Yodeling Vagabond in Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua

by Brian Leibold

the window at Big BendIn early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.

Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs.  When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change.  The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.

rattle snakeEarly in the hike, we see a rattlesnake.  I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks.  We wait for a few moments for it to slink away.  And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness.  Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss.  Definitely a Texan snake.  We circle carefully around.

As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear.  It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.

Big Bend National ParkIn the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours.  I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular.   I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico.  As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.

I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.

Big Bend TexasWe drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:

Gonna take a freight train

Down at the station

I don’t care where it goes”

 

On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk.  He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:

—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days.  There was this gun fight yesterday.  It’s documented.  I didn’t even need three days.

The Rio GrandeDid he have a job? Did he have a wife?  Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.

We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.

Big Bend CrewPersonally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.

The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days.  It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether.  To describe Big Bend is to fail.  It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis.  The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.

guadalupe hikeOn our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.

And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.

A Lit-Nerd Road Trip Adventure through the Beautiful Northeast USA

lighthouse in Portland, MaineMaybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!

Longfellow's GardenI’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!

About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”

Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”

If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.

In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.

WaldenConcord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.

Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.

Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.

roughing ItNext stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”

There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!

Happy reading and safe travels!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in California

Story and Photos by Linda Kissam

a mountain relaxation retreat

There are all types of getaways. The choices are limitless…from big adventure to soft adventure, romantic to family, glamping to camping. The key to getting it right is understanding what your heart and soul needs. Is it downtime you crave, or do want to scale a mountain, or maybe you just need time to listen to your “creative” without distractions? I call this last kind of getaway, Going Away To Go Within. If you’re an artist of any kind you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Mountain Artist Retreat

Occasionally, we need to pause – step away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. One way to do this is to get away from our daily life and go on a getaway that is a mixture of retreat and vacation. A Dorland Mountain Arts Colony Getaway integrates some traditional aspects of seclusion with some more modern traits of a vacation. Far more than a vacation, this artist couple’s getaway offers time to rest, reflect, and renew your creative spirit. It allows time to slow down, breathe in and breathe out so that you can emerge renewed, refreshed, and ready to pursue your creative passions with a new found perspective. Think time for reconnecting with your creative self to produce something of merit, with a splash of soft adventure to remind you what uncomplicated “fun” is all about. It’s that “ah” moment; the convergence of the exact right place, with just the right people, with just the right level of activity.

Music retreat in California

You’ll find Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Southern California, about 90 minutes from San Diego or Los Angeles. It’s a nonprofit artist’s community set on 300 acres along a ridge overlooking the Temecula Valley. The Colony covers about 10 acres with the rest of the land left in its natural state. It also happens to be just 10 minutes from the trendy Temecula Valley Wine Country. The mission of Dorland Mountain Arts Colony is to provide a unique working and performance retreat fostering creativity, and a community connection to the creative process, in a secluded natural setting. They do this by offering a unique residency program in their two self-contained cottages that can accommodate up to two people per cottage. Residencies are intended as professional development opportunities for writers, composers, visual artists and most other artistic media’s. So whether you’re trying to finish your latest book, compose a new song, paint a masterpiece, or do some serious scrapbooking, this is the place for you. And you can do it for about $250.

Cottages rent out for a minimum of one week at $250 a week. Artists must apply to stay at the retreat. Artistic merit and promise are the basis for selections. Mature and emerging artists are encouraged to apply. Applicants 21 and over may apply. It’s an easy online application that starts your adventure. You’ll need to give about 2 weeks to 30 days for confirmation of acceptance.

Artist Retreat in California

Once accepted, Residents are housed in individual, furnished, small cottages with complete kitchens, one bedroom with full bath, a great room with a wood burning stove (wood is furnished by Dorland), and a veranda or porch with magnificent mountain, canyon or Temecula Valley views. Residents structure their own time and activities. Residents may choose to maintain their privacy or to engage with other residents and activities at Dorland. In order to protect individual privacy, residents are encouraged to communicate with each other by leaving messages in mailboxes located by Dorland’s gazebo and Reflection Pond. Residents are responsible for their own personal living expenses, food, beverages, supplies, telephone and expenses related to the production of their work during the residency.

Dorland Moutain Retreat

I’ve visited Dorland several times. The residents come for the distraction free environment – the beauty, the inspirational moments…and the occasional outing to fine wine, dining and gaming. Dedicated sessions to their craft, long nature walks on the property, and the occasional trip to the lush green vineyards, wineries, a nearby glitzy casino (Pechanga Resort & Casino), and small town amenities seem to be the key to the success of this artist getaway.

Check out www.TemeculaNightOut.com for a complete listing of what to do, where to eat, and where to go in the Temecula.

Wine retreat and Artist Residency

Some of my favorite “must do’s” are Thornton Winery & Café Champagne, , Hart Winery, Keyways Winery, Tesoro Winery , The Temecula Olive Oil Company (ranch and store), Rosa’s Cantina, and Baily’s Bar & Grill and Fine Dining. If you go into Old Town (a mixture of tasting rooms, antique shops, dining, and more) be sure to plan at least 2-3 hours. New food & wine tours, as well as historic walking tours are available.

Without the pull of deadlines, relationships, the Internet and other media, you and a partner can give yourselves the gift of time and reflection. Hopefully, when you return home, you can take a little bit of this time alone back with you creating the space for deep reflection, a creative life renewed , ready to take on the world.

Exploring Amarillo, Texas

Story and Photos by Susan McKee

Route 66 Amarillo, TexasAmarillo really is best by morning – or so they told me when I got my marching orders. I was to be up early and clothed in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, hiking boots and hat — ready to roll.

It was a leisurely drive out into the flat countryside, past gently nodding oil wells and silently turning turbine windmills past miles and miles of mesquite and desert. The vacant landscape gradually changed as we headed toward Elkins Ranch, where I was promised a hearty chuck wagon breakfast in a spectacular setting. The land, suddenly, was no longer absolutely flat. Trees appeared, and the hint of a gorge turned into magnificent canyon vistas.

Amarillo, Palo Duro CanyonPalo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, with a maximum depth of more than 800 feet — all formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. Who knew this stunning site was hidden below ground level in the panhandle of Texas!

I climbed into a jeep for the rough ride down the canyon roads to the “Cow Camp” chuck wagon. Touted as the “second largest” (after the Grand Canyon), it is a dazzling site – miles of striated rock forming the walls of rugged valleys. The summer rains had left the vegetation green and lush, with wildflowers in profusion — but the scent of breakfast interrupted my reveries.

Texas Canyon CountryThere’s something about food cooked over an open fire. I don’t think I’ve ever had better scrambled eggs, biscuits, sausages or coffee. I’ll bet, however, that the hardscrabble cowboys of the Old West never tasted the watermelon and cantaloupe served that morning.

