Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Horse Sculpture in Lexington, Kentucky
The Thoroughbred Park Sculpture Collection, Lexington, KY

Bluegrass, rolling hills, grazing horses… Kentucky is beautiful. At the entrance to downtown Lexington Gwen Reardon’s collection of sculptures in Thoroughbred Park greets us. The park is a tribute to the thoroughbred race horse, and features thirteen sculptures. Seven life-size bronze race horses and jockeys race toward an imaginary finish line, while in the adjacent park bronze broodmares and their foals graze.

Lexington, which is named for the initial battle of the Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts, was founded in 1775. Lexington is a small city and easy to get around. We stayed in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton which is conveniently located on Richmond Road and just minutes from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Horse Park. Their renovated over-sized rooms feature king or two queen beds and each guestroom is furnished with Flat Screen HD TV. The young woman who checked us in was very friendly and helpful.

After a long day of driving from Maryland, we were hungry and tired. The young woman at the Hilton recommended a restaurant nearby – The Chop House. Jay still raves about the Chop House Pork Chop (bone-in, thick cut) and my filet mignon was tender and perfectly cooked. We both ordered the chopped salad which really hit the spot… crisp romaine lettuce, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, avocado – we chose the Santa Fe dressing – a ranch-like spicy dressing. And good news – The Chop House has a gluten-free menu!

A La Lucie, Lexington, Kentucky
A La Lucie in downtown Lexington, Kentucky

Historically and today, downtown is the center of cultural life in Lexington. The restored 1887 Lexington Opera House features touring professional theater groups, Lexington Philharmonic concerts and other arts performances. Downtown is home to many of Lexington’s most popular and creative restaurants including A La Lucie on North Limestone. We walked by before they were open, but the reviews online are very positive. Asking the owner about a good coffee spot she suggested Third Street Stuff & Coffee. Not only did we enjoy a great cup of coffee (voted best cup of coffee in Lexington multiple times) the whole vibe is creativity… from the 3rd Street Stuff store inside to the fun embellishments on the outside patio, and mosaic on a back wall.

Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee, Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee groovy patio
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic in Lexington, KY
Third Street Stuff & Coffee mosaic

Lexington is home to the University of Kentucky, as well as to Transylvania University, the oldest college established west of the Allegheny Mountains. For art lovers, the University of Kentucky Art Museum comes highly recommended and is home to many American works of art by acclaimed artists such as Alexander Calder, Sam Gilliam, Louise Berliawsky Nevelson and Gilbert Charles Stuart.

A number of Lexingtonians have roots that go back generations. Kentucky writers, most notably Wendell Berry, draw deeply on this sense of place. The stunning Red River Gorge is located in eastern Kentucky (about 60 miles from Lexington) and home to 26,000 acres of untamed river, rock formations, historical sites, unusual vegetation and wildlife. Berry writes about the Gorge, revealing its corners and crevices, ridges and rapids. His words not only implore us to know more but to venture there ourselves. Infused with his very personal perspective and enhanced by the photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, The Unforeseen Wilderness draws the reader in to celebrate an extraordinary natural beauty and to better understand what threatens it.

The nickname for Kentucky is The Bluegrass State. Bluegrass is actually green – but in the spring bluegrass produces bluish-purple buds that give a rich blue cast to the grass when seen in large fields. The gentle rolling hills, and the highly fertile soil are good for growing pasture which makes for good horses.

To learn about the horses and have a chance to get up close, visit the Kentucky Horse Park. On a nice summer day the Horse Park is a beautiful green space to walk around and explore. You will see scores of horses in the fields and barns. Kids can take a pony ride, adults can ride a horse, or the whole family can take a spin on a carriage ride. It’s a working farm with fifty different breeds living on the park’s 1,200 acres.

Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky
Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky

Limestone makes for good horses and good whiskey. Millions of years in the making Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for Bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. As we leave Lexington to drive west towards Missouri we decide to detour onto the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and pay a visit to the Makers Mark Distillery outside of Loretto.

Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery
Barrel room at Makers Mark Distillery with tools of the trade displayed.

The history of bourbon begins in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. The Governor of Virginia at that time was Thomas Jefferson, and he offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky (then called Bourbon county) if they would build a permanent structure and raise “native corn”. No family could eat that much corn, and they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task, so it was turned into whiskey. Kentucky Bourbon is different from other types of whiskeys because of ingredients, aging, the pure limestone-rich water of Kentucky, and the Kentucky crafted American white oak barrels.

Copper stills at Makers Mark Distillery
Gleaming copper stills at the Makers Mark Distillery

Production of Maker’s Mark started in 1954, after its originator, T. William “Bill” Samuels Sr., purchased the distillery known as “Burks’ Distillery” in Loretto, Kentucky for $35,000. The first bottle of Maker’s Mark was bottled in 1958 and featured the brand’s distinctive dipped red wax seal. The distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 31, 1974, and designated a National Historic Landmark on December 16, 1980, listed as “Burks’ Distillery”. It was the first distillery in America to be recognized, where the landmark buildings were in active use for distilling.

The tour of the distillery begins near the stonewalled creek that runs through the peaceful, landscaped grounds, where you’ll hear a brief history of the distillery. Its black buildings feature bright red shutters with a Maker’s Mark bottle cutout. Unlike larger distilleries’ 600-barrel-per-day production, Maker’s Mark crafts its bourbon in 19 barrel batches. This is a free tour and no reservations are needed. Tastings are given in the gift shop area at the end.

Located on the grounds of the Makers Mark Distillery is The Toll Gate Cafe, housed in a toll house built in the late 1800s. Completely remodeled, it has a pleasant atmosphere – historical photos on gray-toned walls trimmed with the traditional Maker’s Mark red. The menu has some bourbon-inspired recipes and we decide to share some bourbon BBQ which is delicious. The perfect ending to our visit and fortifying as we continue to Missouri.

Bourbon’s All-American Roar an article by Mickey Meece in the NY Times talks about the current trend in bourbon and rye and has the winning recipe for a great Manhattan.

Charles Cowdery’s bookBourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey  follows the trail of America whiskey-making from its 17th century origins up to the present day. In his book, readers discover the history of the American whiskey industry, how American whiskey is made and marketed, and the differences among various types of American whiskey. The many fascinating characters who have made American whiskey what it is today are introduced, and a complete tasting guide with 35 detailed product reviews is included.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas

Leaving family in Missouri we head to Bentonville, Arkansas for an overnight. Yes, this is the home of Walmart and Jay wants to visit their flagship store, Sam’s Club, where they are practicing state of the art sustainability.

We have no trouble getting a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bentonville.  A friendly young man checks us in and makes a few suggestions for dining in the historic downtown area of town. Today is Labor Day so the area feels like a ghost town with few places open.

Table Mesa Bistro, Bentonville, AR
Table Mesa Bistro in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas

Three restaurants are recommended: Table Mesa Bistro, which offers multicultural dishes featuring seasonal ingredients (fire grilled lamb pita), Tavola Trattoria where they serve excellent Italian food (Kobe meatballs) and is the sister restaurant of Table Mesa, and Tusk & Trotter American Brasserie.

Soldier sculpture in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas
Soldier sculpture in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas

We locate all three in a drive around town and find only Tusk & Trotter open. They have a limited menu in the bar because of the holiday but we have a delicious and satisfying meal. Jay starts with a draft Guinness and then we both decide on the grilled romaine salad and ribs with truffle fries. Jay declares the grilled salad the best he has ever had – light smokey flavor permeating the greens. The ribs are meaty and the fries are wickedly good. And all are gluten-free.

