Nov 11, 2019

Loving Basel

Basel is a city on the Rhine River in northwest Switzerland, close to the country’s borders with France and Germany. The Dreiländereck is a monument in Basel, Switzerland that marks where the three countries meet.  I loved Basel.  It was so calm and quiet…no noisy motor bikes or other annoying vehicles.  I also noticed in restaurants everyone talked softly except Americans.  I didn’t realize how loud we talk.  

I lucked out on my choice of hotel – the Der Teufelhof Basel.  The hotel complex consists of a hotel, theatre, Atelier Restaurant, Bel Etage restaurant, brewery, bar and a coffee lounge as well as a wine cellar that is in the archaeological part where
parts of the old city wall can be seen. While the city wall is no more there are still a couple city gates standing. It lies in the heart of Basel's Old Town; in two knocked-together historical townhouses from the 18th century

Included in the price was Basel
Card which allowed me to ride free on public transit and discounts on other touristic things..  Using my Basel Card I took the tram which stopped in front of the hotel one stop to the city center where I went to the tourist office and book a bus tour at a reduced rate. Each seat had a table showing what the guide was talking about. From there I walked uphill for a short ways to the Tinguely Fountain installed by Jean Tinguely who is famous for his sculptural machines or kinetic art. There is also a museum in his name. 

I didn’t know that Anne Frank’s father moved to Switzerland after
the war because he found it too painful to stay in Amsterdam. He had cousins there and it is where he read Anne’s diary and had it published.  The city was also home to Erasmus, the 16th-century philosopher and Christian humanist who is widely considered to have been the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance.  The Renaissance influence is visible in many of the building. Its medieval old town centers around Marktplatz, dominated by the 16th-century, red-sandstone Town Hall. Its 12th-century Gothic cathedral has city views, and contains the tomb of Erasmus. 

The city claims to be the home of a real Indiana Jones. Johann Burckhardt was a Swiss traveler, geographer and orientalist. He is best known for rediscovering the ruins of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.  Petra is an incredibly amazing place. From the top it is impossible to see the entrance to Petra.  We walked through the narrow rocky passage with high walls called a Siq. Nothing compares to the first view of magnificent, 2,000-year-old Treasury building made familiar in the Indiana Jones movie.  The whole area is incredible. 

Today Basel in known for manufacturing chemical and
pharmaceuticals and, of course, watches.  But that wasn’t always the case.  Watchmaking only began in Switzerland after the Huguenot refugees brought the manufacture of portable timepieces to Switzerland in the second half of the 16th century. At that time, Calvinism was very popular. One of the main driving forces behind the country’s economic prosperity was the goldsmiths. Under the strict rule of Calvin, who rejected any display of wealth, the wearing of jewelry was banned thus forcing these craftsmen to find new outlets for their creative talents – and so they discovered watchmaking.

I love all the back stories I hear on bus tours.  The bus stopped at the Rhine River and passengers could take a ferry across and be picked up on the other side. The ferries crosses without motorized assistance, using only the natural power of the river’s current.  Cool! 

Oct 28, 2019

Visit Budapest

Budapest, Hungary’s capital, is bisected by the River Danube. The views from the Danube are stunning, day and night. One of my credit cards is with the InterContinental group of hotels (think Holiday Inn) so I used some points to stay at the InterContinental where I had an incredible view of the Castle Hill and the Chain Bridge. One of the first things I did was to take a
hop-on bus tour.  I had the Buda Card which allowed me to travel free on all public transportation and discounts for tours.  One of the things I like about the tours is the back stories.  Its 19th-century Chain Bridge connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest area.  It was the first bridge to connect the two side of the city. Before that they had to use ferries.  It seems
that Count Istvan Szechenyi was on one side of the river when his father died, it was winter and the ferry could not make the crossing so he missed his father’s funeral.  So he had the Chain Bridge constructed which was regarded as one the modern world’s engineering wonders. 

The last time I was in Budapest was in the mid-80s when it was behind the “Iron Curtain.”  Traveling at that time was very safe as long as one didn’t protest: it was inexpensive, and very interesting.  Today the city is bustling with tourists.  

One of the things I recall from my first visit was the story of the Holy Crown of Hungary, aka the
Crown of St. Stephen, circa 1526.  The crown had a varied history; it had been stolen, hidden, lost, recovered and travel abroad.  In 1848 the crown was buried in a wooden box in the forest in Transylvania, now Romania. When I was there what I saw was a replica because it was, at that time, in Fort Knox, which I found a bit strange.  At the end of the Second World War the crown made its way to the United States for safe keeping from the Russians. It was kept in Fort Knox until1978 when by order of President Carter it was returned to Budapest. Today the crown is on display in the Parliament building.  