As I finished my second cup of coffee (and fourth biscuit), local singer and songwriter Ed Montana tuned up his guitar and serenaded the breakfast group, starting with (what else?) “Amarillo By Morning”.

I’d been to Amarillo many times before, but all of my visits were confined to that narrow strip on either side of I-40. If I thought about the city at all, it was as a rest-and-refuel stop on my way driving somewhere else.

How wrong I was, and part of the evidence is visible right from the interstate: the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center Museum, a 36,500-square foot facility showcasing the history and modern activities of the American Quarter Horse.

I had always wondered what happened to the other ¾ of the equine – but the 12-minute introductory video told me the real story behind the name. The horse (the most popular breed in America) was named for the quarter-mile track that it was bred to run back in English Colonial times. The combination of racing and gambling in this country has deep roots.

Quarter Horses moved west with the pioneers, who found them strong, agile and possessing an instinctive understanding of bovine behavior that makes them perfect for cowboys. When you watch rodeos, it’s the horse you see anticipating every move of that calf. There are some 3 million in the United States, according to the American Quarter Horse Association.

horse and saddle shop Richard OliverHorses need saddles, so I wandered over to the Oliver Saddle Shop where I happened to find a member of the third generation – Richard Oliver – hard at work. He said it takes about a week to make a saddle, and he does 45 or 50 a year (there’s a 10-month waiting list). Fortunately, I wasn’t in any hurry for a saddle (priced from $2400 on up, averaging $6000), but the hand-tooled leather belts are to die for.

If there are cowboys, there must be Indians. I didn’t find the real thing in Amarillo, but I did find a great little museum at Kwahadi with a small collection of art and artifacts.

Although it shares its name with an historical group of Comanches, this isn’t an organization of Native Americans. It’s an innovative program begun almost 70 years ago as a Boy Scout troop and now sponsored by Kwahadi Heritage, Inc. The young dancers (girls also participate now) learn the traditional dances of Plains and Pueblo Indians, and perform them in Amarillo and around the world. The digs for a dance troop includes a terrific collection of art and artifacts.

Amarillo Texas MuseumsAnother surprise was the Panhandle-Plains Museum. The magnificent Art Deco building (from 1932) houses an outreach effort of the West Texas A&M University that tells the history of the region. I discovered that Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado named the Palo Duro Canyon in the 16th Century. The name means “hard wood” and refers to the ubiquitous juniper.

Great signage gives a short course in the geology of Texas from Precambrian to the present. A replica of Palo Duro Canyon points out 280 million years of history that entered modern times when Charles Goodnight acquired most of it as a cattle ranch in 1876.

There are the usual collections in the museum – period costumes, guns, buggies and wagons – but my favorite gallery told about oil and gas production in the Texas panhandle.

Don’t forget that Amarillo straddles the iconic American highway: Route 66. Signposts point out the route through town for this legendary U.S. highway, and vestiges of its glory days still can be seen.

The Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council can fill you in on all the details you need to make your own trip to this northernmost part of Texas.

 

4 Great Musical Acts Who Found Inspiration Through Travel

 

Abbey Road in India cc image courtesy of UppyPhoto on FlickrThey say that a change is as good as a rest, and when it comes to seeking inspiration most musicians will tell you that a change of scenery is as good as it comes. The best musicians take inspiration from their surroundings: so if you’re starting to find that you have songwriters block, it might just be time to strap on that backpack and get your groove back. You certainly won’t be the first: in fact you’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in popular music. Names like…

 

The Beatles

Arguably the most influential band in the world, the Beatles are behind many 70’s youngsters’ ambitions to fly cheaply to Indiato ‘find themselves’. In February 1968 the fab four attended a transcendental meditation training session in Rishikesh, resulting in one of the most productive periods of their career. Although the trip wasn’t exactly idyllic (most accounts speak of tensions between the Beatles and the Maharishi) the time out of the spotlight certainly gave the band the peace and the time to compose a great body of work: including most of the songs from The White Album.

 

David Bowie in Travel cc IMage courtesy of Quicheisinsane on FlickrDavid Bowie

It seemed like all was lost for Bowie before he bit the bullet and left LA,grabbing a one way ticket to Berlin after a brief stint in Paris. In 1976 the thin white duke was exhausted and the trials of fame were starting to get the better of him: Bowie later said that during this period he lived on “red peppers, cocaine, and milk” (not the healthiest diet). Three years of exile in Berlin was the perfect antidote. Working with Brian Eno, Bowie released his ‘Berlin Trilogy’: a set of three albums that included one of his best albums, “Heroes”. Musicians have to take risks, and during the 70’s the Berlin Wall was still standing: the Cold War inspiration for the album becomes deeper when you realise that it was recorded not 500m from the wall itself.

 

Paul Simon

Despite a fairly successful career after his partnership with Garfunkel ended, by the mid 80’s Paul Simon was starting to lose his touch. Disappointing sales of his album “Hearts & Bones” made him believe that he had lost his mojo once and for all. By chance he listened to a cassette of instrumental South African music, which kindled his artistic flair, and inspired him to visit South Africa. The trip resulted in his Grammy award winning album “Graceland”, and a return to the spotlight. Like Bowie before him, the trip was a risk: during the 80’s apartheid was still in full swing and most of the world was boycotting South Africa.

 

Snoop Dog er...Snoop Lion cc image courtesy of thecomeupshow on FlickrSnoop Dogg… or should that be Snoop Lion?

More recently, a simple trip to Jamaica turned out to be life changing for Snoop Dogg. After meeting with some Rastafarian priests, the rapper had an epiphany and now claims to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley. Snoop is “tired of hip hop” and is planning to make reggae music instead under his new moniker, ‘Snoop Lion’, and plans to release records that young and old alike can enjoy. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this transformation with bated breath.

Biking and Drinking in Argentina’s Mendoza Wine Country

By Melissa Ruttanai

biking in MendozaMendoza was made for wine and traveling winelovers. With street grid construction and verdant parks, this city steeped in viticulture offers great walking boulevards, outdoor cafes, and of course, wine at every corner. Visitors cannot walk 200 feet without passing a wineshop or restaurant with a display case. Even the fountain at Plaza Independencia is tinted red so that spouts shoot water up into the Argentine sky resembling sparkling wine rosé. At most restaurants, a wine list includes most of the vintners in the area and prices them starting at 40 pesos (US$10) for a 750ml bottle. In town, Vines of Mendoza presents a formal tasting room for tourists looking to sip their way through the regions wares. While here, most visitors will be compelled to see at least one winery. Some perhaps via the 200 peso (US$50) tours offered at high end hotels. But for more adventurous, DYI wine lovers, head over to the circuit of Bikes and Wines.

Bikes and Wines in Maipu, Mendoza
A cluster of wineries are located off the main drag in Maipu, a small town in Mendoza province. Each are a few minutes bike ride from each other. Alongside parking lots for cars, visitors will find designated bike racks and even VIP signs for Bikes and Wines. Truck drivers seem more lenient toward 2-wheeled traffic, giving them wider berth than their counterparts in Buenos Aires.

