adventures.

Mexico launches new, visually rich marketing campaign

By Bob Schulman

Photo from new MTB marketing campaign. Photo credit: MTB.

You’ll want to drop everything you’re doing and zip down to Mexico right away when you see the jaw-dropping images spotlighted in the country’s new promotional campaign, “A World of Its Own.”  Focusing on “the sheer scale and diversity of Mexico’s tourism offering,” the campaign is aimed at continuing the momentum that helped our neighbor become the eighth most visited country in the world – up from the 15th most visited spot – in just four years.

Photo credit: MTB.

You can see some 100 eye-popping scenes from the just-debuted promotion in a special video, one of its corner pieces. Check out the minute-long video at

Driving home the global campaign’s emphasis on Mexico’s tourism diversity is footage of everything from the ruins of ancient pyramids to cobblestoned colonial towns to palm-lined beaches to whimsical handicrafts to modern-day metropolitan centers.

Photo credit: MTB

“This new campaign is an invitation to immerse yourself in everything that is Mexico,” said Hector Flores Santana, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB). “We feel the name says it all: Mexico is truly ‘A World of Its Own.’ We constantly hear visitors tell us that Mexico is unlike anything they have experienced. They have shared their marvel that in just one day they can relax at one of the world’s top beaches, stroll through colorful markets, hear the Maya language still spoken, visit a crystal blue water cenote hidden in the jungle and, finally, savor a mix of modern and ancient flavors at dinner. Throughout their journey they are greeted with the warm smiles of the Mexican people while enjoying the quality service of Mexico’s world-famous hospitality.”

Advertising, promotions and events in partnership with the tourism industry and Mexico’s destinations will begin rolling out across global markets in October. A new digital platform will launch in December, allowing for interaction with the video. The campaign’s content and messages have also been designed to be customized by market, featuring attractions such as sun and beach, romance, adventure and nature, medical and wellness, LGBT, cruises, culture, high-impact events, luxury, sustainability and gastronomy.

Tourist barges on the canals of Xochimilco outside Mexico City. Photo credit: Bob Schulman.

Emmanuel Rey, the MTB’s chief marketing officer, added, “It’s time for Mexico to connect with travelers on a more personal level, now more than ever. ‘A World of Its Own’ will both engage consumers by sharing the breadth of experiences Mexico has to offer and, more importantly, challenge travelers to live life to the fullest, awaken their drive to imagine and ensure travel is an important part of how they discover the world and themselves.”


Story by Anne Z. Cooke, Photos by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

Does Legoland California, on 126 rolling acres in San Diego County, California, really mean it when they say that Surfer’s Cove, the newest addition to the theme park’s Water Park area, opened in June is for kids “ages 2 to 12?”

Summer days are here! Cool off at Legoland’s thrilling new Surfers’ Cove, opening on June 30, 2017.

C’mon, get real. Who’s going to drive the kids to the park and pay for an overnight stay at the television series-inspired Ninjago Hotel? That’s going to be you. Who’s going to put on a bathing suit and challenge the eight-year-old twins to a thrill-a-minute contest on the just-built Riptide Racers water slide? Who’s going to sample the Wipe Out Lagoon ride? That’s you, too, holding back just a little, so the kids can win.    

Kids play in shallow water in the Splash Out pool, near the Joker Soaker tower.Chances are you’ll be the one who buys lunch at Beach Street Tacos, then retreats to a chaise in the shade to beat the heat. The one who’s oblivious to what some people might call chaos: kindergarten kids splashing in the Joker Soaker pool, moms pushing toddlers in strollers, three-year-olds playing in the Splash Zoo and an endless chorus of happy shrieks as dozens of parents and grandparents suspend the notion of grown-up rules and – like everyone visiting Legoland  – relax and let the kids be kids.

Legoland California is probably not on your bucket list. It certainly wasn’t on mine. But after my own overnight in the Ninjago Hotel – among dozens of fantasy sculptures built out of hundreds of thousands of Lego blocks and dozens of excited, chattering kids and parents – I’ve been enlightened.

Not your usual theme park, Legoland’s nine themed areas are connected by landscaping and a maze of paths accessing 60 different attractions. These range from thrill rides to learning exhibits and restaurants, all built out of the world’s best-known plastic toy, rectangular blocks so famous they’ve inspired films, Youtube videos and fans. And it isn’t just for kids.

Legoland is, actually, a parent’s best friend.

What other public entertainment venue can you name that promotes itself to adults but is geared up for kids? A place where mom and dad don’t have to say, “Don’t run,” or “sit still,” or “stop yelling; it’s bothering those people,” because “those people” are parents, too? 

In the Ninjago Hotel, kids rushed into the elevators, ran down the corridors and pointed out every famous Lego block representation of Kai, Nya, Jay and Skylor. They chose their own food at the child-height buffet and went back for seconds. Dropped spaghetti and spilled milk attracted no attention, other than a smile from the waitress who mopped it up and offered to bring seconds.  

High seas mean seat belts for Mom, Dad and the twins, on Captain Cranky’s ship, CHALLENGEIndeed, the atmosphere was so free-spirited and tolerant that it encouraged camaraderie. In lines, on rides and in the hotel, couples said hello, exchanged names and asked each other’s children’s ages. Dads talked about building swing sets and buying bicycles and moms compared neighborhoods, pre-schools and piano lessons. Families who discovered they lived near each other made plans to meet again.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Lego blocks, invented 83 years ago, were the product of a similar mind-set. In 1934, Ole Christiansen, a Danish carpenter, began to make wooden toys and blocks, which he sold under the name Lego, a word derived from “leg godt,” (meaning play well). Business was so good that he began experimenting with plastic blocks. In 1958 he opened a factory making the plastic blocks still sold today.

When the Lego block sculptures he displayed at his factory (and sold as kits) attracted so many sightseers there wasn’t room to hold them all, Ole decided to build a park to show off what Lego blocks could build, opening it in 1968 near Copenhagen.

As Lego’s popularity grew, sales spread worldwide. By 1980, when the first of the millennials were born, Lego blocks had found their way into nearly every American home. No wonder that for today’s millennials, now raising children of their own, a visit to Legoland California is a home-coming.

A pirate ship, a castle, a dragon, 4,875 tiny Ninjago figures and several million Lego blocks welcome guests at Legoland’s Ninjago Hotel.For most parents, the Ninjago Hotel is even more overwhelming, its interior a visual whirlwind of sculptures made of thousands of multi-colored blocks. From the reception hall to the guest rooms, every wall evokes memories of Lego kits tucked under long-ago Christmas trees and weekend afternoons building battleships and mini-doll houses. No wonder that Legoland – and Disneyland, too – have found such a ready audience.

If it’s a hot sunny day when you arrive, buy a separate Water Park ticket and plan to spend the day at Surfers’ Cove, sampling the different water features. The kids can do some on their own, but others either permit or require parent participation, with listed height and weight restrictions. Four of these start near the 45-foot tall Tower, built in the middle of a large wading pool.

The Orange Rush, a family-size slide down a curving track, large enough for four, takes either adults or children, or a combination. Others are the Twin Chasers, two side-by-side, 130-foot long tube slides that end in the pool; the Splash Out, a single 240-foot long body-slide ride into the pool; and the Splash Zoo, where toddlers ages 1 to 3 can play sprinkled by little fountains and sprays, either on a teeter totter or with funny fat animals, including a lion, a giraffe and a zebra.

Kids can build a raft and float down a short river. Or splash in the water under the Joker Soaker platform, where they can shoot water cannons (very small ones) at each other or hang out under the Big Splash, which “erupts” at intervals. And there’s the Imagination Station, where the kids can use DUPLO bricks to build dams, bridges, and test water flow patterns.

Build your own robot at Mind Storms, in the Imagination Zone, in the shadow of Lego-block sculpture Albert Einstein.As far as I could see, there was something for almost every child. And some adults. That’s why the next time somebody asks me why I went to a park built for toddlers I plan to explain that I made a couple of new friends and tell them how they can do the same. Yes, really.

THE NITTY GRITTY: Stay overnight at the 250-room Ninjago Hotel, located at the Park, with parking in the adjacent lot. Entry passes are included in hotel packages or sold separately for Legoland California, for the Water Park, for the Sea Life Aquarium or for all. Or try one of the other large (and more affordable) hotels located in the area. The Water Park offers rentals you might consider: life jackets, cabanas, chaises, official towels, lockers for changing clothes and even mini-fridges. For more, call Water Park Guest Services at 760-438-5346.

Prices for entrance tickets, hotel rooms and all extras change too often, by the season, the month and even the day, to be listed on brochures. But all are available on the internet at Or call 760-918-LEGO.

Anne Z. Cooke, writer and people watcher, keeps adding to her bucket list. Tweet @anneontheroad, or find her at


By Lisa TE Sonne

Last month, we visited dogs that pull sleds…without worrying about how to feed them.  We saw polar bears in their natural habitat…without needing to bring a gun on hikes to protect ourselves. (Guides set a perimeter of protection before we even began.) We gloried at Northern Lights over our heads in a remote area with splendid stars, but then trundled off to our beautiful suites, not tents on the ice.   We woke up every morning to a hot breakfast—an international buffet and freshly made requests with a cool sense of upcoming discovery!


 “This is an expedition, not a cruise,” said Expedition leader Anja Erdmann near the start of our voyage, aptly called “Northern Lights and Arctic Sights.

Mind you, she was addressing us intrepid explorers as we sat in plush swivel chairs with plates of appetizers on a ship with fin stabilizers. For outdoor readiness, we each had been given an incredibly warm expedition jacket, with multiple pockets and Artic patches.

“Expedition” means “flexibility,” Anja explained, and the best of reality, not rations and deprivation. With that reassurance, we were ready to see the whites of Greenland, Anja’s favorite polar region in the world as well as the greens in Icelandic towns in the Westfjords that we would visit at the beginning and end of the trip.

We were not given an advance itinerary for the five days set to be in Scoresbysund, often claimed as the world’s largest and longest fjord system.  Depending on weather and conditions (and passenger interests), Anya, the captain, and the rest of the expedition team would choose each day what seemed like the best spots for anchoring and shore trips.  If things go well, at some point, we will pull into at least one spot that no passenger ship has been to before.

Attitude before Age

Anja says she learned long ago not to let the age of someone on the passenger manifest prejudice her thinking. “It may say 80 years old, and then that person takes the hills like a goat,” she laughs. “It is sometimes the people in their 50s and 60s who have a little harder time. They have been working hard and don’t have time to be fit, but in their minds they are still like they were 20 years ago.”

The truth is, the wondrous, other worldly beauties of the icebergs and mountains and sea and sky made me feel like a little kid on a holiday, mouth agape. Wow! And at times, the captivating expansiveness of the landscapes also made me feel deeply ageless – part of infinity.


Every morning, the view out my window was fantastical and awakening. We were traveling on a floating hotel off one of the least densely populated areas of the world, Dmitri, the hotel manager, had worked on larger cruise ships before.

Many cruises try to keep passengers on the ship to spend money in the shops and casinos,” Dmitri explained. “We try to get you off the ship to spend time in nature and experience the places we visit.” It was the perfect combination: bed turn-down service with chocolates on the pillow, laundry services, AND expeditions to places like Ittoqqortootmitt in Greenland, where less than 500 people live hundreds of miles from any other human settlements with no connecting roads.  These are Greenlanders trying to balance the traditional hunting ways of their Inuit ancestors and the modern technologies and economies of today.

After that, we didn’t see people other than fellow passengers for several days.  Greenland is 50 times the size of Denmark, but has fewer than 60,000 inhabitants and most of them live in the South or west coast. If you are looking for nature not overrun by tourists this trip fulfills.

We did see polar bears, musk ox, Arctic hares, centuries-old Thule tent circles of rocks, Humpback whales, and for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, a fogbow also known as a White Rainbow. We heard the thundering sounds of tons of ice falling into the sea and setting off waves as well as the tinier pops of little icebergs exhaling air bubbles, and the crunching crackles of Zodiaks pushing through freshly frozen sea ice.

Part of the sense of exploration was the other passengers and crew: an international mix so all announcements and menus used English, German, Russian and Chinese. The expedition team included scientists and experts who studied biogeography, glaciology, marine mammals, flora, and a self-proclaimed “real Viking, a direct descendent of Eric the Red, who is the person credited with finding Iceland. We had also our own “Kayakologist” who led seven kayaking trips for those who had signed up before the cruise.  For me these forays on the water were true highlights!

Many of our fellow passengers had booked this Expedition cruise individually, others clearly arrived as a group like many of the Chinese who had their own advance programs of the trip.  Small ship specialists Explor West, an American based group led Dick and Leslie West, offered a package that included arranged days in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik before the trip so passengers in their group were over jet lag and had already knew each other for the voyage.



While historic polar trips were often about surviving, ours encouraged thriving and jiving (to the tunes of the dedicated musician on board for our entertainment). We could savor a special solitude in the vastness, enjoy  the diversity of people at dinner, and share universal sounds of glee when a new ghost of Northern Lights started dancing in the night sky.

As I write, the Sea Spirit is repositioning this October to the other polar regions, where spring and summer will unfold . Future passengers will be enthralled with penguins and leopard seals, as well as icebergs and glaciers in Antarctica, the Falklands, and South Georgia. Their expeditions will include encounters with people at research stations on the “White Continent” that holds all 24 time zones.

It’s not too early, though, to think about next summer, back in the northern hemisphere and the high latitudes nearer the north pole of our planet. Poseidon also offers “expeditions, not cruises” to western Greenland where the whales, walruses, and people are more plentiful than our East Greenland voyage. I am already fantasizing about going higher up above the Arctic Circle, where the wild life of the sky and sea can be even more dramatic. Poseidon takes people to explore the Russian-occupied Franz Josef Land, Norwegian Jan May, and Spitsburgen off Norway’s Svalbard-archipelago, all areas frequented by great polar explorers of yore and lore. 


And for those who have no limits of health or wealth, there’s the greatest nuclear icebreaker on the planet, The Victory. One can only imagine what Peary, Cook, or Nansen would have thought of the idea of posing for a group photo when reaching the North Pole and then returning to the ship to take a sauna. Would it be, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

For more Polar routes and adventures, the Poseidon Expeditions phone for the U.S. & Canada is   +1 347 801-2610.  Website:

For more travel blogs and upcoming videos about the Arctic trip:,  and @ExploreTravelerPolar
Explorer and adventure writer Lisa Sonne has taken the ‘polar Plunge” in both Arctic and Antarctic waters, which makes her a different kind of “bi-polar.” She is also grateful to have photographed penguins and polar bears in their natural habitats.  If you want to co-author in Journal books for Adventure and Outdoor travels, take a look at

Remembering Rio

By Michelle da Silva Richmond

I often dream about Rio de Janeiro, only my dreams have nothing to do with a desire to travel. They're drawn from recollections I have of growing up there as a child with my parents, who had a long history there before I was born. Although I was only eight when we moved away, their passion for it combined with my early memories left an indelible imprint. Later, as a Pan Am flight attendant I traveled there regularly and somehow, I always felt like I was returning "home." I still do.

The stately Belmond Copacabana Palace has welcomed travelers since 1923

The heat of Rio doesn't come just from the sun, but from the welcome its residents – known as “Cariocas”—give visitors to their city. It is a happy city, filled with laughter and music, but like many large cities it has been plagued by crime but if you take basic precautions, you shouldn't have any trouble.

Lisa Schroeder, author of "Chasing Brooklyn," aptly stated: "The beautiful thing is, music can be like a time machine. One song (the lyrics, the melody, the mood) can take you back to a moment in time like nothing else can.”

So true, and while the lyrics of Carnaval songs learned long ago do that for me, it's the sweet scents, particular to Rio that stir me: the salty surf; the tempting smells emanating from churrascarias as meat is grilled; the rich aroma of earth when I first step outside the airport terminal; freshly brewed coffee at the renowned Confeitaria Colombo, where my mother would take me for pastry.

Pão de Açucar as seen from the neighborhood of Botafogo

For most people, thoughts of Rio conjure up visions of long stretches of beach crammed with beautiful people decked out in skimpy tangas. For others, tales of the renowned and raucous Carnaval, where the samba beat goes on day and night for three days come to mind.

When I was a child the rowdy celebrations took place in local neighborhoods and since we lived in popular Copacabana, they woke us for three nights every time they paraded through our streets. In those days revelers carried cans of ether to spray unsuspecting women into unconsciousness. It was total debauchery. Nowadays, it's more subdued and most of the partying takes place in the Sambadrome (Sambódromo), a stadium designed by Oscar Niemeyer and inaugurated in 1984.

Signature Sights

Then of course, there are those visions of Corcovado, where the impressive statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), arms outstretched, watches over Rio from his perch high above the sea.

When the Portuguese first arrived in the 16th century, they named the mountain Pináculo da Tentação (The Pinnacle of Temptation), alluding to the Biblical Mountain. A century later, the mountain was renamed Corcovado, a name derived from its form, which resembles a hump or hunchback. In the 19th century, Vincentian Father Pedro Maria Boss arrived in Rio and suggested the construction of a religious monument, which was inaugurated in 1931.

Copacabana Beach on New Year’s Eve welcomes thousands of revelers

Another signature sight, opened in 1912, is Sugarloaf (Pão de Açucar), which is reached via a series of cable cars taking you to the top of the mountain high above Rio. Once there, you're treated to sweeping vistas of the city, the beaches hugging the Bay of Guanabara, and beyond.

There is no denying its inherent sexiness and natural beauty, but there's more to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City) than sun, sea and samba. Host to the World Soccer Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Summer Olympics, this city has morphed into a sophisticated metropolis boasting excellent museums, scintillating nightspots, a plethora of delicious dining spots and a collection of wildlife, unique attractions and breath-taking sights.

A melting pot of diverse cultures, it offers an interesting peek into traditions musical and otherwise drawn from its rich heritage.

For sun worshippers, the beaches, of course are the main draw with the most publicized: Copacabana, Leblon and Ipanema made famous by the hit tune “Girl from Ipanema” leading the list. 

The Sambadrome is now the scene of colorful Carnaval festivities

Nature lovers will be drawn to the Botanical Gardens, (Jardim Botânico) created in 1808 offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with the area’s flora. With more than 8,000 plant species, it has been designated a "Live Museum" and is a popular destination for visitors and residents alike. Another natural beauty is Tijuca Forest, said to be the largest urban forest in the world. 

History buffs will enjoy a tour of Forte de Copacabana, built in 1914 on the promontory of the Our Lady of Copacabana chapel. The fort was one of Rio's premier defenses against attack and you can still see its original features, including the canons and a museum tracing the early days of the Portuguese colony to the mid-19th-century.

The renowned Belmond Copacabana Palace has been a favorite with the glitterati since it opened in 1923. Its privileged location on Copacabana Beach provides the perfect launch pad from which to visit the city’s sights.

It happens to be where I performed my ballet recitals as a child. I remember it as if it were yesterday and the music lives on in my memory, just as Rio does. It is without a doubt a unique destination…at any age and any time of year.


By Carole Jacobs

Glamping. We’re talking 1,200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, 5-star cuisine, designer spas, and outdoor pros who can show you the ropes—whether you want to bag a peak, cast a line, paddle a river or fly across the sky like Wendy on a high-altitude zip line.  From California to Maine, seven resorts let you embrace the great outdoors without carving a ridge in your shoulders or getting dirt under your fingernails. With no heavy lifting required, the only thing you really need to pack in is your credit card.

  1. Elk River Guest Ranch, Clark, Colorado

Bex, forefront, the owner of Elk River Lodge, leads a fall horsebacking excursion. Photo courtesy Elk River Guest Ranch.The dirt: Located just north of Steamboat, Elk River ( is one of the few guest ranches in the U.S. that is owned and operated by a real cowgirl, Becky “Bex” Damman. Set on 40 pristine acres at 7,520 feet overlooking the rushing Elk River and surrounded on three sides by national forest and the saw-toothed peaks of the Continental Divide, this intimate ranch with room for just 15 guests offers all-inclusive, week-long vacation packages that are highly personalized -- you’ll feel like family within hours.

The ranch is also the perfect place to absorb a Rocky Mountain fall, with crisp mornings, sun-splashed afternoons, never-ending views of aspen torching the evergreen mountains and star-spangled skies.  If you’re looking for a quiet, unpretentious retreat where the Wild West vibe still shines through, and where you’ll have the trails, river, back country, 27 horses and staff all mostly to yourself, you are home.

The digs: Homesteaded in 1902, Elk River was a former summer base camp for miners searching for gold, rubies and diamonds in the local rivers and hills, a former hotel, saloon and horse outfitting business before becoming a guest ranch in the 1950s. Today, Elk River’s quartet of rustic log cabins have one or two bedrooms, living rooms and full kitchens. In the fall, the ranch operates as a B&B; do you own cooking or sign up for a package that includes home-style meals in the historic main lodge.

The doings: Hike trails that climb from the ranch through golden valleys and along rushing rivers, enjoy guided horseback riding and instruction and take an overnight camping trip in the wilds. Or try fly fishing in the Elk River, kayaking on Pearl Lake, white-water rafting/tubing, hot springs soaking at Strawberry Park Hot Springs, swimming at King Solomon Falls and evening entertainment at the Steamboat Pro Rodeo, which includes cowboy singers and campfires.

From Elk River Guest Ranch and Home Ranch, both in Clark, Colorado, it’s an easy drive to spectacular hiking near Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy of Steamboat SpringsThe grub: “Most people when coming to a guest ranch are not expecting the food to be so good, so they get a pleasant surprise when they get here!” says Bex. “Our food is not your typical ranch fare. We offer a more upscale, healthy experience and cater to special diets. The salmon with maple Dijon glaze, creamy Parmesan orzo and sautéed garlic green beans with peppers is one of my favorite meals!” 

Down time: Head into Steamboat Springs (the ranch has a shuttle), the town is the epitome of Wild West chic where art galleries and eclectic eateries face off from opposite corners of Lincoln Avenue and antique shops, boutiques and stores stock everything you need to pose as a local. Choose from a dozen different takes on Eggs Benedict at the Creekside Café Grill overlooking Soda Creek or do lunch at La Montana, a Southwestern Tex-Mex restaurant serving sunflower seed–crusted tuna and bananas Foster spiked with a medley of Hispanic spices.

Don’t miss:  The Clark (general) Store, located a few miles from the ranch and your one-stop shopping place for anything you might need – from cookies, cosmetics and fishing licenses to craft brews, espresso and gourmet eats at the Clark Store Deli dished up by Home Ranch Chef Clyde Nelson. Have a Gorgonzola Burgers made from all-natural grass-fed cattle sourced from the local Sand Mountain Cattle Company or a salad comprised of fresh greens from the Firefly Farm. Want to mail a letter or need something to read? The local post office and library are both located here, too.

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2. Home Ranch, Clark, Colorado

For  blazing fall colors and panoramic views from a fire tower, hike Hahn’s Peak near Steamboat, just a short drive from Home Ranch and Elk River Guest Ranch. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs.The dirt: This 5-star stunner is Colorado’s only Relais & Chateaux guest ranch the only guest ranch listed in the first edition of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. It’s pricey – but you really want to leave it all to your kids?

Set at 7,300 feet and backed by a million acres of national forest and wilderness, the ranch has been in operation for 30 years and offers all the usual dude ranch doings (guided horseback clinics/riding, fishing, hiking, white-water rafting, kayaking) as well as yoga, gourmet dining with wine pairing (the ranch has its own wine cellar) and all-day children’s and teen programs that include guided outdoor activities, pool parties and overnight camping trips.

The digs: Home Ranch’s drop-dead-gorgeous log cabins (from 1-bedroom cabins with sleeping lofts to 3-bedroom cabins) are the epitome of rustic-chic. Overlooking meadows, aspen and streams and furnished with wood-burning stoves, hot tubs, porches, luxury furnishings and deluxe bedding, they even come with plush robes --Martha would approve. The deluxe lodge rooms are ideal for guests who prefer to be closer to the pool, dining room and library.

Visit Home Ranch in winter for dramatic horseback rides through the snow. Photo courtesy of Home Ranch. The doings: Home Ranch is also open in winter for guided cross-country skiing and skating, snowshoeing, tubing, sleigh rides, winter horseback riding and off-site skiing, snowboarding, dog-sledding and snowmobiling in nearby Steamboat Springs, the home of champagne powder.

The grub: Home Ranch is legendary for its “Colorado Haute Mountain Cuisine,” which revolves around produce, flowers and herbs grown in the ranch’s greenhouses, Home Ranch’s own Sand Mountain Cattle beef, pork and poultry, and fish from local lakes and streams.   During the summer, meals are served in the dining room or at the ranch’s al fresco venues, which include the Farm Kitchen and Campfire Cookout.

Down time: Check out the fall colors (and work off those haute cuisine calories) by taking a hike.  Follow the Elk River through blazing aspen to Three Mile Lake, hike to 280-foot Fish Creek Falls or climb to 10,839-foot Hahn's Peak. An old fire tower at the summit overlooks OMG views.

Don’t miss: Steamboat’s OktoberWest Sept. 15-17 celebrating Colorado brewed ale, local cuisine, food and festivities. The Friday Night Beer Stroll features 45 Rocky Mountain brews or come on Saturday for an all-you-can eat beef cookout, live music and gondola rides.

Start here:


3. Camp Ogontz, Lyman, New Hampshire

Saddle up for cattle drives, overnight campouts and rodeos at the Cattle Company and become a real-deal wrangler in just a week. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Cattle CompanyThe dirt: Set on a secluded lake in the White Mountains about 134 miles northeast of Manchester Vermont, Camp Ogontz began life as a turn-of-the-century exclusive girls’ camp/finishing school that lured the likes of Amelia Earhart. After falling on hard times, it was resurrected as a music/arts conference and camp in the 1980s. Today, depending on when you visit, your fellow campers could be anyone from classical violinists to members of a tuba convention.  Meanwhile, talk about cheap: For what it would cost you to overnight at a Motel 6, you and two pals or family members can share a rustic cabin and enjoy three home-cooked meals.

The digs: With room for 200 campers, Camp Ogontz has everything from Adirondack-style cabins with roll-down flaps (as walls) and shared bathhouses to luxurious homes like Mountain Meadows and White House that offer premium digs for multiple family members plus plenty of privacy.

The doings:  Go jump in a lake, ply the still waters in a canoe or kayak, hike trails along waterfalls, play tennis or volleyball—or perfect your pastry in a pie-making class.

The grub:  Think farm-to-table sustainable cuisine. Veggies are grown in on-site greenhouses and window boxes, the camp bakery cranks out homemade breads and goodies like hot-from the-oven sticky buns and all-you-can-eat buffet-style dinners feature entrees like stuffed pork tenderloin with pesto vermicelli stuffed tomatoes, gourmet cheeses made by local artisans and home-made blueberry pie.

Down time: Steam-clean in the old-time wood-fired hot tub, roast s’mores at the nightly bon fire, catch lightning bugs in a jar, or sneak into the rehearsal hall and spy on world-class musicians rehearsing for their next gig.

Don’t miss:  For breathtaking fall foliage, head 30 miles to Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park. From late September through early October, deciduous forests blaze orange, gold and red against the gray granite ledges and dark fir trees. Ride the park’s Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to the top for panoramic views.

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4. Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

During Sylvan Dale’s all-women’s week, you can hike, horseback ride and fly fish and return to the ranch for luxury pampering and gourmet cuisine. Photo courtesy of Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.The dirt: Nestled on the Eagle and Thompson rivers just a half hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, this historic working cattle guest ranch (1920) offers a slice of the New West – “just like the Old West but a lot more comfortable,” the owners joke. 

The digs: Upscale cabins and historic farm/ranch houses furnished in Western décor overlook flower gardens, giant cottonwoods, towering blue spruce and the rivers.

The doings:  From guided horseback riding and instruction to hiking, bass fishing, white water rafting, an outdoor heated pool, campfires with s’mores and overnight camping, the ranch is a perfect family vacay and has a Morning Youth Program where kids between 3 and 12 can learn to ride/care for horses and help with ranch chores.  In winter, the ranch becomes a B&B and offers guided horseback riding in the snow.

The grub: Hearty meals revolve homemade everything – from pancakes and biscuits to salads made with locally sustained produce, fresh fish and grass-fed beef culled from the ranch’s herds of Charolais, Red Angus, Lowline Angus and Devon stock.

At Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch located just 35 minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re never far from a mirror lake or beautiful meadow. Photo courtesy of Sylvan Dale Ranch..Down time: The old-time front porch of the Heritage gathering room, with a vaulted log ceiling, large stone fireplace, hickory wood floors and picture windows overlooking flower gardens, is a perfect place to hunker down in a rocker and unplug from the 21st century for a spell. Or check out the craft breweries, antique shops and quaint restaurants in downtown Loveland, located seven miles away.

Don’t miss:  Rocky Mountain National Park. In autumn, quaking aspen torch the evergreen slopes gold, orange and crimson, lofty spires like 14,255-foot Longs Peak pierce the cobalt sky and snow glints from the aptly-named Never Summer range. With countless looking-glass lakes and tarns, deep moraines and miles of hiking, you’d need a lifetime to see it all. Drive Trail Ridge Road to 11,716 feet for eye-popping views.

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5. Sequoia High Sierra Camp, Sequoia National Forest, California

Photo courtesy of Sequoia High Sierra CampThe dirt: Nestled on a steep wooded hillside overlooking Kings Canyon National Park in Giant Sequoia National Monument, this rustic-chic tent camp, built by owner/sustainable architect Burr Hughes, is the last luxury outpost before entering two million acres of High Sierra wilds (running from Sequoia to Yosemite national parks). Pack light!  It’s a mile hike into camp—but there’s a fresh-baked “Welcome Cookie” waiting for you upon your arrival.

The digs: Shuttered windows let in the views and forget about sleeping bags: The tents are furnished with flush-top beds made snug with high thread-count sheets, Pendleton wool blankets and down comforters. Your hand-crafted bed stand even has a reading lantern. The deluxe bathhouse has high-end toiletries, soft towels and a hair dryer so you can look cute for the chipmunks.

The doings: Enjoy guided hikes to Mitchell Peak for panoramic views of the Sierra’s sea of sheer rock mountains, waltz through thigh-high wildflowers at Rowell Meadow, or climb to Seville Lake, a crystal gem rimmed with granite cliffs. 

The grub: Chef Ryan Solien, a California Culinary School grad and former private chef to Bruce Springsteen and Faith Hill, serves up lumberjack breakfast (omelets, homemade muffins and granola and squeeze-your-own OJ), gourmet trail lunch sandwiches made from imported deli sandwich meats and cheeses, and five-course dinners. Lamb shanks in Chianti, New Zealand mussel amuse bouche and bananas flambee, anyone?

Down time: Get starry views through the high-powered Orion telescope, or curl up with a blanket before the evening campfire.

Don’t miss: Hiking beneath giant Sequoias, some as tall as 26-story buildings. Seven groves are within a round-trip day hike of the camp.

Start here:


6. Colorado Cattle Company Guest Ranch, Raymer, Colorado

Visit Home Ranch in winter and enjoy skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, sleigh rides, hot springs soaking and upscale shopping and dining in nearby Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs.The dirt: Want to channel Annie Oakley but never been on a horse? This working cattle guest ranch (18 adults max) will have you roping live steer from horseback in a week. The ranch has a large herd of well-behaved horses so count on a perfect match whether you grew up in the saddle or have never ridden anything except the subway.

You’ll spend mornings riding alongside professional wranglers as they move cattle to the next pasture and check water tanks. Afternoon “Cowboy School” includes lessons on team penning, team sorting, cutting, tag, cowboy handball, barrel racing, obstacle courses and other games that teach cattle-handling while improving your riding skills.  Once you feel comfy on a horse, you can take a guided overnight camping trip or even participate in a real live cattle drive – yahoo!

The digs:  Restored guest rooms that were part of the original 1897 homestead and charming log cabins with porches have rustic log furnishings and deluxe baths with bucket sinks.

The grub: Hearty ranch fare includes "made to order" breakfasts, trail lunches (sandwiches, salads, fruit, cookies) and for dinner, BBQ ribs, chicken, beef and pork with all the fixings.  Tuesday nights feature “all you can drink” Margaritas.  

The doings: The ranch’s wide-open spaces beckon you to ride out and explore to find that missing calf or yearling or just to see what’s over the next hill. Or unwind with hiking, fishing, shooting sports, horseshoe and volleyball.

Down time: Saddle sore? The ranch’s hot tub and dry sauna will help get those kinks out.

Don’t miss: The Wednesday night campout, when wranglers guide you to a pristine campsite for a campfire dinner and sleeping under the stars. It’s magic.

Start here:


7. El Capitan Canyon, Santa Barbara, California

The dirt:  Wedged between Santa Barbara’s unspoiled coastline and Los Padres National Forest, El Capitan Canyon is a luxury tent/cabin resort set on 350 acres of undulating hills and canyons. Located about 20 miles north of Santa Barbara in wine country immortalized in the Hollywood film, Sideways, the resort is also a five-minute walk from El Capitan State Beach.

The digs: “Rough it” in a canvas safari tent with screened windows and doors and a rustic tree-branch-framed bed; in a streamside wood-floored sleeping yurt with a domed ceiling and skylight; or in a spa tent or cabin a step from the massage table.  (Deluxe bathhouses are nearby.)  Or stay in a contemporary rustic-chic cedar cabin with a porch, peaked ceiling, kitchenette, gas log stove, and full bath. All resort furnishings, fences and signs are handcrafted at the El Capitan Canyon Workshop from reclaimed trees on the property.

The doings: Take a guided botanical hike, explore 3,500 acres of pristine nature preserve in Los Padres National Forest; hit the beach for a swim or stroll or borrow one of the resort’s complimentary bikes for a scenic spin.   

The grub: All digs come with picnic tables, fire pits and grills. BYO groceries or purchase BBQ kits for marinated steak or fresh fish (plus side dishes) at The Canyon Market & Deli, a barn-style structure with a corrugated tin roof. Don’t feel like cooking? Head to The Café inside the market for organic gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner items or hire a “Butler Chef” to grill and serve your meal at your tent.

Down time: Get an “al fresco” hot stone massage at the spa,  swim in the solar-heated swimming pool, enjoy morning yoga, Thursday night outdoor movies, Saturday night BBQ dinners and concerts under the stars, and evening story-telling and star-gazing around the campfire.

Don’t miss! The Ellwood Butterfly Grove in nearby Goleta. From mid-November through mid-February, Monarch butterflies migrate here from the western Rocky Mountain and transform the trees into fluttering waves of orange, yellow and brown.

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By Yvette Cardozo

The original ski week hit when the baby boom became yesterday’s millennials. They had money, they were skiing, they wanted the social experience.          


Then boomers started having families and taking an entire week no longer worked. So short, specific clinics (racing, bumps, women) that lasted only a long weekend took over.

But why have ski weeks returned?

Because the kids have grown up, the money is available and so is the option once more of taking a week. Plus, it’s, well, your own age group. No trying to keep up with someone 30 years younger.


“It started as 50 Plus in 2011, said Katie Balkwill, regional sales manager for Big White Ski Resort. “We ran it that way with very small numbers until 2013. There was a suggestion to change the name to Seniors Ski Club, which we did. And no one came the following week.

“Then we changed the name to Masters Monday and had 30 participants the next week. We average 45 people every Monday for most of the season now.

“It truly is all in a name.”


As for the Masters Week, it has grown steadily from 23 the first year (19 of whom have returned) to 59, then 109, then last year, 229 broken into two weeks and after the second session, a third was added for the end of the season. I signed up for Big White’s Masters Ski Week, along with 90 others. We would ski together each morning and have a variety of social programs in the afternoons or evenings.

The first day of my week, when we were joined by the Monday-only groups, the resort was expecting perhaps 130 for lunch. Nearly 200 came (many signing up just that morning). There was quite a scramble for food, but nobody went hungry.

Since we had all filled out forms suggesting our ski level, we separated into skill groups the first morning ranging from novice to expert. Then, after a bit of skiing, a few people shifted around and we were set for the week.

Our group, Level 4 of 6, was perfecting its stance, getting more aggressive on our turns, and playing a bit in the year’s epic powder.

Anthony, our instructor, tailored exercises to each of the five in our class.

For Sandy, it was ski down holding polls horizontally in her hands which, Anthony said, helps you lead the turn with your lower body. Her upper body was turning into the hill, which throws you off balance.

For Norm, it was a “prayer stance” holding his hands together in front of his chest. This balances you and helps you lead with your legs, rather than your upper body.

For me, it was making sure I looked downhill when turning, not to the side ... again, helping with balance.

And for all of us, there was a maddening exercise where we dragged our downhill pole along the snow, which truly is not intuitive. This gets you onto your downhill ski throughout the turn, Anthony insisted.

And, well, it did.          

Each day after class, there was something ... a clinic, apres ski, a sleigh ride. One night, we met for beer and pizza at Dizzy’s Ski & Board Shop where Lindsay Bennett (aka Dizzy) talked about ski gear. Along shelves in the shop sat hundreds of old boots, some from the 1940s, each representing a tech breakthrough.

“I skied down in a bare sock more than once,” he laughed.

Boots are, Dizzy said, the single most important piece of equipment you can own. A decent boot will last for 200 days of skiing. And custom foot beds are perhaps the most important thing you can have in a boot, he added.

No one knows that better than me. Slower than most to catch on, I spent a decade trying to figure out how to turn at all. Then someone noticed my board flat feet. I splurged on custom footbeds, headed for a lift and in the space of 30 seconds went from struggling novice to solid intermediate. I had been making the right moves all along but my feet weren’t connecting with the boots.

A few tips ... get ski socks. They’re a blend that keeps you warm without being too bulky. Don’t pull the liner out of your boot each night. Electric boot dryers will do a better job. And park your boots up high for the night (where air in your room is warmer).

I went into the shop the next day and an added thin innersole and heel lifts helped my aging boots fit snug again with the added benefit of tipping me forward just a bit more.

The next night, my friend Kay and I went on the dinner sleigh ride, riding in a large sled pulled by two beautiful Clydesdale horses through an magic scene of snowy trees and swirling flakes. Dinner was both gourmet and rustic ... chicken cassoulet and bison ribs. We bonded with our seatmates, who produced bottles of good red wine and topped it all off with mini cheesecakes.

Our final gathering was apres ski at an Irish pub with good munchies, great beer and wonderful memories.

It snowed every day but one that week and on the last morning, fog settled in clear down to the village.

We all gulped, shrugged, and took off for lessons on how to deal with a whiteout. We headed for the Black Forest chair whose medium width trails were lined with trees heavily frosted in Christmas card snow. Ski along the trees, Andrew said. And sure enough, there magically was definition in the snow at our feet.

Don’t look at your skis, he added. Yes, it’s scary to peer into the white void, but find something ahead ... another skier, a line of trees, a pole, a lift, and keep your eyes on that.

It absolutely helps avoid vertigo and, of course, falls.

I had truly hoped that last day we could find some steep cruisers along one of the outlying chairs and some untracked powder but the fog and near blizzard conditions squelched that.

Instead, I took the lessons home where, yes, it all made a huge difference.                  


Big White Ski Resort’s Masters Week is actually five days, Monday through Friday. There are on-slope lessons each morning, then social activities in afternoon or evenings.

For 2018, Big White is planning at least two Masters ski week programs, Jan. 29 - Feb. 2 and Feb. 26 - Mar. 2, plus possibly a third at the end of the season.

Price for the week (lessons, clinics and most social activities) will be $278 Canadian. Canadian dollars have run about .75 per US dollar for a few years meaning $278 Cdn works out to about $208 US.

Masters Monday classes are held each Monday morning, for people who don’t want to commit to an entire week.


Big White:

Masters Ski Week:

You’re invited to a countrywide party in Mexico

By Bob Schulman

Church in Dolores where Father Hidalgo gave El Grito. Photo by Bob SchulmanPhoto courtesy of the Mexico Tourism Board.

You’re in luck if you happen to be in Mexico on Sept. 16. Wherever you are down there, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to the likes of colorful fiestas, mariachi concerts, hotel fests, block parties and sing-alongs in the cantinas while fireworks liven up the sky that night.

That’s because Sept. 16 is Mexico Independence Day, marking the day in 1810 when Father Miguel Hidalgo, in an impassioned speech in the little town of Dolores, urged Mexicans to rise up against the Spanish government. They did, sparking what became a 10-year war for independence.

Mexico’s president will kick off the celebration on the 16th by ringing a bell – as Father Hidalgo did to gather his flock – and repeating the priest’s iconic “Cry of Dolores” (also known as “El Grito”). In past years, better than a half-million onlookers turned out for the presidential event followed by musical merry-making and one of the world’s most spectacular fireworks shows.

Similar celebrations staged around Father Hidalgo’s speech will take place on the 16th in cities across the country. Out on the Yucatan Peninsula at Campeche, for example, tourists are welcome to join townsfolk whooping it up at the city’s Moch-Couho Plaza next to the government palace. Down in Acapulco, you can join join the locals’ joyful chanting (all you need to do is shout “Viva” when everyone else does). Then enjoy the fireworks, visit food booths along the pier and party until dawn.

Bell rung by Father Hidalgo on display in Dolores. Photo by Bob Schulman.Here’s a sampling of festivities planned for the celebration at some of the top hotels in Cancun: At the Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach guests can see a live TV broadcast of the Independence Day ceremony in Mexico City; at the Live Aqua, a “Chef’s Parade” will spotlight the celebration at a poolside food-tasting; and at the Grand Oasis, a special “Grito de Independencia” event will feature a Mexican “kermasse” or block party by the pool and garden.

