Oaxaca is another artful city in Mexico on our list to visit – read about the town, some of its culture, food, and nightlife from New York Times writer, Freda Moon…
WITH Oaxaca’s imposing Baroque churches, plant-filled courtyards and shady plazas perfect for people-watching, it’s tempting to see the city as a photogenic relic of Mexico’s colonial past. But Oaxaca City, the capital of one of the country’s poorest states and a college town teeming with students, isn’t quaint or stagnant; it’s a small but dynamic city, still emerging economically from the social unrest that put it in the international spotlight, and crippled its tourism industry, in 2006. That uprising — a protest by striking teachers that was met with police violence and led to a protracted conflict — is now history, but its legacy is everywhere in a streetscape of politically inspired stencil art, which has turned adobe walls and concrete sidewalks into a public gallery. Combined with the city’s long-established studio art scene, a vibrant cafe culture, a mescal-fueled night life and one of Mexico’s most exciting regional cuisines, Oaxaca is as cosmopolitan as it is architecturally stunning.
San Miguel is a feast for the senses… the smell of corn tortillas toasting, our first night view of La Parroquia in the Jardin, church bells ringing the hour… Enjoy a sampling of our first week in this spirited and colorful colonial town.
Where is San Miguel de Allende? The city is located in the far eastern part of the state of Guanajuato in mountainous central Mexico, and is 170 miles from Mexico City. Historically, the town is important as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, whose surname was added to the town’s name in 1826, as well as the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule by the emerging insurgent army during the Mexican War of Independence.
Our good friend and yoga mate, Polly, is the proud owner of a casa and casita in San Miguel. The casa is for rent by the month. We are the first renters and I have only praise for this lovely, comfortable two bedroom house. Located on Barranca just several blocks from the Jardin Principal, we are enjoying the central location and walk everywhere. For information on renting the casa, just email Polly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
San Miguel is known for its picturesque streets with narrow cobblestone lanes, that rise and fall over the hilly terrain, and occasionally defy colonial attempts to make an orderly grid.
The houses have solid walls against the sidewalks, painted in various colors, many with bougainvillea vines falling down the outside and the occasional iron-grated window.
The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved historic center, filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and has been declared a World Heritage Site.
The Biblioteca Pública or Public Library serves as the educational and cultural heart of San Miguel, providing bicultural resources for both the Mexican and foreign population. This library was established by Helen Wale, a Canadian, who wanted to reach out to local children and started the first children’s library in her home. It is the largest privately funded, publicly accessible library in Mexico with the second largest English language book collection. More than a library, one can relax and dine at Café Santa Ana; read Atencion San Miguel, the library’s weekly bilingual newspaper which covers local news, issues and events (published every Friday); and enjoy Teatro Santa Ana’s presentations of lectures, concerts, plays and films.
To the far south of the historic center is Parque Juárez or Juarez Park. This park was established at the beginning of the 20th century on the banks of a river in French style with fountains, decorative pools, wrought iron benches, old bridges and footpaths.
This week while walking around the city, Jay and I came upon a lost puppy on a quiet path. After inquiring around the immediate area for an owner, I carried her back to our rental casa. I had read about The S.P.A. (Sociedad Protectora de Animales) in Atencion the day before. I cannot say enough about this organization which exists for the well being of abandoned and homeless dogs and cats in San Miguel and environs. The next day I delivered the puppy to Lynn who had arranged for a foster parent for the puppy until the shelter had room in their new puppy area. After meeting one of the veterinarians who pronounced the puppy very healthy, and speaking with the foster mom, I am very confident this little one will be fine… still it was a tearful goodbye.
Arriving at the Jardin Principal a little before midnight, we excitedly weave our way through the crowd that is high energy and festive. Mexican families and an eclectic mix of foreign visitors fill the square and we all dance or move to the vibrant pulse of the salsa band. We peak into the grand, La Parroquia, decorated for the holidays with lights and greens, where a midnight mass is proceeding with standing room only. The doors of the church are open and sounds of the band mingle with the reading by the priest. A festive soup of sounds.
Merriment is in the air as the plaza continues to fill with folks of all ages and nationalities ready to welcome in 2012, most whirling a two foot long sparkler in the air. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks begin, we gape at the fabulous display, and marvel that we are here.