When you come off the bus ramp, employees from rival bike companies will offer you flyers. Take them and feel free to browse. When Neil and I visited, we preferred bikes with baskets so we could carry all our goodies. Each shop offers a full day rental for around 25 Argentine pesos (US$8). They provide a map for the day and when you return, there are refreshments. We were really surprised with our rentals with Orange Bike. They offered us a 10 peso discount for the day and when we returned for our snacks we expected some potato chips and a thimble-full of wine. The workers set up a table with three types of snacks and a full bottle of red wine. In the shade and with music in the background, Neil and I relaxed, chatting with the other travelers on the patio. The owner Mario is a jovial man, making sure all was well and introducing us to other bikers on the wine trail. At the end of our day, he and his assistant walked us to the gate, sending us off with a kiss on the cheek. Crossing the street, we waited no more than 10 minutes for the return bus back to Mendoza.

Wine tour in ArgentinaWineries and Other Sites in Maipu
Wineries of all shapes and sizes dot the landscape around Maipu. There are artesian shops and hi-tech ultra modern behemoths as well. Trapiche is one of the biggest producers of wine, exporting to the US, Canada, and Russia. But as you pedal around the countryside, enjoying the green vines stretching on either side of the road, smaller vineyards will post signs if they are open for visitors and tastings. So you can weave in and out of these orchards all day. One of the best aspects of this self-guided tour is that their is no set itinerary.

Each winery will have prices for tours and tastings. They are mutually exclusive of each other. So, while you may think a simple tasting should be less expensive than a full tour, this is not always the case. At Trapiche, a tour costs 35 pesos for video, walk-through of the winemaking buildings, and 3-4 tastings. Their tasting menu is by the glass, starting at 50 pesos for three samples and a souvenir glass.

If you have time, stop at the Beer Garden located off Mitre Street. It is a simple outdoor seating area with three choices of microbrewed beer. Their menu includes 6 empanadas and 2x 500ml beers for 55 pesos (about US$14). The veggie versions taste like fresh pizza bites. Nearby is another artesian shop called Historia and Sabores offering homemade chocolates and liqueurs extracted from regional fruits and cocoa. There is outdoor seating for tasting breaks and shade as well as a bathroom.

How to Get There
Argentine Bike and Wine TourFrom Mendoza City, catch a Line 10 Bus to Maipu. This line has several routes, of which #170 and #173 will take you to the right place. All bus stops are numbered with the lines, so you can just queue up. Ask the bus driver if he goes to Bikes and Wines. They all know it and will drop you off at the appropriate spot where all the bike companies are located. You pay all fares in coins, so make sure you have enough for a round trip. The ride is 30 minutes and takes you through Godoy Cruz for most of it.

Mendoza is 1040km from Buenos Aires and 155 km from Santiago. Neil and I took a daytime bus through the Andeans from Santiago. A 7-hour ride, the route covers some of the prettiest parts of the the mountain chain. Between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, several bus companies service the long 14-hour trip. Whether you take Cata, FlechaBus, or any other, know that service levels are all the same. In fact all the buses are owned by the same company. That said, book early to lock in lower fares and then sit back to first class, cross-country service that begins with Mendocino sparkling wine.

Art Class with a Wine Chaser in Gulf Shores Alabama

Article and photos by Linda Kissam

A sip of artGulf Shores, Alabama, is known as a family friendly place to vacation. It’s also great for singles and girlfriend getaways. I can see why. The pristine beaches, sugar white sand, tropical drinks, and a unique food and music scene make this a happening place for all age levels. On an average vacation day, I’d head out to do some sun bathing, wave jumping, and cocktail ordering with some friends. At night, bar hopping was on the to-do list to investigate the emerging food and music scene. But last week I discovered another va-cay option.

I was checking out the tourist-friendly dockside shops of SanRoc Cay, when I came across the art studio, Life’s A Canvas. It’s an art instruction center …with a twist. So what´s the twist, you ask? How about professional art instruction with a wine chaser?

Art and Wine in AlabamaLife’s A Canvas is an optimistic, creative class for folks who want to learn the basics of acrylic painting in the company of great friends and good wine. In each class an instructor shows you, step-by-step, how to create your own masterpiece that you can actually be proud of, take home at the end of the night, and hang on your wall the next day. Yes, the results are really that good. Don’t worry if you can’t even draw a circle correctly. I am thinking if you know your letters, shapes and colors then you are able to learn how to create a quality piece of art.

Art and wine in AlabamaI am always intimidated by art classes. I am a stick-figure gal myself. I think of art classes as the creative types knocking out beautiful stuff under the watchful eye of a critical instructor. So, I was a little surprised at first by the atmosphere. Begin with the oh-so charismatic owner John Grant Gordon. A professional artist in his own right, he is the personification of a talented entrepreneur who knows how to show his clients a good time. He’s funny, charming, energetic, patient and inspiring. He also knows how to pick the right drinks and music to get the art party going full tilt. If that isn’t enough to get this stick-figure drawing Diva in a chair, I don’t know what is.

Who says art and wine don't mix?The focus is more on the painting, with some wine on the side to help you relax or celebrate a sense of accomplishment. John has created a space where people can relax, sip libations, and laugh as they channel and develop their inner artist and creative instincts through painting. The actual space is large, airy, and well lit with natural light. The studio area is a large room where paintings are hung all over the walls, exhibiting some of the pieces Life’s A Canvas has copyrighted and inspiring newbies like me to buck up and give the process a try. There are plenty of different work areas to settle into and find your groove.

Wine and PaintThe price is certainly right, starting at $35 per class. Come alone or invite your friends. Paint, canvas, and brushes are provided, as is an experienced and enthusiastic local artist who will lead you step by step through the process of recreating a featured art piece. At the end of the evening, you’ll have a one-of-a-kind creation and a newfound talent you’ll want to continue to explore. It can be somewhat addictive. This is not your average art class, this is art entertainment.

 

Palampur, India – Kangra Tea and Lord Shiva’s House

Srishti Jha introduces Vagobond readers to the beauty and wonders of Palampur, India.

I had a wonderful trip to Palampur last month. I went with my friends and two teachers from my college in Delhi.

The picturesque valley of Palampur is located in the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh, a hilly state in India. Palampur is a famous hill town and once constituted a section of Jalandhara kingdom.

This beautiful hill town is very famous for its Kangra tea. The major attraction of Palampur recognized throughout the world is the famous Kangra tea. Kangra tea is herbal and known for its distinctive flavor.

Our trip covered Palampur and the Kangra Valley, places near Palampur, the tea estates, and Mcleod Ganj.