Beach parties at the Bahia Principe hotels on the Riviera Maya will offer beach parties featuring Independence Day “charreria” shows (Mexican rodeos).

Among hotels celebrating the event in Puerto Vallarta, the Fiesta Americana will stage ballet and mariachi performances while hotel staffers mosey around in traditional outfits known as “charro and china poblana” before the night is wrapped up with – you guessed it – a fireworks show.


By Carole Jacobs

I have vivid memories of driving across the Australian Outback 20 years ago as a storm of locusts battered my windshield; ringing around Cape Breton 15 years ago and stopping at every single tea house and following the wrong roundabout sign in Scotland 10 years ago a dark and stormy night, dead-ending in the front yard of a dairy farm at 3 am.

Ocean View from the Inn at Newport Ranch by Dave Mathews

“Who’s there?” the farmer had demanded, poking a rifle out a second-floor window before pounding down the steps and lumbering across the yard in a puddle of light to inspect me with his giant flashlight.  “Don’t shoot, I’m lost!” I had cried, handing him my map with the famous golf course circled.

He sighed and hailed his wife, still standing guard at the second-floor window. “Fiona, she’s just a bitty thing -- cold, wet, American? You’d better come down and put on the kettle.”

Over tea and cakes, he said I wasn’t just lost but on the wrong side of Scotland. “Best you stay with us tonight.”

Which brings up the best thing about road trips: You get to meet and bond with the locals, and maybe even become life-long friends.

I’ve done road trips all over the world, but until recently I’d never driven the back route from San Francisco to Mendocino, considered one of the country’s most dramatic scenic drives. When an opportunity arose this spring to visit Mendocino, I couldn’t fill my gas tank fast enough.

Sunset at Van Damme State Beach in Mendocino by Michael Ryan

You’re in the army now

It was nearly dark by the time I arrived in San Francisco, a 7-hour high-speed Interstate drive from my home in the High Sierra. But they had kept the porch light on for me at the Inn at The Presidio, a restored Georgian inn that once housed bachelor officers at The Presidio, once America’s oldest continually- operating military post and now a 1,491-acre national park and National Historic Landmark.

Perched on a hillside, the inn overlooked million-dollar views of the sea and twinkling city, with the Golden Gate Bridge outlined in white lights. Inside my quarters, the huge living room housed several period sofas, chairs and coffee tables – you could almost envision officers seated there discussing a The Battle of the Coral Sea. The king bed in the giant bedroom had crisp linens folded in military corners and the bathroom had a deep soaking tub with bath salts laid out. I was ready to enlist!

The next morning, following a hearty complimentary breakfast in the restored mess hall downstairs, I spent an hour trying to get a handle on The Presidio, but with 24 hiking trails, hilltop gardens, hidden beaches, wild coastal bluffs and headlands and countless facilities housed in restored barracks, officers’ quarters, pharmacies and storerooms (restaurants, cafes, bars, a spa, fitness center, museums and much more) you’d need a week.

The rebirth of the Anderson Valley

Back in my car, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and took Interstate 101 north about 80 miles past Marin County’s exclusive suburbs and malls.

The minute I turned onto Highway 128, the pace slowed to a crawl and the rumble of Interstate 101 was replaced with the faint hum of distant tractors.

The barely-two-lane highway corkscrewed up and over the forested coastal mountains, throwing in some blind curves and loop-de-loops to ensure I was paying attention, and then crossed the 16-mile-long Anderson Valley.

The road told its own story as I passed smoke curling from a distant ridge and farmhouses that had fallen in on themselves, their chimney bricks scattered on the ground like a toy train.

At the bottom of the mountain, the highway headed west along the 16-mile-long Anderson Valley, a sleepy agricultural region through the 1970s, where tumbledown farms were dotted with cows, sheep, apple orchards and Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns in various stages of decay.

Then someone discovered that the lost valley’s coastal fog, cool breezes, warm, sunny days and chilly nights were ideal for growing world-class Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, White Riesling and Alsatian varietals -- and a star was born.

Today, the old farms and orchards have been replanted in vineyards that climb to the sky, and the hillsides are dotted with lavish estate wineries and villas that look like they were airlifted in from France, Italy and Spain.

Main Street Mendocino

A boom in Boonville

The Anderson Wine Region is now on every oenophile’s bucket list, and some of the region’s small towns have been gussied up, too.

In Boonville, once known for logging, apple orchards and sheep pastures and was now lined with trendy shops, cafes and eateries, every colorful mismatched table and chair was already taken inside the Mosswood Market Café & Bakery, where you could get anything from a Chicken Mango Wrap to a Potato-Basil-Goat Cheese Empanadas.

A barista told me that millennials who had grown up in the Valley but left to pursue careers in big cities were now moving back home in droves with plans to open boutique wineries, farm-to-table restaurants and yoga and Pilates studios.

The final leg to Mendocino

Just past The Philo Apple Farm, with an honor-system fruit stand, the vineyards gave way to the 11-mile “Redwood Tunnel of Trees,” the highway chasing the Navarro River past filtered sunlight and gigantic ferns before dead-ending at Highway 1 and the sea.   

Mendocino was another 10 miles north, the highway spiraling past verdant pastures, folded green hillsides, drop-dead cliffs and scenic overlooks. I stopped to peer down into a rugged cove where thundering surf was exploding in spray and leaving gleaming tidal pools in its wake.

Near Mendocino, lights flickered invitingly from barns, lighthouses and inns perched atop the town’s tabletop headlands and I made a mental note to explore it when I lodged in Mendocino later that week.

Home on the Ranch

For the next two days, however, I’d be staying 21 miles north at The Inn at Newport Ranch, a 2,000-acre working cattle ranch and luxury resort set on dramatic sea cliffs, rolling pastures and towering redwood ridges.

Even before I turned onto the dirt road leading to the Ranch complex, I could see it was a collection of minimalist architectural masterpieces – and was that a hot tub perched on top of the water tower?

I stepped inside the Main Inn to redwood planks, exposed beams and a 20-foot-wide fireplace made of massive stones; some so heavy they had been lifted in by crane before the walls or roof had been built. Complimentary wine, cheese and hors d’oeuvres had been set out and the manager said a complimentary farm breakfast would be served in the morning the kitchen table, a long, single plank of polished redwood.

A ranch hand escorted me across the grass to The Redwood House, an architectural marvel supported by 24 redwood trees that rose from the lower-level spa and up through three guest suites to the roof.   Then he opened the door to the Bird House and said “Welcome Home!”

Mendocino Headlands by Brendan McGuigan

Nesting at the Bird House

One of the most unusual “suites” I’ve ever stayed in, the Bird House was everything most hotel rooms aren’t: Whimsical, artsy and one of a kind, with seashells and other small treasures scattered on the top of bureau tops and an open floor plan of four small rooms, including a tiny, well-stocked kitchen, a designer bathroom bath with a pounding rainforest shower, and a living room with a gas wood stove and a bedroom with my own private redwood.

Handcrafted windows framed picture-perfect views of the pastures, cliffs and rugged coast and outside on my patio balcony, someone had thoughtfully removed the heavy lid from my wooden soaking tub and left a small stack of wood by the grill.

Nearby Fort Bragg was crammed with restaurants, but I love to cook, and how many hotel rooms had a set-up like this? I headed into the town’s Noyo Harbor. Nemos Fish Market was still open and someone had just snagged a salmon, so it was whisked it away and returned to me in a tidy package ready to grill.

A local market had crusty home-baked bread, butter, huge bouquets of organic spinach, gigantic local blueberries and fresh-whipped cream. Within an hour I was back in my “nest” soaking in the hot tub and keeping a hawk-eye on the grilling salmon.

A wild ride around the Ranch

The following morning, Will Jackson, founder of the Ranch, dropped by as we were polishing off omelets and homemade biscuits. In 1985, the self-described “Connecticut Yankee with a hankering for the West,” spied an ad in the Wall Street Journal for an 850-acre cattle ranch in Mendocino County featuring more than a mile of oceanfront. He bought the Ranch in 1986 and has spent the past 31 years expanding and developing it.

The Ranch has 20 trails you could explore by foot, horseback or ATV. I was only here another night, so I joined a couple for the ATV “Grand Tour” and hung on tight. Our driver, a Parnelli Jones in the making, zoomed to the edges of treacherous cliffs, deposited us at the foot of promontories for careful hikes down stony staircases and barreled up steep pastures into the redwood ridges, a moss-upholstered landscape where tiny streams trickled from unseen sources and miniscule wildflowers bloomed in puddles of light on the forest floor.

By the time I returned to my room, I was ready for a drink -- and it was only 11:15 am! Armed with one of the Ranch’s gourmet box lunches, I spent the afternoon exploring the Ranch’s miles of cliff-side trails and checking out several pristine beaches within a 10-minute drive. At Glass Beach, a former dump site that sparkled under the sun, I collected colorful pieces of sea-smoothed glass for a wind chime.

Light Dinner Buffet at Brewery Gulch Inn Photo Courtesy of Brewery Gulch Inn

A warm oasis on a rainy night

Storm clouds were gathering as I left the Ranch for dinner at The Little River Inn & Restaurant near Mendocino, a fifth-generation family-owned resort.

 By the time I reached the eatery 20 minutes later, the roads were slick and the shoulders flooded. I sat in my car for a few moments to collect myself as hail pinged off my windshield and the sky rumbled, then made a run for it just as a zag of lightning cracked open the dark heavens with a CR-ACK!”

Inside, the bad weather only seemed to amplify the restaurant’s cozy, candle-lit charm and when the waitress brought the menu, I knew I was in for a treat.

Executive Chef Marc Dym, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, cooked at many world-class restaurants before moving to Mendocino in 2006 to escape the LA rat race and take over the kitchen and menu at Little River.

He tweaked the American classics so they were more elegant and modern, developed creative small plates and tantalizing appetizers that became an instant hit with guests, and turned Little River into an award-winning restaurant.

An organic and locally-sourced gourmet feast

Every dish on the menu seemed to reflect his creative flair, and I had a hard time deciding what to order.  Since I was a guest of the chef, the waitress said he could prepare a “tasting plate” consisting of several small portions of entrees and sides I wanted to try.

I started with a delicate abalone fritter and fresh steamed clam chowder, polished off the pine-nut crusted salmon with spinach puree, parmesan polenta and basil coulis and demolished the “Osso Bucco”— slow braised pork shank over polenta with fennel marinara sauce, roasted garlic and red chili broccoli. Dessert was warm Olallieberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream “soup.”

As I was dawdling over my decaf cappuccino, the waitress came by to see if I needed help prying myself from my chair and then added she had taken the liberty of “jotting down a few things in Mendocino you seriously must see before you leave.”

She handed me a napkin listing 27 places. I’d need a Hovercraft to do it all in two days!

From a lumber town to an art colony

After breakfast, I put on my hiking boots for a long day of sight-seeing, bid adieu to The Birdhouse and drove into Mendocino.

Settled in the 1850s by New Englanders who came to work the mills, the thriving lumber town flourished throughout the 19th century but nearly went under during the 1940s and 1950s when the local sawmills closed and the New Englanders moved on.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, artists, craftspeople, hippies and back-to-the landers flocked in, lured by Mendocino’s spectacular setting and small-town charm. Today, the town has a thriving art colony and more artists per capita than any county in California.

The historic downtown was pint-sized, lined with B&Bs where flowers spilled from window boxes as well as several restaurants, cafes and bars (including one housed in a restored rectory), art galleries, a museum, book store and  a scattering of eclectic shops, including a toy store and chocolatier.

I dropped by The Good Life Café & Bakery, which the waitress had told me was a good place to see the locals in action. At a corner table, a group of young girls in mirrored peasant blouses were sitting on their long hair devouring hot cinnamon buns while two artists in paint-stained shirts and jeans were diving into steaming breakfast burritos bursting at the seams with organic eggs and veggies and an elderly couple dressed for afternoon tea sipped lattes and shared a homemade morning bun. Two grizzled cops who looked as if they’d had a rough night were trying to decide between the tuna and chicken salad sandwiches.

I walked up through residential neighborhoods lined with Victorian homes in Easter egg colors and saltbox cottages wrapped in roses and picket fences – both testament to New England craftsmanship that was built to last, and reaching the edge of town, followed a narrow footpath along a rocky, wind-lashed headland to the dramatic Blowhole at Mendocino Headlands State Park.

They grow it all here

By the time I got back I was hungry for lunch. At Rhody’s Garden Café, a pretty little outdoor eatery at Mendocino Coast Botanicals Gardens, the waitress swore everything from the Reuben sandwiches to the meatless barley soup was locally sourced and that the greens in my Salad Nicoise were grown right here at the Garden.

Afterwards, I wandered the grounds, a pretty place to hike with 47 acres of rose and dahlia gardens, camellias, rhododendrons, foxgloves, wildflowers, perennials planted in banks of color, succulents and a coastal forest of pines, magnolias and ferns leading to bluffs overlooking the Pacific.

Rhody’s Garden Café at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden By Roxanne Golnar

Stopping by Mendocino’s outback winery

There was no way I was going to drink and drive (or even wine-taste) while navigating Highway 1. But several people had had told me the setting at Pacific Coast Winery alone was worth the 9-mile drive, so I headed to Mendocino’s “outback winery.”

Perched on an earthquake fault atop a bluff the picturesque winery had a front porch lined with Adirondack chairs where guests were sampling unrefined sparingly-filtered signature blends and soaking up views of whipping winds and waves for as far as the eye could see.

I returned to Mendocino for a stroll through a prehistoric wonderland of sword ferns, moss-covered forests and cascading carpets of wildflowers at Russian Gulch State Park, a deeply indented, steep-sided little valley with many trails.

Then, with time for one more “must-see” before checking into my hotel for the night,  I drove three miles south to Van Damme State Park, where a quarter-mile elevated platform meandered through the little forest that could, an awe-inspiring forest of pine, cypress and redwood trees -- all under ten feet high!

The perfect inn for foodies and wine lovers

Brewery Gulch Inn, located two miles south of Mendocino, is a classy, sophisticated inn nestled in pines, redwoods, wetland ponds, gardens and wooden glens overlooking the beach.

Built in 2006 from redwood eco-salvaged from Mendocino’s Big River, the inn has 10 luxury suites, each one bathed in relaxing earth tones and decorated with craftsman-style furnishings and windows, a balcony, gas fireplace and a soaking tub with a private window overlooking the sea.

The inn also serves a daily complimentary gourmet breakfast as well as a daily complimentary gourmet “light dinner and wine buffet.” Both are prepared and served by the inn’s team of resident chefs in the inn’s beautiful Great Room, with a four-sided glass and steel fireplace, craftsman-style furnishings and a wall of windows.

Past favorites include Salad Cote du Nord, Mussel Bisque, Lentilles Du Puy, pepper-seared scallops, Moroccan lamb, Halibut Escabeche, Dungeness crab cakes and homemade pecan pie and the chefs are always working on creative new entrees to add to the mix.

Breakfast in bed

Dinner would be served in about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, my king bed beckoned, a still life in white, with silky, high-thread-count sheets, huge down pillows and comforters. I took a bubble bath and then slipped between the sheets for a cat nap before dinner.

I didn’t wake up until nearly 9 am the following morning. Fortunately, the inn was still serving breakfast and guests could order anything (or everything) on the menu – from fresh-squeezed juices to whipped Belgian hot chocolate and artisan coffee; house-made pastries to homemade blueberry pancakes, organic granola sundaes topped with yogurt and berries and custom egg dishes served with homemade bacon and toast.

I pondered the killer curves, drop-off cliffs and serpentine switchbacks between Mendocino and San Francisco, then picked up the house phone and ordered room service, deciding a long day of driving deserved a decadent breakfast in bed.

10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Charleston

By Rich Grant

Plenty of history drips continually from the Spanish moss on every corner of Charleston, South Carolina waiting to be discovered.  America's most fearless purveyor of truth, Stephen Colbert grew up here. Comedian, actor and writer Bill Murray is a part owner of the baseball team. Charleston is full of surprises…10 of those secrets are:

  1. Charleston was started as a colony of Barbados. 

    In the 1660s, Barbados, the tropical island off the coast of Venezuela, was the richest speck of land on earth.  And the most congested.  Every inch of the tropical island was covered with 800 sugar plantations.  An incredible 500 windmills used renewable energy to convert the sugar cane to the “white gold” used to sweeten tea throughout Europe. The little island’s population was larger than New England’s, but the majority of people were enslaved Africans, who did all the backbreaking work to make plantation owners rich.  There was only one problem with this scenario.  The island was starving.

    Because every inch of land was used for sugar plantations, Barbados couldn’t support the beef and crops needed to feed the island’s population.  So, much like the other powers in Europe, Barbados established a colony to support and feed the homeland.  The colony these Barbadians started eventually came to be the city of Charleston.

  2. You can see the many influences of Barbados all over Charleston.

    The names of the streets dating back to the Barbadian founders, in the vividly colored buildings of pink, yellow and lavender giving the town a Caribbean feel, and in the basic architecture of the houses, which came to be called the “Charlestown Single House.”

    This is the famous one-room-wide house facing the wind.  All the rooms in the house opened to a piazza, or porch.  The windows on both sides of the house could be opened to create a much needed draft in the heat of summer.  Any walking or carriage tour of Charleston will show you dozens and dozens of these Charleston single house homes – but the idea for them came from Barbados.

  3. Spirits are adverse to blue.

    The roofs of the piazzas on all the Charleston Single Houses are painted “haint blue.”  African slaves believed this color warded off evil spirits and they wouldn’t work in a house that didn’t have it.

  4. Charleston was the largest slave port in America. 

    Any history of slavery in America begins in Charleston.  Because it was founded by a slave plantation economy from Barbados, Charleston took on the same model and became the principle port where slaves entered North America with some 40 percent of them passing through Charleston.  By 1860, there were 400,000 slaves in South Carolina, more than 57 percent of the population; of the 15 people in America who owned 500 slaves or more, eight were in this state.

    In Charleston’s early days, slaves could be paraded and sold on any street corner that could gather a crowd, but by July 1, 1856, abolitionists forced the sale of slaves off public streets, and 40 slave marts were established for private sales.  Only one has survived, and today it is the Old Slave Mart Museum,   a  one-of-a-kind place telling this chapter of the American story. 

    Enslaved Africans began their journey by sailing the “Middle Passage” in filthy, overcrowded ships filled with disease.  Those who survived, were brought to Sullivan’s Island in Charleston’s harbor, where they were interned to weed out the sick, weak and dying.  The survivors were then placed in a baracoon --- jails, where they would be fattened up, washed, clothed, have gray hair dyed black and their bodies greased, all to increase their market value on the auction block.  Ryan’s Slave Mart had one of the largest of the baracoons, and today it forms the heart of the museum.

    A top slave with a skill like carpentry could fetch $1,500 – about $38,000 in today’s value.  A young attractive light skinned woman could sell for even more.  “If God has bestowed beauty upon a slave woman, it will prove her greatest curse,” one slave woman wrote.

    It is an odd sensation to be inside the Slave Mart discovering the ghastly history that took place here, just a few hundred feet from carefree tourists clattering by in horse drawn carriages.   

  5. Charleston freely acknowledges the many accomplishments contributed to the city by enslaved Africans.

    Unlike Washington D.C., where politicians seldom mention that the White House was built by slaves, in Charleston the contributions of enslaved Africans are a principal part of any discussion of the city.  In the Charleston Museum (the oldest museum in the U.S.), the Fort Sumter museum, and on home and plantation tours, you learn that many enslaved Africans were skilled craftsman – carpenters, stone masons, brick makers, gardeners, painters, blacksmiths, iron workers, and plasterers.  Not only did slaves build this incredible city of homes and gardens, but they were also responsible for its wealth.  

    South Carolina was the only state that imported slaves for their knowledge.  Since it was the principle rice growing state in America, they imported slaves from the Windward Coast of Africa, from Senegal to Sierra Leone and Liberia, because these people had been growing rice in their homeland for a thousand years.  Rice production was tedious work – ten times the labor effort of growing cotton.  But the profits were gigantic.  Charleston became the rice king of America with 120 ships arriving in port every day.  By the time the American Revolution started in 1775, Charleston was the richest city in all the colonies, and the fourth largest.

  6. The planation at Middleton Place  holds family reunions for descendants of former masters and slaves. 

    One spot that does an excellent job of illustrating how much Charleston owes to enslaved

    Africans is Middleton Place.  The plantation home was burned in the Civil War and today Middleton Place is best known for having the oldest formal garden in the country.  Gardens in the 18th century were based more on symmetry and contrasting the many shades of green to be found in hedges, trees and lawns, so this is not a garden of colorful flower beds, but a subtle, mathematical creation. 

    Like everything else from this period, these magnificent gardens were built and maintained by enslaved Africans.  Only here, they get credit for it.  Eliza’s House, a freedman’s house from 1870, has been restored into a small museum telling their story.  The names of all 2,800 slaves who worked at Middleton Place from 1738 to the end of the Civil war are listed, along with the jobs they held, and, chillingly, the price that was paid for them. There is Judy, a house wench and seamstress purchased for $70, and Cuffy, a carpenter who was bought for $60.   Old Jenny came for just $15, but it must have been a package deal because Paul, her son, a gardener, fetched $70.  

    Every year, Middleton has a reunion of the family members who trace their history back to the Middleton name.  Since 2006, the descendants of the 2,800 slaves who lived there have been researched and also invited; some 200 attended in 2016.

  7. Charleston was a major battleground in the American Revolution. 

    Mention the Revolution, and most people think of Boston, Paul Revere, Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell, but there were actually 135 engagements during the Revolution in South Carolina, more than in all New England.  

    As the richest city in the colonies, Charleston was a major prize and the British sent an expedition of nine ships to capture it in June 1776.  Quick thinking Americans built a fort out of rubber-like palmetto palm tree trunks and sand.  To the disgust of the British, their cannonballs bounced off the soft palm trees, or got imbedded in the sand, while the American guns were able to do great damage to the British Navy.  This attack failed, but in 1779 the British sent an even larger fleet and laid siege to Charleston.  The Americans surrendered in what was to be the largest colonial defeat of the war.

  8. Today, historic Charleston looks so much like it did during the Revolution.

    When Mel Gibson filmed The Patriot here, all he had to do was take down signs and put mulch on the streets.  The fire department wouldn’t let him remove fire plugs, so every time there was a fire plug in a scene, he placed a woman in a big hoop skirt directly over it.

    Fort Moultrie, where the first battle took place, disappeared long ago, but a second fort still stands and a museum tells the role this spot had in three wars.  After visiting, stop by the Poe Tavern for a drink.  Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie in 1827 (although to escape gambling debts and family problems, he had enlisted in the army as Edgar A. Perry).  Several of his famous short stories were written here or based on the area.

  9. Another Revolutionary War battlefield is now the hippest place in town.

    The real fighting during the siege of Charleston in 1779 was right downtown in what is now Marion Square.  Not that long ago, there was little for tourists north of this park, but today, the Upper King Street neighborhood is the hippest hood in town and booming with new eateries and clubs, while the park hosts a weekly farmer’s market and art shows.

    When it opens in spring 2018, Hotel Bennett will rise from the park in attractive tiered building offering 179 luxury rooms and suites, many with spectacular views and balconies overlooking Marion Square.  With a rooftop pool, a 1,000-seat music venue, view bars, and indoor and outdoor meeting space, the hotel will have the grandest location in Charleston. 

    The eight blocks north of here are now one long string of James Beard restaurants, music clubs, and lowcountry cuisine cafes with tap houses and distilleries sprinkled in.  It’s packed with people and even lines on weekends, and busy every night.  The Ordinary  deserves all the raves. From their spectacular shellfish tower signature dish to oyster sliders, the restaurant is simply amazing, transforming an old bank into a chic multi-level shellfish house.  The Macintosh   was the first big name on the street (Executive Chef Jeremiah Bacon is a five-time James Beard semifinalist).  How could you not love a place that has a Bacon Happy Hour?  Prohibition is a 1920s style speakeasy with live music six nights a week ranging from bluegrass to Cuban jazz.

    There are at least seven breweries in downtown Charleston with more on the way.  On Upper King, try the Charleston Beer Works and the spectacularly named, “Closed for Business” – both are tap houses with a wide selection of local beers, which, like anywhere in the south, tend to run to light, pales, sour, fruit and ambers.

  10. No one was killed in the battle of Charleston, the first of the Civil War.

    Everyone knows the Civil War started at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces fired the first shells at Fort Sumter.  Some 3,000 bombs later, the United States forces surrendered.  No one had been killed.   Less well known is that the American forces came back in April 1863 and commenced the largest bombardment in U.S. history.  For 20 months, the Union hurled seven million pounds of metal at Fort Sumter, and were never able to take it.  They also bombarded Charleston in what was to be the longest bombardment of any American city in history, destroying much of the town.  And regiments of African American troops assaulted Fort Wagner which protected Charleston, in an attack depicted in the movie Glory.  Nothing succeeded, and Charleston was only taken when Sherman marched to it from Atlanta.

    Charleston was destroyed by fire 23 years prior to the start of the Civil War. In 1838, 1,200 buildings burned.  Hurricane Hugo hit landfall in Charleston in 1989, damaging 80 percent of the homes and leaving 50,000 people homeless.  And if that’s not enough, Charleston is also on a major geologic fault and an earthquake in 1886 destroyed much of the city (and many experts think Charleston is way overdue for another). 

    All of these historic incidents are depicted at Fort Sumter National Monument.  A visit is mandatory, and free – if you swim.  But it costs $21 if you want to take the hour ferry each way.

    Unfortunately, yet another disaster (this one manmade) occurred on June 17, 2015, when a crazy psychotic killed nine members in a Bible study at the Emanuel AME church, just a few blocks from Marion Square. Through all of these tragedies, Charleston has survived, endured and come out stronger and better, proven by the fact that on the second anniversary of the shooting, it was announced that famed architect Michael Arad, designer of the National September 11 Memorial in New York, would create a piece to honor the victims of this tragic shooting.  

    It is perhaps because Charleston has endured so much that it is so beautiful.  Walking its quiet backstreets on tree-shaded brick sidewalks is one of the great joys of visiting this city.  On every block there’s something to admire.  Peek through a gate to see a private garden, duck down a tree-covered alley, wander through a graveyard, or read the plaques mounted on hundreds of homes to see who lived here.  There is no place else quite like Charleston.

IF YOU GO:  The Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau is one of the best in the nation with a large, incredible visitor’s center packed with helpful advice.    They Hyatt House and Hyatt Place share a common courtyard and are ideal place to stay, within walking distance of the historic district, and smack in the center of the exciting new restaurants and clubs along Upper King Street.  They Hyatt House has a kitchen and order your own omelet breakfast.  Bulldog Tours does excellent walking tours of the historic district.

Mexico says ‘hola’ to a lot more visitors

By Bob Schulman

Photo credit: Cancun CVB.The next time you flake out on one of those sugary beaches in Mexico you might have a little more company. Chances are, though, you won’t notice it, given the 28,000 miles of shoreline down there. Still, the latest tourism figures show our neighbor south of the border jumped from the world’s 15th most visited country in 2013 to the globe’s 8th most popular destination last year. That’s the largest increase in position of any of the top 25 most visited countries.

The numbers, from annual rankings just announced by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), pegged Mexico’s growth in international visitors at an average of 10 percent a year since 2013 -- double the global industry average. What’s more, a whopping 35 million foreigners bunked down in Mexico’s resorts, hotels and inns last year, setting an all-time record.

Officials noted that a surge in demand for vacations in Mexico prompted the airlines to add more than 2 million seats to their transborder flights so far in 2017.

“For three years in a row, Mexico has continued an impressive climb in the UNWTO rankings,” said the country’s Minister of Tourism Enrique de la Madrid. Beyond sun and sand attractions, he attributed the growth to Mexico’s “mega-biodiversity, nature and adventure, gastronomy, luxury, high-profile events like F1, cultural traditions such as Day of the Dead, and the weddings, romance, meetings and events segments.”

Photo credit: Acapulco CVB.

“(The growth in international tourism) is a clear recognition of the numerous advancements in Mexico’s tourism industry, from the diversification of markets to expansion in offerings for travelers from around the world,” said Hector Flores, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board. “Our strategic plan and close collaboration with our industry partners, as well as personalized engagement in our marketing and promotional campaigns, propelled us here. We are excited to continue the momentum through 2017 and beyond.”

The country’s goal is to host 50 million international arrivals by 2021.

Santa Fe, My Beloved

By Courtney Drake-McDonough

A stroll down Canyon Road reveals classic Santa Fe architecture and art galleries such as the Nedra Matteucci Galleries. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonoughAs a young twenty something in 1988, I traveled for the first time to northern New Mexico for my honeymoon. I was struck by the vast azure skies, colorful mesas dotted with Piñon and juniper trees, and the brilliant light. Descending into the outskirts of Santa Fe, the adobe structures and uneven coyote fences informed me that this was a special place, a City Different. A recent return trip to La Ciudad Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis was a celebration of the past, present and future - Santa Fe today has so much new to offer while still remaining true to its rich historical roots, making it a completely unique experience.

As the oldest capital city in the U.S., hundreds of years of history involving different cultures have played out along the Caminos, Calles and Acequias of this city. The first nation peoples descended from the nearby mesas to populate the Rio Grande Valley. The Spanish asserted their rule over them with both sword and crucifix; unlike other native peoples, the Puebloan culture survived the European conquest and is a vital, integral part of 21st Century Santa Fe. American settlers took control from the Spanish and Mexican governments. Since then, the area has exerted a consistent attraction on artists, fortune-seekers and daydreamers seeking a new life.

For me, simply a visitor, a return to Santa Fe brought new things to love.

Walking: Central

Santa Fe may be best known for its historic Plaza, the true corazon of the city. Ringed by historic structures, in the shadow of the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the plaza hosts tourists and locals alike with an air of perpetual celebration. On my visit, a lively concert had attracted a large crowd to dance, chat and enjoy the blessings of a mid-summer’s evening cooled by an approaching rain. The Palace of the Governors Museum and the native American jewelry market makes the Plaza truly unique and a great place to start your exploration.  

Meandering the narrow, winding streets of central Santa Fe - all adobe, stucco, and wrought iron – could fill an entire visit and is best done on foot. With galleries, restaurants, gardens and unique shops, there’s plenty to see. Due to a rich and complex history, as well as locals with passionate devotion to this extraordinary place, Santa Fe offers a surprisingly deep array of cultural, culinary, and experiential treasures for such a small city. Allow yourself time to slow down and just take it all in!

Walking: Railyard District

The Railyard District comes alive with farmer’s markets and other events, amidst commuter trains. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonoughOn this visit, I arranged a tour with local guide from Wander New Mexico (which combines food and culture) and ventured further out to discover an emerging new side of Santa Fe called The Railyard District. A short walk from the Plaza, this area is built around the original railroad station and yards. Now it hosts many events and attractions including a year-round farmer’s market full of beautiful, local produce and friendly vendors selling their crafted wares; hours are limited, so check for market dates and times.

Galleries, eateries and open spaces make this an inviting area to wander. Be sure to visit the community “waffle” garden irrigated by an original acequia to appreciate the ingenuity of the original farmers in this arid region.

A unique art space SITE Santa Fe, part of the Center for the Contemporary Arts (CCA), was under construction, and worth a look on a future visit as it promises to host an ever-changing array of artists and their installations. As the Plaza promises a solid link to Santa Fe’s past, this space will focus on what’s next.


See a rare sculpture by Georgia O’Keeffe near her museum. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough.Art is an integral part of Santa Fe. Public and private art is everywhere, embedded in the very fiber and soul of the place. To appreciate this and learn more, I toured the Canyon Road art galleries with tour leader, Elaine, owner of Santa Fe Art Tours. An excellent guide, she provided insight and access to gallery owners and artists that revealed more about the art than I ever would have known. She also included a visit to a local chocolatier and a sampling of drinking chocolate elixir that was divine.

Although born in the green meadows of Wisconsin, Georgia O’ Keefe found her true inner self in New Mexico and called it home for much of her life. Her namesake museum celebrates her life and is dedicated to sharing her visions with the world. This fairly small museum displays just a fraction of her work at a time, on a rotating basis; most are on various global tours. Don’t be disappointed if you are unable to see some of your well-known favorites. Instead, use the visit as a chance to learn more about this revolutionary American artist. I was surprised to learn she was a sculptress, and thrilled to learn that at the nearby O’Keefe Research Center, a 10-foot-tall sculpture was on display amidst gardens hosting her favored plants and celebrating her lifelong love of gardening.

Avant Garde

A short drive from the city center is Meow Wolf, a wholly unique art experience. This immersive, interactive, experiential art installation is part mystery and fantasy. Extremely popular among locals and visitors alike, it proves Santa Fe is a relevant arts player in today’s competitive cultural scene. Allow at least two hours, arrive early before opening time, and buy tickets in advance to avoid the long wait to get in! A host of food trucks provide quick food and beverage options. (Note: this is not appropriate for mobility impaired or people who are sensitive to dark and confined spaces.)


Take in the opera in a building that is art itself with the Santa Fe Opera. Photo courtesy the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. A thrilling highlight of my return trip was the Santa Fe Opera. Perched along a wild mesa to the north, overlooking a valley rimmed with mountain ranges beyond, the open air theater is an architectural gem. Over the years, the theater has been fully covered overhead, but the open air sides allow plenty of fresh juniper scented breezes - and the occasional rain driven in by summer monsoons! Be sure to take a light jacket or poncho, even in the height of summer, as the evening cools off at 7,000 feet above sea level. As a treat, I attended the preview dinner at the nearby pavilion. This lovely plein air tented space, surrounded by lush gardens, houses the star guest performers of the opera. A delicious buffet dinner with wine is accompanied by a guest speaker who provides sneak peeks and insights into the production. It’s a worthwhile treat if you are lucky enough to snatch up these sought after tickets. You can also order dinner boxes for tailgating or dining on the patio. The 2017 season, which runs through August features a range from the classic Lucia Di Lammermoor to the world premiere, The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs.


Santa Fe offers a full array of accommodations, from cheap motels to luxurious resorts. For our visit, we stayed at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza Hotel in a 300-year-old hacienda just blocks from the Plaza. We stayed in the Hotel’s casitas, built within walls of the 1625 former coach house with two-foot-thick adobe walls and perfectly decorated with rustic Spanish style and contemporary art. Like Santa Fe, the blend of past and present feels right. A large pool area and on-site dining at Ortiz Restaurant made this a convenient, relaxing oasis after hours touring the city on foot. 

For lunch one day we ventured out to the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, just outside of Santa FCombine history and modern conveniences at the Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza Hotel. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonoughe, and enjoyed a delicious meal on their outdoor patio with a stunning view of distant blue mesas. Afterward, we strolled the peaceful and beautifully landscaped grounds; the clusters of casitas blended into the landscape like an idyllic village surrounded by vistas of mesas and mountains. For travelers seeking resort-style escape with peace and quiet, this is the place.


The dynamic Santa Fe dining scene offers many options to adventurous palates! For traditional regional culinary delights (blue corn tortillas, spicy red chile sauces, posole) head to The Shed (central location, watch out for long waits at peak periods!) or their sister café La Choza (Railyard District, less busy and bigger menu). An adventurous menu awaits at State Capitol Kitchen, where we enjoyed a delicious pasta and lamb dish; Chef Mark takes inspiration from local ingredients to explore new culinary territory. The very contemporary sleek décor of his rehabilitated pizza restaurant space is comfortably hip. Chef Joseph at his namesake restaurant, Joseph’s, strikes a delightful middle ground by using locally sourced and culturally-relevant ingredients (lamb, duck, local vegetables) and preparing them with a more sophisticated touch. His charming, cozy restaurant space reminded us of a friend’s country home.


Local craft brewers provide fresh tasting beers with a Santa Fe twist including: Chili Line Brewing (emphasis on smoked beers, with an enormous secluded patio and Italian food) and Second Street Brewery (large indoor and outdoor areas with pub fare in the Railyard District).

Santa Fe Spirits’ tasting room is a cozy adobe casita; sample their unique, locally-inspired spirits like  Atapiño (contains pinon nuts and sap!) and Apple Brandy (ask how they get the apple in the bottle!). Sip them straight, or enjoy a variety of unique cocktails. 

This is just a sampling of Santa Fe’s treasures for travelers. Outdoor experiences like hiking, biking, rafting abound nearby, as do so many other rich cultural experiences in the nearby pueblos, Museum Hill and the various marketplace events that draw artists from around the globe. My return visit to Santa Fe was unforgettable, packed with new experiences as well as treasured old favorites, like visiting a dear old friend. Time flew past and yet there was so much more to explore… another trip to my beloved Santa Fe is already in the works.

For more information on Santa Fe, visit

Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Colorado-based contributor to as well as to other local and national magazines and newspapers. She is also the founder and editor of a news and reviews website covering food, arts, culture and travel in Colorado,

Swimming with Gentle Giants

Story by Michelle da Silva Richmond

It's barely past dawn. Apparently, we have to leave at this ungodly hour because this is the best time to see these elusive denizens of the sea before the area gets very crowded.

The secret is to stay away from their tail when you swim with them.

We've been told that this is an experience of a lifetime, and something that shouldn't be missed. This is no ordinary snorkeling trip. We're about to frolic with the legendary whale shark measuring up to 40 ft. and weighing up to 15 tons. Their jaws can extend up to five feet when open.

Note to self: Steer clear of their toothy smiles.

These illusive animals can be seen between May and SeptemberWe arrive at the pier where our licensed guide, Jesus gives us the 101 on swimming with whale sharks. Equipping us with life jackets, fins and snorkels, he instructs us to use biodegradable sunscreen to protect the ocean.

"Just follow my instructions once we're out there," he tells us. "We'll be holding hands and once we're in the water I'll be holding two of you at a time, by your hands. You have nothing to be afraid of. Just stay with me and do exactly as I tell you and I'll take you close to them. They don't eat humans, they eat plankton," he adds. "Just stay away from their tails so they don't hit you when they turn around. That would definitely hurt. And don't make any sudden movements."


I make another mental note to myself: No sudden movements and beware of tails.

We're off in one of the many boats lined up along the dock and, after a bumpy 45-minute ride out into the middle of the ocean, we get to "the spot," where sure enough, we're surrounded by scores of huge grey beasts, speckled with white dots that gleam in the early sunlight. They take no notice of us as they gracefully glide around our boat, accompanied by hundreds of small shimmering fish.

We're told to jump two at a time and to wait for Jesus by the boat. As soon as I do, I find myself very close to one of these gentle beasts as she swims by me, seemingly unfazed by our unsettling appearance – yellow life jackets and snorkels protruding above the water.

As promised, Jesus grabs us by the hand and leads us in a watery waltz around these magnificent creatures. After about 10 minutes he signals us to return to the boat so that he can escort two more snorkelers onto the oceanic stage.

After we've done this three of four times for a total of about 45 minutes, we're told that it's time to head back to Cancun. I feel a sort of sadness at having to leave my new friends.

Once back on the boat we find that about 20 other boats have circled around us. It's gotten too crowded for comfort and I can't help but feel sorry for the whale sharks and the dent this audience makes in their carefree existence.

– They’re very gentle creatures and are more interested in eating than they are in you

I'm also aware that most of the people in our group have gotten very seasick while waiting onboard the rocking ship while we took turns snorkeling. In fact, out of eight snorkelers only two of us have escaped the wrath of the roiling ocean. I'm grateful for my sea-worthy constitution and for the amazing adventure that nature has just afforded me. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Whale sharks can be seen from May through September, they are most prevalent in July and August. Tours can be booked through your hotel, or directly at the dock at Punta Sam in Cancun or on Isla Holbox.


By Carole Jacobs

Summer’s almost over, school starts in just a few short weeks – and you suddenly realized you haven’t spent a minute with your precious grandkids in months. But where to go on such short notice that won’t be mobbed, impossible to get to or exorbitantly priced? Where there’s no wrong-side-of-the-tracks lined with boozy taverns, topless discos and adult book shops? Where cellphone service and internet access can be so sketchy in the countryside you’re virtually guaranteed 24/7 access to grandkids who would otherwise be wired, plugged in or flying high on AI?


As a bi-coastal gal who’s spent little time in the flyover states, Branson, Missouri struck me as the perfect place for world-weary six-year-olds and grandparents seeking The Land of No Four Letter Words. So clean it squeaked and so all-American that nearly every theater and restaurant flew the flag, this Bible-Belt town populated by fervent Christian performers was the antithesis of Vegas, offering a bucket-load of wholesome, old-fashioned fun tailor-made for extended-family vacays. You could even get saved by heading behind the stage after a show.

Here are a dozen ways to spend a long weekend with the grandkids/kids in Branson.