To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:
Each year Winter Wonders, Brussel’s Christmas Market, fills the city – from the world-famous Grand-Place of Brussels, around the Bourse, on the Place Sainte-Catherine and on the Marché aux Poissons. Hundreds of wooden huts offering hand-crafted toys, warming mugs of mulled wine, and moules mariniere by the bucket full fill the city centre. There is an outdoor ice rink (and a small rink for toddlers), a huge Ferris wheel and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers. The Grand Place is home to a huge Christmas tree, and the Town Hall provides the canvas for the stunning Christmas lights show. The festivities begin in late November and continue until January 1.
Jay and I spent the summer of 1976 in Europe and a few weeks in Brussels where his parents were living at the time. The Grand Place is the most exquisite and elaborate square I have ever experienced, especially in the evening when the buildings are lit. All over the world it is known for its decorative and aesthetic wealth. Considered one of the most beautiful places of the world, The Grand-Place of Brussels was registered on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO in 1998.
Some of Brussels’ districts were developed during the heyday of Art Nouveau, and many buildings are in this style. Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that were most popular during 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Victor Horta was a Belgium architect and designer and one of the most important names in Art Nouveau architecture. I remember visiting Victor Horta’s home/museum in Brussels with its incredible staircase.
Our favorite grater came from a very fun old second-hand shop, Les Petits Riens (little nothings), which we visited a few times with Jay’s mom. I just Googled and found a shop by the same name at 101, Rue Américaine! Sure would be fun to return and see if it really is the same one.
And the food… Belgian cuisine is characterised by the combination of French cuisine with the more hearty Flemish fare. Specialities include Brussels waffles (gaufres) and mussels (usually as “moules frites”, served with fries). The city is a stronghold of chocolate and pralines manufacturers with renowned companies like Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva. There are friteries throughout the city, and in tourist areas, fresh, hot, waffles are also sold on the street.
Jay’s parents remained in Brussels for a couple of years and when they visited us in Washington, DC a gift box of Neuhaus chocolates was always in the suitcase for me. Today’s reminiscing is inspired by a terrific article in the New York Times by Amy Thomas – Brussels: The Chocolate Trail… and includes a great list of the city’s chocolatiers.
“You have chocolate for tourists, and chocolate for Belgians,” Ms. Warner said of the national hierarchy in which chocolate produced by manufacturers like Côte d’Or and Guylian are devoured in vast quantities, but mostly by the city’s six million annual visitors. Bruxellois, Ms. Warner said, prefer the artisanal makers. “The big-name big houses are great. But seeing and tasting real handmade chocolate, while buying it from the person who made the chocolate, is something special.”
To prove her point, as we were leaving Wittamer, the century-old chocolatier in the center of the city that seduces both locals and tourists with its heritage recipes, Robbin suggested we go to Alex & Alex, a nearby Champagne and chocolate bar. Though its chocolates, made by Frederic Blondeel, aren’t made on-site, they’re acknowledged in some circles as some of the best in the city.
The bar is tucked away on one of the antiques store- and art gallery-filled streets that shoot off the Grand Sablon, Brussels’ central square. Its dark, cozy interior, along with the glass of Drappier rosé and array of square bonbons before me, was a lovely respite from the trolling chocolate tourists outside. I found the herbaceous notes of Blondeel’s basil ganache too reminiscent of pesto, but the “Alex’Perience” chocolates were another story. The first velvety impression of high-quality chocolate was followed by a flood of sweet, fruity cassis.
If you find yourself in Brussels by all means take the train to Bruges. “Much of the enchanting city center is truly reminiscent of a fairy tale, with stone footbridges spanning picturesque canals and cobblestone streets curving past turreted manor houses”… read 36 Hours: Bruges, Belgium for the full story.
Las Vegas, New Mexico is laid out in the traditional Spanish Colonial style, with a central plaza surrounded by buildings which could serve as fortifications in case of attack. An important consideration in 1835 when it was founded. The town soon prospered as a stop on the Santa Fe Trail which was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico.
We were not familiar with Las Vegas, N.M. Jay’s cousin suggested we stop in as we made our way to her home in Santa Fe. Turns out it was a boomtown in its time, and has more than 900 buildings on the state and National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1969 movie Easy Rider, Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the town where the two bikers ride behind a parade, are arrested for “parading without a permit,” and meet Jack Nicholson’s character in jail. And most of the 2007 Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was filmed here.
The arrival of the railroad on July 4, 1879 brought with it businesses and people, both respectable and questionable. Among the notorious characters were such legends of the Old West as: dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler.