Our flight left us at Gaggal airport early in the morning. Gaggal is 35 kilometers away from Palampur. From there, we took a bus to Palampur. This journey was breathtaking as we could view beautiful snow covered mountains on both sides of the road. On the way, we also visited the famous Buddha waterfall. It is a very thin streak below the rocks, however in the rainy season, the Buddha waterfall swells and roars like thunder.Palampur, India
After reaching our hotel, we enjoyed local dishes for breakfast and were rejuvenated with new energy. From there, we took a bus to reach the Kangra Tea factory where we saw the entire process of making tea.

After the tea factory, we visited a famous artist’s house in Andretta. His name was Shobah Singh and his paintings beautifully depict mesmerizing scenes of the Dhouladhar mountain range.

Lord Shiva's PlaceWe went to Baijnath Temple, which has archaeological as well as religious importance. It is believed that Ravana, a character of the famous epic Ramayana worshiped Lord Shiva in this temple. Baijnath temple is considered to be is one of the ‘Twelve ‘Jyotirlingams’ [Lord Shiva’s place] & the Shivratri Festival is celebrated here.

It was evening by the time we finished visiting the temple and so we returned to the hotel to rest. The next day, we started toward Taragarh Palace. Muslims used this place to propagate Islamic principles and in 1933, the ‘Nawab of Bhavalpur’ had built a palace there, which is called Alhilal.

The palace was used as warehouse until 1949 and then it was converted into Motel Taragarh Palace after India’s independence.

Palampur, IndiaWe also went to Bir, while returning from Palampur. It is a unique place for paragliding. There are many Buddhist monasteries. Beautiful Tibetan handicrafts were available near monasteries. I bought a small purse and few mementos to cherish the memory of this wonderful trip.

Srishti Jha inherited the passion of writing and lives in Delhi. Srishti writes “I want to tell people to love nature and do not spoil it. I love traveling and writing. I love adventure sports too. Whenever I am free, I go for a tour. Next year I am planning a trip to South India and Shirdi in Maharashtra. Shirdi is a religious place and the famous Sai Temple is located there.

 

Wonderful Alberta: Breakfast with Dinosaurs and Lunch in the Wild West

Story and Photos by Esther Amis-Hughes

Ever heard of Drumheller?

This small town in Canada is quite literally the best place in the world! It is more like a giant movie set than New York; there are better museums than London, and it definitely boasts the most ‘atmospheric’ location for a cheese toastie!

 

‘Drum’ is about 135 kilometers east of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. This drive is the perfect way to appreciate the contradictions in the Canadian landscape. Calgary is on the cusp of the rockies, which smolder menacingly in the distance, reminding the growing city that they were there before Calgary became a force to be reckoned with, and they’ll be there long after.

Leaving Calgary, the mountains fade in the rear view mirror and suddenly the landscape drops away to reveal nothing. Stretching way into the horizon are the huge green plains of the Alberta prairie, which is so still it seems to be holding its breath. This is enchanting for about 10 minutes, but then it becomes like the illustration in a children’s book, unbelievably bright and unchanged.

 

Just as we reach Drumheller, the landscape changes one final time. Big nobbles of gnarled grey rock shoot up from the grassland as we descend into a valley that more resembles the moon than anywhere on earth that I’ve ever been.

 

We stay at Heartwood Inn and Spa, a B&B that I cannot recommend highly enough. It is run by a husband and wife partnership who do everything to make the weary traveler welcome – our room (their best value – by which I mean the cheapest!) is spacious, with a huge bath at one end of it. The building itself is beautiful, clad in bright blue wood, and what’s that in the garden? Oh a dinosaur.

 

Yup, a life size dinosaur just hanging out in the garden. Pretty much a must for all boutique guesthouses and I’m pretty sure all dinosaur-less B&Bs will be a disappointment to me from now on. Coming in a close second to the carnivorous garden guest is the breakfast. Wowser! Our host asks what we would like and gave us an option of French toast or French toast. Being allergic to egg, I say we’ll sort out our own breakfast, but our host takes this as a challenge to serve me the most amazing (egg free) fruit, toast and yoghurt combo I have ever had. And The Photographer tells me that the egg breakfast is also delicious – either savoury French toast (mushroom, asparagus and bacon) or sweet (syrup and berries). Breakfast is eaten with the other guests, and served with plenty of fresh coffee and enlightening conversation.

 

We ask our hosts what we should do in Drumheller, and are sent off on the ‘Dinosaur Trail’. The complete absence of any dinosaurs is the only disappointing things about the trail, which takes in several unique sites that only Drum could boast. The first stop is the much more appropriately named ‘Little Church’, a roadside church with six one man pews. Cue lots of humorous photography. Next, Horse Thief Canyon, a real taste of the Alberta Badlands, where the bland but colourful prairie landscape drops dramatically away to reveal a great scar in the land, with huge mountainous lumps. From the top you can see from miles, but clamber down to look closely for those famous fossils that give the trail its name and its easy to feel like you’re in another world, (and totally loose your bearings.)

 

Talking of being in another world, our next stop was also completely new to me – the cable operated Bleriot Car Ferry crosses the Red Deer River, at a point where it is so narrow I was wondering if I could jump across. The kind, three fingered operator chatted to us all the way over (it was painfully slow, so it took at least 3 minutes) and waxed lyrical about his job. I found myself wondering if we were his only customers that week. The smallest church, the quietest car ferry and no dinosaurs – so far this was road trip was sounding like the bin in the offices of the Guinness World Records.

 

We drive back towards Drumheller and out the other side towards Wayne, a ghost town with a population of 27. It looks like everyone left the minute they stopped mining coal, and didn’t take anything with them. The best thing about Wayne is ‘Last Chance Saloon’, the Lonely Planet’s recommended Top Choice restaurant in Drumheller. It’s no top choice restaurant, but it is my recommendation to anyone who goes to Canada! Have a warm pepsi and cheese toastie (that’s what we call it in Yorkshire! You might know it as a grilled cheese sandwich) amongst the relics – which range from old pianos and static customers who are so still I thought they might be dead – to actual bullet holes in the wall from real dead customers who didn’t pay.

 

From ’Last Chance’ we progress from cowboy territory, to alien planets. The hoodoos are a crazy moon like formation of precarious columns, with a flat shelf on top. Apparently, in Blackfoot and Cree traditions they are believed to be frozen giants who come alive at night. I like them even more knowing this.

 

We arrive at our final destination unsure what to expect: Atlas Mine is a former coal mine which is now a historic site. Living in Yorkshire, England I am familiar with mining memorabilia and it was eerie to see this completely disused and deserted mine, left to rust. It is so familiar, but in such foreign surrounds. I stand under the rickety wooden tipple tower, sheltering from the sudden and torrential rain, and think about all the Brits and Europeans who moved to Drumheller to mine coal.

 

When natural gas and oil were found in Northern Alberta, the demand dried up and the migrant workers had to move away to find new jobs, breaking up the mining communities they had built around the Pit. In Yorkshire people stayed (the disadvantage of a small country I guess) but the communities also dispersed.