Day One:

  1. You had to see it to believe it: Branson is justly world-famous for its “G”-rated shows. There’s no sex, no skin and no cursing, whether you’re watching Chinese acrobats tumble across the stage in death-defying stunts, magicians/illusionists performing mysterious feats or attending concerts where seeming clones miraculously recapture the sound of rock and roll legends. After a long, hot day in the park, we all welcomed the chance to sink into a plush seat at Dick Clark’s (remember him?) air-conditioned American Bandstand Theater and chill for the 2-hour Legends in Concert show. The fast-paced show opened with Country Western singer George Strait -- I thought he was the real McCoy until someone told me all the performers were impersonators -- continued with The Temptations, dressed to the nines and with all the right moves if occasionally off-key, and concluded with a highly-sanitized Elvis -- not a whole lotta shakin’ going on, although the performer totally nailed his voice. It was an otherworldly experience that recalled the phrase, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

  2. Spend a day at Silver Dollar City amusement park. Move over, Disneyland and Magic Mountain. This old-fashioned 1880s amusement park dedicated to preserving all-things-Ozarks was no stick in the mud, delivering a fleet of high-speed coasters where we screamed our lungs out and were grateful we hadn’t yet eaten lunch. Thunderation, the world’s coolest wooden roller coaster (named Best New Ride of 2013 worldwide) traveled at 48 miles per hour while The Giant Barn Swing launched us through a barn door and up seven stories at 45 miles per hour and nearly upside down. WildFire, a high-flying, multi-looping, cobra-rolling coaster approached speeds of 66 miles per hour while PowderKeg took us from 0 to 53 mph in 2.8 seconds and Fire In The Hole, a terrifyingly-fun indoor roller coaster, had unexpected high-speed drops, twists and curves. We caught our breath at Marvel Cave, where 600 steps descended 300 feet below the earth to the dripping cavern Cathedral Room, where limestone formations are still growing.  Afterwards, we had lunch at a park eatery, many housed in charming, tumbledown shacks and shanties that peek from the trees, following the smoky aromas to the Wagon Works Grill for chicken wraps and chipotle burgers and to Crossroads Pizza for handcrafted, wood-fired pies. We wiled away the afternoon white-water rafting on the Lost River of the Ozarks, floating through The Flooded Mine and watching demos of age-old crafts like candy-making, checking out Silver Dollar’s 1800s one-room school house and pretty Wilderness Church and watching demos of age-old crafts like candy-making and candle- making.

  3. Sack out: Historic downtown Branson is flanked by two stunning Hilton hotels – we checked into the sleek, high-rise Hilton Branson Convention Center, where swank floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked views of the town, Lake Tayencomo and Branson Landing pedestrian mall, although the family-friendly Hilton Promenade across the street, located a few steps from restaurants, shops and boutiques, looked equally beautiful. Rooms at both hotels include a free hot breakfast at Branson Hilton’s Level 2 Steakhouse, by night an elegant, candlelit farm-to-table restaurant where 28-day aged corn-fed Missouri beef was served with a choice of five very sharp knives along with locally-sourced dishes like Wagyu Steaks, Southern-Fried Chicken and Apple Braised Circle B Ranch Pork Osso Bucco, tantalizing sides like roasted garlic whipped, Sweet Potato Dauphinoise and Herb-and-Bacon Roasted Brussel Sprouts and sinful homemade desserts such as Missouri Butter Cake, Tahitian Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee and Triple Chocolate Mousse Tort.

Day Two

  1. Zip around Branson: With more than eight local zip line companies, you could spend the entire day flying over Branson like Wendy and Peter Pan at speeds up to 50 miles per hour.  Adventure Zipline of Branson, located just a few blocks from downtown Branson, was a thrilling, guided 2-hour tour that began atop a 70-foot tower overlooking awesome views of the Ozarks, with rides on seven individual ziplines ranging in length from 200 feet to 2,000 feet. We soared across meadows, between trees and to the foot of three rope bridges and were disappointed to learn their “Zip at Night” tours, where you fly through the dark night sky from one lit tower to another, were completely booked.

  2. Ride the ducks: Modeled after the military’s World War II DUKWs, these amphibians were used to transport troops and supplies over water to land and back again. On our guided, narrated tour, our pilot navigated us to the top of Baird Mountain and back down, past Table Rock Dam, Branson’s entertainment district and the Branson Belle showboat and on to Table Rock Lake for Splashdown, where our duck just kept on swimming! Plus every kid on board got a chance to drive.

  3. Have lunch at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, a 1950s-era eatery in downtown Branson where all the servers turned out to be singers, songwriters and musicians, many currently in Branson production and two of whom appeared on American Idol. Then we checked out Dick’s Old-Time 5 & 10, open half a century and crammed from the floor to the rafters with 1,110 kinds of old-time “penny candy” as well as toys, games, housewares and more.

  4. Wooo-woo! All aboard the Branson Scenic Railway! Headquartered in a quaint 1905 railroad station located a few steps from both Hiltons, the Ozark Zephyr vintage passenger train lumbered through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains on a nearly 2-hour journey through the Ozark wilds. We plunged through tunnels, clickety-clacked across trestles past the ruins of long-ago communities that today exist only on railroad maps and enjoyed panoramic views in the three dome cars.

  5. BBQ and a show: That night, we followed the tantalizing smells to Getting Basted, the original little-restaurant-that-could located inside the Starlite Theater that’s won many national BBQ awards for its home-style chicken, ribs, pulled pork, brisket and potato salad. The kids were thrilled their meals came on a souvenir Frisbee they could take home. After dinner, we went into the theater to see Larry’s Country Diner, a live stage show that retained the country wackiness and 100-percent-unscripted nature of the popular TV hit series.

Day Three

  1. We rose early for a home-style breakfast at The Farmhouse Restaurant, a Branson landmarked located in the historic downtown, and split three ways The Farmhouse Special, a heaping platter anchored by a huge slab of ham, two eggs, country potatoes, dollar pancakes, grits and biscuits with gravy.

  2. Afterwards, we hiked through Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre preserve just south of Branson with crystal-clear trout streams; dozens of cascading waterfalls; ancient burial caves; natural and hand-built stone bridges; bottomless, blue-green pools; jagged ravines and grassy pastures where we watched the long-horned cattle, elk, American bison, whitetail deer and Texas longhorns play before hopping on Segways for -- whee! -- an exhilarating guided tour of the park.

  3. “Have lunch at Hard Work U:” Even if your grandkids aren’t the least bit spoiled, it’s never too early to remind them of the value of hard work. At The College of the Ozarks, located on the grounds of a century-old farm, students working their way through college staffed the mill, greenhouses, dairy farm, bakery/espresso bar, ice cream shop and served as the culinary staff at Dobyns Dining Room, where we sat down to a killer farm-to-table lunch of fried green tomatoes and Pulled Pork Barbeque Cornbread Sandwich, both made with ingredients grown on campus.

  4. Relive the Titanic’s final, fateful hours at the Titanic Museum: At this fascinating museum, the words and stories of the passengers and crew told the horrific tale, some of it as it was unfolding, while more than 400 personal and private artifacts filled in the heartbreaking gaps: We felt their spirit presence and made haunting emotional connections with them we never got from the Hollywood movie.

  •; Twitter: @ExploreBranson; #ExploreBranson; Facebook: ExploreBranson; Pinterest: ExploreBranson; Instagram: ExploreBranson


By Rich Grant

Sitting at the edge of Colorado’s No. 1 attraction – Rocky Mountain National Park – the little resort village of Estes Park lies in one of the world’s most beautiful locations, and as such, it has been attracting visitors for more than 150 years. In addition to the millions of tourists who have passed through, here are some other colorful characters who made history in Estes Park.



In 1865, nearly twenty years before his classic “Around the World in 80 Days,” Jules Verne wrote a science fiction novel “From the Earth to the Moon” about the first spacecraft to the moon, which was fired from a gigantic cannon. To follow the space ship’s progress, he imagined a fictional 80-foot-long telescope on top of Estes Park’s most famous mountain, the 14,259-foot-high Longs Peak. This was somewhat remarkable, since at this point in history, no known person had ever climbed Longs Peak. Verne mistakenly thought this was the highest mountain in the United States. He wrote: “All the necessary apparatus was consequently sent on to the summit of Long's Peak…  Neither pen nor language can describe the difficulties of all kinds which the American engineers had to surmount…. They had to raise enormous stones, massive pieces of wrought iron, heavy corner-clamps and huge portions of cylinder, with an object-glass weighing nearly 30,000 pounds, above the line of perpetual snow for more than 10,000 feet in height.” Quite an accomplishment in 1865 when in reality, there was only one family living at the base of Longs Peak – that of Joel Estes.

Experience: It’s not quite as big as Verne imagined it all those years ago, but the Estes Park Memorial Observatory’s Ritchey-Chretien telescope is your gateway into deep space.



Joel was a restless man. He and his wife Patsey raised 13 children. Joel crossed the Oregon Trail, went prospecting in California and ended up in Denver in 1859 as a cattle rancher.  The Gold Rush crowds in Denver forced him farther and farther up into the hills, where he finally discovered an incredibly beautiful secret valley at the base of Longs Peak. When William Byers, the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, tried to climb Longs Peak, he stayed with the Estes family. Though unsuccessful, he rewarded the Estes’ hospitality by naming the valley “Estes Park.” By 1866, Joel was restless again and sold all of Estes Park for a pair of oxen and moved back to Missouri. But the memory of the place that still bears their name lingered on. Patsey later said her time there “was like living on the front doorstep of heaven.” 

Experience: The Estes Park Museum provides a window into the town’s past, with artifacts and exhibits stretching back to Joel Estes’ time.


Even though he lost his right arm fighting for the Union at the Battle of Shiloh, John Wesley Powell became one of the most well known explorers in history. In 1869, he led the first expedition to ever sail down the Grand Canyon in boats. A year earlier, he and William Byers made several attempts to climb Longs Peak, but were turned back each time. Finally, they found a route to the top and became the first white men known to do reach the summit (though they found evidence that Native Americans had beaten them to the top). It is estimated that 200,000 people have climbed Longs Peak since then, about 7,500 a year – although 60 have died trying.

Experience: Get to the top of the iconic Longs Peak in a safe and responsible way with a guide from Estes Park Mountain Shop – 14,255 feet above sea level.


The fourth woman in history to climb Longs Peak was destined to become one of the most famous travel writers of all time. Growing up in England, Isabella Bird was frail and suffered from nervous headaches and insomnia. Her doctors recommended an outdoor life, and in 1873 she moved to Colorado, where the air was said to be good for your health. Settling in Estes Park, she eventually traveled 800 miles around the Rocky Mountains with her guide (some people said he was more than a guide) a one-eyed desperado named “Rocky Mountain Jim” Nugent (see below). Writing about him in her book, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,” she said he was a "man any woman might love but no sane woman would marry." (In Victorian England, that line was censored.) Isabella went on to travel and write about all corners of the world and became the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Experience: Isabella’s book about Colorado is still a great read and available in the national park gift shops and around town. Drop in to MacDonald’s Bookshop, Estes Park’s original bookstore, family owned since 1928, and browse their extensive history section.


Jim told so many tall tales that it’s difficult to separate truth from fiction. He may have been a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company, a British army officer or a defrocked priest. But we know for sure that he arrived in what would become Rocky Mountain National Park in the late 1860s. There, a close encounter with a bear left him with a scarred face and one less eye. Undeterred, he became one of the first guides in Estes Park and helped Isabella Bird and many others climb Longs Peak. But he had a falling out with another rival guide, Griff Evans. A year after Isabella returned to England, Evans shot “Rocky Mountain Jim” in cold blood with a double barrel shotgun. Incredibly, Jim lived long enough to write a statement accusing Evans, but without witnesses, Evans never stood trial.

Experience: The Fall River Visitor Center offers a variety of ranger-led educational opportunities, as well as exhibits on wildlife survival – just so you don’t end up looking like “Rocky Mountain Jim.”


 A good friend and drinking buddy of the murderer Griff Evans was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, the fourth Earl of Dunraven of Ireland. Lord Dunraven came to Estes Park on a hunting trip in 1872 and fell in love with it. In what has been called one of the greatest land thefts in Colorado history, Dunraven acquired (mostly through unscrupulous means) 15,000 acres of land around Estes Park to create his own private hunting reserve. But the locals disliked his heavy-handed ways, and he became disenchanted with the large number of tourists visiting his private property (as many as 200 a summer!). So eventually Dunraven packed up and moved back to England, never returning. 

Experience: Lord Dunraven came from Ireland – but the Dunraven Inn, the classic Estes Park restaurant that bares his name specializes in Italian food. But certainly he’d approve of the Lord Dunraven, a center-cut sirloin steak charbroiled to perfection.  


Before leaving, Lord Dunraven hired Albert Bierstadt, one of the most famous artists of the day, to create masterpieces of Estes Park. Dunraven paid him $15,000 – a deal in today’s terms. These days, Bierstadt is considered one of the great artists of the American West and his paintings, which hang in a dozen museums including the Smithsonian, can sell for $7 million or more. His paintings of Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains (now in the Denver Art Museum) helped popularize the area around the world. When Lord Dunraven decided to build a hotel, legend has it that artist Albert Bierstadt selected the site that would offer the best views and artistic light. That hotel burned down, but the next landlord would replace it.

Experience: Estes Park’s gorgeous sights continue to inspire, and the Art Center of Estes Park’s gallery brings together an array of masterpieces from local artists.


In 1903, F.O. Stanley, the wealthy inventor and producer of one of the first automobiles, the Stanley Steamer, was stricken with tuberculosis. Seeking a cure, he did what many did at the time and sought out the fresh air of Estes Park. In one season, his health improved dramatically and he resolved to turn the area into a world-class summer resort. He purchased 160 acres from Lord Dunraven and in 1907 constructed a grand hotel in the Colonial Revival style of New England, complete with electric lights, telephones, and en suite bathrooms. It was the first resort in the world where guests arrived by car rather than by train. Stanley helped Estes Park grow into a real resort village, and with his friend, naturalist Enos Mills, worked tirelessly to create Rocky Mountain National Park, which opened in 1915. The Stanley Hotel offered every modern service, except heat — a factor that helped determine its future fame.

Experience: Take a step back in time and learn more about The Stanley Hotel's rich history during a daily guided tour that takes you all over the property.


In late fall 1974, a fledgling writer named Stephen King wanted to cross Trail Ridge Road, but it was already closed due to snow. He sought refuge in the Stanley Hotel. At this time, lacking heat, the Stanley was in the process of closing for the winter and King was the only guest. He sat up late with Grady, the one remaining bartender, walked the empty corridors of the hotel, and finally checked into room 217 … where he had one of the worst nightmares of his life. But by morning, he also had the outline of The Shining, his first best-selling hardback book. Both Grady and room 217 make important appearances in the book. The Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson film of The Shining was shot in Oregon, but King disliked it so much, he supported a 1997 television movie remake, filmed entirely on site at the Stanley Hotel. Today, the Stanley is regarded as one of the most haunted hotels in the world and is studied by paranormal experts. Ghost Tours of the hotel are a popular excursion in Estes Park, and the film The Shining plays on cable in every room in the Stanley, 24-7. But don’t watch it there alone. 

Experience: Want to discover the Stanley’s “spiritual” side? Night Ghost Tours at the hotel take you to a few darkened spaces, telling the tales behind the "active" phenomena and spirit folklore that have been causing bumps in the night for decades.


By Yvette Cardozo

The original plan was to go to Cannon Beach in Oregon for its annual sandcastle festival. But that turned out to be a minor part of what my friends and I squeezed into three brief days. We hiked, we ate, we hiked some more, we ate lots more. And, along the way, we did get to see the sandcastles.

We had planned to hike the first day but the weather (hey, it’s the Pacific NW) didn’t exactly cooperate. So we stopped by The Astoria Column in, yes, Astoria.

The column is not a lighthouse. Rather, it was built in 1926 with money from the Great Northern Railway and Vincent Astor, great grandson of John Jacob Astor. The goal was to honor the city’s role in the Astor family’s (a-hem, it’s called Astoria, Oregon), business history. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is covered in murals depicting the area’s history, including the Lewis & Clark expedition. Today, it’s part of a 30 acre park. The tower is 125 feet tall and has (puff, pant) 164 stairs up a spiral staircase to an observation deck at the top.

The climb is worth it but perhaps not for those bothered by heights. We saw one gentleman who stood at the doorway up top and absolutely refused to go out on the deck, then white knuckled it back down. My friends and I loved it and one of them ran up those stairs TWICE.          

What’s especially neat is that the tower overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River with killer views of the Astoria-Magler Bridge to the west and the rest of the river to the east.                                  

Then it was off to Seaside, 20 minutes north of Cannon Beach. There were half a dozen of us, so we rented a house just half a block from the ocean. The nice thing about this is we were far, far away from the madness that this sandcastle weekend becomes. We had this beach practically to ourselves, and headed out to watch the sun set. As we walked out, I turned around to see sun lighting the row of beachfront houses in one of those glowing colors that comes with northern latitudes late in the day.

Up and over the last ridge of grassy dunes, we saw the Pacific and a hard sand beach with a partially cloudy sky that turned gold, then orange as the sun went down. People snapped photos, one of my friends walked her dog, kids ran and splashed. I’m still not sure if that one couple was in the middle of proposing                               

The next day, early, we set out for Ecola State Park at the northern end of Cannon Beach where we hiked the Clatsop Loop Trail. The whole trail is only three miles but it climbs 700 feet. At one point, we had to scramble over a precariously angled, downed tree where a slip would have taken us over a cliff. The trail is rated by the state as “easy” making me wonder what it would take in these parts to rate a hike hard.

But the From the Indian Beach Trailhead at the beginning, we had stunning views of the beach below with surfers heading in and out of the water. We watched as one father introduced his small son to the finer points of staying upright on a board. And at the top, we got a look at the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse a mile off shore.                     

OK, we finally did make it to the heart of Cannon Beach. We went to walk downtown (cute shops, nice restaurants) and had dinner at Sweet Basil Cafe. Their signature dish is the pork belly burger...hamburger, pork belly, cheese and so much more. The flowers out front, by the way, turned out to be something in the hebe family of plants that originally came from New Zealand and the Falkland Islands. They seem to really like a seaside environment. Practically every shop had some along the sidewalk.

There’s also a coffee shop (Sea Star Gelato) which specializes in steaming espresso over vanilla ice cream. It’s even better than it sounds.                 

And, yes, we finally, eventually, got to see the sandcastles. Cannon Beach has held this festival for more than half a century. There are two divisions...the Large Group Division and the Masters. First you enter the Large Group competition and if you win this, you can become a Master.

We parked our car with hundreds of others on the beach (bad choice, it turns out), then walked. And walked. And walked. Probably a couple of miles.

The scene was truly a beach party. People had hauled in grills, stalls were selling food and drinks, kids flew kites. And, a hefty hike north, were the sandcastles. At first, I was seriously underwhelmed. The sandcastles looked like something a kid would build. But the farther we went, the better they got. And then, at the far northern end, were the really good ones, built for the Masters Division.

Of the lesser ones, the only serious contender was by Team Pug Love. Pug, as in pug puppies. It was called “Don’t let the Bed Pugs Bite,” and featured, of course, pugs and a bed.

The masters challengers were all good. There was an elaborate train and a castle and ogres, but my favorite (and apparently also the judges’ fav) was Reverse Safari. It featured an elaborate scene of animals riding safari trucks to watch people. To build this involved intricate sculpting by a horde of team members. We watched one guy use a scalpel and toothbrush on an alligator.

Alas, except for the pugs, we never got to see the sculptures after they were done and without workers all over them. It turns out someone made a tiny error in the timing of the incoming tide. The judging for the masters ended at 3:45pm but around 3:15 a sonorous voice blared over loud speakers telling anyone with a car on the beach who didn’t want to see their vehicle try to swim in salt water to get

So we rushed back to our car and joined a seemingly endless line to get out...not exactly fast but fast enough. By the time we got back to the road, the tide had come in and was already demolishing the sandcastles.

Next year, we’ll park on the road.                    

Our original plan was to come back to Cannon Beach and barbecue on the beach (not all of it was covered by the incoming tide). But between the morning’s hike at Ecola and all day on the beach, we were done. We fired up a grill at our rental house and did our hot dogs there, retiring to play board games.

The next day, before heading home, we hiked the Fort to Sea Trail, which marks the end of Lewis & Clark’s long, long journey in 1804/6 to the Pacific. There’s a Lewis & Clark National Historic Park which isn’t large but is more than worth a visit.

Honestly, I knew nothing about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, about the expedition, about its aftermath. It was actually a military expedition, by order of then president Thomas Jefferson to basically forge a path to the Pacific Ocean.                     

A few fascinating tidbits...the original cost estimate was something like $2,500, a vast chunk of that set aside for “gifts to the natives.” It actually cost closer to $50,000 (remember, this was the start of the 19th Century). And by the end, everyone’s clothing was so full of lice, hardly anyone could sleep.

Sadly after Lewis was rewarded with the governorship of “Upper Louisiana” for his part in the expedition, he went into debt and deep depression and committed suicide at 35. For 30 years after the expedition, Clark ranked as the leading federal official in the west and the point man for six Presidents, from Jefferson to Van Buren. He died at age 68 and there’s a fascinating mapping of eight generations of his descendants on a wall in the national park.

As for Sacagawea, she served not only as interpreter but also proof that this group of ragged military men was friendly, since they were accompanied by a woman and her infant child. Sadly, Sacagawea lived only a few more years, dying at 25 of a “putrid fever” that present historians think maybe was ovarian cysts.

The five mile trail goes from near the national park, through a beautiful valley, then a forest and finally to the beach. Along the way, near the beach, many trees are stripped bare. It’s the aftermath of storms in December, 2007 that included hurricane force winds. I remember what south Florida looked like after hurricane Andrew and these stripped trees were eerily familiar.

Finally, past 5pm, we headed back for home in Seattle.

We’ve decided next year, we’ll take four days for this trip. And we won’t park on the beach. 


Cannon Beach holds its sandcastle festival/competition each year in mid-June. Events include the sandcastle contest, a 5 K run, a parade the night before the Saturday judging and lots more.

If you want to enjoy the festival but avoid the madness, stay at a beach rental in nearby Seaside, 20 minutes north. We used Oregon Beach Vacations.

Shopping bonanzas, soaring pyramids await visitors to Chiapas

By Bob Schulman

Subcomandante Marcos inspired a cottage industry in Chiapas.TUXTLA GUTIERREZ – Whoever named this city in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas must have been a history buff. Tuxtla comes from an ancient Aztec word meaning a place full of rabbits. Gutierrez honors Joaquin Miguel Gutierrez, a Chiapanecan hero in the mid-1800s.

About a half-million people live in this balmy city – locally called just Tuxtla – and in the evening it looks like every one of them has shown up at a downtown square known as Marimba Park. There, surrounded by dancers, musicians beat out sexy salsas, merengues and socas on the wooden slats of their xylophone-like marimbas, backed by blaring trumpets and saxes.

Tourists are welcome to get out there and shake it up, too, even if you’re trying to make a Texas two-step work for a Latin three-step. But it's all in fun, and foreigners willing to take a shot at it are rewarded by applause from the crowd.

Other than what you'll shell out for snacks – try the local conchito (pig) tacos –

and drinks from sidewalk vendors, an evening in the park, whether you’re dancing or just cooling off on its colonial-style benches, won’t cost you a single peso.

Tuxtla, the state capital, is usually the first stop on tours of Chiapas. Visitors typically get here on jets or group tour buses from Mexico City.

Apres-marimbas in the park, most foreigners go back to the city's half-dozen tourist-class hotels, grab a quick Chiapanecan dinner (ranging from hot to blast furnace hot) and hit the sack for a busy sightseeing schedule the next day.                                   

Forever amber -- Chiapas is one of the world's few sources.It's just 45 minutes up the road from Tuxtla, but the 16th century colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas might as well be on another planet. For one thing, it's chilly up there. For another, many of the 130,000 “Coletos” as the locals are known dress like they did centuries ago when Spanish conquistadores ruled their lands. What's more, at times the whole town looks like a stage for a giant handicrafts show.

History fans might have been busy at San Cristobal de las Casas, too. The city’s name combines its patron saint, St. Christopher, with the latter part of the name of Chiapas' first bishop, the beloved Dominican Friar Bartolome de las Casas (1484-1566).

One shopping area in San Cristobal is a sprawling maze of side-by-side tents surrounding the town’s main cathedral. Here, tourists ambling along the narrow lanes find themselves in a wonderland of stunningly gorgeous shawls, blouses, placemats, tablecloths, blankets, jewelry and the like, all handmade and at bargain prices (and even lower depending on your haggling skills).

Look close, and you'll see two unusual items for sale. One comes from the Zapatista rebellion begun in Chiapas in 1994, led by the masked, gun-toting Subcomandante Marcos. Besides putting the state on the map – for a while, news coverage of the uprising showed up almost nightly on TVs around the world – the event spawned a sort of cottage industry in these parts: Vendors sell everything from coffee cups, keychains, tee-shirts and baseball caps to cute little stuffed figures clutching AK-47s, all bearing a likeness of the charismatic Marcos.

Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque.Moseying around San Cristobal you probably wouldn’t expect to find amber (a rare, fossilized tree resin from the age of the dinosaurs), but dozens of shops around here are loaded with it. Be aware, though, that unlike the city’s famed handicraft bargains, its second shopping bonus doesn’t come cheap. Price tags depend on a piece of amber’s size, coloring and what was trapped inside it millions of years ago. Pieces containing bugs sell for thousands of dollars.

Be careful, there's a lot of phony amber floating around. Experts at the city's Amber Museum say you can use simple tests to tell the real thing. Is it light and warm? That's amber. Is it heavy and cold? That's just doctored up glass. Another test: Rub it, and if it smells like incense, it's probably genuine.                                               

From San Cristobal, a smorgasbord of tours runs across the state. Some, to name just a few, go south to Chiapas' beach resorts along the Pacific. Some go east to other colonial cities such as Comitan de Dominguez and then on to the natural wonders of the 820,000-acre Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

Loaded with bags full of treasures and trinkets, visitors can stay in 10 or so three-star hotels around San Cristobal. From there, some tourists head south to Chiapas' beach resorts along the Pacific while others go east to more colonial cities, then on to the natural wonders of the 820,000-acre Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

Still others go on to archaeological sites, such as the Maya ruins at Yaxchilan, Chinkultic and Bonampak at the eastern edge of the state bordering Guatemala. On its northern edge, about a five-hour drive from San Cristobal, are the better known ruins of Palenque. The grounds are usually packed with tourists scampering around its towering pyramids, tombs of ancient kings and other spectacular monuments, more than 200 in all. The city was once home to 10,000 people.

After spending a night or two at hotels in the modern-day Palenque City, visitors can catch outbound flights from Palenque International Airport. For others, the tour buses await for more adventures in Mexico.

More info: Visit the Mexico Tourism Board at

Earth to move under the feet of 600 tango dancers

By Bob Schulman

Try to imagine 600 dancers -- that’s right, 600 – dragging their feet across the ballroom floor, then clutching each other while, er, romantically gyrating around (and separating long enough for shy looks over their partners’ shoulders) -- all to music described as “the world’s most sensual rhythm.”

Photo credit: Buenos Aires Tourism Board.

It’s going to happen next month down in Argentina (of course) at Buenos Aires’ Annual Tango Festival & World Cup. Set to kick off Aug. 10 is a jam-packed schedule of concerts, shows, dance classes and milongas (tango parties featuring more relaxed – if that’s possible – leg and body movements). After two weeks of all this, judges will award the coveted cup to the best of the best dancers.

Among highlights of events at 42 venues across the city are shows by previous winners from around the world, “electro tango” entertainment and the ever popular “intimate live tango performances” at some of the city’s historic bars.

What’s more, the festival and its events are all free to guests.

There’s a lot more fun and action set for visitors to Buenos Aires over the next few months. Major events on the calendar include:

  • The city will put out its rainbow carpet for a week of LGBT-themed events Aug. 14-18. On a full slate of a “celebration of diversity” in tandem with the tango festival are LGBT cultural gatherings, sports activities, business talks and a travel conference. (In November, more than 100,000 people are expected to turn out for Buenos Aires’ annual National Pride Parade.)
  • Scheduled for Sept. 14-17 is Latin America’s largest design fair, called Puro Diseno. More than 400 exhibitors will display the latest trends in fashion, accessories, jewelry,  decorations, graphic design, home furnishings, textiles, photography and illustration.
  • To be held Sept. 15-17 will be an annual wine festival at which connoisseurs can  sample over 1,000 different labels and specialist tastings. Also on the agenda are seminars and demonstrations of wine and food pairing by master chefs.
  • The city’s streets will come alive Sept. 20-24 during Buenos Aires’ festival of new and alternative music, dance, theatre and arts. Called Ciudad Emergente, the event showcases the best of the city's emerging young talent covering everything from alternative rock and electronic music to photography, film, stand-up comedy, poetry and dance.
  • Among popular events set for October is a bi-annual international theater festival (Oct. 5-21), this year with some 25 venues across the city. Also, the annual Buenos Aires Marathon (Oct. 15) is expected to draw as many as 12,000 runners from around the globe.

Belize Part 2: Punta is like hula dancing on steroids

By Bob Schulman

Tourists are welcome to get into the swing of things at the settlement celebration. If you’re lucky enough to be vacationing in Belize on Nov. 19, you’ve got a probably unexpected treat in store. That’s the country’s Garifuna Settlement Day, an annual holiday celebrated by thousands of local folks dancing in the streets to the Garifunas’ booty-shaking punta music You’re welcome to get into the swing of things at punta-livened parades, parties and sing-alongs in bars.

So, what’s a Garifuna? Arguably – there are several versions of the story – their origin goes back to the 1630s when a Spanish slave ship from Nigeria sunk off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. It’s said a good number of the slaves somehow got out of their chains and swam to the island, at the time mainly the home of Carib Indians.

A century of intermixing went by, and the offspring of the ex-slaves and the Caribs became known at first as Black Caribs and later Garifunas – the latter believed to be from Garinagu, a local name for the Black Caribs.

Punta dancers liven up parades. Meanwhile, French settlers and the English crown slugged it out for control of St. Vincent in seemingly endless battles. The Brits won, and in 1797 they deported the Garifunas (who’d been chummy with the French) to Roatan, one of Honduras’ offshore islands. There, politics raised its head, and the Garifunas wound up migrating to the Honduran mainland, where they got on the wrong side of a civil war. Many were forced to move again, this time to spots in neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.

The first dugout canoe of the Garifunas arrived in Belize on Nov. 19, 1832. Thus, the settlement holiday.

One of the country’s largest settlement celebrations draws merry-makers from across Belize to the town of Dangriga,  site of the Garifunas’ landing 135 years ago. Located about half-way down the country’s Caribbean coast, the usually quiet little city goes bonkers during a week-long festival leading up to Settlement Day. Among highlights of the week are round-the-clock carousing and parades to the booming drums and blasting brass of punta music, the crowning of Miss Garifuna and an annual bike race.

Shoppers at a Belizean roadside supermarket. Photo by Bob Schulman.The big day on Nov. 19 kicks off with a re-creation of the Garifuna landing in dugout canoes full of authentic cargoes of cooking pots, drums, cassava roots (from a woody shrub used to make a tapioca-like dish) and young banana trees. After that, the paddlers are joined by throngs of spectators for a lively procession down Dangriga’s streets followed by a special church service and then partying and dancing  through the night.

Normally home to about 10,000 people, the city – known as the cultural capital of Belize – swells to as many as 35,000 during the celebration.

A tip to tourists planning a trip to Dangriga for the settlement fest: Book early, because the town only has a half-dozen hotels. Another 17 hotels (starting at $28 a night at the Funky Dodo Backpacker) are some 8 miles down the coast at the Garifuna village of Hopkins.

Belize Part 1: Remembering Mr. Peters’ boom and chime band

By Bob Schulman

Belize River Lodge. Photo by Barry and Cathy Beck.Not too long ago there were “boom and chime” bands all over Belize, a speck on the map just south of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. If you managed to get down there before 2010 you likely heard the country’s top boom band – led by the iconic accordionist/singer Wilfred Peters – batting out tunes at parades, festivals, parties and miscellaneous jump-ups.

You’ll still hear budding boom and chimers here and there, but seven years ago the last of the genre’s old-time heavy hitters bit the dust when Peters slipped away at 79 to that big dancehall in the sky.

Peters’ chief sideman was a drummer who beat one side of his drum with a mallet to make a booming sound. The other side had a metal rim, which he hit with a hollow metal stick to make a chiming sound. Hence, “boom and chime.”

A big one that didn’t get away in the Belize River. Photo by Barry and Cathy Beck.Among other instruments in the band – think Cajun zydeco with a tropical flavor – were guitars, a banjo, bongo and conga drums, maracas and a donkey’s jawbone scratched with a stick.

Their songs featured the country’s homegrown and still popular mish-mash of African, Latin and Caribbean music called brukdown (meaning broken down calypso). It goes back centuries to the days when Belize – formerly British Honduras – was home to escaped slaves, out-of-work pirates (during hard times on the Spanish Main), Black Caribe Indians kicked off the Grenadines, Maya refugees from the Caste War in Mexico, Garifuna farmers evicted from an offshore island, people whose faces were on “Wanted” posters in a half-dozen languages and others who came to camps in the country’s steaming hot jungles to chop down forests of precious mahogany trees.

Fast-forward to the late 1960s, and three musically talented Belizean youngsters – accordionist Peters, a drummer and a guy playing a beat-up guitar – got together to form a creole band at first called “The Mahogany Chips.” According to Peters’ biography, they raked in the equivalent of $5 a gig plus all the rum-and-cokes they could down.

Belize’s normally quiet beaches become alive with revelers during holidays. Photo by Bob Schulman.Their creole tunes eventually morphed into brukdown, and as more band members came on board they changed the group’s name to “Boom and Chime.” They became so popular over the years in Belize and on worldwide tours that Queen Elizabeth honored Peters with an MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire).

A sort of Belizean Bob Marley, Peters – known as Mr. Peters, the King of Brukdown – may be best remembered for his cheery wake-up song “Good Mawnin’ Belize”, once heardat the crack of dawn on radios in homes across the country.

Among his many other chart-toppers, “Run Fu Yu Life”, about Mr. Peters’ narrow escape from a lady’s husband, blew rooms away on the band’s world tours from Belfast to Barcelona.


By Lisa TE Sonne

In the sweaty thick of the summer humidity and heat, I am imagining terrific AC (as in Arctic Circle) and thinking about what jacket to pack for my September cruise! Poseidon Expeditions offers unique trips on a small, luxury, ice-breaking ship that includes gliding past glaciers in the fjords of Greenland and visiting Inuit villages and Icelandic fishing towns. The night sky promises to flirt with the swirling dances of the Northern Lights and to reflect that colorful romance in waters punctuated with iceberg exclamation marks.


As the ice cubes melt in my tumbler of summer tea, I conjure phenomenal northern vistas that are “cool” in multiple ways! How cool is it to be a polar explorer with the modern amenities and cozy comforts!

The m/v Sea Spirit travels with retractable fin stabilizers, an ice class ship with stabilizer fins hull, crew of 72, and a navigational flexibility that separates current day passengers from the discomforts and danger that threatened historic polar explorers. Up to 115 other passengers and I will be onboard to weave between gargantuan icebergs pushed by winds and tides to witness remarkable changing scenery. In Greek mythology, Poseidon is protector of seafarers. In Homer’s works, Poseidon is Master of the Seas. This will be my first adventure with Poseidon Expeditions.


My “Arctic Sights & Northern Lights” voyage will leave the greens of Iceland and head to the whites of Greenland, to explore the largest and longest fjord system in the world. We start in Reykjavik, Iceland’s dynamic capital, and cruise to the West Fjords of Iceland. We’ll visit traditional fishing villages, then head through the Danish Straits and north of the Arctic Circle.

While on land we expect to encounter musk, artic hare, and archeological sites of the Thule (the ancestors of the Eskimo, aka Inuit), and hike toward vistas with peeks 2,000 meters high. We will visit a modern Inuit village called Ittoqqortoormiit, to meet the people and to greet the Greenlandic sledge dogs. I look forward mailing cards from the high latitude post office.


We are also slated to spend five days exploring Scoresby Sund, the largest and longest fjord system in the world. Poseidon Expeditions promotes the destination on its website: “This part of the voyage is a real expedition. Our route and exploration opportunities here are heavily dependent on the weather and sea ice conditions we encounter. Our experienced captain and expedition leader … continually adjust plans as conditions and opportunities warrant.”

Long before Christopher Columbus introduced North America to southern Europeans, the intrepid traders of northern Europe (aka Vikings) were populating Greenland. The seafaring conquerors left enough remains in North America to fuel mysteries and debate.


In the King’s Mirror written circa 1260, a father tells his son, that there are three reasons people go to Greenland—“to win fame, to satisfy curiosity, and to gain wealth.” ** I don’t expect fame, but my curiosity is abundant, and the traveler’s true wealth of experience and tales-to-tell await!

For nearly 18 years, Poseidon Expeditions has focused on the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The company also has a modern nuclear powered icebreaker, the Victory that takes guests straight to the North Pole. The website offers maps, testimonials and packing lists. You can even take a 360 degree, 3D virtual tour of the North Pole:


And now I realize- I don’t even need to pack a jacket! A thick red “expedition one” tailored for the climate and adventure is a part of the package that I can take home. Long past the summer heat here, when Winter chills set in, I can warmly be embraced by the red parka as I embrace the unforgettable memories!

The ice cubes in my glass have now melted in this summer heat, reminding me that, with the rate that polar ice is melting, now is a good time to go!


It’s not too late to get cool---

This itinerary is offered this summer:

For more routes and adventures:

Poseidon Expeditions
U.S. & Canada Phone: +1 347 801-2610



Mailing Address:
245 Waterman Street, Suite 502, Providence, RI 02906

** This quote is from “THE FROZEN ECHO, Greenland and the Exploration of North America, ca. A.D. 1000-1500,” by Kirsten A. Seaver

Author Lisa TE Sonne has explored all 7 continents, is a member of the Explorers Club, and co-founded which offers wonderful “Giving Certificates” as gifts that can let travelers give back to the causes they care about.


By Yvette Cardozo

I’ve just found the world’s fittest athletes...Commercial prawn fishermen.

I don’t know what I expected on the commercial fishing boat Nordic Rand that morning, but a nonstop whirlwind of frenzied activity wasn’t it. Not many outsiders get to follow their food from the bottom of the ocean to their plate. When the invite came, I said, “Absolutely, yes.”          

So at (urg-g-g-h) 5am one May morning, I showed up at the dock on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island and discovered, um, you need to be an athlete just to get aboard. It was several feet down to the top of the railing. One of the guys grabbed a handle, swung out and landed, deftly, in the squeeze of empty space between bins and assorted equipment. For me, the boat pushed off, came around and picked me up at the public dock where all I had to do was swing my leg over the side. Whew.

Breakfast was a huge pan of scrambled eggs strewn with lots of cheese and whatnot along with an entire cookie sheet of bacon. For four guys. I soon learned why they chowed down so heartily.

The Nordic Rand runs half a dozen “long lines” -- sturdy half-mile long ropes, each holding 50 four-foot, disk shaped traps. All these are let out, left for a day, then reeled in and emptied. They do this every day, nonstop, sun up ‘til sundown, for the duration of the season, which this year ran early May through early June.          

We started with a quick lesson on prawns vs. shrimp. They are NOT the same thing, though for the average person, it’s a bit of splitting hairs (or really, claws). Prawns have claws on three of their five pairs of legs, shrimp have claws on two of their five pairs of legs. Prawns are longer and their tails are noticeably larger. As far as eating them goes, they taste and cook the same.

We motored out for about an hour, found the end of the trap line, loaded it onto the spooler and started reeling in the traps. And the fun began: It’s a whirlwind of flying spray and prawns. While Capt. James Simpson on the back deck reloaded the traps with bait, a mash of fish parts and fish food that went into hanging sleeves. Bryar Lang stood at the rail, clipping the coffee table size traps onto the line.          

When that line was loaded and spooled out, it was time to pull another line up. Traps were hauled aboard, emptied into a tray, then passed on to Simpson on the back deck who stacked the traps. By the end, the traps were stacked eight to ten high, waiting to be reloaded and redropped into the ocean. Each trap, loaded with its catch, probably weighed 50 pounds, by the way.

As for the tray, it was covered mostly not in prawns but shells holding hundreds of hermit crabs and assorted sea life. So Lang and his buddies Simon Winterburn and Kyle Plensky were now shoveling shells back into the ocean, along with the occasional fish and, at one point, a basket star bigger than a Frisbee.

Okay, then the rest of the work started. While Simpson on the back deck was reloading bait, the guy at the tray tossed prawns into separate bins by size. Those went into baskets, then into a vat of fresh water with a glazing dip so they would keep their pink color. And then they went into boxes, which were weighed and dropped into a huge freezer below decks which, amazingly, can go down to 55 below zero and flash freezes the catch. Each trap can be emptied once a day and each day they can bring in anywhere from 500 to 1,000 lbs of prawns.

As for the season, Simpson explained that an inspector comes periodically on board to sample the prawns. “If you’re catching only young, small ones, it’s time to close the season. Nobody wants to catch the small ones. There’s no money in it and it’s not good for the stock.”

And the rest of the year? Tuna and halibut in summer, sablefish in winter, Simpson said.

Now it was time to eat.

At my friend Laurie’s house, we had cold prawns and homemade cocktail sauce (ketchup, Worcestershire, horseradish, a splash of lemon juice, a splash of tabasco).

And then to Little Jumbo, a cozy restaurant near Victoria’s waterfront. Chef Gabe Fayerman-Hansen whipped up prawn ceviche over an avocado mousse. The prawns were silky soft and you could actually taste the individual ingredients: the mild, grassy bite of cilantro, the tang of ginger, the garlic, even a hint of the basil, and, of course, the vinegar and lime. Yes, my tongue is almost dripping as I type this.