When the Spanish-American War was declared in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt resigned from the Navy Department. With the aid of U.S. Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt assembled an improbable regiment of Ivy Leaguers, cowboys, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Western Territory land speculators. This group of men, which became known as the Rough Riders, trained for four weeks in the Texas desert and then set sail for Cuba. Over the course of the summer, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders fought valiantly, and sometimes recklessly, in the Cuban foothills, incurring casualties at a far greater rate than the Spanish. Roosevelt kept a detailed diary from the time he left Washington until his triumphant return from Cuba later that year, and his account of the battle was published as Rough Riders in 1899.
This September day the town is pretty quiet as we stretch our legs with a walk around the plaza. Many artists now live in the area and we buy a few cards at the El Zócalo Cooperative Art Gallery. A member-operated cooperative gallery on the historic Las Vegas Plaza featuring the work of over 15 diverse local artists. From there we walk over to the historic Plaza Hotel, newly restored and know as the “Belle of the Southwest” when it was built in 1882.
Las Vegas is situated between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on one side and the Great Plains on the other. Nearby are state parks and the 1.6-million acre Santa Fe National Forest, one of the five National Forests in New Mexico. The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, 6 miles southeast of the city, provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering area for migrating geese, ducks, and cranes.
So ends our quick tour of Las Vegas… we are eager to get to Santa Fe, a little over an hour away, and our base for the next five days.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 book – Bourbon, 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.
I was born (in the USA…) and raised in the Washington, DC area and I love to return to visit. On this trip east we have one day in DC and decide to walk along the Tidal Basin, through the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, to the new Martin Luther King Memorial.
The Tidal Basin is a partially human-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel in Washington, D.C. It is part of West Potomac Park and is a focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each spring. We are here in summer but spring is a beautiful season especially if you can time it with the cherry blossoms.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt will always be intimately connected to the National Park Service. During a speech in 1936, President Roosevelt noted the special quality of national parks by stating that “there is nothing so American.” He captured the essential truth of the agency by declaring, “the fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” Years ago I read the two volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman whose values and birth date I share – Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933 and Eleanor Roosevelt : Volume 2 , The Defining Years, 1933-1938– both by Blanche Wiesen Cook. I remember being absorbed by both, the first volume is more about her personal life whereas the second volume is more historical, covering the social justice movements in this country at that time and Eleanor Roosevelt’s anti-racism work. Doris Kearns Goodwin has received high praise for her book, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Might be time to revisit the Roosevelts.
“They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers… call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order”.
The FDR Memorial spans 7.5 acres and depicts the 12 pivotal years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency through a series of four outdoor gallery rooms. The rooms feature ten bronze sculptures depicting President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and events from the Great Depression and World War II. The park-like setting includes waterfalls and quiet pools amidst a wandering wall of red Dakota granite, into which Roosevelt’s inspiring words are carved. It is the first memorial in Washington, DC purposely designed to be totally wheelchair accessible and is open daily except Christmas.
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little”.
After the park-like setting of the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial feels bold and stark. The sculpture, called “Stone of Hope,” stands looking onto the Tidal Basin, across from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and next to the FDR Memorial. King’s head, his upper body and the tops of his legs emerge from stone. Lei Yixin, a granite sculptor from China, designed it so that King is part of the stone. The sculpture’s name refers to a line in King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” King said. His statue is designed to look as if he were once a part of the “Mountain of Despair” but is now the “Stone of Hope.”
There is controversy about the MLK Memorial. Our friends in DC tell us that some are upset about the sculptor chosen, others think the likeness to King is not good, and we hear that the quote on the sculpture is incorrect or taken out of context**… As I take in the memorial and find my critical mind start to work, I hear three older African American women talking among themselves. The first woman says she is looking forward to a few years from now when the landscaping has grown in. Her friend agrees and says she thinks it will be beautiful in the autumn with all the falling leaves on the ground… and the third woman says they must return in the winter when it snows, how beautiful it will be then. They have the vision. Martin Luther King has arrived on the mall.
** Update on 2/10/2012: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Inscription To Be Changed To Full Quotation
“Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”
Full Quotation from the “Drum Major Instinct,” a speech King delivered two months before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
After our visit I read in the Washington Post that some 10,000 spectators arrived on the National Mall for the dedication of this memorial. Among the speakers were a who’s who of civil rights leaders as well as President Obama. This $120 million monument with a 30-foot stone sculpture that depicts Dr. King’s greatness and a curved granite wall inscribed with 14 inspirational quotes from his speeches was officially unveiled on the National Mall to commemorate the work done by Dr. King and many other civil rights activists.