Clueless about the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art until our waiter at Tusk & Trotter fills us in, we drive over to the park to take a walk and peer through the fence into the museum construction area. A 120 acres of forests, gardens, and long hiking trails connect the museum with downtown Bentonville. Its patron, Alice Walton, is the descendant of the Ozarks’ first family: her father, Sam Walton, opened a discount store called Wal-Mart in nearby Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. Today Walmart is America’s largest private employer. The Walton Family Foundation gave the museum a $1.2 billion endowment and Ms Walton and the museum have amassed an enviable collection of treasures spanning most of American history.

Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum still under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas

I learn more from an article in The Economist:

Crystal Bridges takes its name from Crystal Spring, which flows on the grounds, and from the multiple bridges around which the museum is designed. The architect is Moshe Safdie, best known for his half-brutalist, half-playful Habitat 67 complex in Montreal. Crystal Bridges comprises several discrete but linked structures that meander around and above two spring-fed reflecting ponds, a design that Mr Safdie says is meant to echo the surrounding topography. Much of the museum’s roofing is copper, which currently has the umbral hue of the foliage around it—the leaves dying in autumn, the copper brand new—but which will of course gradually darken, turning a deep rust red and then dark brown before taking on the familiar light green patina in years to come.

And just as the buildings nestle into and hug their surroundings, with few right angles, so the roofs arch and swoop and fall, mimicking the region’s mountains. Trees surround the museum; as they grow they will enshroud it with leaves in full summer and expose it in winter. Crystal Bridges does not look like a traditional Japanese structure, but something of the Japanese aesthetic—simplicity and cleanness of design, reverence for nature, the impulse to build in harmony with rather than atop the natural world—pervades it.

The museum’s collection manages to be both thorough and surprising. Those who wish to see works by major American artists such as Winslow Homer, Thomas Hart Benton and Robert Rauschenberg will not be disappointed. But Don Bacigalupi, the museum director, says that in building a collection at this late date he looked at “identifying new scholarship and new research that led us toward artists and moments less well discovered”. That has inspired a particularly strong focus on women in American art—as patrons, subjects and creators. Janet Sobel, who made drip paintings several years before Jackson Pollock, gets her due. Among the museum’s first-rate collection of portraits, nothing exceeds Dennis Miller Bunker’s sombre, haunting image of Anne Page; and in its contemporary galleries Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s marquetry “Room” is, like the museum itself, a chamber of wonders in an unexpected place.

When the museum opens Nov. 11, many of the paintings will be on public display for the first time because Alice Walton bought them from private collections.

Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

Alex Johnson Hotel, Rapid City, SD
Warm, welcoming lobby of the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City, SD

Mid-day we make a pit stop in Rapid City looking for wireless service, lunch, a natural foods store… and architecturally interesting buildings.

Right downtown and an easy drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore, The Hotel Alex Johnson is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structural design is a blend of two spirits: the heritage of the Plains Indians and the Germanic Tudor architecture representing German immigration to the Dakotas. Construction began on the hotel in 1927, the day before work began on Mount Rushmore. Alex Johnson, Vice President of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, was founder of this grand hotel that bears his name. An admirer of Native Americans, he spoke of a shrine and tribute to the Sioux Indian Nation.

After admiring the lobby and buying a few postcards in the gift shop, we walk into Seattle’s Best Cafe, which is conveniently connected to the hotel. Good coffee, hot tea, comfy leather chairs for postcard writing, and complimentary high speed wireless take care of all our needs.

Tally's Silver Spoon, Rapid City, SD
Tally's Silver Spoon fine diner is just across the street from the hotel.

Tally’s Silver Spoon, dubbed the Fine Diner by Chef Benjamin Klinkel, and located across the street from the hotel, is what drew us to the town after an internet search. The diner is abuzz with happy eaters and we are pleased to land a booth by the window. The menu reflects the chef’s philosophy of seeking out the best ingredients available, local whenever possible and specialty imports from small producers all over the world.

Healthy choices are created daily in the form of the Silver Spoon Lunch Special made with lettuces and produce grown specifically for Tally’s Silver Spoon by a local farm. Jay orders today’s lunch special – a Tuscan Bread salad with seared Ahi Tuna on top. I order a Wild Idea Buffalo burger a plate they happily modify to be gluten-free – omitting the bun and coated fries and adding a delicious green salad. Both are delicious. Wild Idea, a Rapid City company, lets their bison mature on native grass pastures which are are loaded with Omegs-3’s and are found in abundance in grass-fed buffalo.

Fully fed and satisfied we locate a natural foods store. I find it interesting to go into natural food markets in different places. Often we will be restocking on nuts and fruit and I like to see what gluten-free brands they carry that are new to me. Today we check out Staple and Spice Market at 601 Mount Rushmore Road. My discovery is a new line of gluten-free baking mixes from Stonewall KitchenGF Chocolate Chunk Cookie Mix, GF Chocolate Cupcake Mix, GF Vanilla Cupcake Mix, GF Pancake & Waffle Mix, and a GF Chocolate Brownie Mix. I purchased one of the brownie mixes and look forward to baking it soon. If anyone has tried the Stonewall gluten-free mixes, please let us know what you think.

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Allen's Rocket Motel, Custer, SD
Allen's Rocket Motel in Custer, SD (photo by Brian Butko)

Arriving late in Custer, SD we happen upon the Rocket Motel. Located in downtown Custer within walking distance of restaurants & shops, and with the coolest lobby we have seen so far, we take a room. The decor is black and white with a pristine white cotton bedspread and very fun black & white check curtains in the bathroom. It is as the LA Times says “immaculately maintained 1950’s motel.” Rates start at $70 in summer and $50 in winter, and the Crazy Horse Memorial is just a five minute drive north in the Black Hills.

Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer, SD
Crazy Horse sculpture with Memorial in background

As I sit here writing and researching, I learn that the second “night blast” of the year at the Crazy Horse Memorial will be tonight – Sept. 6 – in observance of dual anniversaries; the 1877 death of Lakota leader Crazy Horse and the commemoration of the 104th birth date of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski born in 1908… an auspicious day.

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948. The Memorial’s mission is to honor the culture, tradition and living heritage of North American Indians. Outside on the deck of the Welcome Center is the sculpture that Ziolkowski created depicting the Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, seated on his horse and pointing over the horse’s head saying “My lands are where my dead lie buried”. The mountain carving is a very large duplicate of Ziolkowski’s sculpture and is breathtaking to see in person. The size and scale of the mountain sculpture is hard to grasp. Just the head is as big as all of Mount Rushmore. The opening under Crazy Horse’s arm is the height of a 10-story building.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Memorial on a glorious sunny day

Numerous accounts of Crazy Horse exist. Manataka American Indian Council has a brief biography online and Jay has read two books he recommends:

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, the author tells the story of the treatment of North American Indians since European settlers arrived. Through interviews, attendance at Indian ceremonies and extensive research, he shares details of life for many tribes, both then and now.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt is widely hailed as a religious classic. Jay read from it as we traveled, and the story told by Black Elk is gripping, powerful, and full of fascinating first person history – growing from young boy to Lakota elder, the narrative includes “you are there” accounts of Lakota life, Black Elk’s visions, his travels to England where Black Elk met the queen, and much more. From the back cover:

This inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881-1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

As we leave the Custer area headed for Bear Butte, our next stop is the Sugar Shack just south of Deadwood, SD, located on US Highway 385. Our host at the Rocket Motel spoke very highly of this burger joint and was envious that we would be eating there today.