The entree was prawns tempura. The batter was light and crisp and seasoned just enough for character but not so much as to overpower the sweet ocean taste of prawns that had been swimming that very morning.

During prawn season, Chef Gabe runs prawns at Little Jumbo as a special feature. And this year, he was the chef at the FAS (Finest At Sea) headquarters/retail store cooking prawns and handing them out to the public.

The day I left to fly back to Seattle, I stopped in at the FAS fish counter and loaded up on smoked tuna and salmon “candy,” but not before taking a picture of the display, where you could see signs telling you not only what the fish was but how it was processed and what boat brought it in.


For Americans, it is okay to bring smoked fish (and meat) back into the US.

FAS (Finest At Sea) hosts free BBQs at their office/retail shop in Victoria celebrating the various fishing seasons including prawns, salmon, tuna, halibut, sablefish and more. Then once a month, they have a dinner where one of their fishing boat captains comes to talk about commercial fishing. To close the prawn season in June, Capt. James Simpson described what his boat does and brought one of his traps. The four course dinner that month featured prawns and was $90 Cdn. Reservations for future dinners can be made through the FAS website or calling (250)383-7760.    


Government Street with its pubs, cafes and shops is always a top draw in Victoria. But there’s lots more:

* Abkhazi Teahouse - It was once the home of exiled Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and his wife Peggy. After their deaths, The Land Conservancy of British Columbia purchased the property to save it from becoming a townhouse development. Today, you can stroll the compact garden and enjoy high tea. Everything on the menu is made onsite except for the Devonshire cream. The teas are local from Silk Road Teas and all of the baking, including pastries and gluten free bread (available for sale), is made by pastry chef Gerry Galapon.

* A Taste of Victoria Food Tours - Owner Andy Olson takes folks on a two hour stroll of history and tasty nibbles through the heart of Victoria. It begins at the Victoria Public Market and includes stops throughout Chinatown including Fan Tan Alley, then on to Market Square, Government St., the Inner Harbour Causeway and Parliament Buildings.

Our day included French Oven Bakery for hot, out of the oven breads, Roast Meat for meatballs, The Very Good Butchers for tastes of vegan fare that included a “Roast Beast Sandwich” made with bean based “meats” that to a dedicated carnivore was stunningly good. Then on to Chinatown for a peek at the three-foot-wide Fan Tan Alley, La Roux French Patisserie for sweets, Just Matcha for Japanese green tea, Sult Pierogi Bar for, yes, pierogis and winding up with samples at Rogers Chocolates.

But best was some fascinating tidbits of information. Such as the fact that the famed Empress Hotel is sinking an inch each year. Low windows are now a foot below ground because the place was built on a landfill. But even better, when they ripped off all that ivy (yes, the Boston ivy is gone), they found stashes of jewelry that had been stolen from guest rooms by raccoons.

*The Fickle Fig Farm Market - This is about as “farm to table” as it gets. Chef/farmer/owner Mitchell Morse dreamed of opening a bistro right on a farm. So behind his little cafe in the Victoria suburb of North Saanich are raised beds with salad greens, a little pig pen with three fat pigs, pet bunnies (no, they are NOT on the menu) and around the neighborhood, several acres of leased mini farms.

Morse started out baking breads for sale but one thing led to another and now he is doing light lunches featuring whatever is fresh and seasonal. The day we visited, it was homemade chicken veggie soup, homemade pizza and, of course, homemade bread. He also holds classes which, last June, included pizza making, bread making and a pasta class.

*Victoria Butterfly Gardens - My fav thing here (after the meat eating tropical plant) was the huge ant farm near the entrance where you can watch a determined line of ants marching up and down tree limbs, each clutching a huge bit of leaf, destined for its nest. Then beyond the doors in the well heated (80 degree) tropical forest are the butterflies. Owl butterflies munching on banana slices, tailed jay butterflies perched on neon purple leaves and lots more, along with assorted turtles and two flamingos so startling pink, they make your eyes hurt.


Finest At Sea: 

Little Jumbo:

Abkhazi Teahouse: 

A Taste of Victoria Food Tours:

Fickle Fig Farm:

Victoria Butterfly Gardens:


Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo

No, I had not heard of Bisbee, AZ.

Such a shame. It’s worth the two hour drive south from Tucson.

“You interested in an underground mine tour?” A friend asked.

Cool, dark, historical ... yes, of course.

Which is how we, and our Tucson friends, wound up at Queen Mine, donning battery operated hand lights and hard hats and welcoming a chance to savor 55 degree temps (summer had come early to southern Arizona).

This was one of the most productive copper mines of the 20th Century. Mining stopped in 1975 when the ore gave out and the tours started three years later.

We climbed aboard a “train,” basically long seats pulled by a guide on an “engine” with a motor. Then, some 1500 feet into the mine later, the tour started.

Guide Don showed us chutes where huge boulders filled with ore dropped into cars and told stories about the early mules (“She would only pull four cars. Tried to bribe her with fruit to add the fifth, but she wouldn’t budge.”)

Powered engines eventually let them haul 30 or 40 cars at once.

We stopped to see where dynamite was shoved into holes, saw fuses hanging from the wall, got to sit atop the metal porta potty that looked more like an old fashioned wood burning stove than a, well, you know.

There is a LOT more to Bisbee ... a downtown art district, restored Victorian homes and hotels, and, oh, yes, the stairs. The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a 5k run that climbs the town’s 1,034 (yep, someone counted them) stairs.

Billed as "the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!" by the organizers, the climb includes runners being serenaded by musicians at various locations along the (puff, wheeze) way. Meanwhile, In 2016, Bisbee earned the title of Best Historic Small Town in both Sunset magazine and a USA Today online reader poll.

So we definitely plan to return and spend more time.

After the mine, we took a Jeep tour south to see the open pit mine, antique cars and a brief side trip to photograph the border fence that leads to Mexico. There’s one car that sits in front of the Lowell Police station that says it once belonged to Barney Fife ... the bumbling, wide eyed deputy on the Andy Griffith Show which ran on TV in the early 1960s.

Then it was back to Tucson by way of Tombstone.

Yes, THAT Tombstone ... famous for Sheriff Wyatt Earp, the Gunfight at the OK Corral and now offering a few downtown blocks that have tourist stage coaches, restaurants and souvenir shops. And should you want something cool and wet, there’s Big Nose Kate’s Saloon with stained glass windows and lots of old west character.

My friends knew I wanted to see flowers, so the next day we headed for Tohono Chul in Tucson, a botanical garden that is also a great park.

It’s 49 acres of winding paths, lots and lots of cactus and, in spring (April-ish), lots of cactus flowers. Plus there are tours that cover everything from butterflies to hawks to reptiles.

We caught the reptile talk, where we got to pet (yes, harmless) snakes and learned what NOT to do if a rattler bites you. Basically, forget everything you’ve ever heard ... the cutting, the sucking, the spitting, the tourniquets. Stop, sit down, have someone call for help. And wait (hopefully you are not too far in the bush).

And then, Docent Anita offered to take us around and tell us about the flowers ... yellow prickly pear blooms, purple sage, bright almost orange Mexican sunflowers and a foothills Palo Verde tree in and explosion of glorious yellow.

Our plan the next day was to visit Sabino Canyon but, well, it was Saturday before Easter and the parking lot looked like spring break at Disney World. Instead, we headed up Mt. Lemmon, at 9,159 feet, the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The last two times we had tried this, it was November and, amazingly, we got snowed out.

This time, it was clear blue skies and visibility that went forever.

The boulder formations on the way up are fantastic ... gnarled, twisted lumps and one that looks like a man’s face. Windy Point is where everyone stops to do a short hike, photograph this cool dead tree and just gawk at the landscape.

The road up winds for 27 miles, ending at the town of Summerhaven with some neat restaurants and a nearby ski hill (200 skiable acres, 22 trails, 950 foot vertical drop and a chairlift that operates year round so you can ride it up for views in summer).

We grabbed a bite at Sawmill Run Restaurant ... good food, decent prices, especially considering it’s a tourist spot.

And our last day, it was off to Saguaro National Park. The park is actually split into two ... one part east of Tucson, the other west of town. In the west district, there’s a really nice visitor’s center where, because it was a holiday, entrance to the park was free and we got 15 percent off our purchases (neat T-shirts, mesquite honey, lots more). Then we went to hike.

But temperatures were already hitting the low 90s, weeks ahead of schedule, so we kept to the half mile Desert Discovery Nature Trail. That turned out, actually, to be far more picturesque than the Valley View Overlook Trail we originally planned, and bailed from, after about half an hour because of the heat.

We were about a week early for the peak of cactus blooms but, still, we found plenty to photograph.

And that was it. We’re leaving downtown, the town’s neat restaurants and museums for another trip.



Tohono Chul Park:

Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley:

Mt. Lemmon/ Summerhaven:

Sawmill Run Restaurant:


Cruise lines turn ships into seagoing camps

Story and photos by Bob Schulman


It’s like a summer camp – except all the fun is at sea. The cruise experts at CruiseComplete want you to know that more and more lines are offering special activities for youngsters this summer. Their marketing strategy is to draw whole families to their staterooms by promoting a “camp” experience during the cruise.

Here’s a sampling of activities for the younger set now found on a cross-section of cruise ships:

Camping lures on Princess Cruises include pajama parties, ice cream and pizza bashes, hip-hop dance classes and special teen-only dinners. Also, the line’s larger ships have sprawling Youth Centers with both indoor and outdoor activity areas for youngsters.

Royal Caribbean has lots of fun things to do for children in different age groups from nursery programs for toddlers as young as 6 months to dance parties, parades, ice shows and aqua shows with characters from the Dreamworks animation movies.

Carnival Cruise Lines offers a double-barreled blast (Camp Carnival on some ships and the marine-themed Camp Ocean on the others) of fun-for-everyone. One of Carnival’s biggies is Night Owls where kids 11 and younger can gather between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. to play video and board games, watch movies and nosh on snacks. Many other age-appropriate activities are offered to younger children.

Are your little ones wannabe chefs? If so, check out Holland America’s Culinary Arts Centers where kids can learn to whip up meals in special workshops. Another popular on-board attraction is Club HAL, which offers activities ranging from ice cream and storytelling parties to pirate treasure hunts.


MSC Cruises touts four clubs for youngsters: a Mini Club for tots 3 to 6, a Junior’s Club for the 7 to 11 age group, a Young Club for kids 12 to 14 and a Teen’s Club for cruisers 15 to 17.  Among various age-focused activities are sports tournaments, talent and dance contests, arts and crafts classes and a high-tech “Virtual World Arcade.”

You’d expect that Disney Cruise Line would be loaded with things your little ones will talk about for years, and it is. Their ships are like immense bow-to-stern camps, starting with It’s a Small World Nursery on some ships for tots 6 months to 3 years old. Then there’s Disney’s Oceaneer Club featuring Andy’s Room (with larger-than-life characters from the animated film Toy Story) and Pixie Hollow (inspired by the series of Tinkerbell movies).

Additionally available on the Disney Fantasy are Monsters Academy (based on the animated film Monsters, Inc.) and Explorer Pod (a scaled down submarine look-alike from the film Finding Nemo). And on the Disney Dream youngsters can additionally frolic in a section called Star Wars: Millennium Falcon (an intergalactic play area) and in the Disney Infinity Game Room (a high-tech play area).

Featured on the Disney Magic are MARVEL’S Avengers Academy (a simulated top-secret command post) and the Mickey Mouse Club (where kids can play games on tables shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ears and on a wall featuring Goofy Ears).

You can get more info on seagoing camps and other family draws offered by these lines and dozens of others on CruiseComplete’s website (

Off-beat trips await adventurous tourists

By Bob Schulman

Take notes, adventurers. Here are four way-off-the-beaten-track places around the world just waiting for you to explore, take part in the local action and soak up sights straight out of the most exotic travel brochures.

A big one that didn’t get away. Photo credit: Frontiers International Travel.

Let’s start off with a trip to a plush fishing camp you wouldn’t expect to find in the remote Russian wilderness way up above the Arctic Circle. There, you can hook biggies from a jet boat on the salmon-packed Ponoi River before heading back to your private cabin in the Ryabaga Camp for some gourmet chow and fine wine. Getting there: Take a commercial flight to Helsinki, Finland, then a charter hop to Murmansk, Russia, then a two-hour helicoper flight to the camp.

The seven-night trip is priced at $7,490 to $15,490 per person (depending on your travel dates) plus $1,250 for the round-trip charter flights. For more info check out the website of Frontiers International Travels at

Wildlife in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. Photo credit: Adventure Life.

If fishing doesn’t turn you on, how about hiking and camping in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains? While you’re moseying around the range’s 12,000-foot-high peaks chances are you’ll run into animals like gelada baboons, walia ibex and now and then an Ethiopian wolf. Hikes start and end at the Simien Mountain Lodge, set on the edge of an escarpment 10,700 feet above sea level.

Getting there: First fly commercially to Ethiopia’s capital at Addis Ababa, then fly on to Gondar. The seven-day Ethiopian tours (including four days of hiking and camping) begin this Oct. 6, Nov. 3 and Dec. 1. Prices start at $2,760 per person plus $500 for the internal air hops to Gondar and back. More info: Adventure Life,

City slickers on the range. Photo credit: Red Reflet Ranch.

Git along, little doggies... Another popular tour samples America’s old west – complete with horseback riding, taking part in cattle drives and other cowboyish activities. All this and a lot more is waiting for you at Wyoming’s Red Reflet Ranch, a combined working cattle ranch and luxury resort near the dot-on-the-map of Ten Sleep in the Big Horn Mountains. Spread over 27,000 acres, the resort features large, private chalets equipped with Wi-Fi, satellite television, a hot tub and steam showers.

Getting there: Pick-up and return to the airport at the small town of Worland, Wyo., are complimentary. Charges apply to ground transport services to and from the ranch by way of larger airports in Wyoming and Montana. Summer rates (through Sept. 10) range from $2,163 per person for a three-night stay to $4,900 per person for seven nights. More info (including specials and fall and winter rates):

Northern Lights in Alaska. Photo credit: Gondwana Ecotours.

Finally, you can zip up to Fairbanks, Alaska, for some dogsledding through snowy forests, hiking alongside a family of reindeer and topping off the day by soaking in geothermal hot springs. At night you can check out the jaw-dropping Northern Lights (aka the Aurora Borealis)  accompanied by a professional photographer (who’ll help you get the perfect shot of that amazing sight).

This year’s departures for the six-night Northern Lights tour are set for Sept. 23, Oct. 21, Nov. 10, Dec. 2 and Dec. 28. The price is $2,345 per person. More info: See the website of Gondwana Ecotours:

Pricing notes: The per-person tab for these four and other adventure tours is typically based on double occupancy and doesn’t include your flights to and from the destination’s local airport (such as your jet hops from the U.S. to Helsinki and back).

Edible, Incredible Kauai

By Carole Jacobs

Glass Beach-Photos courtesy of Visit Mendocino CountySun-kissed strands, azure seas, emerald cliffs crashing to thundering surf –there are more reasons to visit Kauai than there are shells on the beach.

But before I visited last month, I never knew one of them was its hip and happening food and agriculture.

Today, instead of spending all your time stand-up paddling or building a Baywatch tan, you can join a food tour and visit fascinating specialty farms where they grow everything from chocolate and vanilla to organic veggies, frits, spices, nuts, coconut, palm, taro and medicinal plants, spices and herbs.

In between tours, you’ll dive into the freshest food you’ve ever tasted at a slew of new restaurants, cafes and food stands showcasing the island’s edible bounty.

You could visit some of the farms on your own -- Kauai is only 33 miles long and 25 miles wide and encompasses just 552 square miles – just a little smaller than Houston. But many of the farms are tucked in the hills and mountains beyond a maze of unmarked dirt roads, cell phone service can be sketchy and hey, you could get stranded. 

Glass Beach - credit Trish MorattoA far more fun, safe and efficient way to see the best farms and restaurants in Kauai is to take a food tour with Tasting Kauai Food Tours ( Owners Marta Lane, a freelance food writer and author of Tasting Kauai Restaurants; An Insider’s Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island, and her husband, Daniel Lane, a leading freelance food photographer, know everyone associated with food, restaurants, farming and growing on the island and will introduce you to people and places you’d never find on your own.

The calorie onslaught begins

We were six hungry women on a mission: to eat anything and everything Kauai put in our path. Our first stop was the luxurious Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, a clifftop resort overlooking the ocean and mountains on Kauai’s wet, lush North Shore, where we’d spend three nights. Each bungalow had a balcony, kitchen and laundry room – perfect for folks who didn’t want to blow their whole budget on eating out and planned on getting down-and-dirty. The resort also had a beautiful n indoor/outdoor restaurant, café, fitness center, spa, lawns with pavilions where you could gaze over the sea, and a large pool complex. I saw a snarky-looking, overgrown trail snaking down to a long, silky beach but was later advised it was dangerous and to take the free shuttle instead.

Over by one of the pools, savory-smelling smoke was spiraling from several BBQs and a table was set in linens for an elegant starlight dinner.

Marta and Daniel were there, as were a few of the local farmers, and as we dug into a feast of barbecued fish, chicken, pork and beef, scrumptious salads and homemade bread, they told us our basic schedule for the following week. We’d visit several of North Shore Kauai’s top farms, growers, restaurants, food stands, bakeries and nature preserves, with free time for outdoor recreation like kayaking, surfing and hiking – to ensure we didn’t go home looking like bowling balls.

An intro to what grows in Hawaii

The next morning we rose early, polished off the hotel’s elegant breakfast buffet (a mistake I wouldn’t make again given the sheer volume of food we were fed)  and vanned to Limahuli National Tropical Botanical & Preserve, tucked at the foot of mossy, Xanadu-like peaks.

Mendocino VillageOur trail spiraled up past archeological ruins and a hale (a traditional Hawaiian thatched-roof hut), and over kissing bridges past “canoe gardens” -- plants that floated in  on the long-distance voyaging  canoes of the ancient Polynesians and took root here.

We tiptoed carefully around a garden of endangered plants and passed many familiar (and some unfamiliar faces), including sweet potatoes, bananas, coconuts, turmeric, sugar cane, palm, mangos, ginseng, breadfruit and the almighty kava, an ancient medicinal plant that the ancients (and many moderns) chew or sip to reduce pain and stress.

The Zen of poi

Then it was off to a picnic table lunch at Hanalei Taro & Juice Company, located in the charmingly historic town of Hanalei, and run by a sixth-generation Kauai family who also ran a 30-acre taro farm down the road.

Noyo HarbourThe patio was packed with locals busy wolfing down pulled pork, chicken, salmon or lamb, and they all seemed to have a runny-looking clump of something mysterious on their plates. It was poi, a traditional part of native Hawaiian cuisine made by baking or steaming the corm of the taro plant until it became a highly viscous fluid. It looked revolting – like a cement-colored mixture of glutinous gravy and glue, and I wondered if I had the moral fiber to taste it.

When my Kalua Pig Plate arrived, there it was right alongside my pulled pork and rice. I poked it with my fork, took a tiny taste – bleh! -- and immediately spit it out. Poi was obviously an acquired taste.

As I was polishing off my pork and lump of plain, unadorned rice, the food truck owners, Brad and Lyndsey, sat down next to us to announce we’d be vanning to their taro farm tour immediately after lunch. (Damn! And I’d been planning to sneak down the street for a burrito!)

Noyo HarbourLyndsey chattered on, explaining that because of its high protein content, they tried to slip poi into every dish they sold --taro smoothies, hummus, burgers, taro mac salad and kululo, a traditional dessert made with taro and coconut. I took a nibble of the cake but the glutinous texture was still there. Before getting up, she said her entire family ate poi daily, that a batch could be kept for several days, and that poi became tarter with each passing day, a flavor many Hawaiians preferred over the fresh stuff.

Totas las tapas

Back at the resort, I did some Pilates to calm myself (was all the food going to be like this?) and then got ready for our “just the girls” dinner at Restaurant Bar Acuda. The minute we walked in, I had my answer. Nearly every seat was taken in the swank, candle-lit tapas bar. The eatery is run by Chef Jim Moffat, named by Food & Wine magazine in 1996 as one of America’s best new chefs.

We ogled the menu and every tapa sounded so tempting we decided to order them all to share. From the  Hawaiian Mahi-Mahi with roasted mushrooms and brown butter/ginger vinaigrette to the Grilled Lamb Riblettes with roasted cherry tomatoes, curry oil and French feta cheese, each one was a surprising and delightful burst of flavor and texture.

We peeked at the dessert menu reluctantly--could we afford to eat dessert on a tour that already threatened to turn us into beached whales? “What the hell, let’s go for it!” said one of my comrades, so we ordered all the desserts as well. I tried not to hog the Chocolate Pot de Crème and the Triple Chocolate Cheese Cake, but it was a challenge.

Paradise on earth

“I’m never going to eat again!” wailed one of the women in our group. But the next night, after a day of sea kayaking and snorkeling found the six of at Waipa Foundation facing an elegant al fresco “farm dinner” which bore no semblance to any farm dinner I’ve ever had.

Noyo HarbourThe fish was utterly fresh and fork-tender, the potatoes were buttery fragrant and the green beans and salad tasted like they had just been plucked from the garden. Which, in fact, they had.

Not a restaurant per se, the 1,600- acre Waipa Foundation is a drop-dead-gorgeous community center with its own organic farm, orchard and mountain preserve. Green fields rolled up to even greener mountains, there were lots of farm animals to visit, and every Thursday, locals and tourists come for its Tuesday (farmers) Market.

The secret garden

By Friday we were all ready for a palate cleanser, and to our luck, it came in the form of The Kauai Farmacy, a lush, 4-acre farm/medicinal garden set in the shadow of a sacred mountain.

It’s owned by Doug and Genna Wolkon, who ditched their corporate jobs in Connecticut (Genna remains an artist) and moved to the farm in 2007 after the birth of the first of their three children. Stressed out, burned out and overweight, they sensed there had to be a healthier and happier way to live and found the island in general and the farm in particular, which rolls up to a sacred mountain, has empowered them with the ability to self-heal.  

Since then, the couple and their staff of gardeners have  taught themselves how to hand-harvest their crops, cure plants with solar dehydrators, and chop and blend everything into tea, culinary spices, superfood elixir powders, salves, and hydrosol sprays.

As we chatted, it became clear that Doug and Genna didn’t view plants and herbs as mere food or a source of income, but as sentient beings worthy of respect. They and their staff not only talk to the plants daily but and ask them for permission before harvesting them.

And in fact, the gardens did seem special – as if they were lit from within. Everything from the lettuce and spinach to the cinnamon and catnip looked more colorful, vibrant and was much larger than any produce I’d encountered at my local Vons.

Today, the farm produces a line of medicinal herbs, loose-leaf teas, herbal tea powders, healing salves and seasonal hydrosol sprays sold at the farm, in local shops and at their stand at th3 Saturday Anaina Hou Farmers Market in Kilauea.

The dry side of Kauai

From the farm, we drove south clear across the island to Poipu Beach on the South Shore. Were we still on Kauai? The air was dry, the sky was cloudless, palm trees swayed in the breeze and the vistas were endless -- it was as if someone had flipped a switch and we had landed in SoCal.

Our home for the next two night was the Sheraton Kauai Resort, a luxury high-rise located a few yards steps from the sea and a long silky beach.

From my eighth floor balcony, I could see whitecaps toss and roll across a vast expanse of sea before thundering into the rocky coves below and explode in spray.

That night, we enjoyed another memorable meal at the hotel’s oceanfront RumFire Restaurant, feasting on seared Wasabi Pea-Crusted Ahi Tuna, Boneless Short Ribs on Yukon Mashed Potatoes and creative sides like Fried Brussel sprouts, Coconut Lemongrass Soup and Bacon and Beets Salad.

Per our custom, we ordered all of the desserts to share, and I waited eagerly for the Brûléed Cheesecake and the Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte to makes it way around the table to me again. 

Where the chocolate and vanilla grow

On our final day, we followed a maze of dirt roads into the hills to the 8-acre Steelgrass Chocolate Farm, owned by the Lydgate family since 1867. Our lively guide led us down a short, steep path, pointing out orchids, vanilla and peppercorn vines and dozens of plants I’d never heard of before stopping at a picnic table covered with samples. We started with the chocolate pod. Its lush seeds were covered in a sweet, but it was no match for a Hershey’s Kiss. Then she passed around some of the strangest-looking fruits I’d ever seen. Some of them actually looked like alien from outer space when in fact they only grow here.

Mendocino OverviewIt was another short walk to a shaded tasting tent where we sat down to sample 10 different types of chocolate and attempted to match them up with 10 countries listed on a sheet.

I was astonished that chocolate could taste so different – from mouth-puckering sweet to nutty, fruity, bitter, sawdust-y and even like they’d be rolled in the dirt.

The last supper

We donned our best duds for the plantation-style Merriman’s Fish House, located in a ritzy outdoor shopping mall near the hotel and overseen by Peter Merriman, a pioneer in the “farm-to-table” movement.

Elegant, modern, airy and sun-filled, it turned out to be my favorite restaurant of the trip, not just because of the incredible food and views but because the restaurant completely eliminated the agony factor of ordering.

Mendocino VillageAs my husband has often observed, I have a hard time deciding what to get and a special knack for ordering the wrong thing, spending the rest of the meal coveting my neighbors’ plates. Merriman lets customers order two half-portions of everything – from appetizers, salads and entrees to desserts, which doubled my chances of actually ending up with a meal I loved.

As usual, I told the waiter to take my order last, inspected the menu with x-ray vision and chose what I sensed would be some sure-fire winners. For appetizers, I order a Kona Lobster and Crab Cake, and the Sautéed Kauai Shrimp; for salads, Peter’s Original Caesar, and Warm Cheese, Arugula, Onion and Strawberries and for my entrees and sides, chose the Macadamia Nut Crusted Kampachi and Wok-Charred Ahi with Green Beans and Roasted Eggplant, and Sweet Corn–Jalapeño Whipped Potatoes. Per our custom, we’d order all the desserts and pass them around.

It was still a lot of food, and while I was hardly able to clean my plate, I finally winded up with a meal where I loved everything.

As the waiter served us coffee (“You can have an entire decaf cappuccino,” he teased me). I gazed out the large windows overlooking the breathtaking plantation and suddenly everything seemed all right with the world -- although it would probably take me a month to get back into my skinny jeans.


Story by Anne Z. Cooke, Photography by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

Auntie Lydia, with the Tourism Office, wears the traditional flower “ei,” first cousin to a Hawaiian lei.It was a quiet afternoon in 1982 in Avarua, Rarotonga, when Lydia Nga got the news.

With the stroke of a pen, her homeland, the Cook Islands, 15 scattered islets and atolls west of Tahiti, grew exponentially, remade as a 690,000 square-mile nation.

But it wasn’t the islands that grew.  Instead, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruled that countries with coastlines had rights to 200 miles of adjacent ocean, defined as “an exclusive economic zone.” For an archipelago country like the Cooks, the new land-plus-water footprint was a Cinderella promise.   

Fast forward thirty-five years to 2016 and our first visit to Rarotonga, the main island, lured by the thought of blue lagoons, warm breezes and fewer annual tourists than Florida’s Disneyworld gets in two days.

“And how about that economic zone, the one the guidebook described?” asked my husband. Had success spoiled Rarotonga’s Polynesian charms?

Not really, according to my friend Kathy, who stays up on these things. “The last time we looked, the Cooks were like Hawaii in the 1960s, 50 years behind everybody else,” she said. (I knew what she was thinking: If it doesn’t have a spa, it isn’t luxury.) “Ask around, see what people say and let me know,” she added.  

As our overnight flight from Los Angeles descended over a clutch of green volcanic peaks, my first hasty view -- the lagoon, its sandy shoreline, scattered roofs and rows of palms -- was reassuring. I figured we’d start the day with a stroll on the beach, a swim in the lagoon and maybe even a snorkel trip into deeper water, where the coral clumps into mounds.   

But Nga, my email contact in the tourist office, now senior enough to be known as Auntie Lydia, had a request.

“Please stop in at the Marae Moana office to meet Ocean Specialist Kevin Iro,” she’d said. ”He’s the one who can explain what our Marine Park conservation project is all about.”  

Calm and as clear as glass, Aitutaki Lagoon is the stuff of dreams; On Aitutaki Island, Cook Islands.

“Marae Moana means ocean domaine,” said Iro, a trim figure in sport shorts, ushering us and a half-dozen high school kids into a cramped room outfitted with rows of desks, a large TV screen for presentations and a half-dozen glowing photos of tropical fish and coral. 

“It’s a mind-set, an idea, a shift in the way we see ourselves,” he said, clicking through a series of charts on the screen. “We aren’t just people from different islands,” but citizens of a single marine nation, he said. As conservators of vast, still untapped resources, it was time for a government-appointed task force to conduct a detailed survey of every fold and ripple under those 690,000 undersea miles.

Brunch, lunch or a swim, life is easy at Aitutaki Lagoon Resort; Aitutaki Island, Cook Islands.It was also time for lunch, so we headed to one of Rarotonga’s many ocean-side cafés, for a fresh-grilled fish sandwich served picnic-table style. And so began our education.

When our table mates were locals grabbing lunch, we learned about the Cooks’ historic connection with New Zealand, where almost everyone has relatives and yearly visits are the norm. College-bound students head to New Zealand or Australia. 

At the Moorings Café we learned that New Zealand’s Maoris originally came from Rarotonga.  Facing a dispute with a rival clan, they loaded up their ocean-going canoes – vakas – and pushed off for a new island – New Zealand. And sea slugs? Local folks eat them raw, a kind of quick snack.

At Charlie’s Café, I was thrilled to be sitting with people speaking Cook Island Maori, one of a few Polynesian languages still in common use. A required subject in school, it lives on despite colonial rule, a minor role in World War II, tourism and even cell phones.

Curious about the rest of Rarotonga, we rented bikes for a 20-mile jaunt on the “outer” circle-island road, “a good way to get your bearings,” according to my guidebook.  We could have rushed – the road is paved -- but it was more fun to stop at vista points, look for craft shops and wave at passing motorcyclists: everybody from teens to moms with kids and men with fishing rods.   

It was so interesting that we signed up for a guided mountain bike ride on the 1000-year-old inland road, the “ara metua,”with Dave and Tami Furnell, owners of Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours. A sometimes-paved, mostly grassy, gravelly track, the road circles the island at the base of the volcanoes.

A moment in time - repeated daily – awaits visitors to Aitutaki Lagoon Resort; Aitutaki Island, Cook Islands.Winding between forests and farm fields, it became obvious why restaurant food is so fresh: it’s grown locally. Patches of taro (the edible leaf variety) were interspersed with salad greens and tomatoes, pumpkins and red peppers, onions and bananas, pineapple and orchards, and orchards with limes, oranges, papaya, mangoes, star fruit, passion fruit and noni. 

Stopping beside the nonis, mostly grown for export as a health tonic, Tami pulled off a couple of mushy, smelly fruits and explained that they were a perfect mosquito repellent. Breaking them into pieces – and to a chorus of laughs and “yuck, icky, sticky” – she dared us to rub them over our necks, arms and legs.

Since no Cook Island is complete without a couple days on neighboring Aitutaki (eye-too-TOCK-kee), world-famous for its lagoon, we hopped over, checked into an over-water cabin at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort and booked a lagoon cruise with Tere (pronounced “Terry”), owner of Te King Lagoon Cruises.

With 12 of us from three countries packed into Tere’s outboard motor boat, he sped south across the lagoon, rounded a couple of motus (islets), edged past coral gardens and stopped here and there to snorkel. After a morning in the heart of one of these natural aquariums -- vast, shimmering, blindingly turquoise lakes held together by an encircling coral reef – I couldn’t help but marvel.   

Protected from wind and waves but continuously refreshed by ocean spill-over, the lagoon’s unique ecosystem nurtures not just birds, fish, crabs, clams, mollusks, coral and every other marine organism, but the seafaring people who washed up on their shores. 

Taking a break on board as Te King Lagoon Cruises owner Tere steers for Honeymoon Island; Cruising Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands.While we took it in, in awe, Tere peppered us with Maori legends, celebrity anecdotes and marine biology. After a stop at One Foot Island – where “been there, loved it” passport stamps are issued to all comers – and a grilled chicken picnic -- we headed back.  

On our last evening, we ate out at the famous Plantation House, the colonial home of former restaurant owner and botanical gardener Louis Enoka. Dinner here, prepared by Chef Minar Henderson for 20 to 26 guests, is served twice a month only, at a single long table. Offering a cornucopia of island-grown ingredients, it guarantees an evening with forward-looking islanders for whom ancient culture and 21rst century science go hand-in-hand. 

Finding an empty chair I was amazed to find I was sitting next to the Prime Minister, Henry Puna, who studied law in New Zealand and Australia before turning to politics. Delving into dishes guaranteed to encourage conversation – everything from prawns with lemongrass to coconut-flavored rice and couscous with kaffir lime – we talked about pearl farming on Manihiki, the search for rare-earth minerals and the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which Trump has abandoned).

He reminisced about hosting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he described as delightful, intelligent and informed.  But it was the pan-seared mahi mahi with ginger and garlic that turned the conversation to global warming and warmer ocean water.     

“Your president doesn’t believe in clean energy,” he said, noting that melting ice means rising sea levels, threatening Aitutaki and other atolls. “Yes, we’re worried,” said Puna, “but we’re doing our part. Right now 50 percent of the islands’ electric power comes from solar installations. By 2020 the Cook Islands will be 100 percent solar.”

If only the rest of us could say that.       


A quiet moment at Charlie’s Café, with grilled fish sandwich on order; Rarotonga, Cook Islands.WEATHER: June through September, when it’s warm and dry., are the best months on the Cook Islands.  December through March is the rainy season, when the weather hotter and more humid. Shoulder months – April, May October and November – are variable.   

GETTING AROUND: You may not need to rent a car. Most activities, cafes and beaches are close enough to go by bicycle. For longer explorations, check out outfitters like Tik e-tours ( and Storytellers Eco Cycle Tours  

FLIGHTS: Limited flights are the biggest obstacle to traveling to the South Pacific. Air New Zealand operates the only non-stop flight from the U.S. to Rarotonga, a nine-to-ten-hour flight on new Boeing 777s, with economy, business and premium business seats (including spiffy flat-bed seats). Roundtrip rates vary by season and availability but run from promotional rates starting at $854 to $1654.

COOK ISLANDS TOURISM: At In include a dinner reservation at the Plantation House go to .

LODGING:  Dozens of small hotels and family-run inns offer friendly, affordable lodging posted online and listed on Cook Islands tourism sites.  Hotels include two four-star Pacific Resorts properties, with rustic, thatched cottages and tropical landscaping on Rarotonga and on Aitutaki; amenities include beach, restaurant, bar and swimming pool. Some units have a kitchenette. Book early; Pacific Resorts are a favorite with return travelers. The Aitutaki property has additional rooms in a multi-story hotel building. At

Lodging at the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort, the only resort on a private motu, ranges from modest self-catering cabins to spacious and attractively furnished cottages. Ten semi-over-water bungalows have outside decks, steps into the lagoon, outdoor showers, large bathrooms with double sinks and a kitchenette counter. The main lodge has a restaurant and adjacent pool; seclusion and lagoon access are its outstanding features. Very popular for family vacations.

Rarotonga’s five-star properties offer seclusion, beachfront access, pools and spas. Look for Rumours Luxury Villas & Spa; Te Manava Luxury Villas & Spa; and Nautilus Resort, all on Muri Beach, on Rarotonga’s southeast coast. 

Follow veteran traveler Anne Z. Cooke on Facebook at “Anne Z. Cooke” and on Twitter at @anneontheroad.

(@)The Syndicator 2017


Ginger Dingus

When was the last time you saw a giraffe while you were sipping wine on your deck? We're not talking about flying off to Africa. We're talking about taking a drive to northern California's wine country.

Squawk, warble, honk, chirp, whistle, tweet. Who knew birds could make so many sounds?

Throughout the warm spring night, the avian chatter alternately rose and fell. Occasionally, I heard a piercing screech. I’m certain it wasn’t that super cute, week-old giraffe seen earlier romping close to its mom. Perhaps it was the lemur I spotted as it clambered around the tree branches. It might have been the cheetah, or a monkey, or any one of the wild critters in the surrounding hills.

Strange nocturnal noises are part of the allure of a northern California getaway to Safari West, a.k.a. Sonoma’s Serengeti. A major draw is sleeping under canvas in a genuine African safari tent, wondering which of the 900 resident African animals and birds are creating the ruckus. There’s also the thrill of riding around the 400-acre wildlife preserve in an open air jeep and looking Cape buffalo, wildebeests, rhinos, ostriches and multiple species of antelope in the eye. Imagine all this on a short car trip. No long flights to southern Africa needed.

Located in California’s prime winery region of Sonoma County, Safari West is an easy to reach—not to mention unique—overnight break from anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The ranch is the dream of Peter and Nancy Lang. Since opening in 1993, its wildlife population has grown, thanks in part to countless newly born arrivals. The tent cabins have increased as well and now number 31. Each accommodates a couple for a romantic celebration or a family on an adventure-packed vacation.

This is glamping, not roughing-it camping. Each spacious tent is set on a raised wooden platform. An outdoor deck comes in handy for savoring evening cocktails accompanied by views of giraffes and pink flamingos. Step through the tent’s solid wood front door onto the bedroom’s polished hardwood floor. Together with the cushy bed or beds, the furnishings consist of hand-hewn wooden tables and canvas chairs. Shelves showcase African pottery and carvings, such as a zebra or tribal mask.

All the little details make a big difference. In our tent, the leopard skin design on the throw rug matched the pattern on two umbrellas hanging from a tree limb rack. Creature comforts included a ceiling fan, space heater and electric blanket on the king-size bed. Screened windows could be easily opened or closed via a canvas flap attached to the tent with Velcro. A door at the rear led to a roomy, modern bathroom with ceramic tile flooring. Ample hot water flowed from the rainhead shower. Grass baskets held fluffy towels and toiletries. The only things missing were robes and slippers. Tip: bring yours from home.

Once you check out your tent, you’re free to wander. Pathways lead past fenced areas where such African species as ostrich, giraffe (everyone loves them), eland, impala and onyx roam. Bright pink flamingos gather around ponds near the Savannah Café.

At the Savannah Café, a barbeque buffet takes place each evening. Only overnight guests are invited to enjoy dinner, and reservations are essential. Our dinner began with a platter of appetizers—cheeses, crackers, nuts and olives. A delicious tomato bisque followed. The buffet featured a tossed green salad, beef brisket, chicken, mac and cheese (remember it’s a family place), mixed veggies and polenta. Being the heart of wine country, a selection of California wine and local craft beer is available from the bar. You can, if you desire, drive off the preserve to a nearby restaurant. But why interrupt the African safari ambiance? It’s not every evening strolling to dinner includes guinea fowl scuttling about your feet.

After savoring dinner and a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay, we returned to our tent to snuggle up in the cozy bed. An exciting safari drive, a highlight of our visit, was planned just after breakfast.

Back at the Savannah Café the next morning, breakfast was laid out buffet-style. We helped ourselves to scrambled eggs, cereals, oatmeal, yogurt, pastries, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee and tea.

At 10:00 a.m., guests gathered for the not-to-be-missed three-hour tour of the expansive wildlife preserve. We were divided into groups of about eight—adults-only and families with kids. Tours are available at scheduled times throughout the day for overnight guests as well as visitors who book in advance.

Richard Horgan, our guide, began with a brief history of Safari West, its owners and the all-important animals. Next on the agenda was a guided walk through the aviary where brilliantly hued scarlet ibis nested in the treetops and tended to hungry chicks. One curious bird, a female demoiselle crane raised by humans, seemed particularly partial to the men in our group. She tagged along and did a two-step dance when the mood struck her. Richard explained that human intervention only happens when necessary. Clearly, the human touch had altered this crane’s behavior.

As we were about to leave the aviary, our attention was directed to two foot-tall antelopes. The tiny dik-diks peered out from under a shrub, reminding me that, as in Africa, animals can be lurking anywhere. It pays to keep your eyes wide open.

We moved on to enclosures separately housing cheetahs, serval cats, monkeys and lemurs. There seemed to be no end to the variety of wildlife at Safari West.

The best was yet to come. After about an hour admiring critters, we climbed aboard a reconfigured army jeep from the 1940s. A couple celebrating their anniversary claimed the rooftop seat, braving the cold and fog in exchange for a giraffe’s eye view of the savannah.

The giraffes were the first of many stops over the two-hour safari drive. Though we were instructed not to touch, the giraffes had no problem leaning into the vehicle for close-up looks at us. We kept our distance from a pair of white rhinos as well as the Cape buffalo. Numbering around 40, this group of Cape buffalo is the largest in North America, according to Richard. He noted Safari West is about conservation and breeding of endangered species. Theirs is a success story confirmed by many young animals and recently hatched birds.

Rolling over hill and dale, our list of wildlife sightings kept growing. We added zebras, lechwes, gazelles and kudus, to name a few. What’s not here? Big cats and elephants.

By the end of the tour, I was ready to do it all over again. Luckily, with the Sonoma Serengeti practically in my backyard, going on an amazing safari is as easy as packing my duffle bag and jumping in the car.