The best way to see the Parliament is from a river cruise.  Again the Buda Pass came in handy. When I bought the discounted hop-on bus tour I bought the package that included the river cruise.  Not to miss in front of the Parliament are the shoes on the bank of Danube to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist militiamen in Budapest during World War II.

There is a lot to see, do, and learn. A funicular runs up Castle Hill to Buda’s Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from Roman times onward. Trinity Square is home to 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion, which offer sweeping views of the area.

Hero’s Square is one of the major squares in Budapest, Hungary, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes, often erroneously referred as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Seven chieftains of the Magyars were the leaders of the seven tribes of the Hungarians at the time of their arrival and settlement in the area in AD 895. The country has a fascinating history that includes being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At one time both Budapest and Vienna served capitals.  

Oct 18, 2019

Vegas is a good destination for nature lovers

Mention Las Vegas and most people think of gambling but Vegas it an excellent hub for enjoying
nature.  Vegas may be located in a desert but besides exploring the colorful rocky terrain there are lakes and rivers to explore. Most of the natural areas are part of a national or state park. 

1. Flat water rafting: Put into the Colorado River at the foot of the massive Hoover Dam at a place where only the rafters are allowed. Head down the Colorado as it twist and turns through 12 miles of Black Canyon on a motorized-assisted raft surrounded between the majestic
2000-foot rocky walls while on the lookout for desert wildlife as the guide shares historic vignettes. The rafting trip offered by Black Canyon/Willow Beach River Adventures is suitable for all ages and even those with physical limitations can be accommodated.
2 . Kayaking canoeing: Experience the quiet of the desert and the majesty of Black Canyon on a guided kayaking trip. Explore caves, soak in natural hot springs, and learn the history of the area. Most people consider the Colorado River below Hoover Dam more scenic than any other part of the river.
3. Death Valley: Only 120 miles from Vegas Death Valley always surprises people. Even with its extreme temperature there are over 1000 plant and animal species within the National Park. Visit Furnace Creek Ranch, the Borax Museum, take a guided tour of Scotty’s Castle, and play golf on the world’s lowest golf course.
4. Red Rock: Only 30 minutes from the Strip the escarpment rises three thousand feet from the
Spring Mountains. The Visitor Center provides for an overview of the geological formation. A brochure outlines the many hiking trails. Especially unique is Ice Box Canyon where it offers relief on a hot day. There is a driving loop for those who do not want to hike.
5. Valley of Fire: As the name suggests the rocks in this state park are brilliant. The Visitor Center should be the first stop. There are self-guided trails and petroglyphs left by some of the earliest settlers. 
6. Houseboating: Be your own captain and chart your own course with all the comforts of home on fully equipped houseboat. Experience the quiet desert mornings, the brilliant sunsets, and the star-filled sky from your rooftop hot tub. Explore the shore, venture into a canyon, go fishing or swimming. Forever Resorts rents houseboat on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.
8.  Spring Mountain Ranch: The center of this state park is the ranch owned by Vera Krupp of Germany’s munitions dynasty, later it was owned by Howard Hughes. Besides guided tours of the ranch there are a number of activities including outdoor musical productions during the summer presented by a local theater group.
7. Mt. Charleston: Only 45 miles from the Strip Mt. Charleston is visible from most places in Vegas. Many visitors are surprised that it is usually snow covered in the winter and has a ski center. During the summer it is a cool respite from Vegas.  The drive goes through several micro climatic zones so the vegetation changes with the altitude.
8. Bonnie Springs and Old Nevada: Located in the Red Rock area, Old Nevada is a recreated Old West town with staged gun fights, stagecoach rides and other activities. There is a petting zoo nearby. 
10. Off-roading: Several companies offer desert tours for thrill seekers. Choose your vehicle – dune buggy, 4 x 4, Hummer, or a pink jeep. Explore canyons and visit ghost towns. 