 

We head back to Heartwood to find that in our absence another Velociraptor has appeared in the garden. Is this for real? It’s like they’re following us.

 

Day two in Drum and we do what most people do on day one – head to the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. As interest in coal waned, tourism became a big market for Drumheller, and the town has built up a powerful brand around the famous by-product of their now redundant fuel: fossils. Now the dinosaurs make sense. Turns out a full size dinosaur in your garden in Drumheller is the equivalent of a full size BBQ in your garden in Australia. In fact, in the center of Drum is the ‘world’s biggest dinosaur’ – a 26M tall T-Rex, and this really is in the Guinness book of world records.

 

If the plastic dinosaurs are cute but frankly a bit cheesy, Royal Tyrrell is the exact opposite. It is an academic institution, with very well presented galleries and films. Staff sit in the galleries cleaning fossils and answering questions, and breathtaking fossils fill every room.

The Museum runs educational excavation activities, we head to ‘Dinosite’, which, despite assurance from staff that it is for ‘all ages’, appears to be for children. I don’t care – give me a trowel and a tray and I am ignorant of the fact that I’m the only person over 4 foot tall! Our guide traipses us across the Alberta desert (yet another landscape in this schizophrenic region), shows us recent dig sites, and takes questions from adults and children alike.

 

And, as if dinosaurs, hoodoos, and canyons aren’t enough, it is Canada day, so we see the whole town take part in a drive through parade (more people take part than watch!). The highlight of this is the Heartwood Inn offer: a small white convertible driven by a blonde groom and his brunette bride. It was only the handwritten sign on the car that helped us to recognise them – it was our very own Wills and Kate!

 

As we leave Drumheller, after only 48 hours, it is hard to shake the feeling of other worldly-ness. In fact I write this now, looking at photos of deserted mines and empty car ferries, of breakfast with dinosaurs, of ghost towns and bullet holes, and I feel compelled to tell everyone about this remarkable little place… just so someone else can tell me it wasn’t all a dream

 

Esther Amis-Hughes (aka Travel Bug) loves to travel and write. She and her companion (The Photographer) have traveled (and been ill) on all five continents. Check out  Travel Sic for more adventures and tips.

Meeting Artisans in the Fez Medina

Fez Medina Fes MoroccoMeeting the Artisans of Fez, Morocco was one of the highlights of my time in Morocco. Much has been written about the Fez, Medina – I’ve even written some of it.  In a nutshell, the Fez Medina is a UNESCO world heritage site, the largest inhabited car-free urban area in the world, the best example of a living medieval Muslim city and a place where you can stay in some amazing hotels,  guest houses, dars and riads.

The Artisans of Fez, Morocco

I was fortunate in being able to take part in something that hasn’t been so extensively written about.  I joined my friend Jessica Stephens (aka ‘The Jess’) on a medina tour that was focused on not only observing but also interacting with, talking to and getting up close and personal with the artisans who do their work and make their home in the Fez medina.

The usual medina tour goes something like this (and it’s good, don’t get me wrong)

“Here is the medina, here is a potters shop, here is the Quarawine Mosque, here is an old funduq, here is an old medrassa, and here are the famous tanneries from five floors up, now we will go to my uncles rug shop…” 

Depending on how much you’ve paid your guide, you will get various levels of sales, various levels of information, and various levels of bullshit (How do you know when a guide is lying? Their lips are moving!)

This tour was different.  Jess and I met with her clients at a cafe in Bathha which sits on the edge of the Fez medina and is very tourist friendly. They were nice, interesting people from Seattle who have traveled all over the world and lived in Vietnam, India, Malaysia and probably a few other places.  One way to tell if a tour is interesting at a glance is to look at who is going on it.  This one was looking tops from the beginning.

Jess went over the details with a map and asked them about anything in particular they wanted to see.  He wanted to see  the tanning process up close and she wanted to just enjoy the architecture since she’s an architect.  I particularly liked Jess’s warnings at the beginning 1) This isn’t a shopping tour so they shouldn’t buy a bunch of things on the way – the guide could take them back later if they desired 2) Don’t walk into an artisanal and just start snapping photos, instead talk with people, let them explain what they do and then – after all of that – take some photos if they want 3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact with people and 4) Watch out for the donkeys (okay, I added that last one myself)

Once the briefing was done we headed down to the not so tourist friendly (but still safe and cool) Bab Rcaif, where we met with the licensed Moroccan medina guide.  Here’s a side note – Jess pays her extra not to take visitors to any of the shops that most guides get commission from when tourists buy things. That’s not only cool for the guests, it’s also cool for the guide because Jess tries to compensate her for the commissions.  There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and fair trade these days, but this is the real deal in action.

Our first stop was to the dyeing street inside the medina. This is an entire derb (small street or alleyway) dedicated to the art of dyeing clothing and material.  We were able to stop and ask questions along the way from the dyers and they showed us the process of the vats, using wool and also aloe vera silk harvested from the mountains.

This old man was the shop steward in one of the dyeries…the map of lines on his face speaks of the travels of Ibn Battuta and more. Here’s something else nice, rather than the guide simply telling us everything – she allowed the artisans themselves to speak and then translated. This might seem like a small thing but it made a huge difference in terms of trust and authenticity.

From there we crossed over the river and went through the metal working and mirror shops.  All along the way, Jess was giving the artisans, the workers and the kids copies of the photos she had snapped on previous expeditions. It’s something that brought smiles of delight to the old and young and made all of us welcome guests along the way.

The metal working area opened up into the Attarine Square – one of the oldest squares in the medina and our lovely guide told us about the history of the migrations from Tunisia and from Andalucia and how they set up on different sides of the river and had a fierce rivalry which caused Fez to become the shining light of the times – home of the first university (The Quarayine University) and also I learned something I hadn’t known – there are 365 mosques in the Fez medina and that is why it is the spiritual capital of Morocco ( of course the guide’s lips were moving as she said it, so you might want to count).

We paused to explore a bit of the square and see the famous library though since it is still a place where students study, we weren’t allowed to go inside. Still, magnificent…

Down another narrow winding passageway and we came across a fellow who works exclusively with bone and horn. He showed us how he heats the bone and horn make it flexible and then he is able to cut around it and create beautiful shapes that can be carved and polished.

Now we were heading to the area where a recent scandal shook the medina. I hadn’t been in town for more than a few days and already I’d heard about it from three different sources. Here is the scandal and the very unfair way it turned out:

A fashion magazine of some sort came and booked a tour with their models of the famous Fessi tanneries.  When they got there, they apparently bribed someone to be allowed to go down in the thick of things despite the fact that they were using an illegal guide and technically aren’t supposed to go down there. Once down there, the models stood in the center and stripped nude! Now, this might not seem so scandalous but remember, this is a conservative Muslim country and these guys working there are among the conservative working class – it was shocking! As a result, the models and the photographers were escorted out but the manager of the tanneries and the guide were both jailed and charged 4000 dirham – which is a huge fine here.  Anyway, we had proper permission and we all kept our clothes on.