The Nitty Gritty:

Safari West is located at 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404, or roughly an hour’s drive north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Rates for safari tents are seasonal and range from $260-425 per night, double occupancy. Three-hour safari tours are extra.

For details and reservations, check Call 800-616-2695 or 707-566-3667.

Deluxe train runs across Africa

By Bob Schulman

Train ride across Africa takes 15 days.

You don’t get too many chances to buy a “I (heart) Matjiesfontein” tee-shirt. Nor one proclaiming your affection for Madikwe. Or your ardor for Chisimba.

What’s billed as the world’s most luxurious train stops at these and other tongue-twisting spots on a 3,000-mile trip across southeast Africa this summer. It starts at Cape Town, South Africa, and 15 days later ends up on in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and the ninth fastest growing metropolis in the world.

Cars are decked out in Edwardian splendor.

Operated by Rovos Rail, the train – called “The Pride of Africa” – gives its passengers a taste of the romance of a bygone era as it clickety-clacks across South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania. The trip is marketed by Gibsonia, Pa.-based Frontiers International Travel.

Along the way, passengers riding in the train’s posh, wood-paneled coaches  enjoy fine cuisine in five-star luxury when not dickering for diamonds in Kimberley, moseying around the Madikwe Game Reserve, oohing and aahing at the breathtaking splendor of Victoria Falls, crossing the mighty Zambezi River, taking a bush walk at Chisimba Falls, zipping across the tunnels, switchbacks and viaducts of the spectacular escarpment on the descent into the Great Rift Valley and traversing the Selous Game Reserve (the largest reserve on the continent).

Passengers get spectacular views of waterfalls.

You wouldn’t expect an adventure like this would come cheap, and it doesn’t. The tab for a deluxe suite starts at $16,500 per person, based on double occupancy. Trip dates this year are July 1-15 (for Cape Town to Dar es Salaam) and July 18- Aug.1 for Dar es Salaam to Cape Town. You can get more information by visiting Frontiers International Travel’s website or by calling the company at 800-245-1950 or 724-935-1577.

Founded in 1969, Frontiers caters to discerning travelers and specializes in worldwide fly fishing and shooting destinations, photographic safaris and posh, customized tours called Elegant Journeys. The company has a staff of over 50 travel experts in its Pennsylvania headquarters and at a branch office in the United Kingdom.


Photos courtesy of Rovos Rail.

Huatulco: Tales of a feathered serpent, a giant cross and a peeved pirate

By Bob Schulman

Some of the nine bays of Huatulco. Photo courtesy of the Mexico Tourism Board.

Imagine a 20-mile-long strip of nine gorgeous bays dotted by 75 hotels – everything from luxury villas to small economy inns – along Mexico’s southwestern coast. It’s called Huatulco (wha-TOOL-koh), and it was built from scratch by the Mexican government 30 years ago. But chances are you never heard of it.

Unlike the feds’ other projects at booming spots like Cancun, Huatulco (about 250 miles down the coast from Acapulco) caters to a laid-back clientele. True, it has its share of nightclubs, restaurants and discos, but tourists mainly go there for rest and relaxation. It also has some nearby old-world villages worth exploring. And for history buffs, lots of legends.

One tale goes back thousands of years, when Mexico's top god was a feathered serpent called Quetzalcoatl. He was a good god, the story says, and was beloved by his people. But he was too good (for instance, he hardly ever required human sacrifices), so his less liberal priests conspired to get rid of him. One day, they tricked him into doing something that today would be described as, er, inappropriate.

.Tile rendering of Quetzalcoatl at a resort hotel. Photo by Bob Schulman.

After that, he left town and traveled far away across the eastern sea to repent. According to the legend, he told his people he'd eventually come back, and to look for a bearded stranger with fair skin.

Years later, around the time of Christ – and here's where another legen kicks in – Quetzalcoatl showed up on a beach near what’s now Huatulco. The story goes on to say he appeared in the form of “an elderly white man with long hair and a beard” and carried an immense wooden cross.

He planted the cross in the sand (another version of the legend says it was the Apostle Thomas who showed up and planted the cross), prayed for a few days and then left.

Could this be the spot where the great cross once stood? Photo by Dawna Robertson.

Since it was brought by a god, the local folks figured the cross must be a holy object and prayed to it for good fortune. Over time, the site became known as Quauhtolco, roughly meaning “the place where wood is worshipped.” When the conquistadores arrived there in the 1520s, the site's name became Huatulco in Spanish.

By the 1540s, Huatulco had been turned into a port for Spanish shipments of silver coming up the coast from the rich veins of Peru. And where there's loot, there's pirates – and still another legend.

As the story goes, when he wasn't off pillaging, the notorious buccaneer Thomas Cavendish had a very religious side. And he was irked by the still-standing cross on the beach because it was said to have been planted there by a pagan god.

Visitors to Huatulco enjoy uncrowded beaches. Photo by Dawna Robertson.

He tried to burn it, but it wouldn't burn. So his men tried to chop it up with knives and saws, but they barely made a dent. He tried to dig it up, but it was planted too deep. Then he lashed it to his ship with long ropes, raised the sails and tried to pull it loose. That didn't work either. Defeated, Cavendish settled for burning down a nearby town, then sailed away.

Concerned that others might try to destroy the cross, the regional bishop later moved it (perhaps with a little divine help, since the story doesn't explain how he managed to dig it up) 140 miles inland to his cathedral in Oaxaca, the state capital. The story goes on to say the bishop chipped off pieces of the wood to make some small crosses, one of which was sent to a cathedral in Mexico City, another to Rome, another to the Mexican city of Puebla and one to a village close to the spot where the large cross had stood.

Mexico historian Jaime Capulli notes that many of the cities edging the resort have cross-related names, such as La Crucecita (the small cross) and Santa Cruz (holy cross).

Insider tips on booking travel

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Whether you're booking your vacation online, directly with the airlines, hotels and cruise lines or through travel agents, knowing the jargon of the travel industry can help you save a bunch of money (and sometimes avoid some unpleasant surprises).

For example, you probably wouldn't expect there'd be much of a difference in booking what’s billed as an “ocean front” room versus one with an “ocean view.” Ah, but there is. In hotel talk, “front” means your room looks right out on the ocean. “View” means you might have to crane your neck (anywhere from a bit to a lot) to see those gorgeous blue-green ocean waters.

And never ask for a “direct” flight when you want a flight that doesn't make stops on the way to your destination. In airline lingo, that’s a “nonstop” flight. Chances are, your “direct” flight won’t stop en route – but it could. “Direct” simply means the whole flight is on the same plane.

Rating the airlines: Don't pay too much attention to government reports showing how often each carrier flew on time, how many times they bumped passengers, how many bags they lost and so on. Why? Because the monthly stats don't factor in the weather. Take away hurricanes, snowstorms, heavy rains, fog and the like, and an airline that scored low on the list might otherwise have been a top performer. Or vice versa.

Gone to bag heaven: Talking about bags, you should know that some published figures show “mishandled” bags while others show “lost” bags. There's a big difference. In airline lingo, a bag that went to Canton instead of Cancun but eventually made it to back to Cancun was just “mishandled.” Much fewer bags are actually “lost” (that is, they never show up again, or as airline employees say, they went to “bag heaven”).

Good seat, bad seat: Some airlines let you pick your seat online before the flight. Before making a selection, you can find out which seats are good and which are bummers (limited legroom, non-reclining backs, located next to a restroom, etc.) by entering your airline, flight number and travel date on easy-to-use sites like

Points on getting points: If you rack up frequent flyer points, it’s helpful to know which airlines belong to which of the carriers’ three international marketing alliances (you can typically swap points from one member airline to another in the same alliance). You’ll find the latest line-ups on a number of sites such as Wikitravel’s

World airport codes: Sometimes it’s a lot easier to enter the three-letter code for an airport than to spell it out on the booking sites. Let’s say you’re zipping off to do a little business in Shanghai. What, you don’t know the code for the city’s main airport at Pudong? No problem. Worldwide airport codes (Pudong is PVG) are listed on a website of The International Air Transport Association.

(, IATA for short.

Rules of the road: Another IATA site ( offers country-by-country info on customs rules, currency, airport taxes and lots of other helpful stuff.

Rules of the sea: Cruise industry info on everything from security and safety to links to 31 global lines plus 20 European and Australasian regional lines are listed by the Cruise Lines International Association (aka CLIA) at

Disclosure: The writer is a retired airline executive having handled public relations for six carriers during his 35-year airline career.

Mohawk Airlines: ‘Slow hawk’ better than ‘no hawk’

By Bob Schulman


Reruns of the popular TV series Mad Men, set to start June 12, may ring a bell with veteran flyers, especially those living in the Northeast U.S. That’s because one of the top accounts of the series’ fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was Mohawk Airlines – and there really was an airline with that name at the time of the series’ plot in the mid-60s.

The real Mohawk was based in Utica in Upstate New York, and it ran a fleet of 69-passenger British-built jets. It served some three dozen cities on routes mostly linking small communities across New England to airports around New York City at JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, White Plains and Islip.

The airline was perhaps best known for rarely flying on time, mainly due to a shortage of air traffic controllers in New York’s airport towers. Flying into JFK, for example, passengers often found themselves circling nearby Lake Rokonkoma four or five times in the Deer Park Holding Pattern before controllers could clear their plane for landing.

The airline was dubbed “Slow Hawk” by its passengers – a tag Mohawk countered with, “That's better than No Hawk.”

It was, because if you wanted to fly from regional cities like Utica, Plattsburgh, Watertown, Massena, Ogdensburg, Ithaca, Elmira and Jamestown, you didn't have a choice of carriers. Mohawk was it!

Coincidentally, Mohawk really did hire a new ad agency before an ongoing flow of red ink led to its takeover by Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Airlines in 1972. The agency – a heavy hitter from Madison Avenue full of guys in grey flannel suits – came up with all kinds of what the airline’s CEO described as “meshugganah” (crazy) ad schemes.

One, called Mohawk’s “Board of Perfectors,” encouraged passengers to report  anything that went wrong on a Mohawk flight. Complainers who called in became “perfectors” of the airline and were rewarded with a chit worth a dollar in cash or a free drink on their next flight.

Mohawk’s switchboard operators were soon deluged by passengers calling in horror tales of late flights, lost luggage, bungled reservations and the like. But no one had told the operators about the program, much less what department to pass these calls to and what the process was to claim a reward.

So, besieged by calls and jammed up phone lines, mostly by passengers who didn’t get to their destination on time (or at all), the operators became unhappy campers. So did Mohawk’s dozens of other staffers, who couldn’t call out and at the same time couldn’t be reached by phone.

The men from Madison Avenue defended the promotion this way: “We know lots of flights are late,” said the ad agency, “but that’s not Mohawk’s fault... it’s the FAA’s fault because they haven’t hired enough air traffic controllers... the passengers shouldn’t be complaining to Mohawk.”

When he fired the agency, the CEO asked them,“Do you really think an irate passenger cares whose fault the delay was... especially when they’been offered a reward for telling us how awful it was to fly on Mohawk?”

Footnote: After the Allegheny takeover in 1972 the combined airline changed its name to USAir in 1979 and a few years later to US Airways. It took Piedmont Airlines under its wings in 1985, merged with America West in 2005 and went on to acquire American Airlines in 2015. It now flies under American’s name and colors.

The Great Locomotive Chase

By Rich Grant


I started where it ended, in the rolling hills of the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee.   There, under a great bronze statue of the steam locomotive The General, is a monument to one of the Civil War's most daring raids, an adventure that came to be known as "The Great Locomotive Chase."

Around the memorial are the graves of some brave men:  James J. Andrews, the civilian spy who organized the raid, and seven of the Union soldiers he led.  Some of them were the first Americans to ever receive our nation's highest award for valor -- the Medal of Honor.

They also share one other piece of history.  All of them were hanged; seven of them were executed side-by-side from a single scaffold.

How the locomotive and these eight courageous men came together is a fascinating tale.   Since it is also the story of the world's first high-speed chase, it can only be appreciated by following the trail of Andrews' Raiders over a 120-mile journey, from Atlanta to Chattanooga.  Along the way there are visits to museums, several monuments, a chance to see two of history's most famous steam locomotives and even the opportunity to ride a golf cart through an historic Civil War era railroad tunnel – the same tunnel the chase went roaring through in 1862.              

Some background is necessary before the first stop.  In the early days of the Civil War, Chattanooga was an important rail junction that controlled food and supplies coming from the deep South headed to the Confederate armies in Virginia.  Cut the rail lines in Chattanooga, and it could end the war.

The raid, as conceived by Andrews, called for 22 Ohio soldiers to dress as civilians and sneak 200 miles behind Confederate lines to Marietta, Georgia, just a few miles north of Atlanta.  There, they would steal a train and race it north, burning the bridges behind them.  With the railroad destroyed, Chattanooga would be cut off from Confederate reinforcements by train and easily captured by a coordinated Union attack advancing from the west under General Ormsby M. Mitchel.

It was a daring, but possible, plan, and Andrews set it in motion.  The raiders, traveling in groups of two or three, made their way incognito in civilian clothes to Marietta and on April 11, 1862, they booked two rooms at the Kennesaw Hotel.   This is where you can join them.  The hotel room that Andrews occupied is now part of the Marietta Museum of History and is made up much like it would have looked the night Andrews’ Raiders slept there, complete with a mannequin of Andrews looking out the window on to the tracks below.  It’s hard to imagine, as school kids move around the room laughing, the tension these 22 men must have felt.  Several of them spoke up and said they thought the plan was hopeless and doomed to fail. But Andrews was firm, telling them any man could drop out, but “I will succeed or leave my bones in Dixie.”

So on the morning of April 12, in a light rain, each man stuck a pistol in his belt, and boarded the regularly scheduled north bound train.  To avoid suspicion, they all bought tickets to different destinations.  The train was pulled by a 25-ton, eight-wheel wood burning locomotive, The General.  At this time, there were no railroad dining cars, so 12 miles up the line at Big Shanty, the train came to halt of hissing steam and smoke and all the passengers got off for a 20 minute breakfast break.  You can follow the raiders to Big Shanty, now the town of Kennesaw, and home to the impressively named Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.

There’s a barn full of exhibits here on the war and railroading, but for our purposes, one thing stands above all.  The General.  The gleaming black and red locomotive was destined to survive the raid, the war and even the burning of Atlanta.  For years, it crossed the country touring at exhibitions, even appearing at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, before ending up back here in 1972, 100 yards from the spot where Andrews stole her.  It’s an impressive and gorgeous machine.  You can get climb above it, around it, and peer into the cab. From its red "cow catcher" to the great bell smoke stack and huge five-foot-high red wheels, clearly this engine was built for speed.  It's easy to imagine Andrews in the cab, clinging to the handrail as the locomotive screamed round the curves, yelling to the engineers at the height of the chase, "Push her, boys.  Push her!"

The museum has put together a thrilling film, using accurate bits from the 1956 Walt Disney Movie The Great Locomotive Chase, edited with modern actors and narration to tell a completely historical tale of what happened next.

Andrews plotted to steal the train at Big Shanty because it did not have a telegraph station.  When the other passengers and train crew got off for breakfast, the raiders stayed on board, uncoupled the passenger cars, climbed into the box cars, snuck into the engine, released the brake and opened the throttle.  With a grinding of steel on steel, they were on their way, in front of the startled passengers and an entire camp of Confederate soldiers.  A few miles up the line, they stopped to cut telegraph wires and rip up track.  They were now confident that nothing could catch them from behind and it was clear sailing up ahead.

But the plan soon went wrong.  Rain had delayed Andrews for a day, but the Union attack went ahead on schedule.  Afraid of the approaching Union army, the Confederates in Chattanooga tried to save supplies by sending additional trains south, clogging the rail line.  Andrews lost several hours in delays.  But carrying forged documents and claiming his train had badly needed ammunition for the “front,” he continually bullied it past skeptical station agents.  They were just above Adairsville again ripping up track when suddenly the raiders were startled by a shrill whistle from the south.  One of them wrote, "No sound more unwelcome ever fell on human ears."

Pursuit!  Unknown to the raiders, the General's conductor, William R. Fuller, had watched his train being stolen and started off after it on foot.  Since the average speed of a train at that time was 12 mph, this was not as crazy as it sounds, especially since the north bound train had to adhere to a schedule that Fuller well knew.  The uneven race soon improved as Fuller came upon a rail push cart and then an old iron works locomotive, the Yonah.

Highway 41, "the Blue and Gray Highway," follows the route of the 1862 railroad and offers a number of opportunities to visit sites associated with “the chase.”  Free “Great Locomotive Chase” brochures available at the museum have maps and detail 14 points along the route associated with the race.   Dalton is good stop with a rail depot that was there in 1862, and Adairsville looks much like it did during the Civil War.  The depot, which was also there in 1862, has some exhibits on the raid, including two toy train locomotives that chase each other around one side of the building.

It was here that Fuller got what he needed most for the chase – his third locomotive of the day, The Texas, a powerful new engine that matched the General in speed.  The Texas had been heading south, but Fuller commandeered it, and through sheer force of character and courage, raced the engine backwards at 70 miles an hour on tracks where the safe speed was 18.  With whistles blowing, steel wheels shrieking on rails and steam billowing, he was able to follow the General in the race across the Georgia countryside.

From Adairsville on, it was indeed a race for life or death.  Andrews' men tried everything -- pushing ties on to the tracks, building barricades, and even throwing the General in reverse to fling empty boxcars charging back toward the onrushing Confederates, but seemingly nothing could stop Fuller.

Or The Texas.  This engine also survived the war and for years was on display at The Cyclorama in Atlanta’s Grant Park, which featured the world's largest painting – a circular piece of art four stories high and longer than a football field depicting the Battle of Atlanta.  Both the painting and The Texas are now headed to a new and better home in the Atlanta History Center.  The Texas has undergone a complete restoration and was revealed to the public for the first time in two years at a recent ceremony in April 2017 at the North Carolina Transportation Museum, where it was restored. In 2017 it will be unveiled in its new home, under a huge glass canopy at the entrance of the Atlanta History Museum.  Similar to The General, it is a sleek and economical machine – the fastest thing on earth at the time of the Chase.  Though it only worked for a few hours on the day of the Chase, the Texas ran for decades as a working engine, and in its new home it will do a fine job of interpreting railroading in the period both before and after the Civil War.

One of the final and most dramatic moments of the Chase came at Tunnel Hill.  This 1,477-foot- long tunnel was opened in 1850 and was the longest tunnel in the South.  It was the raider’s last chance to win the race.  The Union soldiers wanted to make a stand and fight it out with pistols at the end of the tunnel, or send the General backwards at full speed through the tunnel to crash into the Texas.  But Andrews was by trade a spy.  He had always talked his way out of any dangerous situation, and he believed their best chance was by breaking up into small groups and fleeing.

Today, the Western & Atlantic Tunnel has been restored.  Closed in 1928, and saved from destruction in 1992, it is a wet, dripping, narrow dark and dank space.  But you can travel through it for $6 on a golf cart tour.  Along the roof, you can see where 20th Century rail cars were too high and scraped the rock, necessitating a new tunnel.  When the Texas arrived at the edge of the dark tunnel, it was filled with smoke from The General and the other Confederates with Fuller baulked at entering what they were sure was a Union death trap.  But Fuller, riding on the tender, forced them through.  When they emerged from the tunnel back in daylight and could see The General ahead, Fuller could tell by its pale smoke that she was low on fuel and water and nearly finished.

And indeed they were.  Just a short way past Ringgold, with all 22 Union men riding on the locomotive and tender, out of fuel and the Confederates in sight, Andrews gave his last order: “jump off and scatter, every man for himself.”  There is a historic marker at the lonely spot on a straight track where the chase ended.

Within a week, Andrews and all 21 of his men were captured.  Caught out of uniform, they were considered spies and he and seven men selected at random were tried, convicted and hanged in Atlanta.  The rest, fearing a similar fate, staged a desperate escape.  Eight made it back to Union lines; the other six were captured again and eventually exchanged.

In the end, the failure of the raid led to two years of fighting before Chattanooga finally fell to Union hands.  In all, more than 47,000 young men were killed or horribly wounded in these battles -- men who might have been spared had Andrews succeeded.  Today, many thousands of them lay in the rolling grass slopes of the Chattanooga National Cemetery, surrounding Andrews and his men. 

When the United States created a new medal to honor outstanding bravery, it was decided to present the very first ones to Andrews' Raiders.  Secretary of War Stanton pinned them on the survivors himself.

Ironically, one of the raiders not honored was Andrews. As a civilian, he did not qualify.   His medal is the judgement of history.

Georgia's Bloody Ground

Few areas in North America have experienced as much violent conflict as the 120-mile stretch between Chattanooga and Atlanta.  The battles for Chattanooga and the Battle for Atlanta stretched back and forth over this land from 1862-1864 in some of the Civil War's most savage and confused fighting.   Several of the war's best preserved battlefields are just a few minutes drive from the route of the Great Locomotive Chase.  The Blue & Gray Trail lists 74 historic sites.  Among them:

Chickamauga National Military Park:  Located just south of Chattanooga, the fields and woods of this battlefield were filled with smoke on Sept. 19-20, 1863, when

66,000 Confederates defeated and almost destroyed a Union army of 58,000.  Casualties were among the highest in the war with 34,000 men falling.  This was the first battlefield preserved in United States and is the largest.  An excellent museum sets the stage, while an observation tower overlooks and explains the entire strategy of the conflict.  Highlights include Snodgrass Hill, where General Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga," fought a rear-guard action that saved the Union Army and perhaps the war.  The park also features one of the largest and best Civil War bookstores.

Point Park and Lookout Mountain:  Part of the Chattanooga National Military Park, this battlefield has a gorgeous view of the Tennessee River.  From a tower, it is possible to understand the geographic difficulties that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant faced in trying to dislodge the Southern army from the hills around the town.  The November 1863 campaign was one of Grant's most brilliant and set the stage for the Battle of Atlanta.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park:  Located 10 minutes from the site where The General was stolen at Big Shanty, this beautiful park preserves just one of the dozens of areas that saw heavy fighting in the Battle for Atlanta.  Here in July 1864, General Sherman threw wave after wave of blue-coated troops in hopeless assaults against strong Confederate lines.  The panoramic sweeping views from the mountain stretch to Atlanta and beyond.  A museum attempts to explain the confusing campaign, but to truly understand it, head to the Atlanta History Museum.

If You Go:

The place to stay in Atlanta is the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Atlanta’s old grand dame.  Located across the street from the restored Fox Theatre, the elegant and beautiful hotel opened in 1911  and has hosted everyone from presidents to rock stars.  It is just down the street from the home were Margaret Mitchell wrote the ultimate Civil War novel, “Gone With the Wind,” and it is where Clark Gable and most of the cast stayed for the premiere of the film in 1939.   Ironically, it is also within a pistol shot of Third and Juniper, the obscure corner in midtown Atlanta were James J. Andrews was hanged.  There’s a historic marker, slowly being overgrown by bushes, to mark the spot.

The Marietta Museum of History is housed in the old Kennesaw hotel, where  Andrews' Raiders spent the night before stealing The General.  They have restored Andrews’ room as it might have appeared and have good exhibits on the raid.

The Southern Museum of the Civil War and Locomotive History originally opened on April 12, 1972, exactly 110 years to the day that Andrews and his men stole The General, 100 yards from this site.  The museum is the permanent home of the locomotive The General, and contains hundreds of artifacts connected to Great Locomotive Chase, as well as an 18-minute video and a full documentation on the role that railroads played in the war.  Kennesaw is a historic town; a free walking tour brochure available at the museum points out 32 historic sites.  Don't miss Wildman's Civil War & Relic Shop, the "Best Little War Store in Kennesaw, as it bills itself, directly across the street.  Possibly the most politically incorrect museum you’ll ever see, it’s still a “don’t miss” one-of-a-kind attraction.

The Atlanta History Center is magnificent and worth a half day.  There are gardens, historic homes, an excellent strategic interpretation of the Civil War and the importance of Atlanta, and this will be the new home of The Texas, and the world’s largest painting.

Tunnel Hill Heritage Center & Museum is a hoot.  The museum has exhibits on the raid, the tunnel, and the later Civil War battle fought here.  But the highlight is riding a nine-passenger golf cart through the actual tunnel.  Once you see the landscape, you can understand why Andrews baulked at fighting a battle here.  There was little cover, and the raiders could see that the Confederates riding The Texas had long range rifles, whereas the raiders were armed only with pistols.

Chattanooga National Cemetery Open every day.  There are 33,000 men buried here, including 12,000 from the Civil War.  A memorial with a bronze statue of the locomotive The General honors the Great Locomotive Chase.  James J. Andrews and the seven raiders who were executed are buried here in a small semi-circle around the monument.

ATLANTA:  Atlanta has been transformed in recent years into a world class tourist destination.  The best deal is CityPASS which saves you money and time and gets you into all the city's top attractions including the amazing Georgia Aquarium, the Civil Rights Museum, CNN and more.

BEFORE YOU GO: The 1956 Walt Disney movie, "The Great Locomotive Chase," is surprisingly accurate and gives a good look at Civil War locomotives in action. 

The Great Crane Migration

By Carole Jacobs

We’re at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center in Wood River, Nebraska, to witness the annual spring migration of the Sandhill cranes, hailed by ethologist Jane Goodall as one of the top ten animal migrations on earth.


Each March, 80 percent of the world’s more than half-million cranes wing their way to this remote, 80-mile bottleneck of the Central Platte River, a winding thread of riparian habitat in what was tallgrass prairie but is now a sea of corn, following their 5,000-mile-roundtrip millennia-old route from Mexico, Texas and New Mexico to Canada and Siberia.

Approaching in the sky from a distance, the birds look like wisps of smoke as they swoop and swerve in an ever-changing aerial ballet. Whether stepping singly across a wet meadow or filling the sky by the hundreds and thousands, these 4-foot-tall birds with a six-foot wing span group together in large numbers, breeding in open wetlands and prairies and displaying to each other with exuberant dances that retain a gangly grace.


As the sun rises over the Platte, they rise from the river as if on cue and take to the sky in great winged flocks, disperse to nearby corn fields for the day to scavenge.  The Crane Trust, as well as the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary near Kearney, Nebraska, are two of the best places on earth to witness the birds and their migratory and mating practices up close, and I feel very fortunate to be visiting both of them during peak crane week.

If you build it they will come

One of the world’s most ancient birds, Sandhill crane have been winging the heavens for millions of years. Unfortunately, as North America’s prairie land was gobbled up by western expansion and farming, so was the crane’s natural habitat, and their numbers plummeted dramatically. . Since 1978, the Trust, which manages about 10,000 acres of wild grasslands and wet meadows in the Big Bend region of the river,  has been working tirelessly to protect and maintain the cranes’ critical habitat, and their numbers have shot back up to about a half million.


To encourage bird and nature lovers of all persuasions to visit and support the cause, the Trust operates the swank Wild Rose Ranch, located on 4,500 continuous acres of native grassland prairie and wet meadows and housing the headquarters office, research laboratory, guest bunkhouse, Legacy Cabins, meeting/dining facilities, private crane-viewing blinds, and an outdoor deck and observation platform with breathtaking views of the tallgrass prairie and Platte River waterway. You can nab a room in a bunk or cabin or come for the day and watch the birds in blinds. The bar3-bone structures have no insulation, heating, lighting or indoor plumbing, and are equipped only with wooden benches and slit windows for viewing. The long, low, plywood structures blend in so seamlessly with the river landscape that we didn’t see them until we were practically upon them.

The previous night over dinner, the Trust had warned us that early morning temps in the blinds could be “brisk,” Nebraska speak for a brutal 20s and 30s. Our best chance of surviving our two hours in the blinds was to layer with a vengeance. I’m a California girl, so I not only layered two sets of down parkas and ski pants but I lined my bed with stick-on hand warmers and then fell backwards into them, hoping some of them would stick.


As we set out in the pitch dark for the blind, the guide reiterated the importance of maintaining total and complete silence.  In the dead still, I could almost hear my hand warmers squeaking against each other hamsters, so I let the group pass and walked in alone. The clear night air had telescoped distances so that 20 miles looked like two. Lights twinkled on the distant horizon and a wilderness of grass met sky to remind me how small I really was.

Into the Frigidaire

By 6:30 am, we had arrived at the blind and claimed our prospective benches and windows. There wouldn’t be much to see until the sun rose, so I took a cat nap, waking with a jolt to the cacophony of thousands of cranes emitting a plaintive, prehistoric-sounding Garrooo.


As the sun began to rise, I saw the river banks were paved with them for as far as the eye could see; hundreds slept upright in the frigid water, a bracelet of ice around their ankles. Smaller juveniles were batting their wings at and over each other in mock displays of prepubescent strength and baby cranes paddled around parents like they were in a ducky pond and emitted hollow, high-pitched coos...

 And more cranes were still coming, diving into the river like paratroopers, wings cupped and legs dangling. The Trust counts a section of birds by plane, then makes an educated guess as to how many cranes are crossing into their reserve. In general, the crane population is booming and some 500,000 cranes visited the reserve on one night in mid-March alone.


By about 7 am most of the cranes had fled the river for the day. The watercolor sky streaked pink and purple as we hiked back across the fields to the dining room, where we feasted on cheesy omelets, hashed browns, bacon, bison sausage, yogurt and berries, oatmeal, pancakes, French toast juices, and strong, hot coffee.

By the next day, the damp had camped inside my lungs, my payback for a careless, breakneck month of nonstop work and travel. As I lie in bed motionless, I envisioned the cranes soaring over Alaska’s Kodiak Island, around Upper Cook Inlet and resting at the Stikine River Delta. With their unerring pacing and perfect eat-fly-love balance, they had the reserves to cover 200-300 miles a day whereas I could barely walk a foot.

I was out of breath and out of whack, but with the cranes as my totems, I was certain I could find my way back to moderation, strength and wisdom.


Info Crane Trust & Nature Preserve,; Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary,  As well as prime viewing ops, the centers offer year-round recreation like guided photo and nature safaris, fat tire biking, kayaking, and two-person blinds where you can stay all night in your sleeping bag, Don’t miss the Crane Trust’s Total Solar Eclipse Event August 21.

Beyond the Birdies

To round out your visit, carve out some time to explore some of Nebraska’s hidden treasures.

  1. Blast from the past Drive a portion of Lincoln Highway, the nation’s first interstate, Miles of highway are frozen in the past with old ‘camps’ and gas stations, funky motels and cabin courts, and classic diners. Drop by the 1937 Kensinger Service & Supply in Grand Island, which is still pumping gas.
  2. Horses, horses, horses Drop by the Pony Express Station Museum in Gothenburg, where riders refueled/restocked before galloping westward. The short-lived venture lasted just a year and went belly-up with the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph in 1861.
  3. Get up close to a masterpiece Visit the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney, where you can get close enough to Picassos and Monets to see the brush strokes. Don’t miss the stunning Photo Ark exhibit by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, a local who has dedicated his life to photographing endangered species.
  4. Try the beef: Nebraska is king when it comes to steak so sample some of the state’s dozens of steak houses. Don’t be put off by the funky/shabby exteriors of some of these joints. Even the homeliest hole-in-the-wall dishes up primo porterhouse, filet mignon and prime rib with all the fixings.
  5. The Coolest Town in Nebraska: McCook is classic laid-back Nebraska so spend a few hours soaking up the vibes. You’ll love the locals -- most admit to keeping “a couple cows” (translation: they have a 50,000-acre ranch with thousands of cattle). If you ever wanted to watch the mating dance of the prairie chicken (these critters have nothing on the cranes and resemble short, squat cartoon characters) Calamus Outfitters will transport you in their claptrap school bus to an undistinguished patch of prairie, where the chickens strut out at dawn and start bickering. Back in town, grab breakfast at Sehnert's Bakery, a combo bakery/deli and nightclub. The homemade cream horns are sinful and consider returning at night for live music, homemade pizza and cold brews.
  6. You’re in the army now Fort Robinson was an active military post from 1874 to 1948, and the location of the assassination of Crazy Horse. Today, the post has been converted into a beautiful state park where you can lodge in former officers’ quarters, enjoy hearty mess meals at Fort Robinson Restaurant, go on nightly steak cookouts, see plays at the Post Playhouse and take jeep rides into the mountains to hunt for bighorn sheep.

24 Hours in Key West

By Carole Jacobs

Indian Key Historic State Park, located off Islamorada, Fla., is accessible only by boat or kayak.. Visitors to this 11-acre island can view the remains of a wrecking, or shipwreck salvage, community from the 1830s. There are also several hundred yards of well-maintained trails that line the interior of the island. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau.Uninhibited and an undisputed “wild child” yet still terminally quaint, Key West is also refreshingly, well, weird, with ghosts haunting its bevy of century-old plantation-style B&Bs, 6-toed cats prowling Hemingway House --even the dead have a sense of humor here, as you’ll discover at Key West Cemetery, where one tombstone from 1979 reads, “I Told You I was Sick.”

So pack your bikini and sunscreen – we’ve got 24 hours of fun, fun, fun to share with you.

7 am: I believe I can fly Book ParaWest’s  bargain-priced “Early Bird Special” and go parasailing straight from the foot of the boat, up-up and away 300 feet above the crystalline, emerald-green waters. You don’t have to know how to swim; in fact, you won’t even get wet unless you want to, in which case the pilot can arrange for you to dip your toes in the water upon descent or enjoy a spectacular full-body crash landing.

9 am: Chow down at Blue Heaven An historic and much-beloved local hang (Hemingway refereed boxing matches and customers cheered for cockfights), the shrimp and grits, lobster Benedict with key lime hollandaise and the homemade banana bread and cranberry-orange muffins are to die for while the free-roaming chickens and cats roaming the tree-shaded outdoor patio add that "what-a-hoot" factor.

Snorkeler Katherine Wieland examines the Christ of the Deep statue in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo, Fla. This nine-foot-tall, 4,000 pound replica of a similar statue, located in the waters off the coast of Italy, is submerged in 25 feet of water at Key Largo Dry Rocks. Photo by Stephen Frink/Florida Keys News Bureau     10:30: Spy on the fishies and catch some rays The snorkeling is stellar at Sand Key Lighthouse, Eastern Dry Rocks and Western Dry Rocks, all located about eight miles southwest of town. Or, for snorkeling nirvana, hop a boat for Key West Snorkeling’s all-day snorkeling adventure in Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles offshore.

High noon at Sloppy Joes: Even if you’re still digesting breakfast, take it from Hemingway and “The Mob” of other literary greats who haunted this historic speak-easy when they needed a break from their typewriters: It’s never too early to start drinking in Key West. Owned by Hemingway’s fishing buddy and BFF, Joe Russell, the speak-easy serves killer conch fritters and the original, if messy, Sloppy Joe sandwich that put them on the map, and can also provide the inspiration you need to scribe a Hemingway-esque short story for January’s upcoming “Flash Fiction Contest.” For the first time this year, the grand prize includes a chance to write, paint, read or do whatever the hell you want (within reason) for 10 days inside Hemingway’s writing studio at the Spanish-colonial estate he called home.

1-2 pm: Bed down with the greats Key West’s hot, sticky afternoons were made for napping under a twirling plantation fan in one of Old Town’s many historic and pedigreed hotels, many painted in crayon colors and sitting atop ingenious 3-foot piers that let the raging winds and waters of Key West’s infamous typhoons pass right through without causing structural damage. If you’re a bad girl, you’ll love the Angelina Guest House, a Hemingway fave that’s a former 1920s bordello and gambling den- turned charming Key West bed-and-breakfast. For you debutante wanna-bes, the gracious Chelsea House is a plantation-style class act where you can savor breakfast on the backyard verandah.

2:15 pm. All hail the Key Lime You simply can’t visit Key West without stopping by Kermit’s Key Lime Shoppe. Kermit proper, a piece of work in his lime-green jacket and chef’s hat, blends in seamlessly with his Key Lime cookies, ice cream, pie-on-a-tick, jams, jellies, jell beans, tea, olive oil, taffy, chutney --you get the drill. Breathless reviews from the Food Network, Nat Geo and Chef Paula Dean have established him as the Key Lime King – and he’ll even give you his granny’s Key Lime Pie recipe.

3 pm The Annual Conch Republic Festival Back in the weed-infused 1980s the Border Patrol erected a roadblock to deter the locals from smuggling marijuana along Key West’s serene maze of secret backwater routes. The locals staged a protest, the Border Patrol relented and today the locals celebrate their victory with an annual fete the last 10 days of April that kicks off with a “drag” race between female impersonators and goes downhill from there with the world’s longest parade (it head won Duval Street and then proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico), a pirates’ ball and a bed race billed as “the most fun you can have in bed with your clothes on.”

A Florida Keys flats guide idles away from the dock during the dawn of a new day in Islamorada, Fla. Featuring an angling diversity found in few saltwater sportfishing destinations, Islamorada is known as the Sportfishing Capital of the World. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau 5:30-6 pm: Sunset at Mallory Square   As the town where the country runs out of land, Key West is the Sunset Capital of the U.S. which it celebrates with a nightly beach fest featuring a motley crew of street performers, serenading minstrels, and not to forget The Southernmost Bagpiper, Dominique and His Flying House Cats and the legendary “Cookie Lady,” who promotes her warm homemade delicacies while squawking slogans in perfect rhyme. It all happens against a breathtaking backdrop as the sun melts into the sea and blazes the sky pink, purple and orange before surrendering to a canopy of stars.

7 pm: Dinner Latitudes at Sunset Key Catch the tiny ferry to this plantation-style resort located on the private isle of Sunset Key and get ready to feast on the freshest gourmet seafood in town.   Try the Crab Stuffed Florida Lobster Tail or “Really Big” Gulf Shrimp and enjoy it with fresh salads and canopies like Portobello Carpaccio and Prosciutto and Sun-dried Tomato Wrapped Brie. As the sunset surrenders to a canopy of stars, order one of each dessert and pass them around the table to taste. The Crème Brulee, Carrot Cake and Dark Chocolate Torte are stunners.


Weekend in Wisconsin

By Carole Jacobs

Photo credit can be given to the Door County Visitor BureauDoor County’s sea-scented air, soft wildflower meadows and hushed pine forests seem to muffle the clamor of a 21st-century world that’s been too much with us lately. The locals think nothing of smiling at strangers – try finding that in the Big Apple or Orange. And the setting is stellar, nestled amid Lake Michigan and Green Bay. The bountiful waters are leaping with fish, the lakes are fringed with spanking white beaches and the hill-and-dale landscape is paved with cobblestoned Currier & Ives villages – no wonder they call Door County “The Cape Code of the Midwest.”

In a world that seems increasingly hell-bent on belittling all-things-American, Door County locals seem to know they have it good. Gratitude seems to bubble out of the streams and everywhere you look, locals are mending fences, repainting historic lighthouses and weeding nature preserves so the spring beauties can shine. Even the goats get in on the act, climbing up on turf-and-flower rooftops to trim the lawn.

The best thing about Wisconsin is its location in dead-center America. Hop a flight from anywhere in the continental U.S. and you’ll be here in no time. Here’s our pick of the best stuff to see, do and eat.

Day 1

11 am: Places in the middle of nowhere are typically reached by Tinker toy planes that can be hard on fearful flyers. The good news about Green Bay Airport is that buck-you-up fortifications are waiting for you at the wee airport bar. God created green, fertile, well-watered Wisconsin for hops and there are so many microbreweries that it’s just a matter of time before you meet the suds of your dreams.  

Noon: En route to Door County from the airport, drop into the cozy Brussels Countryside Diner in Sturgeon Bay for an intro to Door County’s hopelessly fattening fare. (Abandon Hope All Ye Low-Carbers Who Enter Here.)

Order the diner’s original hash-brown sandwich – basically a heap of eggs smothered in butter, cheese and veggies on toast. The waitress will ask you if you want the sandwich with a side of rye or wheat toast because that’s how they roll here. As long as you’re learning how to eat like a local, order a side of sauerkraut and toss it on top --it’s a food group here.

Photo credit can be given to the Door County Visitor BureauEn route to Fish Creek: Cherry-picking season in Door County doesn't arrive until late July, but spring is the time to break out your camera and soak in the awe-inspiring panorama of blossoms sprouting on 2,500 acres of cherry orchards and 500 acres of apple orchards.

1:30 Fish Creek: Check into the historic (1896) White Gull Inn, set on a gurgling creek in what Forbes called one of the 15 prettiest towns in America. The luxury suites come with puffy white quilts, working fireplaces, whirlpools, evening wine-and-cheese receptions, plus an award-winning Door County breakfast. The inn also hosts a 5-course progressive dinner, transporting you from one fetching inn after another in a horse-drawn carriage.

2:30-4:30 pm: Stop and smell the flowers on a naturalist guided wildflower walk at Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor. Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve is home to native wildflowers along its five miles of rustic trails and bridges. Some early blooming flowers to watch for include Trailing Arbutus, Marsh Marigold, Arctic Primrose, Dwarf Lake Iris and Indian Paintbrush.

5:30: Cycle or drive to Leroy’s Water Street Café in the gingerbread town of Ephraim for an afternoon java jolt. The tiny 1800s log cabin is loaded with atmosphere and serves steamy salted caramel lattes and homemade coffee cake.

Photo credit can be given to the Door County Visitor Bureau7-9 pm: Since you’ve already eaten your weight in taters today, how about a laid-back dinner with the locals at Sister Bowl, a family-owned 50s-style retro supper club famous for their BBQ, steaks and homemade chili? Special perk: after dinner, you can hit the lanes and bowl off some calories!