Sugar Shack in Deadwood, SD
Sugar Shack on highway 385, just south of Deadwood, SD

I go for it and order the “Bubba Burger” – the 1/2 pound homemade burger comes with pepper cheese, grilled onions, thick smokey bacon, jalapenos, and BBQ sauce (they happily serve it without a bun so it is gluten-free). Jay chooses a swiss cheese burger with grilled onions. The patties are juicy and delicious. The story is that the current owner – Kerri “Bubba” Johnston – has changed the recipe slightly since it first opened — all of the employees agree that the current recipe is the best it has ever been – works for us, we are two happy campers!


Butte, Montana

Mine frames, Butte, MT
Mine "head frames" dot the landscape in Butte, Montana
Butte, MT garage door
Old garage door

In its heyday, from the late 19th century to about 1920, Butte was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns in the West, with a maze of over 10,000 miles of mines beneath it’s surface. As was common in the early wild west, Butte was home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district. The documentary Butte, America depicts its history as a copper producer and the issues of labor unionism, economic rise and decline, and environmental degradation that resulted from the activity.

During the mining boom, Butte’s population rose to over 100,000, as it became the largest city west of the Mississippi. Now, while most American cities have gown, Butte’s population has contracted to less than 35,000.

Copper King Mansion
Copper King Mansion is under renovation.
Butte, Montana historic house
Historic home across from the Copper King Mansion

Strolling around the town, the streets are wide, roomy, and curiously quiet. In Butte’s lovely historic neighborhoods, you could put a couch out in the middle of the street and sit there for a couple days and get a good nap in. Which is exactly what was depicted in Wim Winder’s excellent film – Don’t Come Knocking – starring Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange. In a humorous touching moment, Shepard pulls a discarded couch out into the street, sits down, and for many hours, simply sits and contemplates his life. All the while, Wender’s keen-eyed Director of Photography, Franz Lustig, captures the beauty of Butte as the scene unwinds through morning, to evening, to night. It is a seminal moment in the film, and beautifully captures the quiet of Butte, as the city takes a rest from all that went before.

Curtis Music Hall building, Butte, MT
The old Curtis Music Hall building
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation, Butte, Montana
Piccadilly Museum of Transportation
Arts Chateau, Butte, MT
Arts Chateau

Our stay in Butte is brief. Arriving late, we find a room at the Hampton Inn – very comfortable, clean, and spacious. The next morning, before hitting the highway to Yellowstone, we do a driving tour of downtown Butte.

When you visit Butte and it’s older sections, much of its history can be seen in the buildings – the ornate stone architecture and fading old fashioned billboards on the stone-walled businesses.

We center ourselves in the historic heart of the city and begin to stroll. This is a great walking town. Traffic is light, and the layout is easy to navigate. Every block holds something of interest – old banks, butcher, bookstores, restaurants, pubs, music venues – all of it built from stone mined beneath Butte.

As we walk, we keep a lookout for the art gallery where Jessica Lange slugged Sam Shepard with her purse in the movie in Don’t Come Knocking.

Looking for an iced tea, we ask a local, who suggests The Venus Rising Espresso House. Turns out this is the local coffee house owned and operated by the Butte Silver Bow Arts Foundation. Good tea, good cause.

Preparing for our camping trip to Yellow Stone National Park in Wyoming, and Bear Butte in South Dakota, we pick up some supplies at the well-stocked Bob Ward’s sporting goods store. I could spend an hour in this place, squeezing between tightly packed rows of clothing, fly fishing gear, boating, camping furniture, shoes, … Finding what we need, at a good price, we set out for Yellow Stone National Park.

New York City

Ice pops made from anything brewed: tea, root beer, espresso; markets galore – artisan, farmers, flea, antique; and exploring Brooklyn… here are some fun tips on the big Apple.

New York’s New Frozen Treats

“I HAD never been so grateful to see a banana. Peeled and skewered, just plucked from the freezer, it was nearly smoking from the cold. It was then plunged into molten chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and slowly twirled under a shower of crushed almonds.”

36 Hours in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, is a destination in its own right. Ideas are where to stay, what to do and where to eat.

Markets of New York City: A Guide to the Best Artisan, Farmer, Food, and Flea Markets

markets of new york cityThis lovely little book is a guide to the traditional, charming and edgy markets of New York City: antique and flea markets, artisan markets, farmers’ markets, seasonal markets, and more. Markets of New York City also includes recommendations for great food in and around the markets and suggested routes for full or half-day excursions.

Singapore for business and pleasure

Singapore is one of my favorite cities to visit. Though I generally visit on business, there is always time for pleasure… and Singapore is a fine place to enjoy dining, night life, lush tropical parks, beaches, and shopping.

Singapore River Boat and bridge
Scene along the Singapore River

Singapore’s legendary efficiency is obvious from the first moments after arrival. You will breeze through customs in a matter of seconds, thanks to their embrace of modern technology.  On the way into town from the ultra modern airport, you may note that cars never go over the posted speed limit. The streets are immaculate as they wind through a veritable garden of paradise. Then the city appears ahead – pristine, luminous, shiny and new.

The Fullerton Hotel with River Kids sculpture
Sculpture surrounds The Fullerton Hotel (in the background)

My destination is The Fullerton Hotel in the downtown financial and arts district. The hotel’s Colonial style belies the cool modern interior, welcome in the tropical heat of Singapore. Built in 1928 on the Singapore river, the Fullerton Building was the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life. It was home to three of the most important institutions of Singapore – The General Post Office, The Singapore Club, and The Chamber of Commerce. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth a visit… there are several excellent restaurants, as well as a first rate international buffet, and a bar that is set amidst the lovely original ceiling and pillars of the old Post Office… and enjoy an evening stroll by the river to enjoy the various sculptures along the way.

Singapore Sculpture Business Men
Fantastic sculpture of business men near the hotel
Singapore Sculpture Three Men
Another fine bronze sculpture in the area

The legendary Raffles Hotel is a short walk away. Immortalized in the novels of Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling, the hotel exemplifies Singapore’s colonial-style architecture amid lush tropical gardens. Go there for tea, drinks, or fine dining – including the Long Bar – home of the world renowned Singapore Sling, and the Tiffin Room, which continues the tradition of Afternoon Tea. The Raffles Hotel Museum looks at the history of the Hotel largely in the context of the Golden Age of Travel. This period, spanning 1880 to 1939, saw the rise of popular tourism and coincided with the opening of the Hotel. This was the era when Singapore was known as the “Crossroads of the East“. Museum hours are 10 am to 7 pm daily. There is no admission charge.

Singapore River Tree
Strolling along the Singapore River

My favorite time to shop is at night, to see buildings adorned with garish signs, and people strolling down the streets, chatting with friends, looking for bargains. Though there are numerous places to shop around downtown, if you are shopping for electronics, cameras, and gadgets, consider heading over to “Little India” – a bustling earthy part of town, where you can let your hair down and haggle with the merchants for the big deal of the day. The various pictures on this blog were taken with a camera I bought in Little India – Nikon Coolpix 8400 8MP Digital Camera with 3.5x 24mm Wide Angle Optical Zoom Lensmy favorite camera, ever!

To fortify you for your evening of wheeling and dealing, follow your nose to one of the wonderful Indian restaurants that are everywhere in Little India. Hidden among the bustle of Little India is Race Course Road . On this tiny lane you will find Banana Leaf Apolohoused in three units of a two-storey shophouse it is most famous for its fish head curry. The restaurant has been open for 30 years, serving both North and South Indian cuisine to locals eager for a taste of great curry, and tourists, like us, who have heard about this a restaurant from an expat friend (thank you Pam!).