Even clothed, the tanneries were still amazingly interesting. I’d always wanted to get down into the pits and see the process and it was incredibly fascinating.  The process goes a bit like this – skins are brought, thrown into the limestone pits (filled with pigeon shit and lime) and soaked for a few days. After this they are thrown onto a huge electric wheel that scapes them along the floor and gets the hair loose. Next a man scrapes the hair from the hides. After that, they are thrown in another pit with more chemical agents. Following that they move to the dying vats (the brown ones) and then they go to be dried, scraped and softened, and finally made into your shoes or bag.

I probably don’t need to say this, but the smell is something you can simply not imagine. It is awful throughout. The guys in the pits looked at us suspiciously as we wandered through, probably wondering if we would take our clothes off or at least ‘Why the hell do they want to come down here?” We walked through the entire process and then blissfully, left the tanneries to head to the carpet weaving area. The weavers rooms didn’t smell bad at all, but then, after the tannery, nothing really could!

The weaver spoke excellent English and gave an demonstration of how to make material. We found out that for silk and cloth, it is generally men who do the weaving but for rugs, that is up to the women (like the women weavers I met in the collective in Rbat al Khair a few months ago).  The scarves and textiles were gorgeous and in a variety of colors but most striking was a deep cobalt blue. The dyes used to be all natural but these days (we had found out on the dyer street- most of them are chemical dyes).

After this we took a car from Rceif to the artisanal  school commissioned by the King of Morocco. In the school we met a master zelij (mosaic tile) craftsman, teaching four apprentices his craft with a massive piece.  We also had the chance to meet and talk with a Moroccan slipper maker and to see a number of the workshops where master artisans are teaching their craft to pupils.  Among the skills being passed on are the making of the oud and Moroccan fiddles, stone work, glass, tile, ceramics, wood working, and much more.

Finally, withe the tour of the artisans of the Fes Medina complete, we all sat down for lunch and took a good rest. This was an awesome tour – I hope that more tours like this that  1) respect the local people 2) interact with the culture 3) create an appreciation for the arts and handicrafts of places – continue to show up.

To book this tour for yourself, you can contact Jessica at her site  Artisanal Affairs to arrange it all for you. She also has a lot more information, some videos of the artisans and a whole lot more at http://www.culturevulturesfez.org

Meeting Marzipan Men and Hanseatic Sailors in Lübeck, Germany

Photos and Story by Katherine Rodeghier

It isn’t often I encounter a man so sweet from head to toe.

Life-size figures made of marzipan are on display in the Marzipan Salon inside Café Niederegger. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
Life-size figures made of marzipan are on display in the Marzipan Salon inside Café Niederegger. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

But what should I expect of one made of almond paste and sugar?

He’s one of 12 life-size figures on display in the Marzipan Salon, the upstairs museum inside the Café Niederegger, famous throughout Germany for its marzipan confections.

The particular object of my interest is the figure of Thomas Mann seated, appropriately, with book in hand. The 1929 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was born in Lübeck where his grandparents’ house served as the setting for his novel, “Buddenbrooks.”

The home still stands not far from the café and operates as a museum, as do museums devoted to two more Nobel laureates from Lübeck: Author Gunter Grass and former Chancellor Willy Brandt.

Lübeck reached prominence centuries before any of these three came along. Designated a free imperial city in 1226, it became the capital of the Hanseatic League, a powerful confederation of 200 city-states banded together against pirates and warring nations to protect their trade in the Baltic. Unlike sister Hanseatic city, Hamburg, some 40 miles away, many of Lübeck’s medieval buildings still stand, earning the old city’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Don’t miss:

A giant astronomical clock attracts visitors to St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
A giant astronomical clock attracts visitors to St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

St. Mary’s Church: Germany’s third largest church was built to show off the power of the Hanseatic League. Begun around 1200 in Romanesque style, builders changed their minds, switching to the Gothic style of the massive limestone cathedrals then being built in France.

But Lübeck had no limestone. When it was completed in 1350, St. Mary’s was the largest red-brick church on the continent and became a model for about 80 churches scattered through the Baltic region. Its middle nave remains the highest brickwork vault in the world.

Bombed by the British on the night before Palm Sunday in 1942, its roof burned and towers came down. Since restored, the bells that fell that night have been left embedded in the floor as a memorial to world peace.

Inside you’ll also see a huge astronomical clock and the world’s largest mechanical organ with 10,000 pipes, one more than 36 feet long. Outside the church, a bronze figure of a devil, with horns rubbed shiny by passers-by, should intrigue you.

Legend has it that when the church was being built the devil thought it was to be a wine cellar so he enthusiastically helped the builders. When he discovered a holy place instead, he fell into a rage, throwing boulders and creating all sorts of mayhem. City fathers appeased him by promising to construct a wine cellar next door in what is now the town hall.

Dining at the Schiffergesellschaft:

Saying it is a mouthful, for sure, but dining here is a pleasure for the mouth and a feast for the eyes.

Since 1535, this house built in Renaissance style with stepped gables has served as the meeting house of the skippers’ and sailmakers’ guild. Now leased as a restaurant, it serves traditional German fare, but be prepared to share a communal table unless you can snag a seat at individual tables along the wall.

Order the duck breast with apples and red cabbage or the wiener schnitzel with fried potatoes. While you wait for your meal, look around at the wooden beams, the huge chandelier, ship models, the long oak tables and benches ending in posts decorated with the coats of arms of captains who commandeered the Hanseatic League’s ships.

Members of the guild still meet here on Tuesdays for informal chitchat.

The fortified Holsten Gate stands at the entrance to the old city. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
The fortified Holsten Gate stands at the entrance to the old city. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Holsten Gate:

You can’t miss it; the turreted red brick fortified gate, now tipped slightly forward, sits as a landmark at the main entrance to the old town. Built in the 15th century with red brick, black glazed tiles and a terracotta frieze, it was meant to both intimidate visitors and repel intruders.

Inside you’ll find a museum devoted to the history of Lübeck with a scale model of the town in the Middle Ages and exhibits describing the Hanseatic League. The gate was once equipped with 30 cannon, none of which ever fired a shot. Check out the turret with fireplace where tar was heated to be poured down a pipe onto enemies below. One room devoted to medieval instruments of torture just might give your nightmares.

Panorama from St. Peter’s Tower: Built as a church in the 13th century and enlarged in the 16th century, this building now serves as a gallery and coffee shop.

What makes it special, though, is the view from the top of the tower. Walk up or pay a few euros to ride the elevator for a panorama of green-clad belfries, red-brick buildings and red-tile roofs. From this perspective you’ll see that the Altstadt, the old town, is built on an island, the better to protect it from invaders.

The Trave River and canal completely surround the medieval city.