Day 2

8 am: You can’t visit Door County and not do breakfast at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, where waitresses in dirndls serve steaming stacks of lingonberry pancakes in an eatery that looks like it’s dropped out of The Sound of Music, complete with flowerboxes spilling a profusion of blooms. Hear that crunching-munching? It’s the goats – they’re already hard at work up on the roof. www.aljohnsons.coma

9:30 am: Head to the Washington Island Ferry for the scenic 5-mile cruise across Door County’s infamous Death’s Door Passage. The island is a chip off the old block with a wee historic village and a maze of hiking and cycling trails that ring around the 35-square-mile- isle past waist-high wildflower meadows and enchanted forests. (Keep an eye peeled for mushrooms!)  Have lunch at Nelson Hall’s Bitter Pub, a wild and wooly bar where you can hunker down to a 5-inch-thick pub sandwich and earn your Bitter’s Club Card by downing a shot of 90 proof bitters in one fell swoop.;,

Prone to seasickness? Skip the bitters and, have lunch on the mainland at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim—a Door County landmark since 1906 with an old-fashioned soda fountain and jukebox. Everything’s homemade so go ahead and splurge on a cheeseburger, fries, a milkshake or malted and a gooey banana split.

Photo credit can be given to the Door County Visitor Bureau2 pm: Celebrate spring with cherry blossoms galore at Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek—With Mother Nature’s cooperation, this is arguably one of the places in Door County to see the spectacular sight of rows upon rows of blossoming cherry trees. Breathe in the fragrance, walk upon a cloud of blooms and photograph this wonder of nature before tasting it in homemade pies, cakes, preserves, cherry juice – you name it.

3-5 pm Door County is a haven for artists, so spend a few hours roaming the shops and galleries. In Fish Creek, don’t miss Door County Confectionary, a storybook cottage where you can load up on hand-dipped bear paws. Or visit Popelka Trenchard Glass Fine Art Gallery in Sturgeon Bay for a free glass-blowing demo and the chance to buy one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass vases, plates, bowls and jewelry. Then savor a cheese pairing at Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese in Egg Harbor—featuring the largest selection of handmade Wisconsin artisan cheeses and more than 30 artisan cheesemakers.,,,

6 pm: Drop by Starboard Brewing Company in Sturgeon Bay, featuring a rotating menu of eight small-batch craft beers.

7 pm: Enjoy an authentic Fish Boil dinner at The Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim, featuring freshly-caught Lake Michigan whitefish cooked outside over an open fire, just as it was 100 years ago. The fish boil tradition began as an economical way to feed large, hungry groups of lumberjacks and fishermen.  Churches picked up the tradition to raise money, and now people from all over would come to sample it. The cooking starts outside in a huge pot, and when you see the fiery spectacle known as the "boil over," you know the meal is just about ready.

Day 3

Photo credit can be given to the Door County Visitor Bureau9 am: Have breakfast at The White Gull Inn; its Door County Cherry Stuffed French Toast was honored as the winner of the Best Breakfast in America Challenge on Good Morning America.   

10 am: Take a shipwreck and wildlife kayak tour with Gravity Trails—you’ll travel in a clear bottom kayak to spy on shipwrecks on the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula in North Bay where many ships were no match for the powerful storms and gales that the area produces.

Noon: Say so long to Door County and drive an hour south to Appleton, home of the Mile of Music festival. Now in its fifth year, The Mile was created to give locals access to free music and has managed to retain its wholesome, non-corporate vibe. This event showcases Indie musicians from around the country, many of whom go on to become famous.  You can watch them perform as you eat, drink, schmooze and dance – Appleton turns its myriad venues (restaurants, cafes, wineries, beer halls, ballrooms, chapels) into impromptu stages and once the music starts, it doesn’t quit for 72 hours.

The ticket price? There’s no cover price, but you can buy a Music-Makers badge for $139 and enjoy special perks and performances.

1 pm: Check into the CopperLeaf Hotel, a luxury European-style boutique hotel with a restaurant and bar located in the middle of town.

1:30 pm: Have lunch at the swank Appleton Beer Factory, showcasing Wisconsin’s beer culture and cornucopia of organic everything. The city is ringed by countless farms, orchards, U-picks, greenhouse operations and flower fields, and that pulled pork sandwich  you’re eating is so fresh it was still oinking an hour ago.

2 pm: Roam the Downtown Appleton Farm Market, the area’s largest farmer’s market with more than 150 vendors selling all things fresh, dewy and delicious. Don’t pass on the deep-fried corn on the cob. You choose your cob from the back of the pick-up truck and they do the rest.

5 pm: The family-friendly music fest is a wonderful place to enjoy original music, amazing food from all over the globe and here’s the perfect place to dance on top of the tables with your grandkids! This may be the last family-friendly concert on earth and you won’t see gangs of toughs with full-body piercings, Beverly Hillbillies with $4,000 designer jeans or vegans demanding their mac ‘n cheese be made without lactose or gluten.

1 am: Technically, the Mile ends at 12 am, but when soaking in my Jacuzzi in my sky top aerie at the Copperfield,  faint strains of rock, jazz, country, New Age, hip hop, classical and New Age wafted in my window -- proof The Mile didn’t turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.

The 2017 festival, dubbed Mile 5, runs August 3-6, 2017 and will feature 230-plus artists with more than 900 sets of live music between Thursday and Sunday. For up to date festival info, download the Mile of Music smart phone app at


By Lisa TE Sonne


On April 1, if all has gone well, I will be landing in Amsterdam to start a luxury barge trip through the canals of Holland during tulip season! And I will be sharing the wonders and windmills with a girlfriend I have known since I was 7 years old – a true Boomer friendship through the decades.

My friend Kathy will be joining me with Panache, which is what European Waterways calls “our” 129-foot wooden barge – with a dedicated chef, captain, wine and cheese expert, and expedition guide, as well as a spa, sundeck, salon, library, and open bar. So I guess we will be traveling with great panache, too!

We used to bike to each other’s homes for sleep-overs. Now, we will be biking along canals and vivid fields of flowers in the Netherlands (knees allowing; Kathy is recovering from surgery). As Southern California girls, we used to go on field trips to the California Missions and the Huntington Library and Gardens. Now, we will be going to villages that are eight centuries old and seeing the Rembrandt masters in the painter’s home town.

We have always loved to garden. Now, we’ll be strolling through “Europe’s Great Garden,” the Keukenhof, which in spring displays millions of blooms in every rainbow color and in hues forgotten elsewhere. As young girls, we watched “Laugh In” and giggled at the song “Tip Toe Through the Tulips.” Now, we’ll be laughing with tons of tulips and an exuberant extravagance of other blooms.

Who knows what we will remember best, when we look back on this trip? Will it be the Delft China tour or the deft (or daft) lunch conversations on the open deck? Which of our senses will be the most delighted—sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, or humor?

As I write, it is the anticipation that is tickling me with salivating joy. Thirty years ago, my inspiring mother returned from a spring trip to Holland with memories and photos that are still colorful today. Huge swaths of purple and red and yellow tulips fill landscape canvasses of beauty. In her images and mind, the Keukenhof Gardens are an explosion of fairytale-like magic. I have wanted to follow her footsteps on those garden paths, and now I will be enjoying it with someone who also knows and loves my mom.

The Bests of Barging

I will be traveling in one of my favorite ways—based in a room with a window that frames scenery that keeps changing dramatically. Because it is a boating cruise, I’ll be able to unpack my stuff only once, and being on a barge will allow me to pack in the experiences and memories in intimate and firsthand ways. The small, deluxe barges of European Waterways weave through waterways with portside itineraries that combine the iconic and the little-known-that’s-worth-knowing. The crews cater to both comforts and curiosities.

One of the reasons I like to keep going back to this bespoke barging way of traveling is that trips are inspiring, not intense; relaxing, not rushed. There is time for reflection, reading, resting, and conversation while a panorama of life glides by. Almost every day offers hours of seeing the world float by from a boat deck – or cycling along nearby paths – as well as optional shore trips to explore stimulating, memorable places with private guides.

All the meals are thought out by a great chef who incorporates fresh local ingredients and cuisine, as well as tailors to guests’ desires. With skilled professionals taking care of all the thinking about logistics and core needs, I have time to enjoy where I am and who I am with. Whether it’s romantic times with my husband, getting to know someone new onboard, or catching up with an old dear friend, the choices for a medley of settings is varied – European Waterways offers 21 vessels (from 8 to 30 passengers) that explore the rivers and canals of nine different European countries.

In the Beginning… France

My first barge trip was with a girlfriend from graduate school days at Stanford. Our lives since college had us living all over the United States, but never in the same city at the same time. A week on the waterways of France – sating our culinary appetites and curiosity – was an ideal way to catch up. I called the trip a “continuum of contentments,” in the France section of We enjoyed chateaus and Chablis, art and awe, while regaling and rejuvenating.

I loved going from lock to lock to see who the lockkeeper was. They ranged from a strong woman with cute kids, to a motorcycle tough-guy, to an artist who had flanked the banks with delightful papier-maché characters, an al fresco exhibit. For my own artful try, I dipped a paintbrush into a canal and mixed it with water colors, while my friend (a talented painter) gave me a lesson. At the next town, a kind crew member bought more water colors and other passengers also enjoyed playing with colors on paper.

For Romance, Italy

My next great barge trip was with my husband on a joyful journey that started and ended romantically in Venice, the captivating capital of canals and the perfect place to start a “la dulce vita” boat trip.

Victor learned first hand and first taste that barging and luxury can be synonymous as he wrote for GLOBAL WRITES

Barging can also be culturally rich and delicious. In the section on Literary Travel, in MY ADVENTURES: A Traveler’s Journal, I recommend, “Take La Bella Vita (the Beautiful Life) through Italian Waterways from Venice to Mantua for a shore dinner at Ca Zen, where Lord Byron wrote poetry and had secret trysts.”

For History, Great Britain

My husband and I still regale people with our trip through the incredible locks and lochs of Scotland. Queen Victoria first made them famous as a travel destination, and we felt like royalty while listening to private bagpipe concerts in the Highlands and getting to steer the boat in the waters where the Loch Ness monster supposedly resides.

We loved the blue poppies and Shakespearean associations of Cawdor Castle, where the crew surprised us with a picnic. Eilean and Urquhart Castles also conjured history. The pre-historic burial Clava cairns and the Glen Ord whiskey distillery conjured different kinds of spirits. And always the scenery was dramatic and beautiful.

Victor posted a video ( of our barge going through the Caledonian Canal, once considered the greatest engineering feat on the planet, and I highlighted the trip for WatchBOOM: Scotland is where I learned the slang word “More-ish,” which means, “it’s so good you want more.” There’s no question it confirmed that I want more canal barging as a way to explore a country.

For Tulips and Windmills…

Holland, here we come---- with Panache and panache!

For a full itinerary and videos on the Holland trip, go to:

Hurry to sign up if you want to jump aboard one of this year’s cruises that go from late March through April to mid-May.  The all-inclusive cruise (guides, shore expeditions, accommodations, food, drink) for 6 nights is $5,350 per person.

If you are a flower-lover and can’t book fast enough for the tulips of Holland, take a look at the Chelsea Flower show in May or other outstanding flower trips in England in July on the Magna Carta,

European Waterways also offers theme trips for golfers, families, opera lovers tennis lovers, art lovers, wine lovers--- and the ultimate lovers- honeymooners.

Some special 20 percent offers (!) are being made now for certain suites or to charter whole barges ---1-877-879-8808 toll free or

Author Lisa TE Sonne’s  HAPPINESS HANDBOOK cites research of why traveling is goof ro you, and her recent books encourage you to be the co-author in the journaling pages: The Great Outdoors: Nature’s Bucket List and My Adventures: A Traveler’s Journal .  See

Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou

By Bob Schulman

Tourists take a Cajun dance lesson. Photo by Bob Schulman.“Cajun country” runs through 22 parishes (much like counties) stretching across the southern part of Louisiana from New Orleans to the Texas border. Over a million people live in the region including some 250,000 Cajuns, mostly descendants of early French settlers. Many came to Louisiana in the mid-1700s after they were evicted from their homes in eastern Canada when the British seized the area, then called Acadia (now known as the Maritimes).

Over time, the name Acadian morphed into the name Cajun.

The tragic story of the Acadians' explusion from Canada and their struggles to find new homes is told in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic 1842 poem, Evangeline. Today, visitors can can drive just about anywhere in the Cajun heartland and chances are within a few minutes they’ll spot something – everything from bars to barber shops – named after Longfellow’s heroine.

Chef whips up a batch of jambalaya. Photo courtesy of Gondwana Ecotours.You can enjoy all this during a new, four-day tour of the region offered by New Orleans-based Gondwana Ecotours. Called the “Ultimate Cajun Country Adventure,” (, the tour includes kayaking in a bayou, cajun cooking and dancing lessons and stops at the Tabasco factory on Avery Island, the Lake Martin Wildlife Refuge, the Whitney Plantation (America’s first slavery museum), an organic pecan farm and a zydeco music studio. And yes, you’ll sample a hefty array of Louisiana food and drinks.

The all-inclusive tour starts at $1,499 per person. Guests will stay at a hotel in Lafayette, considered the heart of the state's French-speaking Cajun community. Surrounding the city (about a two-hour drive from New Orleans) are eight parishes heavily soaked in Cajun culture including the historically rich (and restaurant-packed) Vermilion Parish.

Among popular dishes served in Cajun-area restaurants are crawfish pie, file gumbo  and jambalaya. The latter is made from just about everything in and around the bayous that blossoms, sprouts, slithers, swims, crawls, wiggles, grunts, quacks and cackles.

Tour guests kayak in a bayou. Photo courtesy of Gondwana Ecotours.In addition to the four-day tour, guests can take Gondwana day trips to New Orleans and the surrounding area. The shorter trips include paddling swamps with naturalist guides, touring a historic sugar plantation, exploring New Orleans’ famous Treme neighborhood and learning about the history of Creole culture and jazz music.

A Gondwana Ecotours ( spokesman said the company “is committed to providing sustainable travel, maintaining an environmental and cultural focus and providing the vacation of a lifetime.” Gondwana’s many worldwide tours range from adventures in the Amazon rainforest, visiting the Maasai people of Tanzania, exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru and hiking in Alaska.

Vacationing with Moses, John the Baptist, Chris Columbus, Captain Bligh and Nelson Eddy

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Spanish cities are like time warps back to the days of Columbus and Magellan.Exploring a Greek island, a Mexican colonial town or a biblical site can be a lot more exciting fun if you put yourself in the sandals, boots and shoes of the historical superstars of those places.

In Jordan, for instance, it's a short climb to the top of Mt. Nebo, where you can look down on a valley of the River Jordan in eastern Israel – and get the thrill of seeing what Moses saw when he got his first look at The Promised Land. Later on, drive by Jericho on the Palestinian side of the valley and put yourself in the sandals of the ancient Canaanites. It's not hard to conjure up terrifying thoughts of Joshua's army circling the city to the scary blaring of rams' horns.

While you're in the area you can wade in the River Jordan in the place where Jesus Christ is said to have been baptized by John the Baptist. What's more, you can opt to be baptized yourself by a local clergyman, right there.

In southwest Spain, visit the Andalusian city of Palos de la Frontera and imagine it's 1492, and you're among sailors boarding the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria as the little caravels get provisioned for a long trip through uncharted waters. Maybe you'll get a chance to chat with Captain Columbus before your ship falls off the end of the earth.

Tourists ham it up in the footsteps of Moses atop Mt. Nebo.Jump ahead to 1519, and now you're in a waterfront town known as “the most Spanish of all Spanish cities.” It's the Andalusian gem of Seville, and you're on the docks of the Guadalquivir River getting ready to sail around the world with Ferdinand Magellan. You've been lucky enough to be assigned to a broad-beamed carrack called the Victoria – lucky because it was the only one of Magellan's five ships to make it back to Spain.

Stick with 1519 for a while, and picture yourself in a little Mayan fishing village on the island of Cozumel off the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Try to imagine 500 bearded guys wearing funny metal hats coming ashore yelling “Por Santiago” (for St. James, the patron saint of Spain). You didn't know it then, of course, but you had a front-row seat to what turned out to be the opening round in Hernan Cortes' conquest of Mexico.

Out in the Sonoran desert of northern Mexico, a stroll along the cobbled lanes, porticoed walkways and Andalusian courtyards of a city called Alamos takes you back to the 1700s, when this Spanish mining town was one of the richest spots on Earth. You half expect to see silver barons in silk shirts, velvet breeches and knee-high leather boots strutting off to count the day’s take. You can imagine ladies in hooped skirts and white petticoats heading to afternoon teas. Silver-plated carriages, it's said, once lined Alamos’ narrow lanes like Rolls-Royces along Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

A hand-carved door at the mansion of a silver baron in Alamos, Mexico.Jump through a time warp to the Pacific island of Tahiti in 1789, when the idyllic beauty of this spot prompted you and others in the crew of the HMS Bounty to tell Captain Bligh to bug off. True, you'd have been less inclined to do that in today's traffic jams and skyrocketing prices on the island, but centuries ago its pristine, palm-lined bays and moonlit beaches sure beat hardtack chow and getting thrashed now and then on the Bounty.

It's still the 1930s up in the Canadian Rockies at Lake Louise. Here, it's hard to resist belting out lines from Indian Love Call a la Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald as you mosey around this gorgeous mile-and-a-half-long lake. It's surrounded by snowcapped peaks, creating perfect acoustics for your version of that romantic song.

Finally, spend a few hours cruising around the Aegean Sea south of Greece,

and it's not hard to slip into the adventures of Odysseus on his 10-year-long trip back to Ithaca from the Trojan War. You can almost see yourself battling a three-headed monster on one island, steering clear of the Sirens on another and matching wits with the witch-goddess Circe (who turned you and the rest of the guys into pigs for a while) on still another.

And you thought there wouldn't be much to write home about from all these places.

Cinco de Mayo: Celebrating a Mexican victory in 1862

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Puebla's baroque-style cathedral is one of the largest in Mexico.PUEBLA, Mexico -- It was May 5, 1862, and it was going to be a glorious day for the French army and Emperor Napoleon III. Decked out in their finest uniforms, the troops could hardly wait to start slashing away at the city’s defenders as bugles blared l'attaque (attack) and battle flags proudly waved overhead. One general called it “the grande advance.”

But the French invaders, who had marched 135 miles to Puebla after landing at eastern Mexico’s port of Veracruz (and had to pass through Puebla on their way to Mexico City) would be defeated that day by rag-tag Mexican peasant brigades – much to the anger of Napoleon back in Paris.

Taking Puebla in France’s foray into Mexico – prompted by unpaid debts to Napoleon – at first looked like a piece of cake. So what if the French soldiers would have to get past two forts bristling with guns atop two opposite hills in front of the city. They'd also have to cross a quarter-mile-long trench between the forts packed with enemy troops and lined by sharp-spiked maguey cacti.

It would have been much easier to attack Puebla on the relatively undefended back side of the city, as urged by veteran Legionnaires among the 6,500 French troops gathered for the battle. But they were mostly commanded by civilians, typically noblemen with little combat experience, or none at all. Going around to the back, as one general put it, would have been “beneath the honor and dignity of France.”

So off went thousands of chasseurs, zouaves and other troops, charging up the hills short on artillery shot (someone miscalculated how much they'd need) and with ladders too short to scale the walls of the forts (another goof). What's more, it began raining, turning “the grande advance” into a muddy mess besides swelling the water in moats around the forts, making it even harder to get to the walls.

As bugles sounded the order to retreat, Mexico racked up its first (and according to the history books, its last) victory over a foreign army. A little over 460 French soldiers died in the battle vs. 83 Mexican losses.

The victory was short-lived, however, because the French came back to Puebla the next year –  this time with a bigger army – and after a pitched battle hoisted their red, white and blue tricoulour flag over the city.

Downtown Puebla is a jump back in time to colonial Mexico.Still, the date of the initial victory is celebrated each year at fiestas, parades, street dances and the like in Mexico as well as in Latino communities across the U.S.

Where is Puebla? Mexico’s fourth largest city – some 6 million people hang up their sombreros there – Puebla is about 80 miles east of Mexico City, a drive of 1 to 2 hours depending on the traffic.

Footnote: In Paris, Napoleon was said to be furious when he heard about the defeat of his army. The following year, he sent 27,000 reinforcements to Mexico for what turned out to be a two-month siege of Puebla. On May 17, 1863, the out-numbered, out-supplied and out-gunned Mexican troops – who by then had eaten their horses, dogs and cats and were mainly getting by on boiled leaves – finally threw in the towel. The French left three years later.


Story by Anne Z. Cooke; photography by Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld

River ships like the Scenic Pearl feel small when you’re onboard. In fact, most of today’s river ships are as long as a football field.

VILSHOFEN, Germany—Delayed at the airport in Nuremberg and thoroughly frazzled, we checked and re-checked our watches as the miles ticked by, with the Danube River and our Scenic River Cruises ship, the Pearl, nowhere to be seen.  

Once a tiny village and palace on the Moldau River (Vltava, in Czech) Cesky Krumlov could well have been the model for Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Now a bustling destination for holiday makers from five continents, its narrow cobbled streets are lined with dozens of gift, craft, food and souvenir shops. A full-day excursion to Cesky Krumlov is included at no extra cost on Scenic River Cruises’ Danube sailings.Gunter, meanwhile, hired to drive us to the dock in Vilshofen, for a nine-day Danube cruise and long-planned family vacation, calmly fiddled with the radio, tuning in a soccer match and then a music station. Finally he switched it off and sighing thoughtfully, gazed into the rear view mirror.

“The ship is waiting,” he remarked. “No worrying. Like American movies say, only rolling with the punches.”

Words to live by, indeed. Arriving just as the welcome-aboard party ended, we managed a glass of champagne and a hurried handshake with Captain Gyula Toth. With the Danube at flood levels, there was no way the 167-passenger Pearl was going anywhere, not that night.   

Nor was the next day wasted. Though it rained on and off, the kids kept busy exploring the ship and biking for miles along the river path while I rescheduled excursions, piano concerts and museum visits. Joining a tour of Passau, we drew a law student for a guide, an amateur historian as entertaining as he was knowledgeable. By bedtime we’d met enough people to discover that we – another passenger and I -- had attended the same high school. 

As for the Danube River, molten silver by moonlight, it looked as harmless as a backyard fishpond. Until the next morning when it reared up with a roar, rising another foot, flooding towns and fields, lapping at the undersides of bridges and thwarting cruise passengers.

It was then – still docked in Vilshofen – that I noticed Captain Toth had gone to ground.      

“He gave a talk our first night, but after that nothing,” said New Zealander Janet Holmes, a veteran ocean cruiser, who was eager to get going. “I’ve always wanted to see the Danube,” she said. “If they had a regular Captain’s Table, like the big cruise ships do, we could ask him when we’re leaving.”

A classic cliff-side pile overlooking a slight bend in the Danube, this castle, not far from the 18th C. Benedictine Abbey and Library at Melk, was identified by the ship’s crew as Schonbuhel Schloss (Castle). Built atop a rock fronting the river, it’s invincible from below and enjoys clear views up and down the Danube. Unlike many ruined castles along the Danube, Schonbuhel has survived intact. Near Melk, Austria.Hope sprang anew when Hotel Manager Miguel Rodriquez called a meeting. But when he announced that two other ships had hit a bridge, blocking our route, a muttered protest swept the lounge.    

“Why can’t we just leave? I paid for this and I want to go, or I want my money back,” yelled a tough-looking character who said he’d been on 20 cruises and expected better. What he didn’t realize was that river cruising is nothing like ocean cruising. Water levels change. The current never stops. Whirlpools gouge the river bottom, shifting sandbars. Tributaries deposit debris. Some low bridges are impassable. And the water can rise in minutes. 

Or fall just as fast. A couple hours later the river levels dropped, the sun came out and the Pearl cast off, heading downstream between low mountains, beside rocky cliffs and past ancient castles and vineyards.     

“It’s like driving a car,” said Toth when I finally found him in the bridge house, hunkered down and peering at the current.  “You can’t take your eyes off the road – or the river – for a minute,” he said, gesturing to the first mate to take the helm while we talked. “You can’t stop to look at a map, or even get a cup of coffee. I’ve been on the Danube for more than 20 years, from one end to the other, and there’s always something new.”      

A slow start not withstanding we made it to every port on the itinerary. At Passau, Regensburg and Durnstein we had a choice: to walk into town, ride the bus, join a guided tour or admire the landscape from the seat of one of the ship’s electric bikes. Full and three-quarter-day bus tours went farther afield (thank you, Scenic, for the newest, plushest, sleekest buses ever); to Salzburg (this earned a thumbs down as too far and too many tourists) and to Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic.  

River banks and barges, castles and churches, meadows and marshes, all are photo opportunities for passengers on the Scenic Pearl’s eight-day romantic Danube River Cruise. Seen here, the countryside at mid-day, in Austria.Vienna offered a variety of choices, ranging from sightseeing and the Lipizzaner horses to museums and a piano recital at the Liszt Music School. Our dressiest evening added a touch of class, with wine and an opera recital at the Palais Liechtenstein. On-ship events included a Viennese waltz performance and beginners’ lesson, and a folk dance group and band.

The kids immediately invented a competitive “spot-the-ships” game that awarded points for each sighting, a list that included Tauck Tours’ “Joy,” A-Rosa’s “Silva” and “Bella,” Ama’s “Prima,” Scenic’s “Jasper,” the “Jane Austen,” Emerald’s “Sky,” Prinzessin’s “Sisi,” two Uniworld ships (we missed the names) and three Viking River Cruises’ ships.   

From a basket of memorable moments, I’d pick Durnstein for history and Cesky Krumlov for crafts. Built on steep terraces, tiny Durnstein is unique. But its stand-out feature is the hike uphill to the ruined castle on the rocks.  For me, seeing the place where in 1192, England’s King Richard I, returning home from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned for two years, put the Crusades on the map.   

In Cesky Krumlov, our sunny day wandering through this 13th century restored Czech hamlet, soon became a Tiffany-meets-Disneyland with dozens of sparkly stores on cobblestone streets. Built astride the Moldau River and bypassed by every major war, the town is now a designated UNESCO Heritage site, making it (for all you film location managers reading this) a set just waiting for a story.

Each summer evening in Budapest, as the sun sets, exterior lights illuminate the buildings along the Danube, a must-see spectacle celebrated by river cruises, late-night parties, riverside restaurants and visitors from around the world. Passengers on Scenic Cruises’ ship Pearl celebrate with cocktails and a lazy tour along the shore. Here, they look over the river at Chain Bridge, built in the 19th century to link the cities of Buda and Pest.Talking to Toth about working with Scenic Cruises produced another surprise. On the Danube, captains have just one task: steering.    

“Our union rules don’t permit us to do anything except navigate,” he said. “My duty is to deliver the ship and the passengers safely and on schedule.” He paused and thought it over. “See them, over there? That’s why steering is harder than it used to be,” he said, waving to three cruise vessels going the other way, each with a different outfit. “There are dozens of cruise ships now, and more on the way.”  

The result is a critical shortage of experienced employees, from cruise directors down to dining room waiters. Forced to hire beginners, service levels now vary from ship to ship.   

A few travelers couldn’t avoid comparisons. “We booked it because it’s advertised as a luxury cruise,” said Richard Holway, Chairman of TechMarketView, a UK firm. “But not by our standards. We’re very disappointed. The cabin and excursions are fine enough, certainly. But the service doesn’t compare with Silver Seas, where the staff greet you by name, ask after you every day and your waiter keeps an eye on you throughout the meal. These fellows don’t even notice when you try to get their attention.”

But most passengers gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up. The fact that the waiters, new hires from Romania and Bulgaria, were inattentive, didn’t matter. They were thrilled to be vacationing on a famous river and fascinated by new places and cultures. They liked the meals and praised the all-inclusive pricing. Even disappointed travelers eventually softened up. 

For some perspective on the size of the Danube as it passes Budapest, and a view of the dozens of river cruise ships that visit this major European capital city, join one of the excursions offered by Scenic River Cruises’ that include city views from Gellert Hill, behind above the city. Budapest, Hungary.“We’ve had a very good time,” said Janice Holmes who had to move from one cabin to another when a mystery leak soaked her rug, not once but twice. “These things happen but you can’t let it bother you,” she said, waving goodbye. Words to live by, for sure.


Contact Scenic River Cruises, an Australian company, at 857-201-0878. Or go to for more information and prices.

The Pearl and the Ruby, sister ships, sail in 2017 on the Rhine and Moselle. A newer ship, the Jade, sails on the Danube between Nuremberg and Budapest on June 5 and 12. Category D cabins start at $4180 per person for two in a cabin and include a fly-free option for one airline ticket. 


By Yvette Cardozo


You might worry about flight delays, bad weather and disappointing accommodations when thinking about what could ruin your vacation. But the lack of secure Internet access revealing social media posts and haphazard habits online can wreak havoc lasting long after beach tans fade and skis are put away.  

SNDR™ CEO and security expert Shaun Murphy ( has created a series of tips you can use to help keep your personal information and private files safe while away from home.

Even if you don’t want to do all of these, just a few of the common sense ones (update your operating system and anti virus/malware programs and apps, be careful of free wifi, browse safely) will help a lot.

Prep Before You Go

Patch Up. Packing, printing airline tickets and organizing maps are not the only to-do list items that need to be tended to before a vacation begins. Check all devices staying at home or going on the trip for software updates. Not running system updates is like putting out the welcome mat for cybercriminals. Operating system security holes that could have easily been patched with a quick click can leave you vulnerable to hacks.                                                                

Remove Data. Backing up is always important, but before you travel it is essential. Removing unnecessary sensitive data from your devices going on the trip including photos, videos, financial documents and stored passwords can save you from heartache and headaches down the road if your devices are breached, stolen or misplaced.                                       

Wipe Your History. Clear your browser cache files and remove saved passwords. If you accidentally connect to an unsecure Wi-Fi network while traveling do not make it effortless for criminals to steal your private information such as bank access, work emails or photos.                          

Fake It. Create temporary passwords for sites you plan on accessing while traveling. It is estimated that 60% of people use the same password, or a variation of one, for every account. If you get hacked while traveling, having a temporary “throwaway” password for email or social media will prevent a headache of worry over if your home accounts were compromised.  

While Traveling

Pay Up. Avoid logging onto free Wi-Fi networks that are unsecure. If you do not have to ask a store or restaurant owner or employee for a password it isn’t worth saving a few dollars to check your email for free. It could end up costing you a lot more in the long run if a hacker has set up a benign looking “free” network that he or she is using to read everything on your computer.                                                                                                                                          

Browse Safely. Make sure you are using a secured connection to websites when available. A simple https:// instead of http:// in your web browser's URL bar will protect you from most threats local and remote. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a utility that will automatically use a secure connection for you. Learn more about it at                                                                     

Double Down. Enable two-factor authentication on your important web services (email, social media, etc.) so in the event that someone does gain access to your passwords they need a second code to get in. Guidelines for setting up two-factor authentication can be found at                                                                                 

Privatize Wi-Fi. For additional security when using a Wi-Fi network at a hotel or airport, consider using a VPN on your laptop. A VPN creates an encrypted connection to a third-party server, and all your Internet traffic is routed through that server. Snoopers on the network will only see encrypted data.                                                                                         

Share Wisely. While it is tempting to post about a vacation on social media or keep a blog about your adventures to stay in touch with family and friends, resist the urge. Every tidbit of information you publicly share online is a breadcrumb criminals can use to piece together a snapshot of your life that can lead to them to cracking your passwords and hacking your digital accounts.                                                                                                                                 

Shut Down. Switch off the wireless connection on your phone, tablet and laptop when they are not in use. By keeping the connection off you are taking another step in protecting your digital identity, by preventing an opportunity for criminals to automatically connect to your device on an open network without you ever knowing what happened.

After Returning Home

Sweep Clean. Running a security sweep when you get home is a wise precaution. Check your computer and other devices for spyware, malware and viruses. One indication that malware could be looking is an increase in memory use or data use that is otherwise inexplicable.

Culinary Capers on Land and Sea

By Ginger Dingus

I never tasted a limoncello I didn’t like. A glass of the silky Italian liqueur flavored with lemons is the perfect ending to an evening meal. Your limoncello moment might be in a trattoria in Italy, or it could be at an Italian restaurant aboard a cruise ship. In fact, it was on board a cruise ship that I was first introduced to limoncello.

But wait. It gets better.

Nurturing my inner chef at sea

Thanks to a cruise to Central America aboard Oceania’s lovely Marina, I’ve discovered a delicious new way to imbibe—drunken limoncello cake. I’ve even learned how to make it. Now that’s amore, and it all happened in a cooking class called “Love of Lemons” offered in the ship’s professional-style culinary center.

Mid-way through class, I felt a bit tipsy, though we hadn’t yet left port. The recipe for the aptly named cake did call for a generous portion of limoncello for soaking purposes. Then there was the welcoming flute of bubbly to get the dozen or so of us participants in the proper mood to create culinary delights. And what chef doesn’t like a sip of wine now and then while working? Our instructor, Executive Chef Kathryn Kelly, obliged, noting that “cooking wine is any wine you actually drink.”

When launched in 2011, Marina was the first cruise ship to offer hands-on cooking classes in a purpose-built culinary center. The ocean-view room has 12 well-equipped stations, each meant for two cooks to share. I partnered with my husband in making chicken scaloppini, lemon risotto and that marvelous limoncello cake which we later topped with lemon basil gelato. Be forewarned, skip your dinner reservations on class day. You’re expected to eat what you cook. Believe me, it’s so yummy you won’t be able to resist.

Culinary adventures ashore

The culinary experience is the cornerstone of Oceania Cruises, and that includes time spent ashore. It’s here that Kathryn Kelly is in her element, creating the line’s 50 culinary discovery tours in ports worldwide. “I ask where would I like to go if I had one day in the port? The magic of these tours is meeting the people who are behind the scenes,” she said.

Docking in Roatan, Honduras we sampled Kelly’s version of an ocean-to-table dining experience and met the chef behind the local shrimp scene. Roatan is an island, 36 miles long, four miles wide and housing a population of about 110,000. Our first stop, Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum and Hydroponic Farm, is where much of the island’s fresh spices and lettuces are produced hydroponically. Using nutrient-rich water and no soil, the farm’s crops take just 52 days from seed to harvest. We gathered fresh salad greens for our lunch and moved beachside to Big French Key where we met Chef Sam.

Pink shrimp are a specialty of Roatan, and Chef Sam was the local man ready to show us how easy it is to cook them. He prepared shrimp cocktail with a tangy sauce freshly made with tomatoes and a small dose of a hot, bull nose pepper. Next came garlic shrimp cooked for three to four minutes in butter with garlic and parsley. Saving the best for last, Sam dipped the shrimp in a light batter and freshly grated coconut before quickly frying them in oil. He proudly displayed his hand-made grater, fashioned with “a hammer, a nail and a tin can.” Our lunch was a plate of shrimp three ways, rice, beans, cassava chips and hydroponic salad.

Dining choices galore

For a ship of 1,250 passengers, Marina offers a remarkable number of dinner venues, eight to be exact, plus room service. Of these, all but two are complimentary. Due to their outstanding cuisine and popularity, the four included specialty restaurants require reservations in advance.

During our week on board, we sampled six venues, discovering new treats each evening. At Jacques, the shipboard restaurant overseen by Master Chef Jacques Pepin, fresh bread is baked daily from flour specially purchased from France. That bread paired perfectly with the after-dinner trolley of French cheeses. At Red Ginger, the Asian restaurant, our waiter offered us a choice of chopsticks from a special presentation box. At Toscana, the place for Italian dishes, we carefully selected our olive oil from a menu of 10 varieties, all from Italy. We also had a choice of three different balsamic vinegars. Did I mention the head of roasted garlic accompanying our basket of breads?

Manatees to Mayan ruins

Enough of the foodie talk. There’s more to cruising than floating between breakfast, lunch and dinner tables.

Our Tropical Tempos itinerary, round-trip from Miami, called in four countries, including the U.S. In Harvest Caye, Belize, Oceania’s parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line, recently opened the cruise industry’s newest private island. There’s nothing like having seven acres of white sand beach reserved for the passengers of one smallish ship. We had our pick of hundreds of lounge chairs, hammocks and umbrellas. The large pool’s swim-up bar beaconed, but we opted for fish tacos and tropical drinks at a bar overlooking the zip line and our docked ship. Later, we hopped in a boat to tool around the lagoons in search of manatees, which we saw frequently breaking the surface to breathe.

While I was off learning to cook pink shrimp in Roatan, Honduras, my husband visited the only cameo factory in the Americas. Founded in 1851, Stone Castle Cameo Institute produces fascinating cameos from large seashells. You might even see your cruise ship or a Harley motorcycle carved as a cameo. No subject is off limits when it comes to art.

In Costa Maya, Mexico, we boarded a modern bus for the hour’s road trip to the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben, meaning the place of red corn. Dating back roughly 1,500 years, Chacchoben’s temples were overgrown with vegetation as recently as 1972. In fact, excavation only began in 1992. The site is now a national park with six exposed temples and plenty of work still to be done. You might say that’s food for thought.

Alamos: A treasure in the Sierra Madre

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Alamos looks much like it did centuries ago.Townsfolk claim the mysterious German writer who used the name B. Traven wrote his famous novel Treasure of the Sierra Madre in the village of Alamos out in western Mexico's Sonoran desert.

It's easy to see how this old Spanish mining town might have inspired a book about the lure of riches waiting to be ripped from the hills.

A stroll along Alamos' cobbled lanes, porticoed walkways and Andalusian courtyards takes you back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when the silver mines of the nearby Sierras made this city one of the richest spots on Earth. You half expect to see mining barons in silk shirts, velvet breeches and knee-high leather boots strutting off to count the day’s take. You can imagine ladies in hooped skirts and white petticoats heading to afternoon teas. Silver-plated carriages, it’s said, once lined Alamos’ cobbled lanes like Rolls-Royces along Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

The mines gave up so much silver that the town had its own mint. From there, the shiny stuff was loaded on mules, which went plodding off to Mexico City on a segment of the Royal Highway specially built to carry the loot from Alamos. The city also had its own silk factory – even silver barons had to dress for success – the worms having been cultivated in white mulberry trees imported from Japan along with gardeners and silk weavers.

The city sprung up in the 1680s as a bedroom community for the fabulously wealthy mining jefes (bosses). Many of their mansions, handed down from generation to generation, are now owned by U.S. and Canadian expats who bought them as retirement homes or to turn them into hotels, inns and guest houses.

Tourist at hand-carved doors to a colonial mansion.The dons and donas may be gone, but tourists can enjoy their legacies in 188 preserved buildings – everything from mansions and mills to the local jail – tagged as national historic monuments.

Wander around the city (you can walk from one side of it to the other in 20  minutes) and you might run across the home-turned-museum of Mexico’s old-time movie queen and Alamos’ most famous daughter, Maria Felix, known as “The Mexican Marilyn Monroe.” Elsewhere in the city are the former homes of American stars Mary Astor and Carroll O’Connor.

Sooner or later you’ll end up in the zocolo (the town square), the village’s most popular spot. Here, families drop by for picnics or to catch up on the latest gossip. At night, you might hear the sweet strumming of Mexican guitars from the square’s bandstand – mixed now and then with loud, thumping sounds.

Look close, and you'll likely see the thump-a-thumps are coming from boom-boxes in the vintage jalopies of teenagers cruising the zocalo. The kids probably don't know it, but they're re-enacting a centuries-old mating ritual once done with carriages circling the country's zocalos.

At Alamos, perhaps in silver-plated carriages.

Getting there: Check out a map of Mexico and you'll see the state of Sonora just below Arizona. Now, look for a tiny speck down at the lower end of Sonora – literally at the end of the road. That’s Alamos.

Many visitors opt to drive down from the U.S. and do some sightseeing along the way. The highway from Tucson takes you across the border at Nogales, then down Sonora to the state capital at Hermosillo and the beach resorts at Guaymas and San Carlos on the Sea of Cortes. When you get to Alamos you'll have driven about 475 miles.

About B. Traven: That was the pen name of a German writer who came to Mexico in the 1920s. Beyond that, not much is known about him for sure, not even his real name. Among his literary works were 12 novels, including some in which his main characters were German political activists who fled to Mexico in the 20s. He departed from that theme in his 1927 masterpiece, Treasure of the Sierra Madre.


By Carole Jacobs

It’s Indian summer down at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. The aspen shimmers orange and gold against the evergreens and the churning river is heavy with snowmelt.

But in just 20 minutes, we’ve risen through several eco-climates and into a scene straight from Frozen:  The glinting icefield is ringed by splintered crags, and at my feet, an aquamarine stream rushes from a snowbank and sparkles for a few seconds before vanishing into a fissure.

In the still, thin air, we can hear the wap-wap-wap of the helicopter long before we can see it. It lands without a skid and as the door swings open, we climb up into a welcoming cushion of warmth. Lifting out of the frozen chasm, we see the snow cone of Denali piercing the sky at 20, 320 feet.

The pilot steers the copter past razor peaks and stony spires where clusters of Dall sheep cling like Velcro. We dive into the tundra, a treeless expanse of meadows carpeted with mosses, lichen, miniscule wildflowers and berry bushes, and before we can catch our breath, cross the raging river and land in a small circle of grass near the lodge.  