Singapore Indian Food
Our feast at the Banana Leaf Apolo

A recent article in the New York Times Travel section, 36 Hours in Singapore, offers up more ideas of things to do and places to stay…

“A long tradition of strong regional cuisine and strict hygiene laws makes for some of the world’s best — and safest — street food. Nowadays most of the hawkers are concentrated in covered food halls so that ingredients are kept cool, and preparation methods and cleanliness can be kept to a uniform standard. At the Maxwell Road Food Center near Chinatown, vendors sell everything from dumplings to onion pancakes to dessert: at Tian Tian (No. 11), try the chicken rice; at Hokee (No. 79), the soup dumplings, and at No. 848, fresh fruit and juice (one, a bitter gourd and honey mix, promises “to reduce heatiness (sic).” Prices are 1 to 8 Singapore dollars.”

Yahoo Travel offers 5 of Singapore’s best restaurants with a view

  • Sky on 57, Level 57 SkyPark Tower 1, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 10 Bayfront Avenue
  • Level 33, #33-01 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, 8 Marina Boulevard
  • Barnacles, Rasa Sentosa Resort, 101 Siloso Road
  • Clifford, Fullerton Bay Hotel, 80 Collyer Quay
  • iL Cielo, Level 24, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road

And the Lonely Planet Singapore (City Travel Guide) gets good reviews as a handy paperback (200 pages) and written in conjunction with a Singapore resident. The expanded coverage of neighborhoods includes two new walking tours and three new excursions; plus helpful cultural insights & local secrets from a comedian, curator, theater director, writer and scholar. If you have access to a computer the content is updated daily at lonelyplanet.com.


Astoria, Oregon

Sunday morning… hot tea, New York Times… good article in the travel section on the waterfront town of Astoria, Oregon. Good tips on dining, lodging, and things to do. Enjoy the read and maybe a visit sometime.

Astoria, Oregon, Discovers a Waterfront Chic

Astoria Oregon Waterfront
Cannery Pier Hotel, Astoria, OR (photo credit: Leah Nash for the NY Times)


Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Portland – what a great idea. Jay, his mom and I drive down while Jay’s brother and his family fly up. Time to relax, visit, and play for a few days in a friendly, welcoming city.

We all stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza and take advantage of one of their AAA packages that is $140/night and includes free valet parking, a $25 gas card and a gift certificate for the mini bar. Our rooms are double queens (many of the hotels had full size beds), very spacious, and newly renovated. This is a pet friendly hotel and we all marvel at the good mannered hounds in the lobby.

Portland Hotel Vintage Plaza
Hotel Vintage Park occupies a lovely old stone & brick building

Soon after check-in we head back down to the lobby for wine hour. Oregon wines are poured while Italian bread & pizza is provided by Pazzo, the restaurant connected to the hotel. This takes the edge off our hunger but we are still weary from a long drive south so we decide to eat a light meal in the Pazzo bar. A nice trend with boutique hotels is having a restaurant connected to the hotel that is independently owned and operated. Pazzo is a gem. Comfortable with delicious Italian cuisine. We find a cozy corner in the bar and share a light meal of mushroom risotto, salad, and a pate and cheese plate. Over the next few days we dine at Pazzo for breakfast and lunch, finding their selections and quality very good. Breakfast favorites are the french toast, spinach/pancetta omelette and scramble of the day.

Daily we are out walking… on one of his solo adventures to Powell’s Bookstore, Jay comes across this bronze elephant sculpture…

Portland Bronze Elephant Sculpture
Bronze elephant sculpture in the park between Burnside and Couch Streets

A little research reveals that in October 2002, a 12-foot bronze sculpture titled Da Tung (Universal Peace), a replica of a Chinese antique dating from the late Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), was installed in the park between Burnside and Couch streets. The elephant is embellished with figures from ancient Chinese mythology, and carries a baby elephant, Xiang bao bao (Baby Elephant), symbolizing that offspring shall be safe and prosperous.

Portland’s street food has a reputation and unlike other cities the vendors are out and open during the cold weather. Out taking photos we come across a block of vendors downtown, various types of buildings, carts, trailers… giving off a deliciously international blend of smells.

portland street food stand
Street food stands are quiet the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning Pazzo is closed so we step next door to Typhoon for a Thai breakfast. The fried rice with an over easy egg on top is the breakfast favorite, and a very yummy change for a gluten-free eater! As you might imagine the tea menu is huge. I settle on a pot of green tea with peppermint. Perfect for a chilly morning. Typhoon is connected to another boutique hotel, Hotel Lucia. The restrooms are in the hotel, so after breakfast we stroll over to check out the scene… the lobby is like a museum. Filled with sculpture, paintings and Photographer David Hume Kennerly’s work we spend some time looking around. A very cool sculpture made of silver crayola crayons captures our attention… but unfortunately didn’t make it into a photo!

portland hotel lucia
Art filled lobby at Portland's Hotel Lucia

After breakfast the family convenes and decides a movie is in order. It just happens that the latest Harry Potter is playing a few blocks away… so the seven of us (ages 12 to 87) take in a matinee. Turns out there are several movie theaters within walking distance of our hotel. Yippee.

We arrive on time for our 4:30 Thanksgiving dinner reservation at Heathman Restaurant in the Heathman Hotel (another easy walk). Seated within minutes of our arrival we peruse the three course fixed-price menu. Each course has several choices – some of the first course options are pumpkin soup, poached pear salad and caesar salad. The main course offerings are traditional turkey with dressing, prime rib with yorkshire pudding, stuffed pork loin, and a vegetarian option. Desserts include pumpkin napolean, flourless chocolate cake and apple cake. I choose prime rib and flourless chocolate cake – both are amazing. We learn from a staff member that they have 1300 reservations for Thanksgiving, including the buffet upstairs… we are even more impressed with the prompt service and delicious meal!

Thanksgiving Day we watch the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City on the television… the next day, Friday, at 9am we watch the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade seated in front of our hotel (chair provided by the hotel). Great local marching bands, horses, lhamas, costumed characters, and of course … floats.

Macy's Holiday Parade Portland, OR
Macy's Holiday Parade in Portland, OR
macy's holiday parade portland OR
Raggedy Ann leads the way in the Macy's Holiday parade

Location, location, location… ours allows us to walk everywhere but there is a very cool modern streetcar system in Portland that we see constantly as we do a little Christmas shopping at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Portland Outdoor Store, Moonstruck Chocolates…

portland, oregon, streetcar
Portland Streetcar began operations July 20, 2001 as the first modern streetcar system in the country
portland oregon outdoor store
Portland Outdoor Store - a great retreat on a rainy afternoon
portland hotel christmas tree
Christmas season begins at the Hotel Vintage Plaza

Needless to say, we are not too hungry the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, and since we have no leftovers to snack on we checkout a sushi restaurant that we have noticed on our walks… and right after dinner we head to Pioneer Courthouse Square, the place to be, starting at 5:30 pm for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. After some musical performances and caroling a 75-foot tree lights up the square. Well you can imagine how much energy holding yourself up in a crowd takes… so as the crowd disperses some of us head to Baskin Robbins across the street for ice cream cones! And since this is our last night we go back to the hotel, check out the movie schedule and head to a movie… something fun – RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). As my favorite movie critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes: “Red is neither a good movie nor a bad one. It features actors we like doing things we wish were more interesting.” Those actors being Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and others. All day Friday staff at the Hotel Vintage Plaza have been decorating the live tree in the atrium of the lobby… when we return after the movie the tree is resplendent. We have officially moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

Osoyoos, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley

We are off to the Okanagan Valley. Driving through the North Cascades National Park on Route 20 in Washington State is a treat in the fall. This is Jays first time, so I drive to give him ample opportunity to take in everything. Near the summit we round a curve just as two bear cubs scurry over the far side of the road. We just glimpse their rears and cute furry tails.