The Rathaus and Marketplace are at the heart of Lübeck’s old town. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
The Rathaus and Marketplace are at the heart of Lübeck’s old town. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Town Hall and Marketplace:

Lübeck’s Rathaus, one of the oldest town halls in Germany, was built as a hall for trading cloth.

Begun around 1230 with the erection of a large wall with three towers and two wind holes, it was added onto several times, including a sandstone front section put up in 1570. Lübeck’s Senate still convenes in the council chamber.

The Marketplace on the plaza in front of the town hall is a good place to sit on a nice day, enjoying a coffee or a beer and watching the world go by.

Marzipan at Café Niederegger:

Lübeck is so famous for its brand of marzipan that any confection of almonds and sugar marked “Lübecker Marzipan” is protected by law as an authentic product of this city. Several big companies ship it around the world.

The most well-known, though, is Niederegger founded in 1806. It operates a store, café and museum just a few steps from the Town Hall. Walk into the first floor stop and you’re greeted by a riot of confections, including 300 varieties of marzipan as well as pralines, nougats, cakes and other pastries, many beautifully wrapped.

Upstairs, the café serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and early supper. Whatever the time of day, be sure to order a steaming cup of fresh-brewed coffee and a slice of the house specialty: a nut torte.

Another flight of stairs (or elevator ride) leads to the museum with its 12 life-size figures, mostly notables from local history. You’ll also find Faberge-style eggs three feet tall and a model of a ship that took marzipan chefs 350 hours to create. A video explains how marzipan is made and exhibits in a hallway are devoted to the history of marzipan, which dates back to Persia in the 10th century. In Europe it was packaged in little boxes called mataban, from which the candy took its name. Knights carried the boxes of treats from the Middle East home during the Crusades.

 

 

Fireworks, Bulls & Pirates – Another Explosive Event in San Sebastian

 

cc image courtesy of Kasi Metcalf on flickrAlthough famous for its white sandy beaches, delicious cuisine and super-cool culture, there’s another reason why the Basque city of San Sebastian is such a coveted holiday destination. Each August, the city becomes a feverish hub of activity for Semana Grande, or ‘Big Week’ – a spectacular festival featuring Papier-mâché bulls, hundreds of pirates, and many thousands of fireworks!

For the San Sebastian locals, Semana Grande is the highlight of their cultural calendar and seemingly every resident will don costumes and take to the streets to party on each day. This year’s Semana Grande, held between the 11th and 18th of August was no exception, and throughout the seven days of the festival dozens of activities took place across the city from cookery lessons to outdoor sporting tournaments, though certain unforgettable events really whipped up the crowds.

The first of these was the annual Pirate Attack, where some 3,000 amateur seamen took to the waters of San Sebastian in their handmade boats – dressed in the requisite pirate outfits, of course! The pirates made the journey from the San Sebastian harbour towards La Concha beach, clinging anxiously to their shaky crafts as crowds cheered them on their way.

Puppet Pursuit

cc iimage courtesy of mesq on flickrNext up was the procession of the ‘gigantes’ and ‘cabezudos’, the giant and big-headed puppets that are carried through the streets of San Sebastian each day and accompanied by music, dancing and a highly zealous crowd. As per tradition, the giants and big-headed characters singled out members of the crowd to chase, which delighted many of the local children and caught more than a few unsuspecting tourists off-guard!

As night fell, the crowds filled the streets again for the Encierro de Torros de Fuego, or the ‘Running of the Fire Bulls’ during which large Papier-mâché bulls with fireworks for horns were paraded through the streets every evening, as more fireworks exploded over the darkened bay. This was part of the annual contest between pyrotechnic companies to produce the most stunning, spectacular and superbly designed fireworks display, of which the winner was announced at the end of the festival – a title that’s so coveted, the companies will spend the entire year planning their entry!

 

 

Around the World through a Photographers Lens – China

Photos and Words by Dave Stamboulis

Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens is a weekly feature from Award Wiinning travel photographer and writer, Dave Stamboulis.  Every Monday afternoon you can find Dave’s work here at Vagobond. See the world through a photographer’s lens.

1) The Long Haired Yao are an ethnic minority in China’s Guilin region. The Yao women never cut their hair and welcome visitors to their village with a hair braiding ceremony

Chinese Yao Long hair
2) Not only do the Yao women not cut their hair, they pick up any stray hair that falls out and weave them into their manes

Hair Weave Chinese Yao
3) The village elder, enjoying telling the history of his life in a sleepy Yao village

Chinese Yao Elder
4) The Yao women spend much of their free time weaving their colorful clothing and blankets for the cold winters

Yao Women in China
5) The lush rice terraces of Ping An village, home to the Yao of Guilin

rice terraces in Ping An, China
6) The Yao grow elaborate rice fields and terraces for their survival

Rice Terraces Yao China Ping An
7) Yao village elder doing a welcome ceremony to honor guests

Welcoming Ceremony Ping An, China Yao
8) Old traditions die hard in China, granny and her buffalo

Yao woman and Buffalo, Ping An China

La Fiesta Mama Negra in Ecuador

By Melissa Ruttanai

While the northern hemisphere hunkers down for cool autumn months, Ecuador blooms with warm breezes, clear skies, and the beginning of the festival season in October.

Peru FestivalsDown the spine of the Andes Mountains just one hour south of Quito, the city of Latacunga fills its streets with streamers and parades the cathedral’s statue of the Virgin and Child through several neighborhoods.

Locals and visitors alike gather in the main plaza. They snap pictures and dance to the bands. They buy snacks and pop open bottles of Pilsener beer. Horses enter the courtyard and astride one is the figure of Mama Negra, the city’s protector against volcanic eruptions and destructive weather. The band strikes a fast beat and Mama Negra herself unveils a black bottle and sprays the crowd in a ritual cleansing.

At the Fiesta of Mama Negra, prepare yourself for dancing in the streets and non-stop festivities.

On each plaza corner, bands whip up festival-goers with hip swinging music. All year long, musicians and townspeople have been saving up for this event.

And they don’t hold anything back. Pastel-hued colors burst across the promenade. Pink coats and blue skirts twirl to the melody. Costumed men carry portal altars on their backs, offering devout tokens of respect to the patroness that include a dozen bottles of whiskey, roasted chicken, smoked guinea pig, and one immense BBQ pig.

Ribbons decorate the spaces in between as each man hews the altar down the parade route. Even small boys get involved as each one carries a miniature sized offering.

While bands blast trumpets and beat drums, each parishioner dances euphorically through the streets of Latacunga. In between altars and bands, they strut their choreographed hips through the cobbled avenues.

With handkerchiefs men guide their partners through the routine, hollering and celebrating each step. The women purse pink lips, swirling with the beat and smiling with pride. At the Fiesta de Mama Negra, the parade snakes up and down the streets for miles.

For hours, the bands march and dancers dip and twirl their partners. Mama Negra sprays the crowd with alcohol and gangs of masked men cleanse innocent bystanders with branches of green leaves. In the crowd, onlookers share beer and whiskey. They cheer and push each other into the midst of the dancing parade. Amongst friends and family and strangers, they jest and joke from noon past midnight.