Vast, empty and no cell phone service equals you’d better have a guide

I live off-the-grid in California’s High Sierra. We don’t have electricity, cell phone service or Starbucks up here -- just miles of wilderness and beautiful views of 14,505-foot Mt. Whitney, my neighborhood peak and also the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. I used to think this was the wilds. Then I visited Alaska and discovered what “the last frontier” really means.

Denali pretty much makes Mt. Whitney look like an ant hill. But Denali isn’t just high: Encompassing 9,492 square miles, the peak (combined with the rest of the national park that bears its name), is also mind-boggling vast, and nearly all empty: You could put Yosemite National Park in one corner of Denali and there’d still be plenty of room left for Death Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, Yellowstone, Glacier, Big Bend and Yellowstone national parks.  

Last fall, when I was invited to explore Alaska’s wild places by land and by sea with expert guides from Princess Cruises, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. We’d spend the first week touring Denali National Park, and the second week cruising through Glacier Bay National Park and the Inside Passage south to Vancouver, B.C., with stops in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Vancouver. We’d explore by foot, bicycle, dog sled, canoe, kayak, tram, catamaran, fishing boat, narrow gauge railway, jeep, horse and jet boat, and when that wasn’t enough, by sea plane and Cessna.

North to Alaska

We began our journey in Fairbanks, with the late August air already hinting at the Big Freeze that would encase the city all winter.  The Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge was the first of several rustic-chic hotels we’d enjoy on the tour, not to mention the first of many memorable feasts showcasing Alaska’s bounty: wild salmon, crab legs, shrimp, cheesecake topped with mounds of wild Alaskan blueberries, local wines and beers –- if you thought the Alaskan wilds would be a good place to lose a few, Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.

From Fairbanks, we headed into Denali National Park and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, a stone and glass monument to the mountains overlooking the national park village. So much for campfire grub -- we could sip a cappuccino in a café overlooking the stream, have a slice of gourmet pizza or wallow in grilled salmon at the Mountain View Restaurant, a swank eatery that looked like it had been drop-lifted in from Rodeo Drive.

Close-ups of Denali

The next morning, we boarded a souped-up school bus with giant windows and video monitors linked to a telescopic video lens for The Tundra Wilderness Tour of the park. En route we got a rare glimpse of the peak (mountains make their own weather and Denali is usually clouded over) and close-ups of caribou, a moose who was a dead ringer for Bullwinkle and a large grizzly bathing in a stream. He looked just like Pooh Bear sitting there scrubbing himself clean and panting like a dog. Then he stood up on his hind legs and whoa! I was glad there was some steel between us.

That night, the Northern Lights swirled across the sky in pulsating waves of greens, reds and purples --a magical ending to a day of wonder.

A day later, we’re at Princess McKinley Lodge, a park lodge overlooking the south side of Denali.  It was another blue-sky day and the mountain looked huge -- like I was viewing it through a zoom lens. A tiny plane took us up-up-up to within 500 feet of the summit of Denali. At close range, Denali proved to be many peaks, spires and ridges, not the giant snow cone it appeared to be from a distance.

Back on terra firm, we toured the historic burb of Talkeena. Founded in 1919, the town looks like it’s on loan from Northern Exposure and is a popular base for climbers. Just beyond town, we said goodbye to Denali and boarded Princess’ Direct-to-the-Wilderness Rail Service,, a 500-mile scenic train ride through the heart of Alaska to the tiny port of Whittier,  located on the west side of Prince William Sound about 58 miles southeast of Anchorage.

The scenic sail to Vancouver

The Star Princess was docked in port and waiting to take us away in the 4-star fashion to which we’d become accustomed – nonstop salmon, shrimp and crab legs; movies under the stars; heated pools; a swank fitness center and spa; several cafes, bars, snack shops and restaurants; a library and computer room; pizza and ice cream stands and cushy cabins with balconies overlooking the ever-changing views..

The following morning, we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park, covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords. The ship anchored a few hundred feet from Hubbard Glacier, a massive hunk of ice that is 40 stories high and 76 miles long. We hung over the balcony as 10-story-high chunks of ice crashed into the sea with a cannon-like boom and sent up walls of seething foam and spray.

Boom-to-bust Skagway

We sailed all night, rising at dawn to find the ship had docked in Skagway, a boom-to-busting mining town that once lured thousands of fortune-hunters bound for the Yukon goldfields.  I boarded the historic White Pass & Yukon Railway for an eye-popping ride from the ocean to the mountains. An engineering marvel on par with the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty, the 110-mile railway was completed in 26 months in 1898 by blasting through the mountains with 450 tons of explosives.

Today, the fully restored cars, pulled by vintage diesel locomotives, climb nearly 3,000 feet over the first 20 miles of track. I gasped as the train rounded cliff-hanging turns, passed by thundering Bridal Veil Falls, plunged into mouse-hole tunnels and crossed trestle bridges that spanned yawning gorges.  Near White Pass Summit, we passed the original Klondike Trail of '98. Worn into the rocks, the trail stands witness to the thousands of souls who passed this way in search of gold.

Alaska’s capitol city

We sailed all night and woke the following morning in Juneau. I spent the morning riding the Mt. Roberts tram to the summit and then hiking through dense spruce forests to the Alpine Tea House, where I settled in for a cup of blueberry tea cup and scones smeared with Alaskan spruce tip jam.  

For lunch, I boarded a small floatplane for an unforgettable flight over lush rainforests and waterfalls, past snowcapped peaks and over five breathtaking glaciers. The plane landed with a splash at the 1923 Taku Glacier Lodge, located across the Taku River from Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier. Inside, we sat down to an all-you-can-eat home-style feast of wild Alaska salmon, homemade baked beans, coleslaw, sourdough bread and ginger cookies and lemonade chilled with ice from the glacier.

In Ketchikan, the salmon capitol of Alaska and a former Indian fishing camp located on an island, I spent the morning flight-touring Misty Fjords National Monument, the "Yosemite of the North," gawking at views of 1,000-foot waterfalls, glistening lakes,  low-hanging mists and sheer granite walls plunging 3,000 feet to remote fjords.

In the afternoon, I took another seaplane flight from the bustling downtown Ketchikan harbor past Revillagigedo Island and the spectacular mountains of the Tongass National Forest.  Everyone on board applauded the pilot as he did a water landing right in front of the George Inlet Lodge, a remote, rustic oasis that once served as an early 1900s cannery bunkhouse. We were escorted inside for another all-you-can-eat feast of Dungeness crab, and for dessert, cheesecake smothered in giant Alaska blueberries.

Bound for the Inside Passage

That night, we left Ketchikan and spent the next day at sea sailing through the Inside Passage to Vancouver. Stretching south from the Gulf of Alaska to the British Columbia coast and Puget Sound, Washington, the Passage has more than 1,000 islands, thousands of coves and bays and staggering scenic variety. One moment we were sailing through a wide bay of barrier islands and the next we were cruising through a narrow waterway flanked by towering forested walls.

When we arrived in Vancouver, B.C., it was an overcast morning and the sky was heavy with rain.  I thought about staying an extra day to explore this gorgeous and fascinating city. But my camera was full, my laptop battery was dead, my feet were sore and my senses were seriously sated. In the end, I decided to call it a day -- and save Vancouver for a sunnier one.

Information: Princess Cruises,; @PrincessCruises#ComeBackNew

Costa Rica holiday celebrates a national hero

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Sign welcomes arrivals at Juan Santamaria International Airport.Vacationers lucky enough to be in Costa Rica on April 11 have a special treat in store. It’s what amounts to a country-wide party, celebrated at street dances, in bars and restaurants and at backyard barbecues – and tourists are welcome to join in the fun.

That day, a national holiday, honors a lad named Juan Santamaria who made his  mark on Costa Rican history 161 years ago. Look close, and you’ll see his name on the terminal of the country’s main airport at San Jose. You’ll also spot that name on avenues, statues, parks, plazas and shopping centers. Even on casinos.

Back in April of 1856 Americans were in a bitter election year. Few were aware (or even cared about) a drama playing out thousands of miles south of the border. Among the main players were an American billionaire and his vast steamship empire, a mercenary army hired by the billionaire, a Nicaraguan rebel army, the U.S. Congress, what later turned out to be the Panama Canal and Santamaria, a 25-year-old drummer boy in the Costa Rican army.

Enter the billionaire

Little girls wear flowers in their hair for the holiday.When gold was discovered in Northern California in the mid-1800s, railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt hit paydirt with a fleet of steamships carrying miners down the east coast to ports in Nicaragua, where they hopped on smaller steamers (also owned by Vanderbilt) to cross the country on river routes through the jungles. On the other side, Vanderbilt’s bigger steamships waited to take them up the Pacific shores to San Francisco and riches in the gold fields.

At the time, France had struck out in an attempt to dig a 50-mile-long canal out of the muck and jungles of Panama, and the U.S. congress was mulling heavy lobbying to take over the failed French venture in Panama. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was said to be putting pressure on Congress to instead build a canal across Nicaragua by linking up the country’s lakes and rivers (over which he already operated a transport service). But Congress was reluctant to act, one reason being that rebels threatened to unseat the government of Nicaragua.

Enter the mercenaries

Congress could hardly back the Nicaragua project in the middle of a rebellion, so Vanderbilt stepped in to restore stability to the country – by footing the bill for an army of American mercenaries to boot out the rebels.

Led by a 30-year-old adventurer named William Walker (who’d once tried to invade Mexico), the mercs earned their keep and sent the rebels packing. But then Walker double-crossed Vanderbilt. He took over the government, declared himself president and renamed the country “Walkeragua” (with English as its official language). While he was at it, he also took over Vanderbilt's trans-Nicaragua water transit system.

Vanderbilt retaliated by getting his buddy, President Juan Rafael Mora of neighboring Costa Rica, to declare war on Walker.

Workers in a flower factory prepare plants for shipment.Enter the drummer boy

A few weeks after the Costa Ricans crossed the border a key battle took place in the city of Rivas in southwest Nicaragua. In the high point of the fight, the Costa Ricans found themselves pinned down by Walker's men, who'd holed up in a strategically located building. But drummer boy Santamaria saved the day when he volunteered to toss a torch on the thatched roof of the building, even if it meant exposing himself to heavy fire.

The boy's plan worked. The enemy abandoned the building, letting the Costa Ricans move on to occupy the town. But the victory turned out to be bittersweet because the boy was gunned down by an enemy sniper.

Santamaria has been remembered ever since on the day of the battle, April 11.

Belize lodge debuts world-class fishing package

By Bob Schulman

Attention discerning anglers: Fishing experts down in the Central American country of Belize want you to know about a special six-day package combining eco-tours and fishing the country’s rivers, channels and flats. Slated for this upcoming May 6-13, the package features fishing for tarpon, permit and bonefish from 23-foot fiberglass panga skiffs.


Guests will stay at the Belize River Lodge on the green banks of the Belize Olde River a few miles from its entrance into the Caribbean Sea. Guided excursions from the lodge include snorkeling Belize’s barrier reef, birding, ziplining, cave tubing and visiting Mayan ruins, Belize City and the Belize Zoo.

Put together by Frontiers International Travel based in Gibsonia, Pa, the trip ( starts at $4,375 per person based on shared accommodations and shared guide.

Belize River Lodge.

Local waters are said to be brimming over with tropical fish. Lodge officials report it’s not unusual for some guests to score a “grand slam” every day (when an angler is able to catch a bonefish, tarpon and permit on the same day).

The Belize River Lodge was the first fishing lodge built in Belize. Sleeping as many as 16 guests, the property has eight double rooms, each with a private bathroom. Meals are prepared in the Belizean-Creole tradition.


Bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala and with the Caribbean lapping its eastern beaches, Belize was once known as British Honduras. It changed its name to Belize in 1973 and won its independence from Britain in 1981.

Photos courtesy of Barry and Cathy Beck, trip hosts.

Mardi Gras: Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday

By Bob Schulman

Revelers in Mazatlan’s Plaza Machado.

Try to imagine 600,000 people prancing around in elaborate costumes, shaking their booties and otherwise whooping it up for Mardi Gras. No it’s not New Orleans. Or Rio. It’s Mazatlan (, a beach resort in western Mexico, where every last hotel room in town is filled for the holiday weekend. On top of that, thousands more revelers are ashore for the day from cruise ships packing the harbor.

Float in one of Mazatlan’s Mardi Gras parades.

As they say in New Orleans (the world’s No. 1 Mardi Gras celebration), bon ton roulet – let the good times roll. Mazatlan comes in as No. 3. So where’s No. 2? That would be Mobile, Ala.

World’s No. 1 Mardi Gras is in New Orleans.

Among highlights of Mazatlan’s celebration last month, revelers enjoyed three queen coronations and two seemingly never-ending parades along the city’s 12 miles of sparkling beaches.


Said to have been brought to Mexico by Spanish invaders during the colonial period, Mardi Gras today is typically celebrated in port cities such as La Paz, Veracruz, Cozumel, and Ensenada besides Mazatlan. The revelry typically goes on for five days each February, during which debauchery gives way to the more serious business of Lenten fasting.

Traveling With Mark Twain in Hawaii

By Rich Grant

The Sacramento Union, the best newspaper on the West Coast, sent him to the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was then called) and agreed to pay $20 for every letter or story he sent back.  Though Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, would go on to become America’s most famous writer and the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and would travel extensively around the world, he never forget Hawaii.  He called it “the loveliest stream of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.”


Though he was only in Hawaii for four months in 1866 and never returned, much later in his life he wrote, “No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done…. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud wrack;…in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.”

So when my brother and I decided to spend two weeks exploring the Hawaiian Islands, who better to be our guide than Mark Twain?  Armed with editions of Twain’s two travel books on the subject “Letters from Hawaii” and “Roughing It,” we decided to follow his route and see how much we could return to the Sandwich Islands of 1866, when it was still an independent kingdom and the most isolated population center on earth.


Twain arrived in Honolulu on March 18, 1866 after a ten day voyage and set out to explore the settlement of then 15,000.  “The further I traveled through the town the better I liked it.  Every step revealed a new contrast -- disclosed something I was unaccustomed to…I saw luxurious banks and thickets of flowers fresh as a meadow after a rain, and glowing with the richest dyes…I saw huge-bodied, wide-spreading forest trees, with strange names and stranger appearance – trees that cast a shadow like a thundercloud….I saw long-haired, saddle-colored Sandwich Island maidens…gazing indolently at whatever or whoever happened along.”

Much like Mark Twain, we arrived in Honolulu after what seemed like a ten-day trip, although it was really just a seven-hour flight and five-hour delay.   After negotiating the maze of Waikiki streets, we checked in, had a drink and walked out at midnight into a light mist of rain.   And into a Hawaii not too far different from Twain’s.  Oh, of course, Honolulu is a now sprawling city of 400,000, with 8 million more tourists thrown in.  But the shock of arriving from the mainland in winter was the same.  Here there were flowers – everywhere – in January, with palm trees swaying overhead and huge banyan trees covering a city block.  The temperature, even at midnight, was balmy and on every corner there were woman looking at us, perhaps not “indolently,” but at least sizing us up to see if we were potential customers.  Waikiki is known for boasting a large collection of streetwalkers.  They were all colors, races and sizes, and beautifully dressed.  And strangely, they were working the territory in front of the Moana Surfrider, perhaps the most gorgeous and expensive of Waikiki hotels, and one of the oldest, dating back to 1901.  On this street, Kalakaua Ave, which has the same look and feel of Rodeo Drive, with many of the same stores, it is an odd sight to see prostitutes on every corner.  Their target is rich Asian men, so two old, pale and poorly dressed Americans didn’t cause much excitement, but one did ask my brother if he wanted a massage.

The Waikiki of Twain’s day was a village of white cottages.  It was the royal coconut grove and one-time home of King Kamehameha I, the king that united all of Hawaii by winning a famous battle here in 1795.  It was also here on the thin sliver of Waikiki Beach that Mark Twain tried surfing, and first introduced the sport to the world.  “In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf- bathing. Each …. would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express-train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me.”

Today, of course, they are still surfing at Waikiki and the beach is home to the ultimate surfing tribute, a statue of the king of the board, Duke Kahanamoku.  But the real excitement of surfing in winter is on the north shore of the island – a place that would have been inaccessible to Mark Twain except by boat because in 1866, no road penetrated Oahu’s central spine of mountains.

Today, it’s a drive of an hour or so by tunnels and highway to Sunset and Banzai-Pipeline Beaches.  Both are known for their flat reefs that cause waves to break when they hit shallow depths, creating a huge curling tube of water that surfers can actually ride down the center.   In winter, these can be the deadliest of beaches with waves averaging nine feet, and reaching even 14-20 feet high, with the constant danger of surfers being hurled into the coral below.

The incredible thing when visiting is that the main road is literally at the edge of the beach.  You just pull over for free parking, and in less than a minute you can walk right up to the gigantic breaking waves and be so close that you can actually photograph a surfer in curl … with a cell phone!   Of course, the beach is lined with professional photographers with two-foot long telephotos and some of the top surfing photos come from here, but you don’t need one to feel part of the action.  You can buy cold coconuts at the beach, or it’s a short drive to Hale’iwa, an old hippie surfing town that is also home to the most famous of all North Shore stops:  Matsumoto’s Shave Ice.

Diamond Head

This 700-foot-high extinct crater looms over Honolulu and has fascinated every visitor from Mark Twain to the TV show Hawaii Five-O.  Twain rented a broken-down horse named Oahu and struggled to the top, but now people think nothing of walking from Waikiki and climbing to the summit at dawn, taking a $10 cab ride back to their hotel.  It’s an interesting hike, with tunnels and curving staircases cut through rock.  The summit was converted to an army lookout point in World War II.  Of course the view today includes hundreds upon hundreds of modern hotels, apartments and office buildings, but nothing much has changed along the shoreline or in the steep mountain crags, so much of the view is the same as Mark Twain described it:  “Impressed by the profound silence and repose that rested over the beautiful landscape…I gave voice to my thought.  I said:  What a picture is here slumbering…How strong the rugged outlines of the dead volcano stand out against the clear sky! What a snowy fringe marks the bursting of the surf over the long, curved reef! How calmly the dim city sleeps yonder in the plain! How soft the shadows lie upon the stately mountains that border the dream-haunted Manoa Valley!  How….at this point the horse called Oahu deliberately sat down in the sand.  Sat down to listen, I suppose….I stopped apostrophizing and convinced him that I was not a man to allow contempt of court on the part of a horse.”

On his way back to town, Twain noticed a beautiful island woman and thinking to impress her, he galloped by like a cavalier.  She called to his friend Brown, who was bringing up the rear and spoke to him.    Twain waited and when Brown caught up, he asked what she had said.  Brown laughed. “She thought from the slouchy way you rode and the way you drawled out your words, that you was drunk!  She said, ‘Why don’t you take the poor creature home, Mr. Brown?  It makes me nervous to see him galloping that horse and hanging on that way, and he so drunk.’ “


Twain’s next stop was Maui.  He wrote famously, “I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five.  I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever… I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place good-bye so regretfully.”

Most people feel the same way.  Twain based in Lahaina, so we did too.  In the 1800s, this large whaling town could have 400 ships in harbor at a time, and seemingly just as many bars, saloons and brothels.  One of the surviving buildings from the era is the sturdily built town jail.  Today, Front Street, Lahaina is a wacky mix of tourist shops, historic buildings with balconies, restaurants, galleries, stone churches and bars, with an old fort and picturesque harbor that offers bobbing boats and classic mountain and sea views.

Perhaps the two most familiar landmarks – the giant banyan tree that covers an entire city block and the historic balconied Pioneer Hotel where writer Jack London once stayed, both came after Twain’s visit,  But there are a dozen or so buildings from his time, and no matter how many Subway sandwich shops and pizza joints invade, Lahaina still has the look of an old whaling town.  Have a local Haleakala IPA from the Maui Brewing Company on the balcony of Captain Jack’s Island Grill, and you can drift with the swaying overhead palm trees back to a different time.

By 1866, the missionaries had arrived in Lahaina, and were in steady conflict with the sailors, the native Hawaiians and Mark Twain, who loved needling them.  He complained that the missionaries had come to make the native people “permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there.”   He wrote, “How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell.”

One of Mark Twain’s permanent gifts to Maui was popularizing the idea of watching sunrise from the 10,023-foot summit of the extinct volcano Haleakala, “the house of the sun.”   Twain camped on the top and at dawn had the not uncommon experience of being in bright sunshine, while all below him was blanketed with clouds.  “It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed, and I think the memory of it will remain with me always,” he wrote.  Today, the ritual, which involves driving twisting roads in the dark and freezing on the summit until the sun comes up, has become so popular that as of Feb. 1, 2017, the National Park Service requires permits and only cars with permits are allowed on the summit at dawn. No matter.  The summit view is fantastic at any time, and since the volcano is covered with hundreds of microclimates, there are always constantly swirling clouds and light formations.  Dress warm.

The Big Island of Hawaii

With its active volcano, waterfalls, and historic sites, Twain liked the island of Hawaii above all else.  He sailed from Honolulu and wrote, “We landed at Kailua (pronounced Ki-loo-ah), a little collection of native grass houses reposing under tall coconut trees – the sleepiest, quietest, Sundayest looking place you can imagine.  Ye weary ones that are sick of the labor and care… and sigh for a land where ye may fold your tired hands and slumber your lives peacefully away, pack up your carpet sacks and go to Kailua!  A week there ought to cure the saddest of you.”

I liked Kailua best of all myself.  The historic town consists of a half moon bay with the sea on one side, where towering waves crash against a rock wall breakwater every minute or so, sending a spray water splashing over the sidewalk.  On the other side, is a South Pacific paradise of historic buildings sprinkled with new ones made to look old with shutters, balconies, bars, live music, ABC liquor stores, towering palm trees and an assortment of Hawaiian tourists shops.

Of course, it’s touristy.  There’s a steady stream of cars, convertibles, motorcycles and people, with drifts of a live singer doing John Denver or a tourism shop playing Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song, by the way, that you’ll probably hear more than a hundred times.  The official Youtube page for the song has 261 million views.  I suppose there are people who hate it, but to me, never has a song captured a place better.  Even Mark Twain, a hundred years before the song was recorded, wrote, “Why did not Captain Cook have taste enough to call his great discovery the Rainbow Islands?  These charming spectacles are present to you at every turn; they are as common in all the islands as fogs and wind in San Francisco.”

Captain Cook was killed on Hawaii, a fact that fascinated Twain, and he spent a great deal of time visiting the site of the murder, and also the site where Cook was “cooked.”  Twain had no great respect for Captain Cook, who he thought had pretended to be a god and got what he deserved.  He delighted in the fact that when the British demanded the return of Captain Cook’s body, the natives could sheepishly only produce nine pounds of it… the rest having been eaten.  The monument to Cook that Twain visited is now underwater.  Not a good sign for global warming.

The big island is filled with sights visited by Twain that have changed little if at all.  You can walk by the massive black lava walls of Pu’uhonua o Honauuau, the City of Refuge, which is now a National Park.  The earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, is still 13,677 feet high and consumes half the island, while the planet’s youngest and most active volcano, Kilauea, is still spewing gas, smoke and ash, as it did when Twain climbed down into it.  You can have the same view of Halema’uma’u Crater from the Volcano House, that he enjoyed.  The current restaurant is new, but the location of the park’s only hotel is the same.  He wrote, “The surprise of finding a good hotel in such an outlandish spot startled me considerably more than the volcano did.”  Not only is the drop off Kilauea caldera steep, but so are the restaurant prices.  But at least stop in Uncle George’s Lounge for a Kona Brewing Co. IPA and the splendid view.  You might even want to stand by the fireplace – at 4,000 feet, it can be chilly up here.

Mark Twain also rode through the Waipi’o Valley, which is just as inaccessible today as in 1866, and rode up and down all of the Kona Coast, writing, “Kona to me will always be a happy memory.”

But his happiest memory of Hawaii appears to be the women, which he mentions over and over, most often when he happens upon them swimming or dancing what he called, the “hula hula.”  But being Mark Twain, he was always a gentlemen.  “At noon I observed a bevy of nude native young ladies bathing in the sea, and went and sad down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen.”

New adventure tours feature ‘transformative experiences’

By Bob Schulman

Visitors are welcome to drop by for tea in a Mongolian hut. Photo courtesy of MIR Corporation.Looking for something different for your vacation this year? The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) wants you – not surprisingly – to consider a holiday featuring an adventure-oriented “transformative experience.” Like zipping off to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia to get chummy with remote tribespeople while soaking up their rich culture in villages of the Hamer, Mursi, Karo, Arbore and Konso tribes.

Among other popular tours in the transformative genre you’ll get a chance to mosey around the forests of Rwanda looking for some of the world’s rare mountain gorillas. Elsewhere, perhaps you’d like to sip a little tea with Mongolian nomads. Or you can opt for a 4,700-mile cycling trip from London to Rome. On another tour you can jet over to Russia to train with cosmonauts and then get a first-hand look at the blast-off of a Soyuz spacecraft.

More info:

 Ethiopian tribesperson. Photo courtesy of Adventure Life.ATTA member Adventure Life will offer six 10-day “Isolated Tribes of Ethiopia” tours this year at rates from $4,415 per person (double occupancy) not including flights and visa fees. (Phone toll-free 1-(800) 344-6118.)

Price note: Like the Adventure Life tab, all of the following tours are priced per person (pp) double occupancy, and exclude international airfares.

Hop on a bike and ride in the footsteps of Julius Caesar in Ride & Seek’s cycling trip ( from London to Rome set for June 3-July 5, offered in in two stages. The tab for one stage (London to Italy’s Lake Como) is about $7,000 pp. Roughly double that for both stages.

You’ll find all kinds of transformative adventures in the lush forests of Rwanda, from tracking some of the last remaining mountain gorillas to hobnobbing with elephants and golden monkeys. ATTA member Gondwana Eco Tours ( is hosting three 8-night tours there this year starting on July 6, July 23 and Dec.1, plus one in 2018 starting Feb. 9. Tabs are $4,800 pp for the first two adventures and $4,940 for the second two.

Cyclists ready for 4,700 bicycle trip from London to Rome. Photo courtesy of Ride & Seek.Here’s your chance to be first on your block to sport a “I (love) Ulaanbaatar”

tee shirt. That’s the capital of Mongolia, and you’ll explore features of the city before flying off to the red sands of the Gobi Desert to celebrate the country’s famous Naadam Festival. MIR Corp ( has scheduled the 16-day trip for June 13-28. The price is $8,295 pp.

Another MIR Corporation trip takes you to Russia where you’ll float around in zero gravity with cosmonauts training in a simulated space station. Among other highlights of the 9-day tour you’ll join international space officials way out on the Kazakh steppe for the launch of a manned Soyuz spacecraft. The tour ( is planned for Sept. 6-14 at a tab of $14,495 pp.

A new study by the ATTA ( found that more than any other motivating factor, adventure travelers are seeking out transformative experiences while on holiday.  An expanded worldview, nature, mental health, and learning opportunities were other motivating factors revealed in the study. 

Springtime in Fairytale Bavaria

By Carole Jacobs

Looking for Grimm’s take on Germany, complete with a storybook castle with a spa, beer garden, 24-hour room service and (maybe even) a local Prince Charming to awaken you with a kiss? Forget about Disney World and head to Bavaria, a state in southeastern Germany where every enchanted village and cobblestone street looks like it popped from a cuckoo clock.

As well as being terminally quaint, Bavaria is the place to go if you love to eat -- and calories be damned! We’re talking 1,500 kinds of sausage — enough to link Earth to Venus and ring around Saturn; potatoes and dumplings prepared in various artery-clogging guises; a cheese shop around every corner (Bavaria produces 75 percent of the country’s cheeses) and enough sauerkraut to blast you to Mars. Wash it all down with bier, Bavaria’s national beverage (or wein, a close second) and no one will suspect you’re a tourist.

Go between March and June, Bavaria’s most fetching season, and you’ll also beat the summer crowds and heat. When spring gesprungen in Bavaria, Munich’s beer gardens are going full tilt under the flowering chestnut trees and every inch of the Alps is pure magic: Sound-of-Music meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, looking-glass lakes brim with glacier melt and Jacobs’ ladders stream through fir-scented forests, forming puddles of light where fairy rings bloom luminous.

They call this an airport?

From the minute I stepped off the plane and into Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport, I knew I wasn’t in LAX any longer. With its splashing fountains, flowering gardens, farmers markets and sidewalk cafes, Munich’s drop-dead-gorgeous airport looked more like The Left Bank than a gateway to the skies. At Sissi & Franz, an edgy re-imagining of a Vienna coffeehouse, bleary-eyed globe trotters were expresso-ing away their jet lag while over at Bubbles Bar, travelers were toasting the day with premium wines. At Airbräu, a combo open-air beer garden and Europe’s only airport brewery, waitresses in dirndl dresses scooted by carrying tankard-size pitchers of craft beer.

I walked past elegant hotels and swank pay-per-hour sleeping pods, chic bakeries where fresh cream oozed from every flat surface, pricey delis stocked with corned beef to sushi and duty-free shops where you could pick up a toothbrush or a diamond-studded ball gown,  a cinema and a miniature golf course, a visitors center where telescopes pointed at the night sky, a multi-cultural playground where the jungle gyms, swings and sand boxes built from materials flown in from five continents…it had almost been worth enduring the 21-hour-long red-eye from LAX just to land here.

I settled into Munich’s 4-star K+K Hotel am Harras just as breakfast was being served in the airy lounge. I passed on the Bavarian Breakfast of Champions (white sausages, soft pretzels, sweet mustard and beer) and before I could decide what to order, a chef in a tall white hat was handing me a plate of French toast dusted with confectioner’s sugar. “This is my favorite thing,” he said in uninflected English. “But if you don’t like it, there are many other choices.” There were heaping bowls of raspberries, blueberries and cherries; mounds of homemade pastries, muffins and scones; enormous platters of deli meats and cheeses; towers of butter cookies and gleaming stations where chefs were flipping Frisbee-sized pancakes or sautéing mushrooms and scallions for made-on-request omelets.

My first morning in Munich

Beyond the hotel, Bavaria’s bacchanalia continued at breakneck speed at Munich’s historic (1880s) Viktualienmarkt farmers market, where a maze of booths hawked fresh, homemade everything — from crafts, kites, toys and cheese to bread, cheese, cakes and toys to every edible part of a pig. Mazes of cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old homes cloaked in geranium suddenly dead-ended at pocket beer gardens where tough-looking motorcycle guys wearing leathers and full-body tattoos raised beer glasses with manicured frauleins in Manolos.

I walked all day in hopes of working up a Bavarian-style appetite worthy of Augustiner-Keller, one of Munich’s oldest (1812) and most beloved beer halls. As we entered, a live oompah band was blaring traditional music and diners who had apparently had one too many were dancing atop the long, wooden tables.

A waitress with multiple piercings who was literally popping out of her peasant blouse approached our table and without warning, slapped down in front of each of us a huge platter heaped with half a duck, a third of a roast suckling pig, several saucer-sized dumplings and a leaning tower of blue cabbage. “So where’s the rest?” I joked. “Nein!”  

Within a half hour, I was in a dumpling-induced stupor while my travel companions were growing more jovial with each refill of their steins. The steins were so huge (two pints!) that I was astonished when they announced they were heading out to spend the rest of the night beer hall-hopping. As they set off for Gärtnerplatz and Glockenbachviertel, two trendy ‘hoods housing Munich’s hippest watering holes, I headed back to the hotel for a hot date with my dunenkissen (down pillow).

 Someday my prince will come, but until then I’ll set the alarm

The next morning, we drove to the medieval town of Mittenwald, where every crayon-colored house was adorned with gingerbread gables and beautiful murals. At The Geigenbaumuseum, a famous violin-building museum, the violins were hanging out back on laundry lines to dry and work on their Baywatch “tans.” After the museum tour, we followed a hiking trail up into the hills and on to an Alpine meadow with a tiny gilded chapel painted in the same style as the houses in town. Across the sun-dappled lake, a row of jagged peaks crowded the horizon and cable cars strung up a steep mountain slope were lifting slowly to the Karwendelbahnn, a wilderness laced with hiking trails.

After lunch at a rustic lakeside pub, we hiked back to Mittenwald and then drove through rugged mountain countryside to Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa & Cultural Hideaway, a palatial spa resort tucked in the Bavarian Alps with several mansions’ worth of deluxe lodging and four spas --The Nature Spa nestled in a secluded stream valley while The Badehaus had a rooftop saltwater pool overlooking the mountains.

 President Obama and his entourage was arriving the next day, so rooms were scarce. Should I ever return, I’ll book a palatial suites (sorry, no Prince Charming included in the rate) and hike the three-mile trail from the hotel to Schloss Neuschwanstein, Bavaria’s famous storybook castle designed in 1869 by the country’s beloved King Ludwig II. Rumored to have his head in the clouds and his hands in the royal coffers, the king spent a fortune on a palace he never finished and in which he lived for just a few months. Yet even in its unfinished state, the castle jump-started Bavaria’s tourism industry and was the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Disneyland castle.

Isn’t it romantic?

 From the resort, we followed Bavaria’s Romantic Road through a succession of storybook towns, each one with a fairytale castle where I half expected to find Rapunzel letting down her hair. (Or was she serving suds in some rowdy beer garden tucked down one of the town’s adorable side streets?)

The most beautiful town of all was Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a walled medieval village of turrets, towers and gables — even the police station looked like it was on loan from Hansel and Gretel. We climbed steep, spiral staircases to the top of Town Hall Tower and admired the view as the sunset streaked the sky pink and purple and then surrendering to a canopy of stars. Back down, we dropped by a local bakery for a fortifying strudel before visiting the Medieval Crime Museum to see gruesome medieval instruments of torture.

Hearing a loud cry, we raced out of the museum and on to Market Square, where crowds of tourists had already assembled for the Night Watchman Tour. We followed close on his heels as he delivered a running commentary of long-ago Rothenberg, once so thick with thieves and drunks that a night watchman was required to safeguard slumbering residents. As we walked back to the hotel, Rothenberg’s many clock and church towers simultaneously chimed midnight.

Further along the Romantic Road was the town of Wurzburg, home of the Residence Palace, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Beautiful ceiling frescoes depicted the world view circa 1750: Wurzburg at center stage presiding over the savage Americas, mystical Asia and wild and wooly Africa.

A tale of Bavarian bier and wein

By the time we had toured 430 years of Bavarian wein history at Juliusspital, Germany’s largest wine estate, we were all ready to crash at Maritim Hotel Wurzburg.

It was our last night in Bavaria, and my travel buddies faced a tough decision: Should they hang in the hotel’s wine bar or head into Wurzburg’s old town for one last blitzkrieg in the beer hall? With an early morning flight to catch, I decided to hit the sack early for one last date with my dunenkissen. And my travel companions? They later claimed the night was a complete blank — which may be all you need to know about mixing German bier and wein.

For more info:

Shape editor joins Watchboom!


By Yvette Cardozo

Back in 1983, Lyle Points’ pop, Vernon, started to worry about the elk on his land. These were wild animals. And in harsh winters, they were doing badly.

“No elk is going to starve on my place,” he declared.

Why not give them a bit of help?

So he started dragging bags of hay out, sometimes breaking trail through five feet of snow, to give the elk a bit more food when food was REALLY hard to find.

Thus began a family legacy which has now stretched to three generations.

These days, the public helps. For $20 (less for kids) you climb into a sleigh, sit on bales of hay and go out to the nearby woods where the herd of Rocky Mountain Elk are patiently waiting. They, meaning the elk, not Lyle, have worked out a system. They actually take turns, some coming to nibble the hay from right under your rump, others sitting a few yards away until the next sleigh comes along.

Sometimes, it’s three sleigh loads a day. Sometimes only one. Sometimes none. But they still don’t go hungry because, as Lyle explained, “This is just the appetizer. Later, I will go out with more bales, cut them into chunks and drop them in a line.”

Like crumbs on the floor.

This winter is the snowiest, the coldest, the harshest in 30 years. Food is even harder to find than normal. And there are the wolves.

“I figure giving the elk some extra food is an extra bit of help to survive,” Lyle explains. As it is, the herd is down to 180 elk from previous years when it could sometimes reach 300.

So, my friends and I climb into Lyle’s sleigh, pulled by his two handsome, coal black Percheron horses and head for the nearby woods. We sit on fresh bales of hay and it doesn’t take long for the elk to come over. It’s the cows (females) and young males with tiny antlers that nudge in. There ARE bulls, some with seven point antlers (yes, that’s a LARGE rack). But the bulls just sit back, keeping watch. Okay, it is truly a bit strange to have a large wild animal nibble eagerly at something your rump is resting on. You can actually feel them chew. And certainly hear them as they crunch.

There’s a temptation to reach out and pet their furry heads, maybe stroke the small antlers of “teenage” males. But don’t. Lyle has rules. You don’t touch. You don’t get up. You certainly don’t feed them snacks you brought for the kids.

Meanwhile, during the ride, Lyle talks about elk, about how they eat and digest in their four-part stomach, what they eat on their own (any plant they can find), how many bales he takes out a day (16 - 20) and how his family got into the elk feeding thing because, well, they couldn’t bear to see such beautiful animals suffer.          


Turns out, Idaho has the most usable hot springs in the entire US…130 springs are, as they say here, “soakable,” out of the state’s 340 hot springs.

Yes, it’s warm down there underground. The state apparently sits above a massive hot spot that fuels not only this but the springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park. So, locals have their pick from rustic pools that are run like swimming holes of the 1950s to private (sneak in spots) to elaborate places that have been visited for well over a century.

In winter, many folk just rent a snowmobile and thrash their way around...something that could be risky if you don’t know where you are going or how to get there. A new option is the guided snowmobile trek out of Brundage Mountain ski resort through Brundage Snowmobile Adventures.

Upon learning about Brundage, my friends Mark and Lisa and I sign up. We met our guide, Brad, and are outfitted in warm snowmobile jackets and bibs, plus helmets, then climb aboard 800 cc Skidoos (twice as powerful as anything I’ve been on before) and take off. That machine could climb vertical walls. It took a bit to figure out just how much gas to give it, but soon enough, we are motoring along, cutting into a forest thick with pine, firs and Tamaracks.

The light snow gave the landscape an ethereal glow, as if we were traveling through a Christmas card during the snowiest winter in 30 years.

The trail takes us up the local foothills, where we stop a bit at an overlook, then down, finally, to an old pioneer trail, Warren Wagon Road.

I get my machine up to 50 mph on the open stretch, but wonder what will happen if I bounce off. Mark, a fearless soul, gets his up to 65. And, 35 miles after leaving Brundage, we turn into Burgdorf Hot Springs.

This place is a legend, owned by a local family and operating since 1865. It’s rustic, but has just about anything you want. You can rent a cabin overnight for $40 per person, there’s a simple cafe for food and, of course, the hot spring.

In winter, the place really does look like a Hallmark scene. Rustic cabins are picturesquely scattered around the rolling property and in the middle is the spring ... actually a large, rectangular pool with gravel bottom, two smaller VERY hot pools, a simple cafe with a building to change into bathing suits off to the side. Inside the main building, caretaker Caroline Huntley chats about the springs’ Fred Burgdorf built a simple hotel in the l800s and people would come by horseback to stay and soak.

In summer, you get here by car, but in winter the only way in is by snowmobile. You can buy a snack and pet the two resident (very friendly) dogs, then slide out of your travel duds and hit the water. The main pool is a soothing 100 degrees. The two small pools at the end hit a scalding 108 degrees or so. Good for maybe five minutes while you peer between window icicles at the snowy landscape.          

As we make our way back to the resort, we experience one last adventure on the final stretch of road. Four skiers and a snowboarder freefall down the mountainside, cutting between trees through the thick powder and sliding onto the road directly ahead of us.          

We wave as we speed past them to the lodge. That’s how it goes in Idaho.


Elk - Call the 208-325-8783 number. It’s $20 for adults, less for children. This is strictly winter. You ride out on a sleigh, sitting on hay bales.

Snowmobile - Brundage Snowmobile Adventures - snowmobile bibs, jackets and helmets are provided but not gloves or boots.

Burgdorf Hot Springs - Open year round.


Post your Valentine from the genuine, one and only Loveland, Colorado.

Each February, volunteers re-mail your cards to all 50 states and 120 countries. Submit your valentine to The Valentine Station by the due dates below:

For international destinations, your cards should be in Loveland by Feb. 4th.
For within U.S. and outside of Colorado, cards should be in Loveland by Feb. 7th.
For within the state of Colorado (and now Wyoming), cards should be in Loveland by Feb. 9th.

Send your Valentine card in a pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelope with 49 cent postage, extra postage for heavier and larger cards, to:

Attn: Valentine Re-mailing
446 E. 29th St.
Loveland, CO 80538-9998

  1. Denver Beer Co pairs beer and chocolate Feb. 14 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Taproom, 1695 Platte St., Denver, CO. Who knew chocolate and beer were a thing? Denver’s very own Chocolate Lab is creating artisanal sweets to match up with five of Denver Beer Co’s. fav beers. Limited tickets are available, so reserve now at
  2. Tune in. Clear Channel rebranded itself to iheartradio in 2014. If you haven’t had opportunity to listen, go to and name your preferred type of music. You can stream for free.
  3. Sweet Cheeks, a Lakewood-based company, offers handmade soap making classes. Get on line and register at You’ll smell sweet too!
  4. Meininger Art Supply, a staple in Denver since 1881 at 499 Broadway, has the perfect paper for your love notes. Kraft Graph Field Notes are serious and understated. If you draw, get Flexbook. Get red. It is Valentine’s Day after all.
  5. Temper Chocolates at The Denver Central Market features a chocolate case that opens just the way George Jetson would have planned. Use seeing how the case opens as the excuse to buy chocolates. One of the confections will not be enough. Buy in bulk.
  6. Are you a little bit country? Toby Keith’s eponymous watering hole at 8260 E. Northfield Blvd. is called Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar + Grill. Print the lyrics out so you have ‘em handy to hum along or just practice singing, “Mm, mm, mmm, mmm, mmm, I love this bar.”