Heading to Osoyoos, BC we pass through Winthrop, WA and stop in one of my favorite little towns – Twisp. The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery beckons like the sirens, and we head in for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. After a delicious black bean/corn salad we are on the road again, nearing our intersection with Route 97, our path north to British Columbia. Only 85 miles to go.

Spirit Ridge Resort
Spirit Ridge Resort and NK' Mip Cellars appear beyond the grapevines and sagebrush.

Slowly the terrain turns to desert as we head north. We arrive in Osoyoos, British Columbia late afternoon. Just 5 minutes north of the US Border, the town of 5,000 is located on Osoyoos Lake, and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains. As we make our way around the lake toward Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, New Mexico and Santa Fe come to mind. Indeed, this region is Canada’s only desert and is dotted with sagebrush and cactus.

Drawn to autumn colors and quiet, we arrive in the Okanagan Valley just after the Fall Wine Festival. Still time to enjoy the warm October days and the benefit of lower rates at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

spirit ridge resort sculpture
Dynamic metal sculptures populate the resort.

Ready to stretch our legs after a day of driving, we check in, then walk over to the NK’Mip Cellars tasting room. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is owned and operated by the Okanagan People, one of Canada’s First Nations. While enjoying their Pinot Noir and Merlot, we learn that the NK’Mip Cultural Center is located within the resort compound as well, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

Passatempo is Latin for “passing the time,” and this bistro-style restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort is the perfect place to finish the day. Good food and good wine with my sweetie. Plus, a panoramic view of Lake Osoyoos, the vineyards, and the desert. We are offered seating on the patio or indoors, and choose an indoor table by the window. Our lovely waitress helps me choose a Filet entree with Juniper sauce, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables that is gluten-free. Jay decides on the Rack of Lamb. Both are beautifully presented, delicious, and enjoyed with glasses of Merlot, chosen after a small tasting of red wines. Many of the ingredients are locally grown and organic. (We return the next day for lunch and share a fresh Seafood Caesar Salad and delectable Polenta with fresh local corn).

spirit ridge grapevine
We take a path through the vineyard on our walk up from the lake.

After coffee and tea at a carryout across the way, we begin the second day with a brisk walk down to the lake and back in the cool morning air. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is just opening as we return from our walk. The state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel sensitively constructed into the hillside. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences.

Warrior sculpture at Spirit Ridge Resort
Warrior sculpture welcomes visitors to the NK'Mip Cultural Center

We take our time looking at the exhibits (inside & outside) and discovering the fascinating stories and rich living culture of the Okanagan people. The outdoor area exhibits are amazing – we marvel at the metal sculptures. Then we buy two cold bottles of water and head out to explore the two kilometers of walking trails they have created. Enjoying the smell of the sage grasslands and pine forests along the way.

NK'Mip cultural center at Spirit Ridge
Outdoor exhibit at the NK'Mip Cultural Center at Spirit Ridge
spirit ridge cultural center woman harvesting
Another fantastic metal sculpture of a woman harvesting
spirit ridge cultural center spirit animals
Spirit animal sculpture at the Cultural Centre

As you can tell, we are walkers… but you could also spend time at the Sonora Desert Spa, or golfing at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, both at here at Spirit Ridge. And we are wine lovers, so we have a late lunch and go wine tasting.

Our favorite vineyards, all about 10 km north of Osoyoos in the Black Sage Bench area:

  • Church and State
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery
  • Oliver Twist Estate Winery
  • Stoneboat Vineyards
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where we have a delicious and romantic dinner that night in the Sonora Room Restaurant. Jay dines on the special, a perfectly grilled pork chop served with a homemade pasta incorporating fresh squash and cabbage served with a cider, calvados, beef stock and butter sauce. Outrageous! I have the Fraser Valley Duck Breast, equally sublime, with roasted new potatoes and autumn vegetables. This night all diners receive a complimentary appetizer of Jingle Bell Red Peppers filled with cheese and a complimentary dessert – mini squash creme brulee. Good thing we walked a lot today. And yes, we savored a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot, I think it was a 2007, but not sure. Excellent.


Fresh from the Okanagan Valley and Joie Farms is an inspiring new cookbook ~  MENUS from an ORCHARD TABLE: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan by Heidi Noblemenus from an orchard tableA collection of outstanding seasonal recipes from Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School’s renowned outdoor orchard dinners. Menus for an Orchard Table allows readers to re-create some of Joie’s most extraordinary dishes, with essays on the Okanagan’s wine country cuisine and superb photography. The recipes are divided into the courses served at Joie’s orchard dinners, which balance regional wines with the accompanying dishes. Among the selections are Chilled heirloom yellow tomato soup garnished with tomato confit and chive oil, Country lamb and olive terrine with Joie pear and shallot compote and brioche, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarte with port. Unfortunately, the cooking classes are no longer offered, but the spirit lives on in her cookbook.

Yokohama, Japan, with kids

Last night an email came in from our sister-in-law, Janet. She and the kids (our nieces – ages 13 & 11) are traveling in Asia with Andy on a business trip. Happy Father’s Day Andy!

Hello Jay and Sue,

We are having a great time in Yokohama. We were fortunate enough to get upgraded from SFO to Narita into business class and had a great flight. Gabrielle was so busy watching Avatar that she didn’t even know that we had landed. She saw everyone standing up and wondered what was going on. Now that’s a great 10 hour flight.

After landing in Narita we had to catch a bus to our hotel – Yokohama is an hour away from the Airport. We were all pretty jet lagged by now and the bus ride felt longer than the flight. From the bus terminal we caught a taxi to our hotel (planes, trains and automobiles). The taxis in Japan are so clean and I love the white seat covers and the gloved drivers. The cabs play 30-40s hits from America while using GPS. A bit of the old and the new and it works. We are taking taxis all over Yokohama (the kids love the automatic doors).

We are staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Hotel. It is an easy landmark in Yokohama. The hotel is shaped like the sail of a ship. It is so distinct – you just can’t miss it. Andy and I stayed here 8 years ago when we were last here. I love being back. I really like this hotel. The staff is really helpful and all speak English. They are so polite and friendly. The restaurants in the hotel are great, Chinese, Italian, French and Japanese. Our maitre ‘d was from Lausanne, Switzerland in the French restaurant and he and Andy spoke French together. The French food was rich and delicious – I had a pumpkin soup that was out of this world. It’s a great experience. The girls said that after Italy this is their favorite country.

SOGO Department Store, Yokohama, Japan
SOGO Department Store, Yokohama, Japan

Day 1 – we go to one of my favorite stores – SOGO. It is next to the Yokohama Train Station. It is an amazing store on par with Harrods in London. It is 12 stories and one of the floors has a museum on it. The  sixth floor is home to the first in-store museum, the SOGO Museum of Art in Japan. We go through the exhibit and unfortunately none of the items had English subtitles. Danielle recognized an ink block and the tea brush used in the tea ceremony which she studied this year at school. She is excited to share some info with us. There is an exhibit of three handbags – we know they are hundreds of years old ( if not thousand since we can’t read any of the literature) but one of the handbags could have been in fashion today. You forget you’re inside a department store and it’s just a small portion of the sixth floor. But my favorite floor is the basement – it has foods from around the world. Every display case is more beautiful than the next. The food and pastry look like works of art. The staff is friendly and eager to serve you and they speak English. One young woman looks distressed when Gabrielle tried to order three truffles and finally she said “alcohol” so we knew not to pick those. We oohed and ahhed over the confections and went back two days in a row to sample the cream puffs. They cost about $2.50 each and the packaging is so elaborate. They pack them in a travel box, wet naps, napkins, utensils for us to take with a mini ice pack to keep them cool. We love it and came back a second day to do some shopping at SOGO.