Several years ago around Martin Luther King’s birthday, The Huffington Post asked its readers for their favorite MLK books. The top three were:
Harry Belafonte supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants. His new book, My Song: A Memoir, talks about about his political and humanitarian activism. The sections on the rise of the civil rights movement are described as the most moving in the book: his close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr.; his role as a conduit between Dr. King and the Kennedys; his up-close involvement with the demonstrations and awareness of the hatred and potential violence around him; his devastation at Dr. King’s death and his continuing fight for what he believes is right. Belafonte is a great artist and another great man.
It is now mid-afternoon, we are thirsty and hungry, so we drive over to Georgetown.
Georgetown is a neighborhood located in the Northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., along the Potomac River waterfront. The primary commercial corridors of Georgetown are M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which contain high-end shops, bars, and restaurants. Georgetown is home to the main campus of Georgetown University, and numerous landmarks, such as the Old Stone House, the oldest unchanged building in Washington. The embassies of France, Mongolia, Sweden, Thailand, and Ukraine are also located in Georgetown.
After determining that the waterfront eating options are not appealing, we ask the woman in Starbucks where she would suggest we dine. She recommends J. Pauls up on M St., so off we go. As we walk up Thomas Jefferson St. we come upon the irresistible Baked & Wired. High quality, handmade baked goods made in small batches. Today they have two gluten-free choices – Nutella brownies and peanut butter cookies. I settle on the brownie which is moist, with a divinely rich hazelnut-chocolate flavor. Our niece, Gabrielle, would love these! The connected coffee shop (Wired) is equally small and smart. For those in the know, their coffee comes from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee.
J. Paul’s has the windows and doors open and the ceiling fans blowing, for it is a gorgeous summer day, warm but not too humid. An American Saloon that is known for fresh oysters, it is a fun, casual place to dine and watch the action on M Street. Jay orders one of the specials – Salade Nicoise with fresh grilled tuna, and I chose the J. Paul’s Burger without a bun and instead of fries substitute their delicious Peppered Green Beans. The waiter is very helpful and knowledgeable about how to create a gluten-free meal.
During lunch Jay totally surprises me by suggesting that we walk up to the Apple Store on Wisconsin Ave. and purchase a MacBook Air… for me! Certainly sharing a laptop while traveling is challenging for two bloggers… but this is a total surprise. An early birthday present. I am ecstatic. Brownie, burgers, new computer – all I need are balloons.
“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” ~ Euripides, Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC. In the ancient tradition of traveling across lands, I find myself stimulated and curious to learn about each area we are driving through or stopping to visit as we traverse the country.
Sitting with our friends on their balcony this first evening in downtown Cincinnati, watching the barges maneuver past each other on the river, we start talking about the Ohio River’s history. During the Civil War the Ohio River, which forms the southern border of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, was part of the border between free states and slave states. “Sold down the river” was a phrase used by Upper South slaves, especially from Kentucky, who were shipped by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. On the flip side, before and during the Civil War, the Ohio River was called the “River Jordan” by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. Some research reveals that more escaping slaves, estimated in the thousands, made the perilous journey north to freedom across the Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portrayed such escapes across the Ohio and fueled abolitionist work.
Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center located at 50 East Freedom Way. Their mission is to reveal stories about freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.
And while we are on the topic, for those of you who are bicyclists, The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) honors the bravery of those who fled bondage and those who provided shelter. The route passes points of interest and historic sites along a 2,008-mile corridor. Beginning in Mobile, Alabama – a busy port for slavery during the pre-civil war era – the route goes north following rivers through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Waterways, as well as the North Star, were often used by freedom seekers as a guide in their journeys to escape slavery. Upon crossing into Ohio, the route leaves the river to head toward Lake Erie and enters Canada at the Peace Bridge near Buffalo, New York. In Ontario, the route follows the shores of Lake Ontario and ends at Owen Sound, a town founded by freedom seekers in 1857.
Now, back to Cincinnati. Our friend, Judith Serling-Sturm, is a book artist and hand binder who has her studio in the Pendleton Art Center. Judith creates custom books – designing covers with leather, textiles, and artisan-made papers from around the world. Visiting her studio we are fascinated by the exposed bindings and book covers embedded with natural elements, semi-precious stones, and found objects.
Built in 1909 for a shoe company, the Pendleton Art Center is now home to over 200 artists. As we walk up the stairs to the eighth story, the building’s history is revealed in the original pine floors, tall arched windows, ancient radiators and fine old doors. Visitors are welcome to studio walks on the Final Friday of each month from 6 to 10pm.