Latacunga, a city high in Ecuador’s Andes, offers an authentic insight into everyday life in the mountains and is a great cultural extension either in between the usual tours to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu.

Volunteer Travel in Baños, Ecuador

By Melissa Ruttanai

Volunteer Travel Makes a Difference to You Too

“We’ll sing the Preposition Song to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy.” My husband Neil passed out copies of song lyrics. In a tight semi-circle, twelve people from around the world congregated inside the Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños for the weekly language exchange called intercambio. A guest volunteer, Neil led the session with an activity geared toward learning English and Spanish prepositions. We introduced ourselves, practiced translating, and sang aloud on our feet without shame that we might be off key. Volunteer travel rocks!

VoluntourismEach Monday, the Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños or BIB begins its week like a well-oiled machine. Coordinators Karl and Mazz sit at the head of a large table, welcoming new volunteers and reviewing the previous week’s accomplishments.

Though technically not volunteers, Neil and I had become good friends with the staff and were invited to attend their weekly meeting. Laughter mixed with serious brainstorming as Karl eyed the clock and Mazz kept minutes. From all over the world and of every age, volunteers commit to a month of community service: running English classes for local youth, holding cinema nights, and participating in the popular language exchange. They live together, share household chores, and help local Ecuadorians learn English. International and domestic travelers stop in Baños on their way up and down the Andean Mountains, and like Karl and Mazz, many stay.

Volunteering in Baños, Ecuador

Volunteer teaching in South America
The Library in Banos

In general, Baños de Santa Agua is a major stop along the tourist trail. With hot springs and fusion foods, Baños offers a getaway from Quito and mountain retreat beside the Rio Pastaza. Package tourists soak in mineral waters and return to the capital within the week. Long-term backpackers camp out in local hostels. But BIB volunteers are different. Immersed in the community, they get to see what real Ecuadorian life is like. They read to school children and shake hands with thankful parents. At night, people wave “hola” to volunteers and often—because they know Karl—their drinks are discounted at popular bars.

TEFL courses online
It’s not easy being on center stage!

Each weekday at 3pm, the BIB’s painted shutters open and young children begin calling out for their favorite teacher. Karl knows each child by name, hugging one and rustling another’s hair. On beanbags and benches, the volunteers sit with Ecuadorian children. They read Curious George, Star Wars, and Cinderella in Spanish and English. During Halloween, they parade through town in costume, handing out flyers for the BIB’s programs. As Karl stated, “We’ve lots of volunteers, but we can’t have a BIB without the children. So sometimes we have to remind the town that we’re here.”

During meetings, I can see that each volunteer loves this program in a different way. “Listening to [the kids] read in their own language has helped me learn Spanish quicker,” said Drew, a volunteer from Massachusetts. “They pronounce every syllable carefully and it helps me too.” In many ways, volunteering in Ecuador is symbiotic. Both volunteers and students benefit. Kids receive language lessons and role models from overseas. Volunteers become part of a mission to help the local community and experience Ecuador differently than most travelers.

Living as a Volunteer at the BIB

working with kids abroad, voluntourism
In travel, it is the relationships that matter.

One multi-story building and a large courtyard comprise the BIB property. On the second and third floor, double and triple rooms line the shotgun hall. A large kitchen and living room offer common areas for reading and relaxing. On the first floor, a learning lounge opens to the street and welcomes students with shelves of Spanish and English books as well as comfy beanbags. Off to the rear, a crafts center has long tables and painted murals for art and group projects. Through a generous donation, the BIB also has a movie projection and sound system for Wednesday’s cinema night.

While living at the BIB, volunteers work together and care for the house, courtyard, and sidewalk. Each week during the Monday meeting, chores are divvied up so that floors are mopped, the street swept, and bookshelves organized. At night, volunteers enjoy each other’s company with walks around the basilica and drinks at the bars. Life is relaxed and fulfilling.

make a difference in your travel
You can travel and make a difference in the hearts and minds of kids anywhere.

During Neil’s intercambio, the atmosphere continued to be laidback and welcoming. Four Ecuadorians sang the Preposition Song and several foreigners translated phrases into Spanish. The hour and a half ran quickly as participants chatted with each other and joked about strange diction. By the end of the session, we laughed about the singing competition that turned into rap songs about prepositions. Karl closed up the BIB and we waved “Hasta luego!”

“See you in an hour.” I said to Mazz, who smiled and waved back.

“Yep, see you at the bar.” She turned to ring her boyfriend and get ready for a nightcap in town. Unlike an office job or regular internship, volunteering at the BIB is about an expat lifestyle centered on social living.

Details & How to Become a Volunteer
To become a volunteer at the BIB, applicants should contact Karl and Mazz at artedelmundo21@gmail.com with a letter of introduction and ability to commit up to 3 months in Baños, Ecuador. Volunteers do not pay for the program. However, participants are expected to pay a monthly donation for their room, starting at US$120 per month that includes bedding, utilities, laundry access, WIFI, and cookery. Accepted applicants should inquire about paying in advance in order to receive a discount. Baños de Santa Agua is located in Tungurahua, 3.5 hours south of Quito, 9 hours east of Guayaquil and 7 hours north of Cuenca via bus.

 

Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens – Myanmar

Photos and Captions by Dave Stamboulis

Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens is an exclusive feature from Award Winning travel photographer and writer, Dave Stamboulis.  You can find more of Dave’s work here at Vagobond. See the world through a photographer’s lens.

1) Monks on the U Bein bridge at sunset, world’s longest teak bridge which comes alive in the late afternoon with thousands of workers, monks, and other Burmese crossing back home.

Myanmar, Burma, Mandalay
2) Nuns on their morning alms run in Bagan

Nuns on their morning alms run in Bagan
3) A young monk and his begging bowl on the U Bein Bridge in Mandalay

Myanmar, Burma, Mandalay
4) Young Myanmar beauty in Mandalay wearing tanaka paste on her cheeks, used as sunblock and as a beauty cosmetic, tanaka comes from the bark of a tree

Myanmar, Burma, Mandalay
5) Fisherman on Inle Lake. The fishermen of Inle are famed for their one legged rowing technique, which allows them to keep their hand free for fishing.

Fisherman on Inle Lake, Myanmar
6) Spinning silk on Inle Lake. There are many cottage industries along the lake, such as traditional weaving.

Myanmar, Burma, Mandalay, Inle,

7) Girl rolling cheroots. The cheroot tobacco industry in Myanmar is huge. Along Inle Lake, young women work long hours rolling tobacco leaf into the cheroot cigars.

Along Inle Lake, young women work long hours rolling tobacco leaf
8) Young monks on their alms run in Yangon. Many young boys serve time as monks from an early age in Myanmar.

Many young boys serve time as monks from an early age in Myanmar

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