Cosmoworld, Yokohama, Japan
Cosmoworld with the Intercontinental Hotel in the background - Yokohama, Japan

Next is Cosmoworld which is near our hotel. It is an amusement park with one of the world’s largest ferris wheels, 1125 meters high and can carry 480 people. We go on it and it takes about 15 minutes to complete the revolution. We have a great view of our hotel and Yokohama in general. After the ferris wheel Andy and Danielle ride the roller coaster. It goes underground during the ride and they are the only two people on it. We can hear them screaming as they fly underground.

Red Panda at the Nogeyama Zoo, Yokohama, Japan
Red Panda at the Nogeyama Zoo, Yokohama, Japan

Day 2 – Andy is working and we are off to the Nogeyama Zoo. It is a small zoo built in 1950 and the admission is free. I don’t know how they pay for the animals? We want to see a red panda and we do. It is the second exhibit at the zoo and we squeal with delight at this charming fellow. It is the first time we have seen a red panda close up. The first creature we see is a scarlet ibis – something else we had never seen before. They are truly scarlet and very beautiful birds. Another animal that is new to us is the colobus – this primate is amazing. Long black and white hair and a tail that must be three feet long. It was a wonderful sight to see. They have a petting zoo so different from the States. It has boxes of mice, then another box of baby chicks, then guinea pigs called “marmots” and then rats. You can pet the animals and they had slatted ropes all along the enclosure for the mice and rats to travel on. These are hung on poles across the exhibit so if you look up mice and rats are traveling on the mini slatted bridges over your head. The kids love it. The rest of the animals are the standard zoo variety but as we turn the corner on the cat house after being inside and seeing a tiger and lioness – a male lion is lying on top of a shed. We go “whoa’ because he is enormous. I had never been that close to a male lion. He is huge and I just hadn’t realize how huge. He is amazing and he has this intense stare so we all turn to see what he was looking at. We don’t see what he sees. It is hot and humid. I would say in the 80s and I hope we will be able to find a taxi to take us back our hotel. We step out of the zoo and here comes a taxi. What luck!

Nogeyama Zoo Peacock, Yokohama, Japan
Nogeyama Zoo Peacock, Yokohama, Japan

For dinner Andy and his client, Toshi, take us to an authentic Soba noodle dinner in Old Tokyo. The restaurant is over 100 years old. The outside is lovely – screens and well manicured entrance. We sit on tatami mats and are the only caucasians in the place. It is quite an experience. Toshi orders for us and Gabrielle’s udon noodles arrive in a beautiful black box with a lid on it. She loves the noodles. This is a dinner we will never forget.

We take the train and subway into Tokyo and back. It’s the girls first time on a subway and they don’t really like the crowded conditions. As a New Yorker it was pretty typical of a subway ride.

Day 3 – we go to the Yokohama Museum of Art. It is closed but as we take photos on the grounds, this business man approaches and without asking politely takes the camera from Gabrielle and takes our picture. Then he turns the camera, takes another shot, picks up his briefcase and continues on his way. We love the culture and politeness of the people. We cross over to the Landmark Tower. This is the highest observation tower in Japan. It is on the 69th story and the panoramic views are fantastic. The elevator is the fastest in Japan and in the Guinness Book of Records. It travels the 69 stores in 40 seconds. We love it. It is so fun.

Last night which was our 16th anniversary and our last night in Japan so we met Andy in Shin-Yokohama to go to the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum. We had seen Ramen Girl – starring Brittany Murphy several months ago and knew we were heading to Yokohama where this film takes place. So we said we would go and visit this Raumen Museum. We made good on our word and went. The basement of the museum is supposed to be a replica of what downtown noodle shops looked liked in 1958. It is very bizarre. Totally unexpected and hard to describe. We took some pictures which we’ll have to send but even that may not do it justice. It was a strange experience.

Umbrellas in Yokohama, Japan
The girls with their umbrellas in Yokohama, Japan

The girls purchased umbrellas at SOGO earlier in the week. They are hoping to get to use their new umbrellas. They are clear with colored polka dots. The clear umbrellas make it so easy to see where you’re going. Last night as we walked to the Raumen it was raining hard. It was an anniversary we won’t forget. Andy and I are under one of the polka-dotted umbrellas and the girls each walked with a new umbrella in the pouring rain. We are all happy.

Today we head to Singapore. The girls and I are excited about seeing a new country.


Dunedin, NZ

Our first stop on the 226 mile drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is Oamaru. An historic seaport town nestled on the South Island’s east coast. While Oamaru’s early wealth was founded on gold, it was agriculture that provided the driving force for a thriving commercial port and harbor area. Although commercial usage has steadily declined over time, the original structures remain intact and the area is undergoing a revival. The Woolstore Cafe is in a restored building and there we enjoyed the day’s special – lamb burgers with fries. Once again I was delighted to find gluten-free “slices” – wonderfully moist, cake-like treats: chocolate hazelnut and a pear honey (my waistline is not in decline!).

Oamaru Bay

During our stay in Christchurch we were advised to stop and see the Moeraki Boulders on our trip south. The boulders are situated some 40km south of Oamaru at Moeraki on State Highway One. It is a five minute walk along the beach to the boulders. From a distance they are not impressive in size, but up close the details become apparent. A little research revealed there incredible history… the boulders were embedded in the soft mudstone cliff at the beach and the forces of the sea have eroded the cliff away, exposing the round formation of the boulders. The boulders were formed by the crystallization of calcium and carbonates around charged particles, as one website described it – “a process similar to the way pearls are formed”. Although this process took four million years.

Moeraki Boulders

Originally we had planned to end our journey in Christchurch, but our friends, Sally & Bruce, encouraged us to continue south to Dunedin and the Otago peninsula. Dunedin is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university and the Otago Polytechnic. The University accounts for about 20 percent of the city’s population and this weekend was the start of the semester so lodging was booked downtown. Online we found a room at the newly opened St. Clair Beach Resort and after driving through the city found ourselves at the oceanfront where surfers were rallying and practicing for the next day’s Asia Pacific Long Board Championship. An excited Jay was soon talking to his buddy, Mark (surfer dude), via Skype – holding up the MacBook (see Jay’s  review of the Ultimate Travel Computer) so Mark could see the surfers. Enjoying the sound of the surf and tired from a long day of driving, that night we dined nearby at Salt – a great little restaurant about two blocks from the hotel.

Surfers at St Clair Beach in Dunedin

Waking the next morning to the sounds of loud speakers announcing the surfers we check it out for awhile from our balcony, then jump in the car and head out to the Otago Peninsula. Our destination is the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula. We drive out on Portobello Road along the edge of the harbor, then return on Highcliff Road along the top of the Peninsula enjoying the spectacular views of both routes.

Taiaroa Head is unique for the diversity of wildlife which abounds on this small headland. The albatross is one of eleven bird species which breed in the area and this is the only mainland breeding colony for any albatross species found in the southern hemisphere. The first Taiaroa-reared albatross chick flew in 1938 and this now protected nature reserve has grown into an established colony with a population of around 140 birds.