Never missing an opportunity to eat, we head to Findlay Market for lunch. In operation since 1855, this is Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market. First stop is Pho Lang Thang for a bowl of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), and then a cruise around the market checking out the many year-round merchants. Meat, tea, cheese, gelato, wine, fish and seafood… at Colonel De’s we find Raz Al Hanout, a Moroccan blend of spices that Jay enjoys cooking with… and at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports we buy a delicious Fig jam with sesame seeds and anise seed. Dojo Gelato seriously tempts us as we leave the market but still full from lunch and with dinner reservations at Lavomatic Cafe we walk on by.
Next, knowing Jay’s love of music, Judith takes us over the Roebling Suspension Bridge to Covington, Kentucky to visit Cymbal House. Located at 524 Main Street in downtown Covington. As you can see in the photo this is a gorgeous, highly efficient space. We walk in as a well-seasoned local jazz musician is carefully listening to various cymbals.
The owner is very friendly and explains to me that the size of the cymbal affects its sound, larger cymbals usually being louder and having longer sustain. Heavier cymbals (measured by thickness) have a louder volume, more cut, and better drum stick articulation. Thin cymbals have a fuller sound, a lowered pitch, and faster response. The jazz musician tells us he will be performing just down the street from Cymbal House at Chez Nora – A Rooftop Terrace Bar and Jazz Club. They offer live music five nights a week and spectacular views of downtown Cincinnati and the scenic Ohio River.
For dinner we drive to Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States. Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States. Its architectural significance has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the historic districts of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenwich Village in New York City. Besides being a historic district, the neighborhood has an arts community that is unparalleled within Cincinnati.
Our destination is Lavomatic Cafe, an urban wine bar and restaurant. Blessed with a beautiful evening we chose the rooftop patio for dining. Several of us start with the Seasonal Soup – Gazpacho – made with fresh, local tomatoes and seasoned with smoked paprika. Divine. For dinner, Judy & Peter both chose the Bruschetta Salad with Shrimp, Jay has the Grilled Caesar with Salmon (served with a house bleu cheese dressing), and I decide on the Duck Confit Salad. All delicious and totally enjoyed with a chilled bottle of white wine recommended by our server.
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.
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.
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.
After a surprisingly good nights sleep in our CRV camper we resume the drive east. Driving along Interstate 90, about 45 minutes past Coeur D’Alene, we decide to check out historic Wallace, Idaho. What a delightful surprise. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and whole blocks in the business district have remained virtually intact for a hundred years or more.
Located in the silver mining area of northern Idaho, mining began here in the 1880’s and by 1900 Wallace became the hub of one of the world’s richest mining districts. Since 1884, the district had produced 1.2 billion ounces of silver. Miners still mine the mountains for silver and today old mines are being reopened.
Thirsty after walking around town, the Red Light Garage catches our eye. A very friendly waitress makes us Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade) as we sit at the counter and take in the collections (vintage musical instruments, license plates…) that decorate the restaurant and antique store. Soon we are talking with the owner, Jamie Baker, who is a local historian. He tells us the story of May Arkwright Hutton a suffrage leader and political activist, talks about the mining wars, and we wind up the conversation with the forest fire of 1910 that burned half of Wallace. Some of you may know the book written about the fire by Timothy Egan – The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. The largest wildfire in American history, based on size. In less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people.
Many stories emerged from the big burn. One of the most well known is Ranger Ed Pulaski’s heroic rescue of his crew in a mine tunnel. Holding his men there at gunpoint overnight, Pulaski managed to save all but 6 of his 45 men. In the 100+ years since the fire, the trail Pulaski’s crew used to escape became overgrown and almost impossible to locate. Then, in 2002, a local group partnered with the US Forest Service to save the trail and mine site. The Pulaski Tunnel Trail trailhead lies about a half-mile south of Wallace on Moon Pass Road and is a moderately challenging two mile trail along the creek with large format signs along the way recounting the history of the fire.
Quite an impressive site from the lookout – the Grand Coulee Dam is a gravity dam on the Columbia River built to produce hydroelectric power and provide irrigation. Constructed between 1933 and 1942, it is the largest electric power-producing facility in the United States, and one of the largest concrete structures in the world.