Airlines to flood Mexico with more than a million new seats this year

Story and photos by Bob Schulman


What in the world is going on down in Mexico? Is the sun getting sunnier? Are the sands getting sandier? Or maybe the country’s millions of visitors are getting more bang for their buck (or their ruble, rial or rupee)?

Whatever’s happening, it’s sure paying off. Mexico’s international tourism has been growing at an annual average of 10 percent over the last few years – double the global average. What’s more, in the same period Mexico jumped from the 15th most visited country in the world to the 9th most popular destination.

And the country’s success story is still unwinding. “While the 2016 Mexico tourism numbers are still being finalized,” says Lourdes Berho, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board, “it’s clear that we will have another record-setting year of industry-leading growth in terms of international visitors to Mexico.”

Numbers like that aren’t lost on the airlines. Berho reports the world’s international carriers are set to add more than a whopping 1,000,000 new seats on cross-border flights to Mexico in 2017. For example, established and new airlines are planning to debut flights or schedule larger jets to Mexican points this year from cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Miami, Oakland, Vancouver, Tokyo, Rome, Warsaw, Zurich, Winnipeg and Medellin (Colombia) among other international routes.

Mexico’s airlines are getting into the act, too. New or improved service set to launch this year will link Mexican cities to foreign points including New York-JFK, Houston, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Austin, Detroit, Austin, Denver, Seoul, London, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and Calgary.

Berho notes the Mexico Tourism Board’s recently announced tourism strategy “includes a focus on developing expanded products and personalized marketing campaigns (in) areas including luxury, weddings and romance, diving, mega bio diversity and nature, culture, gastronomy, high-profile events, sports and adventure, as well as programs for audience segments such as millennials, LGBT and retirees.”  



By Nancy Clark

I don’t want to release this story. I don’t want to put it out there. I want to own the odds that next year I can score tickets on the Winter Park Express for my near family without finding tickets sold out as in 2015, the 75th anniversary when all 450 tickets for one special day in March sold out in less than 10 hours. I booked tickets in September 2016 for January (4+ months ahead of the ski date) for my nearly 3-year-old grandson and myself.

The train got its start in 1940 chugging up the hill 56 miles to Winter Park through 31 tunnels ranging from 78 feet to the incredible 6.2-mile long Moffat Tunnel. Thirty-something years ago, I took my two youngsters on the ski train, departing the gloomy Union Station on an inordinately cold day. Tickets then like now were non-refundable. So we layered up and spent the bulk of our Winter Park adventure in the lodge drinking hot chocolate. Because of the train, it was still a blast.

Why the train ceased its run in 2009 after 69 consecutive years was a culmination of factors that hardly seem to matter today. Colorado survived that economic crash to become the second-fastest growing state in the U.S. welcoming 100,986 new residents between 2014 and 2015.  Employment in Metro Denver increased 3.2 percent between November 2015 and 2016 adding 50,400 jobs. The unemployment rate decreased in November to 2.6 percent, the lowest rate since December 2000. Residential building permits increased in November compared to the prior year with 22.2 percent more building permits issued. Even commercial real estate report 7.4 million square feet built out in 2016, an increase of 45.4 percent over 2015.

And then there’s the traffic on I-70 to consider.

The weather cooperated the last weekend in January, so avalanches and snowplows were off the table, ‘er highway. Still, speeds between 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday evening slowed to 2 hours and 18 minutes to travel from Frisco to C-470. Add in-city drive time to the mix and that’s more than 3 hours down the hill.  Friends with condos in Copper Mountain report that the return trip has taken up to 6 hours, the very reason they’ve switched to driving home at dawn on a Monday.

The train takes less than 2 hours.

Since 2002, Winter Park Ski Resort has been leased from the City of Denver to Intrawest, once the dominant player in the ski industry. Intrawest owns Blue Mountain and Mt. Tremblant in Canada, Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont, Snowshoe/Silver Creek in West Virginia and Steamboat, also in Colorado. Intrawest manages properties in Hawaii, Mexico, and owns and manages a timeshare operation too.

Intrawest is keenly aware of the decreasing numbers of skiers nationwide since the 1970s. Forbes magazine reports that 40 years ago approximately 5.5% of the U.S. population skied. That number has dropped to 4%, requiring ski areas to be hyper-sensitive to the preferences of the nearly 80 million Millennials’, 25% of the U.S. population. Micah Solomon in writes that Millennials demand self-service, algorithmically and crowdsourced customer service options. Paradoxically, they also crave a true, authentic, personalized experience as customers. To that end, the California Zephyr concierge team functions like Amazon’s Alexia. They’ve got answers and resort maps, distributing both on the way up the hill, plus they have experience skiing the resort. (And they won’t order you a dollhouse or cookies.)

In other ways too, the train is ideal for Millennials choosing not to own a car. The Downtown Denver Partnership reports that the 24 to 35-year olds that make up the new workforce prefer to live in a core city that offers walkability, bike lane systems and mass transit, amenities Denver has focused on developing in the last few years.

My plan for Q1 2018: book a weekend family getaway at Winter Park Resort. Our pool of shared and married DNA will pile on the train with skis, boots and babies. We tuck into a glam rental at the resort where we can cook in or eat out. We’ll stroll in the moonlight warming our hands at one of the several gas-fueled fire pits along the resort walkways. There’s a Starbucks for my coffee routine and top-of-line retailers, bars, and a spa. We will connect with each other and reconnect with what matters most.

Guilt makes me willing to give up the details. Tickets for this season went on sale August 30th.

  • Get online at
  • One-way ticketing is allowed.
  • 26 roundtrips are scheduled from Jan. 7 top Mar. 26 with Monday service on holidays.
  • The 500-passenger Amtrak leaves Denver’s Union Station at 7 a.m. arriving at the ski resort at 9 a.m. and departs the resort at 4:30, returning to Denver at 6:30ish.

First one to the website wins in August 2017 when tickets for 2018 go on sale!


Tips to make your train trip with children in tow most successful.

Pre-boarding reading for 2+ year olds: Thomas the Tank Engine in The Railway Series, books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his Christopher. When passing by the unmoving engines in the train yard on our way out of Union Station, my grandson referred to them as “sad.” I had to call on friends with younger children to get the low-down on The Sad Story of Henry.

While the view out the observatory deck windows is enchanting to any passenger it’s mesmerizing to a youngster. My view from the aisle seat was of my grandson’s head all the way up to the resort and all the way back to Denver was the back of his head as he scanned the view from the window. I didn’t know the pleated curtains on the train windows could be moved so many times on a single trip without breaking.

If you’re not traveling with a 3-year-old you can doze off in these generous-sized coach seats. Pull up the footrest and recline.

Bathroom breaks. Yes, there is a bathroom on board. It’s large. And clean. Enuf said.

Snacks and trash. Bring your own snacks and refreshments to enjoy on the journey. The Noosa brand yogurt reps were on the train platform passing out samples to passengers for the 7 a.m. departure. I’m a convert. The concierge team comes by at the end of the trip to gather any trash travelers might have accumulated up and down the hill.

How much can you carry? Preload your skis and poles by simply handing them to the crew in the car with ski racks. Climb a narrow set of stairs to the observatory deck where you have the option to put your ski boots or luggage in storage. There is also overhead storage above your seat. Personally, I couldn’t have carried as much luggage as was the space offered, nor would I want to.

Best of all, you can keep your personal belongings in the train during the day. That leaves you the option to leave your street boots and change of clothes for the return. Because the train is locked down during the day, pack to ski light so that you’re not weighted down with unnecessary stuff.

Taking one child or more skiing? The best tip we can offer is to buy a small plastic sled. It’s the most ingenious way to pull your skis, boots and even a toddler to the ski hill. Winter park allows skiers to make use of red wooden wagons at the base of the mountain to pull children and skis. But I would have paid a day’s wage to have a plastic sled with me.

Make your own rules. Go with the flow. Take a break from the rigors of skiing and put your feet up. Otto and I chose Starbucks for our morning pit stop. It was there that I made a new rule: You can only eat one cookie as big as your face each day. He’s in the Why Phase of life and so he asked. Why? Because I said so.


Winter Park offers free skiing to children on Sorenson Park, one in the same area where the ski instructors hold ski school training for kids 3 years and up. The area includes a Magic Carpet, a mechanical rubber mat that transports young skiers (and their charge) to the top of the gently sloped ski run. There’s also a tow rope as your little skier becomes more advanced.

Ski and snowboard lessons are discounted when purchased in advance. Lessons start at $179 for 6 hours of instruction. Lunch is included; helmet, ski and boot rental is not.

Wanted: Someone to make a hit movie at Mada’in Saleh

By Bob Schulman

Tombs line the sandstone hillsides of Petra and Mada’in Saleh.

Movie helped make Petra Jordan’s top tourist draw.You probably never heard of Mada’in Saleh. Chances are you won’t, either, unless some Hollywood studio films a blockbuster movie at this remote spot in Saudi Arabia -- much like George Lucas put Jordan’s “lost city” of Petra on the map in his 1989 hit, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Mada’in Saleh, by the way, is Petra’s sister city and a big dot (about 300 miles south of Petra) on the ancient Incense Road from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean.

The movie helped spark Petra’s modern-day prominence as Jordan’s No. 1 tourism attraction. Not so with Mada’in Saleh, also known as Hegra. Look close and you might spot Mada’in or Hegra on a map running alongside (more or less) but inland from the Red Sea.

It’s possible that Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, took the Incense Road from Arabia to Jerusalem by way of Petra – about a 1,400-mile trip – for her biblically reported visit to King Solomon a thousand years before Christ. The sight of her caravan of nearly 800 camels loaded with gifts for the king, mainly frankincense and myrrh, gold, spices and precious gems, must have been a real eye-popper.

What are frankincense and myrrh? They’re aromatic resins from scraggy trees, once used for everything from making rooms smell nice to religious ceremonies. They have medicinal powers, too. Frankincense, for instance, has been called “an ancient form of penicillin.” The lands ruled by the Queen of Sheba were said to have been covered by vast fields of these valuable trees – making her one of the most powerful women (if not THE most powerful) on the planet.

One of Petra’s gems is its iconic Treasury facade.Historians disagree on where Sheba was. Some say it was in Yemen (aka the kingdom of Saba) edging southwest Arabia. Still others point to the Kebra Negast, the Ethiopian holy book, which claims Sheba was in Ethiopia.

If you’ve been to Petra, you likely know this city is where the Incense Road and the Silk Road from China among major trade routes from Asia criss-cross before going on some 90 miles to Gaza and other ports on the Mediterranean. Guides probably told you Petra was the capital of the ancient Nabataean empire. But they may not have mentioned the empire’s No. 2 city down the coast at Mada’in, which anchored the southern tip of the empire. Nor the many similarities between the two cities.

Both, for example, are packed with temples, shrines, tombs and other buildings carved out of sandstone, and both boast ingenious water management systems  (an absolute must for trade caravans passing through). True, Mada’in has nothing to compare to two of Petra’s gems, the towering Treasury (the building featured in Lucas’ movie) and the hilltop Monastary (you need to climb 800 steps to get there). Petra is also considerably larger and has many more restorations among the carved structures. Both, however, are spread out over several miles and have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Mada’in is particularly known for its 111 monumental tombs, mostly elaborately decorated. The largest tomb is the four-story-high Al Farid Palace, carved from a single rock and standing alone in the desert.

Getting there: Mada’in is a featured stop on tours of western Saudi Arabia operated by a number of tour companies.

Richard Halliburton: The travel writer’s travel writer

By Bob Schulman

Richard Halliburton (1900-1939)Chances are you never heard of Richard Halliburton. Nor of his escapades around the world during which he’s said to have “out-Hemingwayed Hemingway.” Nor of his dozen or so books that not only enthralled readers from Memphis to Mumbai but also inspired many budding travel journalists (like myself, a youngster at the time) over the years.

Richard Halliburton died 78 years ago, having drowned the way he lived – while chronicling what it was like to sail from Hong Kong to San Francisco on a Chinese junk. It sunk in a storm somewhere in the Pacific.

Halliburton was just 39 years old at the time.

But what a life he led for 20 years before that. For instance, he rode an elephant Hannibal-style through the Alps, climbed the Matterhorn, swam the lengths of the Nile and the Panama Canal, served in the French Foreign Legion and hung out with pirates and headhunters. And – catch this – besides all kinds of other crazy stuff he somehow managed a stay in jail on Devil’s Island.

I didn’t know it when I read Halliburton’s books as a lad, but I must have been bitten by the travel bug those many years ago. After college I wound up as a public relations exec for a string of six airlines over 30 years, then switched over to travel writing. Today I’m a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, a newspaper in Mexico City and a bunch of other pubs.  

 Halliburton visited the harbor at Rhodes, where a colossus once stood. Photo by Bob Schulman.

Travel journalist Robert W. Bone was inspired by Halliburton.Running around the world, I often wonder if I’m moseying around in Halliburton’s footsteps. During my travels I’ve run into perhaps a half-dozen other writers whose itch for travel was sparked by Halliburton. One is Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Robert Bone, whose bio includes four decades of adventures in better than 75 countries. In his latest book, Fire Bone! – A Maverick Guide to a Life in Journalism (, he shares a number of his exploits with gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, said to have “admired (Bone’s) ability to live the kind of life that office drones dream of.”

Like Halliburton, Bone has racked up a few adventures of his own. Like being shot at in Vietnam, climbing to the top of a mast at sea and planting a revolutionary flag at a world’s fair. Fire Bone! is a must-read for anyone who’d like a taste of the world delivered in their living room by a real pro in the travel business.

Getting to Know Juneau

By Ginger Dingus

“Didn’t I check you in at the hotel last night?” Just as I’m about to dip my spoon into a piping hot cup of crab bisque, the young man standing in front of me catches me off guard. Not only is he skillfully cracking the shell of a giant king crab leg, we’re outdoors at Tracy’s King Crab Shack on Juneau’s wharf, not up the street at the reception desk of the Baranof Hotel. I admit to being a bit groggy from a late flight and mostly sleepless night. But who knew Juneau, the capital of Alaska, was such a small town?

It’s no accident I’m sitting at the counter of this local dining hotspot. Kelly “call me Midgi” Moore has brought me and my husband here on her two and a half-hour Juneau Food Tour. Midgi’s foodie walks are currently celebrating their third year. When she’s not leading the group herself, she happily turns over the guiding to fellow residents who know the territory intimately. “I want people to know what Juneau is about from the dining scene perspective,” she says.

That dining scene has “exploded in the last four years,” according to Midgi. Sure, you can still grab a beer and a reindeer sausage sandwich at the Red Dog Saloon. Thanks to a new crop of creative chefs, you can also graze at an Italian deli, go upscale at SALT or sip imaginative craft cocktails at V’s Cellar Door. Midgi is determined to introduce us to her hometown—and several chefs—one delicious bite at a time. “I have three goals for your tour,” she announces. “Have fun. Learn something new. End the tour with a happy belly.”

After meeting Midgi at the Alaska Commercial Fishermen’s Memorial on the waterfront, we walked down the city’s newly enhanced and extended Seawalk, a.k.a. the wharf. Tracy’s King Crab Shack marked the first of our tour’s six diverse tasting locations. Started literally in a small shack near the cruise ship docks more than a decade ago, Tracy LaBarge expanded her café to a larger indoor/outdoor venue. She will be relocating again this year. Along with creamy king crab bisque, we sampled a mini crab cake, all the while watching our friendly hotel clerk deftly prepare steamed king crab legs. Those giant crab legs, by the way, are on the menu for $26 a pop. Doused in melted butter and a squeeze of lemon, they’re worth every penny.

Tales of Juneau’s Treadwell gold mine and favorite pooch, Patsy Ann (immortalized by a bronze statue looking out to sea), served as entertainment and education as we strolled to taste treat number two. At Alaska Knifeworks, owner David Summers showed off his unique selection of ulus, Alaskans u-shaped kitchen knife of choice. Then we nibbled crackers topped with smoked salmon spread and licked spoons heaped with kelp marmalade. I know you’re wondering. The kelp tastes remarkably like orange marmalade.

We moved on to Panhandle Provisions, a combination deli and meat shop featuring local Alaskan and Pacific Northwest meats, most prepared in-house. Our charcuterie bites included a tangy hard cheese, soy-cured salmon and beef bresaola (air-dried).

Having primed our appetites on appetizers, more filling tidbits were in order to round out our progressive lunchtime adventure. Downstairs at V’s Cellar Door, owner V Santana likes to heat it up with Korean and Mexican fusion. Her rendition of halibut fusion nachos was so incredibly yummy; we vowed to return and sample more, including her unique craft cocktails. Anyone for homemade spruce tip gin? It’s an only in Alaska concoction made from the tender needles of the Sitka spruce.

An even more delicious surprise was on hand at our next stop. The modern, upscale SALT restaurant and bar is owned by none other than Tracy of King Crab Shack fame. If you’re looking for a high-end dining experience in Juneau, this is the place. As we sat at the attractively set table admiring the décor, a trio of beer battered Alaskan cod tacos made with blue corn tortillas magically appeared. That would be one plate of three tacos for each of us. SALT pours 25 wines by the glass. Sauvignon Blanc was chosen to pair with our fish tacos. Our tour was getting better by the bite. We quickly added SALT to our must return list.

No taste of Juneau would be complete without a glass or two of the local brew. Built in 1913, the Victorian-style Alaskan Hotel and Bar offered just the right ambiance for checking out generous portions of Alaskan Brewing Co.’s finest. We sipped Amber, based on a Gold Rush era recipe; White, a wheat ale; and Free Ride APA. As for the hotel, it’s the oldest operating hotel in the state. Considering its history of gold miners, bordellos and prohibition, it’s little wonder many claim it to be haunted.

We could have sat chatting for hours, but all great tours must come to an end. Before saying good-bye, Midgi reminded us of her three goals. Did we have fun? Check. Had we learned something new? Yes, plenty. Were our bellies in happy mode? You bet!


Juneau Food Tours take place daily, April 30 to October 1. In addition to six tasting stops during the 2.5-hour tour, each guest is given a bright orange tote bag packed with bottled water, gingersnap cookies baked at Taku Lodge and a delightful morsel of Chef Stef’s toffee. For details and current prices, check; or call 800-656-0713. If you’re cruising to Juneau, check with your ship to see if the tour is available as a shore excursion.

No Kiddin’: Iceland really has a penis museum

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Some visitors try to keep a straight face, some giggle and some aren’t sure how to act as they browse around a museum in Iceland displaying hundreds of penises from tiny knob-like appendages to giant whale organs. Said to be the only one of its kind in the world, the museum in Iceland’s capital at Reykjavik is packed with some 280 penises including organs from 17 different kinds of whales.

A must-see for students specializing in phallological studies, the museum opened in its present location in Reykjavik’s main shopping area about four years ago, having earlier been located in a small fishing village. It debuted in 1997, originally in the capital city.

The largest whale part on display is a 67-inch-long tip of a blue white whale. The entire specimen had a length of 16 feet and weighed close to 1,000 pounds. Runners up to the whales in size are walrus and elephant organs. The smallest specimen – you need a magnifying glass to see it – is the baculum (penis bone) of a hamster.


At last count, the museum was hosting some 11,000 visitors a year, about 60 percent women. It rates among the country’s top tourist attractions along with eye-popping glaciers and waterfalls, soaring volcanoes, lava fields, gorgeous fjords and all kinds of steamy hydrothermal vents (don’t miss a swim in the iconic Blue Lagoon). Two other big draws are constant sunlight in the summer while winters bring the the Aurora Borealis (the jaw-dropping sight of Northern Lights dancing across the sky).

Phallological museum curator Hjotur Gisli Sigurosson (son of the museum’s founder) described the penis collection as the product of 37 years of saving such organs. “Somebody had to do it,” Sigurosson said.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa  is a huge attraction.

48 hours in George’s NYC

By Rich Grant

It’s hard to blame him.  He fought six battles trying to defend New York, and lost them all, but one.  When he finally retreated from New York, he wanted to burn the city to the ground, but Congress stopped him.  Officially, at least.  No one really knows who started the fire on September 21, 1776, but George was not disappointed when hundreds of houses in New York did in fact go up in flames.

Despite all this, George Washington probably did have some very fond memories of the city.  It was in New York that he was sworn in as President and spent 17 months, before the capital was moved to Philadelphia.  And it was here that the Revolutionary War officially ended in 1783, with a triumphal march by the Continental army down the Broad-way, stopping from tavern to tavern to drink 13 toasts at each one in celebration of the new country. 

Because New York was so small at the time of the Revolution, most of the sites associated with George Washington are within a short walk of each other.  You can have a drink and a meal at his favorite tavern; see the pew he sat in at his church; view the gravesite of his trusted chief of staff (and current pop star) Alexander Hamilton; stand on the spot where he was sworn in as President, and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, passing almost directly over the spot where he retreated after the Battle of Brooklyn, saving the army in what has been called the most magnificent military retreat in history.

As George might have done himself, it’s best to begin the tour with a drink.   

Fraunces Tavern

When Samuel Fraunces opened his tavern here in 1762, there were already 217 taverns in New York to serve just 13,000 people.  Today, it is the only colonial tavern to survive and the oldest establishment serving food and drinks in New York. 

Taverns at the time were a combination of an inn where you could stay and a public house where you could get a drink and meal.  Both offerings were pretty dreadful.  People shared beds and sat at simple communal tables, often arranged around a fireplace, with a mishmash of different flatware and glasses.  Taverns were expensive because patrons had to pay not only for food and drink, but also for the candles used.

The average colonial of the day drank a staggering four gallons of hard liquor and 14 gallons of beer or cider a year, and since pipe smoking was common, the room would be filled with smoke, gambling, gossip and politics.  Taverns were hotbeds of radical ideas, and because Samuel Fraunces (or Black Sam, as he was called by friends) was a revolutionary, his tavern was home to the Sons of Liberty and other rebels.

When the British captured New York in 1776 and occupied it for seven years, they forced Samuel to seek safer ground and his son-in-law, a Tory, took over the tavern.  But on Nov. 25, 1783, the day the war officially ended, the British departed, General Washington marched in, and he and 185 friends gathered at Fraunces Tavern for a celebration dinner.  In New York, Nov. 25 was known as “Evacuation Day,” and was an official holiday for more than 100 years.

George had promised his wife Martha he would be home in Mount Vernon for Christmas, so after eight days of celebration in New York, it was time for one last farewell luncheon party – the last time, as far as any of them knew, that Washington and his army officers would ever see each other.  Washington fully intended to retire to his home and become a farmer, far from public life.

For the last meal, the tavern laid out an impressive spread of cold meats, but the atmosphere was so sad, no one touched their food.  The best known account, written by Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, and now on display in the restaurant’s museum, described the scene as General Washington entered the room.

“His emotions were too strong to be concealed which seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment in almost breathless silence, the General filled his glass with wine and turning to the officers said, ‘With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you….I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.’

General Knox being nearest to him, turned to the Commander-in-chief who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped his hand when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner, every officer in the room marched up and parted with his general in chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed and fondly hope I may never be called to witness again.”

Good thing he wasn’t at any Hillary parties the night of the election.

You can see the actual room where this emotional farewell took place upstairs in the Fraunces Tavern Museum.  This is a gem of a museum.  In Boston or Philadelphia it would be a huge attraction, but somehow in the overwhelming opportunities of New York, it gets lost.  You might find, as I did on a recent Friday afternoon in December, that you have all two floors of it to yourself.

The Long Room, where the dinner took place, has been reconstructed as it might have looked on that afternoon.  It is a typical colonial dining room, with wood table and chairs, candles and framed prints, and actually not that different from the one you can dine in downstairs.  But the rest of the museum is a kick.  There’s one of Martha’s silk shoes, the last letter from spy Nathan Hale (who was hung in 1776 and has a statue nearby at City Hall), and a wild assortment of trinkets and mementos from the Revolution and those who have preserved its history.  Currently, for the first time, there are 47 paintings of the Revolution by master illustrator John Ward Dunsmore.  This is the only time the paintings have all been together and they chronicle the entire war. He worked for a calendar company, and these paintings will be familiar to anyone who has ever had any interest in the colonial period.

George was no stranger to taverns or liquor.  He liked wine, beer, and cider and was at one point the largest manufacturer of whiskey in the nation.  Three of his dogs were called Tipsy, Tippler and Drunkard.

After the museum, the restaurant is a bit eclectic, with offerings from jambalaya to lobster tortellini, but for those desiring authentic, there are beef and chicken pot pies, Scotch eggs and something called George Washington’s Horseback (bacon, dates and almonds).  The atmosphere?  It could not be better.  The main dining area (the Tallmadge Room, named after the Colonel) has a gorgeous room of wood tables lit by candles.  There is a maze of corridors that lead to private dining areas and a bar with stuffed chairs, a roaring fireplace, and enough wood and prints to make George feel at home. 

The biggest surprise, is the Porterhouse Brewing Company, which has taken over half the main floor and has 140 craft beers to try, including a range of craft beers all brewed in Ireland.  It’s all wood, mirrors and brass with brightly lit bottles and little nooks carved out for private gatherings around communal tables.  Other than the no smoking laws, it’s pretty certain that the Sons of Liberty could still gather here and talk about The Donald pretty much in the same way they once did about George III.

Neighborhood Walks with George in Lower Manhattan
The great thing about Fraunces Tavern is that it is in the heart of Lower Manhattan.  Just a short musket shot away is Stone Street, the first paved street in New York.  Now closed to traffic as a historic district, the petty cobblestone way is lined with taverns and restaurants and evokes a feel for, if not colonial New York, at least the old New York of Godfather II.  In summer, the two-block area is filled with outdoor umbrellas and is one of nicest places to dine in the city.

A block in the other direction takes you to Battery Park, which in George’s time was an island and fortress with 100 cannon.  Today it’s been connected to the mainland and has one of New York’s oldest standing forts  – (from a different war, Castle Clinton from the War of 1812) – and two emotional memorials. The Sphere designed by Fritz Koenig was a monument to world peace that stood in the plaza in front of the original World Trade Center. In the 9-11 attacks, it was buried under tons of rubble, torn apart, bent and scraped, but it was dug up, reassembled and now sits in Battery Park as a testament to New York’s resiliency.

Nearby, the Merchant Marine Memorial is truly eerie. Commemorating the 7,000 merchant marines who died in World War II, it depicts a sinking ship and drowning sailor with his arms stretched out of the sea. Depending on the tide, you see half of his body or just his arm and neck reaching out for help.

New York’s famous Broadway starts at the intersection of Battery Park and Bowling Green (a small green triangle where George could have enjoyed the passion of the day – outdoor lawn bowling).  Here you’ll find the 7,000-pound bronze Charging Bull sculpture by Arturo Di Modica that has become the symbol of a bull market on Wall Street. Rub its nose for luck, and continue up Broadway to the beautiful Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton is buried.

The first Trinity Church was destroyed in the fire that George didn’t set in 1776; the current church dates to 1846.  At first Hamilton was not allowed to be buried in the quiet churchyard, where gravestones date back to 1680.  The church strongly disapproved of dueling and did not want to be seen as sanctioning it.  Ironically, Hamilton’s son was killed in a duel three years before, and is thought to be buried in the same graveyard, but because of the stain of dueling, his grave was unmarked.  Hamilton lingered for several days after his famous duel with Vice President Arron Burr and was able to plead in person from his deathbed with Reverend Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity, and finally was allowed to be buried at the church.  Today, thanks to the hit musical, his grave is a popular site for selfies.

From the church, cross Broadway and head down Wall Street and you’ll soon see George Washington’s statue on the steps of the Federal Hall National Monument.  The statue is approximately where George was inaugurated as president (although at the time, he was inside another building that stood here.  The statue is the same height and street location as where he stood). 

Anywhere else in the nation – or the world – Federal Hall would be famous. In New York, the 1842 modified version of the Parthenon is overshadowed by, well, everything else.  But climb the steps and go in – the rotunda is amazing, it’s free, there’s a lot of history and (always important in New York) there are clean, free public restrooms.  There are exhibits on the inauguration and the Revolution in New York, and a there’s a fascinating “All George” gift shop offering everything from Christmas ornaments to bookmarks featuring his familiar face.

One of the most iconic photos in New York is to frame the statue of George at Federal Hall with the famous gigantic flag that hangs on the New York Stock Exchange across the street. If you look closely, you’ll see that the stock exchange is on Broad Street, not Wall Street. Less well known is that yet another of New York’s terrorist attacks took place here in 1920 when 31 people were killed by a bomb placed in a horse and carriage. The building across the street from Federal Hall still has pot marks from the explosion.

Back to the Broad-way, it’s three blocks to St. Paul’s Chapel, known as “the little chapel that stood.”  Built in 1766, the chapel survived not only the great fire of 1776, but also the attack on Sept. 11, that brought down the two twin towers of the World Trade Center, located directly across the street.  St. Paul’s was not damaged and became a place of refuge for the firefighters, police officers, and other first responders working through the devastation.

St. Paul’s was George Washington’s church in New York.  You can see a replica of George’s modest pew box, where he prayed after the inauguration.  The churchyard is particularly moving.  George certainly walked through the gravestones here, because this was the main entrance to the church in his day.  It is a truly a spectacular sight to see gravestones from the 1700s with Santiago Calatrava’s new World Trade Center Oculus Pavilion directly across the street.

Finally, from the front of the church on Broadway, head to the ramp that is the pedestrian walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge crossing the East River.  George had entered New York in the spring of 1776 as the hero who driven the British out of Boston.  But then the Empire struck back, sending the largest armada of ships and men the world had ever seen to that point. 

Washington tried to defend all the potential landing points, but the British outmaneuvered him and put 30,000 redcoats on Long Island.  Then they conducted a secret night march around Washington’s flank, and in what became the Battle of Brooklyn, the largest battle of the Revolution, they badly beat him and almost destroyed the American army.  Only a valiant last stand by Maryland troops at the Old Stone House saved the day.

Near the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, in Washington Park, the Old Stone House Building is now a museum.  It is a reconstruction of the 1699 Vechte-Cortelyou House in the exact location where the battle took place.  The museum has models and exhibits of the battle, but it takes a lot of imagination to picture this place in 1776. 

Easier is to look down at the East River from the Bridge.  With the victorious British to his front, and the river to his rear, Washington had only one option – somehow he had to retreat and ferry his men across the East River without the British knowing it.  The embarkation point was the little shore-side park, Fulton Ferry Landing, just to the north of the Bridge on the Brooklyn side.  Keeping fires on the front line burning as a disguise, and in a providentially thick fog, Washington managed to extract his entire army of 9,000 men back to Manhattan to give them a chance to fight another day.   

A retreat may not be the most glorious of military maneuvers, but if George Washington had not managed to retreat from New York, there almost certainly would be no United States of America.  And for that, New Yorkers…..and George Washington… were always grateful.  

IF YOU GO:   There is an interesting site that lets you walk all the important spots of the Battle of Brooklyn.


A pigskin bomb, Prohibition and a wacky restaurant score historic ‘firsts’ for Mazatlan

By Bob Schulman

Photo shows sites of two of Mazatlan’s “firsts”: Neveria Hill (rear of picture)             and the Hotel Belmar, opened in 1920 on Olas Altas. Photo credit NA.Think of the pressure that must have been on Mexican rebel pilot Gustavo Salinas. It’s 1914, during the Mexican revolution, and he’s about to make history by bombing a federale fort from his rickety biplane. What’s more, the 21-year-old pilot is being closely watched by the guy who ordered the raid, General Venustiano Carranza, commander of the Northern Revolutionary Constitutionalist Army (Carranza is also Salinas’ uncle). When he had flown the plane to the right place (he thought) over the fort, Salinas told his co-pilot to drop a makeshift bomb – a pigskin packed with dynamite, coal and nails – he’d been nervously holding in his lap.

Ay, caramba! The bomb missed the fort, instead wiping out a shoe factory a few blocks away. But the day was saved when Carranza told his nephew to take another shot at the target. On the second run, Salinas might have improved his aim, or just gotten lucky (or perhaps a bit of both), but he somehow managed to hit the fort and blast it into smithereens.

Read more about pilot Salinas and General Carranza later in this story.

Neveria Hill, Hotel Belmar and Olas Altas today.The action took place over a spot named Neveria Hill in what’s now western Mexico’s booming beach resort at Mazatlan ( Overlooking the city, the hill is honeycombed with limestone caves at one time used to store ice imported from San Francisco on sailing ships (thus giving it the alternate name of “IceBox Hill”).

Another first

Neveria Hill, today bristling with microwave towers and luxury homes, frames one side of a six-block beachfront strip called Olas Altas (the other side edges a park named after General Carranza). The strip itself claims a number of firsts for the country, one sparked 2,000 miles away up in the States in 1920 when politicians raised their hands to enact a law outlawing booze in the U.S.

“Soon, speakeasies (illegal bars) had popped up all over the U.S., but Prohibition was a great excuse for merry-making Hollywood stars, studio execs, oil barons and other miscellaneous moguls to hop on their yachts and sail down here to get a drink,” reporters were told by Gilberto Limon, Mazatlan's legendary public relations man.

One of the city’s treasures is the Plaza MachadoAnd where did the celebs bunk down? Local historians believe the first beach resort in Mexico to cater to the foreign silky set was along Olas Altas. And their favorite watering hole was the still-standing Hotel Belmar. According to Limon, the hotel was once the playground of the likes of John Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino and Mae West and later on John Wayne, Betty Grable, Rock Hudson, Jimmy Stewart, Ava Gardner and filmdom’s bad boy Errol Flynn.

After checking in to their then-opulent rooms at the Belmar, and perhaps taking a stroll around the hotel's plush, gilt-lined hallways and exotic gardens, the gentlemen put on tuxedos while their ladies slipped into crushed velvet gowns for a gala night of dinner and dancing in the Belmar's elegant ballroom.

Restored opera house in the Historic District was first opened in 1874.Guests staying today in the partially renovated Belmar and other properties on Olas Altas can walk a few minutes inland to Mazatlan’s 180-block downtown Historic District. There, visitors mosey around hundreds of spruced up colonial mansions, art galleries, sidewalk cafes, museums, jazz clubs, boutique hotels and the city’s two crown jewels: a restored, neo-classical opera house and the block-long Plaza Machado oozing old-world charm and lined on three sides by restaurants and bars.

And still another first

Fast-forward again, this time to 1963 when Mexico City entrepreneur Carlos Anderson  wound up working in the restaurant of the La Siesta Hotel, another grand dame on Olas Altas. Limon, now deceased, loved to tell the story of how Anderson talked the hotel’s owner into revamping the restaurant, El Shrimp Bucket, into a fun experience – and the first of what turned out to be a global chain of such spots. “I guess you could describe Anderson’s place as something like the Rolling Stones meet Pancho Villa,” Limon said. “Guests sat at beat-up tables along walls decorated by photos from the Mexican revolution while rock music blared from tinny speakers. Sometimes the waiters sang along. It was fun for everyone.”

Dozens of luxury resort-hotels line Mazatlan’s main hotel strip about a 20-minute cab ride from Neveria Hill and Olas Altas.From El Shrimp Bucket came the worldwide Carlos’n Charlie’s restaurant group with names like Senor Frog's, Carlos O'Brien's and El Squid Roe.

For the record: Globally, the attack on Mazatlan from the air was preceded only by one in 1911 by an Italian plane over Tripoli, Libya, in the Turkish-Italian War. Pilot Salinas’ exploits at Neveria Hill and in later air raids were recognized by several promotions. He retired as a major general in charge of the Mexican Army Air Force. Carranza was named the first president of the new Mexican republic at the end of the war.\

Photos by Bob Schulman unless otherwise indicated.


By Yvette Cordozo

A huge segment of the people on skis these days are boomers. Senior-friendly ski gear is meant to make a senior’s day on the slopes more enjoyable. Take a hint from experts’ recommendations.


A lot of older skiers grew up skiing on skinny skis with their feet close together (picture Stein Erickson), says Kevin Dreher, ski shop manager at Gerk’s, a ski chain in western Washington State. For some, learning to break that habit has been hard. Still, modern tech in the form of shaped skis has made the sport so much easier.

Enter the compromise, the pin tail shape ski.

It still has a wide shovel and a narrower waist. But the tail tapers, so it’s not quite so wide, not so much an hourglass shape. This, says Dreher, does two things: allows a skier to keep his/her feet closer together and also, if they are tired, to slightly skid the turn. But it also has all the easy skiing benefits of shaped ski tech.

It’s not brand new technology but seems to be getting more popular lately, perhaps as a segment of the ski population has gotten older.

Two brands in Dreher’s shop have tapered tails, Salomon and Atomic. Salomon’s QST 85 and 92 run $400 and $500 respectively. The more expensive ski is aimed at a more aggressive skier.

Atomic’s Vantage also has two models, the 85 and 95, again $400 and $500 retail. But none of these are aimed at highest end skiers. For experts who still want a bit of taper, he suggested the K2 Pinnacle 88, $600 retail. 


Custom liners, that are heated to fit the foot, have been around a while. But now there are also custom shells that can be heated and shaped to your foot. Virtually all the higher end boots have this. The exact model in a specific brand depends on your basic foot shape, wide or narrow, high arch or low. And again, gone are the days when you had to go to a specific boot brand if your foot was, say, wide or narrow.

The Salomon boot, for instance, has the Xpro for wider feet, the Xmax for narrower feet.

Boots aren’t cheap but they may be the single most important piece of gear you buy. Dreher says the $400 boots are his most popular and called them “a lot of boot for the price.” But he adds these are boots that will take you through advanced intermediate. For experts, it really is necessary to move up to a $500 or $600 boot. So how long will that boot, which may cost more than your first car, last? Figure 150 days of skiing, Dreher said. So if you are like most folks and average only 20-30 days a year ... a long time. And you can prolong this, he added, by thoroughly drying your liners. No, not everyone has the hand strength to wrench their liners out. And for them, there’s a wide range of wand style boot heaters.


My favorite: the heated (yes, heated) boot bag.

Don’t you just love driving hours to the hill and then trying to wrench stone cold boots on? Now, there’s a boot bag with a cord that works on either AC (house) current or DC (your car). One version of this bag is made by “Hot Gear,” but appears to be sold as Zip Fit through for about $200. Another version, Transpack, is sold for about $180 through Amazon and REI.


Finally, among the senior friendly bits of gear are boot warmers. The bad old days when these things hooked onto the back of your boot where you couldn’t reach the controls but the chair lift sure could (good bye battery), are gone. They now attach on the side of the boot.

But honestly, you can also get those disposable foot warmer packs and do as the patrollers do, put them ON TOP of your toes instead of under them. Take it from one with chronically cold toes, that works.



I am a pocket freak. The more the better. I once owned a ski-jacked with 21 pockets and, honestly, I did tend to lose things in it. I once found a 7-year-old trail map from Switzerland tucked far, far away.

But with a backpack, it’s safe to say, lots of pockets mean lots of seriously usable places to stash things.

The Hercules laptop backpack from ecbc has, yes, 21 assorted pockets and nooks for stashing. And even better, it’s TSA approved, which means (in the US, at any rate), you don’t have to take out the laptop (just zip open the pack and lay it flat on the scanner belt) And in another country, it’s easy enough to slip the laptop out. The downside is if you do open the bag to lay it flat, all those magazines and papers you stuffed inside will have to go somewhere else, though there IS a second pocket for some of it.

Starting with the laptop pocket. It’s designed for a beefy 17 inch computer but if you have a micro thin 13 incher like me, there’s a “modular insert” to take up the extra space. I pulled that out immediately because I prefer to have my laptop securely seated all the way down in the pocket. Even with the extra room, there’s enough padding to keep it safe. But, as with all spare spaces, I’m sure I will fill them soon. There are two easily accessed front outside pockets for stuff you need in a hurry (say, travel itinerary, boarding pass) and more inside with zips and velcro closures. The two side pockets expand to hold a water bottle and zip shut when you just want to stuff other things in it. The one thing I would have liked is a thin vertical pocket on the front for an instantly accessible pen.

A female friend said the 2.5 inch wide straps were a bit wide for her. Not for me. But I’m not exactly small. I started to criticize the chest strap for being placed too high ... until I discovered it’s adjustable. Yay designers. And at 2.7 pounds empty the pack is way lighter than my briefcase.

The one thing I would have added is a waist strap to take a bit of the weight off my shoulders. ecbc’s Lance Executive Daypack has a waist strap but it’s also a much larger bag (28 liter capacity vs 20) and for a women, even a larger one like me, that would be overkill.

The bag comes in five colors that include black, blue, beige, green and an understated red. I went with the red, figuring mine wouldn’t disappear in the welter of navy packs. The bag itself is made of waterproof fabric, a truly useful feature.

Am I FINALLY giving up my tattered, so-out-of-date briefcase? Well...yes.


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