The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. The nest, built during early November, is formed by a bird sitting down and pulling vegetation and earth around itself with its bill. The white egg, weighing up to 500 grams, is laid during the first three weeks of November. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 11 weeks – one of the longest incubation periods of any bird. The incubating bird sleeps much of the time its mate is away

Albatross with chick

When the chick has hatched, the parents take turns at guarding it for the first 30 to 40 days, and the feeding of the chick is also shared by both parents. Nearly 12 months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, having cared for egg and chick over a period of some 300 days, the parents will leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again. The chicks hatch during late January and early February; it takes about three to six days to finally emerge from the egg after making a hole in the shell. Albatross Breading Cycle For the first 20 days the chick is fed on demand, then meals decrease to three or four times a week. At 100 days the chick’s down reaches a maximum length of 12 centimetres. At this age the chick is fed larger meals, up to two kilograms at a time, of more solid substance. From early August the chick is fed lighter meals and in September, when fully fledged, it wanders from the nest testing its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind. The young albatross will spend the next three to six years at sea; many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Taiaroa.

Stomach contents of a deceased albatross

While away at sea the albatross swallows plastic debris – in the North Pacific debris is concentrated in two huge eddies – in these areas the surface water contains six times more plastic than plankton by weight. Adult albatrosses breeding on Hawaiian atolls ingest the plastic, probably mistaking it for food, and then feed it to their chicks. As a result, thousands of chicks die yearly in Hawaii because their stomachs fill with plastic leaving no room for real food.

Rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests

From the nature reserve viewing area we saw the rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests.

Lighthouse on the Otago Peninsula

The lighthouse is a short walk from the reserve with views of the ocean and seals camouflaged among the dark stones.

Sheep, Dunedin, NZ
Shade loving sheep along the roadside

Driving back on the Highcliff Road we came upon these wool laden sheep enjoying the shade; below is a view of the lush Otago Peninsula.

Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, NZ
View of the Otaga Peninsula

After a full day out on the Otago Peninsula we make reservations to dine in downtown Dunedin at Bacchus. Set in the heart of Dunedin in one of Dunedin’s historic buildings, Bacchus overlooks the Octagon (city center of Dunedin), and is known for it’s quality lamb and beef dishes and a first rate wine selection. We enjoyed a first class meal and good wine recommendations.

The following morning we check out at 10am (the standard time in NZ), return our rental car, check our luggage at train station and head to Plato for brunch. Plato is a relaxed eatery located on the harborfront of Dunedin and was recommended by our waitress at Bacchus last night. Hands down one of the best brunch dishes ever – Basque Eggs – free-range eggs broken over pan-fried potatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, tomatoes, feta and spinach, grilled with grated parmesan.

Walking into town we make a visit to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. As we made our way through the galleries the exhibit that stood out was Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.  Described as  “A collection of photographs that document the inaccessible places that exit below the surface of American identity.” The two images that stood out for me and contrasted each other were both in Washington State – a nuclear waste shot and the Olympic National Temperate Rainforest. The museum is worth checking out and this exhibit is there until May 9, 2010.

We eventually make it back to the Octogon to check out the South Island Bagpipe competition… here are Jay’s photos…

Bagpipers Practicing, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers practicing for the South Island Competition
Bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers present themselves to the Competition Official
Young bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
The tradition continues with these young bagpipers
Bagpipe Competition Judge, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipe Competition Judges chat with an onlooker

Our train leaves mid-afternoon… we are taking The Taieri Gorge Limited train, Dunedin’s prestige tourist train operating from the historic Railway Station. This scenic train & bus tour will eventually land us in Queenstown, NZ. This historic train travels through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago.

Dunedin Train Station, NZ
Dunedin Train Station
Dunedin Train Station, Dunedin, NZ
Platform at the Dunedin Train Station
Historic Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin, NZ
Interior of the historic Taieri Gorge train
Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin to Queenstown, NZ
Gramma's traveling bears on Taieri Gorge Train

At one of our stops along the way, a grandma sets her bears out and photographs them. She tells Jay she will email the pictures to her grandchildren later as a fun way for them to follow her travels.

Christchurch, NZ

Revived after our 5 nights in Nelson we are ready to head to Christchurch. Jay was there in November/December of 1975 after a summer gig in Antarctica installing some electronics he had designed for a University of MD atmospheric project. We have been thinking about visiting since then, so I am excited to finally see it, and Jay is curious about how it will appear 35 years later.

Leaving Nelson en route to Christchurch, we decided to check out a couple vineyards around Blenheim. Our favorite for the wine was Lawson’s Dry Hills Winery. Visually very modest compared to others, but producing some lovely white wines. We enjoyed their Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Late Harvest Riesling immensely. Decided to buy a bottle of the Pinot Gris to enjoy during the remaining travels and tuck a Riesling away to share with friends back home. During this trip we have driven the coastal routes more often than not, never tiring of our first glimpse of the sea on a new shore. Today we travel down State Highway 1 and experience the South Island’s east coast – this area is known for crayfish, whale watching, seals, dolphins… an abundance of marine life to eat and view. There is stretch of road about 4 km that has signs indicating seals in that area and we spotted a few driving by.

Black Sand Beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ
A black sand beach on the way to Christ Church, NZ

The owner of Lawson Winery had suggested we stop at The Store for lunch. It is midway between Blenheim and Kaikoura in the middle of nowhere, located in a scenic spot along the highway (good signage). They have a large outdoor patio out back where we dined in the sun cooled by the Pacific Ocean breezes and entertained by the most aggressive seagulls we have witnessed yet!

After a fun, full day of traveling we arrive at Pomeroy’s on Kilmore, a boutique guest house located inside Christchurch’s ‘Four Avenues’ (just 4 blocks from the city centre) and our resting point for the next 3 nights. Pomeroy’s historic Old Brewery Inn is literally a stone’s throw away next door and once we are checked in we head over for a brew and dinner. Steve Pomeroy, the owner, is often about and ready to see to your every need. Hearing I eat gluten-free he had fresh gluten-free bread brought in from his favorite German bakery (which he had to do twice, because it was so good all the guests ate it). Another great feature of Pomeroy’s – the breakfast room. Every morning they have a continental breakfast of toast, cereal, tea, coffee, fruit, jams, butter… served in a lovely dining room furnished with antiques. Just like home.

Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ
Pomeroy's on Kilmore in Christchurch, NZ

Cathedral Square is a casual 15 minute stroll away – although there are many interesting distractions along the way. Our first evening we took a walk into town after dinner and spotted this sculpture – the next morning Jay returned with camera in hand.

911 tribute in Christ Church, NZ
A sculptural tribute in Christchurch to firemen worldwide.

This sculpture stands within a dedicated reserve opposite the Central Fire Station on the banks of the Avon River, and was created by Christchurch artist, Graham Bennett. It is a silent tribute to firefighters worldwide who risk their lives daily in the pursuit of their duty.

The plaque reminds us that “Firefighters are always in the front line and never more so than on September 11, 2001, when international terrorists hijacked four domestic American jet airliners and flew two of them, along with their passengers, into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The two towers imploded and collapsed, and among the more than 2800 dead were 343 New York firefighters. All that remained of the twin towers, and the lost lies within was a mountainous pile of twisted steel and smoking rubble. In May 2002, five steel girders, weighing 5.5 tons were salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center and gifted to the City of Christchurch by the city of New York for use in a public artwork to honor all firefighters worldwide. The suspended component or “spear” in its red hot state fell from the 102nd floor of World Trade Center Tower piercing the subway below”.

As Americans who did not witness the carnage in New York City we were deeply moved to find the girders here, half way around the world. And reminded of the horror and disbelief of that day seeing the destruction done to these massive hunks of steel.

Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
An inner court yard at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ

Exploring Christchurch by foot, we ended up at the Art Center. It is a hub for arts, crafts and entertainment in Christchurch, and is located in the neo-gothic former University of Canterbury buildings. This particular day is was gray and cool, so we were looking for soup, and found some great homemade black bean soup in one of the cafes here. After lunch we checked out some of the artist studios that inhabit many of the buildings and came across a textile class – kids sewing, quilting and weaving. Jay took some great photos – notice the cool quilt on the wall!

Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Kids making quilts at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
A boy learns the art of the loom at the Art Center in Christ Church, NZ
Juggler in Christ Church, NZ
Sculpture of a juggler in Christ Church, NZ

A fine rain began as we walked through the Botanical Gardens on our way back to the room. The flowers photograph well, but I was also struck by the variety and beauty of the numerous old trees.

Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
One of the many gardens at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ
Roses at the Botanical Garden in Christ Church, NZ

Another day we happened upon a group of Maori performance artists… each woman with a chin tattoo.

Maori Singing in Christ Church, NZ
Traditional Maori performance group in Christ Church, NZ

A little research revealed the following tale…

The word “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian word “tatau”. Captain James Cook used the word “tattow” when he witnessed tattooing for the first time in Tahiti, in 1769.

According to Māori mythology, tattooing commenced with a love affair between a young man by the name of Mataora (which means “Face of Vitality”) and a young princess of the underworld by the name of Niwareka.

One day however, Mataora beat Niwareka, and she left Mataroa, running back to her father’s realm which was named “Uetonga”.

Mataora, filled with guilt and heartbreak followed after his princess Niwareka. After many trials, and after overcoming numerous obstacles, Mataora eventually arrived at the realm of “Uetonga”, but with his face paint messed and dirty after his voyage. Niwareka’s family taunted and mocked Mataora for his bedraggled appearance. In his very humbled state, Mataora begged Niwareka for forgiveness, which she eventually accepted. Niwareka’s father then offered to teach Mataora the art of tattooing, and at the same time Mataora also learnt the art of Taniko – the plaiting of cloak borders in many colours.

Mataora and Niwareka thus returned together to the human world, bringing with them the arts of ta moko and taniko.

Nelson, NZ

Nelson, NZ House Sketch
Sketch of a waterfront house in Nelson, NZ

We arrived in Nelson in the afternoon after taking the ferry from Wellington (North Island) to Picton (South Island).  Nelson is a charming town with a Victorian flair to many of the homes.

Villa victoria, Nelson, NZ
Villa Victoria in Nelson, NZ

Landing in Nelson for 5 nights at the Victoria Villa we look forward to a respite within the vacation. Cooking our own food and driving less – yes! Like most folks we have a certain style of eating at home, which can be hard to replicate when eating out. Our habits tend to lean toward lots of green vegetables and some protein – low on carbohydrates – influenced by my gluten intolerance, with the happy side effect of healthier eating. What has worked well for us in New Zealand is to order one main dish and a side or two of vegetables to share. Note: Fresh string beans are in abundance this time of year and are on many finer restaurant menus as well as in the markets.

Favorite food spots in Nelson…

We can see the Boat Shed Cafe from our rental house and walked over our first night after a long day of travel from Wellington. Ignorant of its popularity we were almost turned away but landed a table for two on the outside deck. Warm and sunny we sampled our first Neudorf Vineyards white wine – a crispy Sauvignon Blanc – that went nicely with my grilled crayfish tail with fennel, chili & lemon and Jay’s grilled prawns with feta, black olives & cress. Our dining neighbors ordered the potato salad side, which looked fabulous, so a few days later we stopped in and picked up an order to go – just like moms and Anitas!

Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ
Boat Shed Cafe, Nelson, NZ

Our first morning strolling in Nelson we happened upon the Morrison Street Café and went inside for a coffee. My antennae went up when I saw all the gluten-free options – savory muffins, little fruit nut loaves, brownies… I ordered a coffee and a sampling of the gluten-free goodies – all yummy. We stopped in a few days later during a rainstorm and Jay had an amazing Affogato (two scoops of vanilla gelato with espresso). A very popular cafe for a good reason – good quality and good vibe.

Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Guytons Seafood, Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ
Smoked Green Lip mussels from Guytons Seafood in Nelson, NZ

Our last day we decided to walk into Nelson for lunch at Hopgoods which several sources had recommended. They were not open for lunch on Monday so we scouted out the surrounding restaurant menus on Trafalgar Street and settled on barDelicious. We enjoyed the young Canadian waitress who suggested a Pinot Gris and Rose wine by the glass and shared her 2010 Olympics enthusiasm. Lunch was delicious and creative – a Caesar Salad with bacon and a poached egg on top, and an equally delicious and fresh Salad Nicoise.

Jay was thumbing through a local book on Nelson arts scene and The Sprig and Fern Tavern caught his eye – no bigscreen TV, a neighborhood hangout, and over by “The Wood” – a park in the foothills on the east side of Nelson. We decide to stop in before dinner for a beer, glass of wine and a bowl of nuts. We pick up on the friendly feel and relax – as we watch the locals playing games and brain teasers, read the historic factoids on the blackboard and have a great conversation.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard sculpture and tasting room

Hanging around the house chilling is hard work… but mid-afternoon we decided to hit the road and head into the wine country that surrounds Nelson. Top on our list was Neudorf Vineyards. Navigating the countryside was challenging and needless to say we got lost, in the best sense of the word… and arrived at the vineyard 5 minutes before closing. Not a problem, we were warmly greeted in the tasting room and relieved when another couple walked in a few minutes later! Once again the Pinot Gris was a favorite. The late afternoon light filtering through the trees invited us to linger and we did.

Neudorf Vineyard
Neudorf Vineyard, behind tasting room
Neudorf Winery - window
An old window at Neudorf Winery

Things to do around Nelson, NZ

Valentine’s Day! An early rising to catch the 9am water taxi to explore the Abel Tasman National Park. For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera (sweet potato). Established in 1942 as a park, Abel Tasman is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track. It was about a 90 minute drive to Kaiteriteri where we met Wilson’s Water Taxi and climbed up the gang plank to head out to Medlands Beach. Within the park one way to get around is by water taxis – they drop you off and pick you up on a very accommodating schedule. They can take you into the heart of the park and literally deposit you on a beach.

Island with seals and birds in Able Tasman National Park, NZ
Island with seals and birds in Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Before drop off we took a complete tour of the coastline.

Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Wilsons Water Taxi, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another ingenious Kiwi invention… a beach friendly gangplank.

Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Medlands Beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

After a boat tour of the park we got off at Medlands Beach, walked to Bark Bay, and then back to Medlands where the water taxi picked us up a few hours later.

Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay path, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ
Bark Bay beach, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

Another day we walked to Nelson from our rental house and after lunch in town decided to walk home via Queens Garden. The Gardens formally opened in 1892 to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria and were inspired by an intimate, Victorian garden. Though the garden is relatively small there is an abundance of magnificent old trees and plantings amidst ponds and a wandering creek.  The Suter Gallery, an eclectic art gallery on the western edge of the park, has a cafe that overlooks the garden and provides a tranquil shady place to enjoy a cup of coffee or dessert.

Queens Garden, Nelson, NZ
Queens Garden in Nelson, NZ

End of the day, another glorious sunset and the sounds of outdoor opera in Tahunanui Park blowing in on the westerly winds. We have fared well in Nelson.

Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Villa Victoria, Nelzon, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ
Sunset view from Villa Victoria, Nelson, NZ