Spokane means “Children of the Sun” to the Native Americans of the area. Before the 1700’s Native Americans settled along the Spokane River for fishing and hunting in the surrounding area. Spokane became an incorporated City on Nov. 29, 1881, encompassing 1.56 square miles. Tragedy struck in 1889 when a frame building in the downtown area caught fire. There was not enough water pressure at the fire hydrants to put the fire out and the fire burned out of control, ravaging 32 buildings in 27 city blocks. Today the City of Spokane, incorporated more than 125 years ago, is the second largest City in the State of Washington.
The Davenport Hotel has been world famous since it opened in September of 1914. It was the first hotel with air conditioning, a central vacuum system, housekeeping carts (designed by Louis Davenport himself), accordion ballroom doors and Crab Louis (named for Louis Davenport). The September 1915 Hotel Monthly described Louis Davenport as “the man with a vision who created a hotel with a soul.”
The Davenport Hotel faced the wrecking ball in 1987, and remained closed for 15 years. In 2002, local entrepreneurs purchased the entire city block for $6.5 million, then spent the next two years of their lives–and $38 million of their own money–to make The Davenport Hotel grand again. The hotel’s public spaces and ballrooms were restored to their Spanish Renaissance/ French neoclassical glory.
If you love architecture and history, you will also want to see the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox which reopened its doors in November 2007, after a much anticipated renovation. The restoration uncovered original cut-glass stars on the ceiling and murals of swimmers and ballplayers in the men’s lounge. This art deco treasure is now the home of the Spokane Symphony and an incredible venue for all of the performing arts. Built during the dark days of the Depression by Fox West Coast Theaters at a price of $1,000,000, the Theater was the largest in Spokane, at 2300 seats. Architect Robert Reamer, famous for his design of Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn, designed the Theater in the exuberant and modernistic Art Deco style.
Now onto dinner. Searching on Google for gluten-free in Spokane, I found the ultimate – a website: Gluten Free Spokane. Eating gluten free in Spokane is not only possible, it can be fabulous. Shallan will help you find your favorite spots to dine out, shop for ingredients and learn more about the benefits of going gluten free.
Tonight we decide to dine at the award winning Wild Sage American Bistro, located downtown at 916 W 2nd Ave. As we sit down in a comfy booth I am presented with a gluten-free menu and gluten-free rolls (believe me this is extraordinary). Jay and I both choose the Wild Sage Burger – half pound american kobe beef on a house made gluten free onion roll served with a beautiful fresh green salad, onion confit, pesto mayo, and local fresh tomatoes. I am in heaven.
Other highlights of the gluten-free menu are Cioppino – spice seared alaskan halibut cheeks, diver scallops, wild prawns, green lip mussels, aromatic saffron-tomato broth, brown rice pasta and for dessert, Soon to be Famous Coconut Cream Layer Cake – gluten-free coconut genoise cake with a mascarpone-coconut cream filling.
A great place to shop for fresh foods and gluten-free foods is Huckleberry’s Natural Market. There are three locations in Spokane, WA. Within the stores is the 9th Street Bistro where all the food is prepared entirely on the premises by their chefs using organic and natural products, whenever possible.
Up and out early this morning. Catching the 7:15 am ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes. Today we begin our cross country journey after months, weeks, then days of preparation. We are on the ferry, the car packed with everything we need for five weeks of travel… it’s full. I eye the Westfalia in front of us just a little longingly.
Jay strikes up a conversation with the woman who has rented the Westfalia Van and learns that her husband has a company, Canadian High Tops. A lover of Volkswagen vans, he provides conversion High Tops for VW vans for the years 1980 – 1991.
Driving through the Skagit Valley to Sedro Woolley we begin the scenic mountain drive known as the North Cascades Highway (Route 20). The drive begins through small towns and farmland with the green-blue Skagit River flanking the road. Near Rockport we see a sign for fresh organic blueberries and soon we are pulling into Cascadian Farm. A 28-acre certified organic farm since 1972, this farm was a pioneer in converting conventional farms to organic. Many of us are familiar with their jams but when we walk into the roadside store we go straight for the refrigerator filled with pints of blueberries. Gorgeous, organic and just picked they last about 10 minutes in the car.
The scenic drive continues through the mountains and ends in Winthrop, WA – a town known for the American Old West design of its buildings. Our pit stop is in Twisp, another 9 miles along on Route 20. At the Glover Street Market we find some lovely organic greens to go with our tuna-egg salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the park.
“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.”
This 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 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’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.
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.
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.
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 Lens – my 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 Apolo – housed 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!).
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.”
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.