Category Archives: Trips

ebenalp and swiss paragliding

We’ve just returned from Europe and one of the more memorable experiences was a trip to Ebenalp in the northernmost summit of the Appenzell Swiss Alps.

I suggest a gondola up the steep, rugged rocks and follow a short hiking trail  (make sure you greet others with a friendly “Grüezi!”) to reach the Aescher cliff restaurant – they say 4770 feet above sea level-  for a local meal and beer. (This recent Bon Appetit article agrees.)

Fancy paragliding? Then join the number of other paragliders dotting the mountainsides. Or rather, do as we did, and  enjoy the show of colorful sails flying through the green landscape to the rhythmic sound of distant cowbells. Heavenly.

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local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Ascher

local potato specialty with salad at Restaurant Aescher

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Cow bells softly clink and clank.

Cow bells softly clink and clank.

plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

counting caribbean blues in vieques

Vieques, Puerto Rico – a small island in the northeastern Caribbean an hour by government-run ferry from the main island – is known for its pristine beaches, bioluminescent bays, and lack of commercial development. Strongly influenced by 400 years of Spanish ownership but part of the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it  has a colorful past with its own version of a David vs. Goliath story starring its fishermen and the US Navy that led to the Navy withdrawing from Vieques in 2003 (more on this in a following post). But for sixty years the majority of Vieques was closed off by the US Navy, and for this reason the island remained  undeveloped for tourism. The quality of its beaches and the island’s lack of development were key reasons we wanted to spend some time there.

In late January we took the ferry from the main island town of Fajardo to Vieques for a three-day stay.  We visited the pristine, deserted beaches – free of adjacent commercial development – on the Southern Caribbean side of the island, featuring turquoise blue seas and white sands surrounded by green vegetation. The beaches – once the Navy’s former land – are now part of a wildlife refuge, and many retain the names the Navy gave them. We made it to four beaches, one more beautiful than the next.

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Playa Caracas (Red Beach)

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Media Luna’s ‘bathtub’

Media Luna

surfs up at navio

surfs up at navio

Playa Navio

miles of sand

miles of white sand

Bahia de la Chiva (Blue Beach)

For me, spending time on Vieques is summarized well in a piece written by James Lasdum for Conde Nast Traveler (April 2010):

“…the days of finding myself puzzlingly incapable of organizing a visit to the old fort or whaling museum, and wanting instead to lie on those pointless stretches of sand, counting the different blues of the Caribbean… It dawned on me that travel didn’t always have to be like college; that this drifting sweetness of life being enjoyed purely for its own sake was worth any number of dusty madonnas or worm- riddled wooden saints… But for now this is all I want of culture, and all I need of enlightenment. “

doorways of old san juan

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Just back from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and it’s all about the doors in Old San Juan.

My upcoming post will explore the spectacular beaches and unique history of Vieques Island, but for now, I’ll share a sample of the many shapes and bright colors of las puertas hermosas I found walking the streets and alley ways in Old San Juan.

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Often behind the doors are gorgeous courtyards.

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The colors of the houses are candy for the eyes.

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travel moments captured

I look forward each Sunday to the The New York Times “Why We Travel”  feature that shares reader photos both online and in its print edition. This week’s offerings include colorful Porto, Portugal as the clouds break after three days of rain; rainbow peeks in Mongolia; and a boat resting on Vernazza, Italy’s harbor.

The photos, shot by average readers while traveling, capture the feeling of experiencing a certain moment in a certain place – my readers know this, no doubt – when words just won’t do. (“The miracle of the actual” writes Colum McCann in his latest book “Transatlantic”)

Like many of you, I have saved photos of travels past that have left their imprint on me long after the experience.

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I took this photo on the Red Sea beach of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt’s  Ras Mohammed National Park in 2001. On this day we joined an Italian day group excursion to visit the park located on the southern extreme of the Sinai peninsula (the only way to go there, at least then). Unplanned, an idea to run into the fluorescent water developed quickly among members of the group – most who did not know each other before the trip. They joined hands.  I grabbed my camera. And got this shot.

What memorable images have you captured from your travels?

landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

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The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

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The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

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A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

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Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

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Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

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While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

best bagels

My favorite bagels in the world, Montreal-style bagels, were on my priority “to-do”  – or rather, “to-eat” –  list during our recent trip to Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

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Ottawa’s original Montreal-style bagels

According to Wikipedia, Montreal bagels, like the New York bagel, were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Differences in texture and taste reflect the style of the particular area in Poland in which the immigrant bakers learned their trade.

When my mother-in-law visits us in California from Eastern Canada, she never fails to bring a large quantity of these bagels with her, since we only find the more common, New York-style here. We have a tradition of slicing, bagging and freezing them together upon her arrival, so we are ensured months of bagel heaven. This time we were on her turf, and my plan was to bring home as many as I could stuff in our carry-on luggage, including a dozen requested by our friends. (For those interested, I managed five dozen –  ten bags of half-dozen bagels – squeezed between socks and toothpaste.)

Busy workers fulfilling orders at the popular Ottawa Bagel Shop

What makes Montreal-style bagels so delicious? In contrast to larger, doughy New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels are denser, slightly sweet, and have a crunchy crust. They look a little different, with a darker or uneven color from the wood-burning stove and a larger hole.  Montreal-style bagels are boiled in honey-sweetened water and they are hand-made, while many New-York styled bagels are machine-made.

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Thanks to my mother-in-law, my kids were treated to an up-close tour at the Ottawa Bagel Shop, where they were able to experience the shop’s famous baker cut and roll the egg and honey filled dough, and then boil and bake the bagels. Next the seeds and other toppings are placed on the bagels, before they cool and are packaged. The bagels are made fresh every day.

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The baker cutting and hand rolling Montreal-style bagels at the Ottawa Bagel Shop

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Boiling the bagels

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Next the bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven

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A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end of the tour!

A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end the tour! Sesame of course.