Oct 13, 2019

Bonaire is a great winter getaway destination

The Caribbean island of Bonaire is 50 miles north of Venezuela and 86 miles east of Aruba.  The best thing is that it is out of the hurricane belt so any time of the year is a good time to visit. There is plenty of sunshine year round. 
1. Kralendijk: Bonaire’s capital, Kralendijk, is a colorful, port city with a population of 4000 making for a great walkabout. The architecture has been well preserved. Start at the Visitor’s Center to pick up a free walking tour brochure. Visit Fort Orange, the quaint churches and Queen Wilhemina Park.  
2. History: The original inhabitants were the Caiquetios, a branch
of the Arawak Indians. Rock paintings and petroglyphs from that time have survived in several of the island’s caves. The first Europeans to claim the island were the Spanish and then the Dutch. Near the town of Rincon is the newly upgraded cultural center, Mangazina di Rei (The Storehouse of the King) where slaves were given provisions.
3. Diving: Frommer’s rates Bonaire number one when it comes to scuba diving. The island is surrounded by reefs that are pristine and easily accessible. Go out on a dive boat or enter from the shore where the access to the sea is clearly marked by bright yellow painted rocks that names the dive site.  
4. Catching the wind: It is almost always windy on Bonaire
making it a mecca for wind surfers and kite boarders.  The clear water of Lac Bay is the perfect place for beginners to learn and for freestylers who want to hone their skills. Kite boarding takes place on Atlantis Beach. 

5. Salt: The salt of Bonaire is a natural product made by the evaporation of seawater by the sunshine and wind.  The brine is pumped into crystallizers where it remains for about a year during which the salty water turns green and then a beautiful rose. When it is ready to harvest it is piled in large mountains of salt. Nearby are replicas of the small huts for the slaves who at one time worked in the salt industry.
6. Donkeys: The Spanish brought the donkeys to the island to
use as draft animals. In 1993 Dutch Nationals, Marina Melis, and her husband, Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys. Visitors are welcome to visit and interact with the donkeys for a nominal fee. 
7. Birds: With over 200 species Bonarie is a bird-lover’s paradise. There are migrating birds, seabirds, shore birds, and land birds but the iconic symbol of Bonaire is the elegant pink flamingo. Bonaire is only one of four areas in the world where flamingos breed. 

8. Shopping: There are
several art shops in Kralendij. There is a regularly scheduled art and craft market in the city. Paintings depicting Bonaire scenes, or a stone painted yellow with the name of your favorite dive site, and a piece of driftwood art make great remembrances of Bonaire 
9. Tours: There are a plethora of tours for those who want to bike, hike, kayak, fish, go caving, have an off-road adventure, go horseback riding, repel, plus Segway tours, and a city tour in a luxurious tuk-tuk. A glass-bottom boat tour is perfect for those who want to see the coral reef without getting wet. 
10. Wining and dining: Those who want to try something new should head to the historic village of Rincon. Cadushy Distillery uses the cactus that is found all over the island to make cactus liqueur in a variety of flavors.  Posada Para Mira, also in Rincon, is one place to sample local fare such at goat stew. 

Sep 30, 2019

Adirondack Railroad trips

Central New York has been blessed with many, many beautiful days these last couple months but it won’t last so don’t waste any of the nice fall days.  The Adirondack Railroad has several fall trips departing from Utica.  Actually, they offer several types of excursions.  I recently took the Wine and Beer Train.  And even though they advertise “Watch the scenic countryside roll by while sipping on the best wines and brews” the
truth is the 7 pm departure was too late to see any scenery.  However, that particular three-hour excursion runs spring, summer, and fall.  It is a fun evening with family and friends.  They feature some local bands but one has to go to the café car to hear them – too bad they don’t pipe it through the
rest of the cars.  There are two prices of tickets.  First class tick
ets include a table with linen tablecloths and flowers plus a wait staff to take the drink orders and serve complimentary hors d’oeuvres. Passengers receive a complimentary beer or wine glass – glass only. Guests can bring food but not alcoholic beverages.  There was a bridesmaid party in one of the cars. The train makes a 30 minute stop in Remsen.

The Fall Foliage train trips leaves at 9:30 a.m. and goes from Utica to Thendara near Old Forge. The train makes its way through colorful forests, over rivers and streams into the heart of the Adirondacks. Spend a full afternoon in Old Forge enjoying the outdoors and visiting local shops and restaurants, and then return to Utica. The train has a café car so you can get something to eat or eat at the historic Thendara’s historic Van Auken Hotel. That is the only place I have been that had puff balls on the menu.   The Adirondack Railroad offers a couple options for the Fall Foliage trips. 

I have ridden on the Adirondack Railroad a couple of times
and loved it each time.  There is something about riding the rails that never gets old.  I actually first took the train in the 80s when it was under different management. The rails follow the same route the Robber Barons took to their summer estates in the mountains.  Take note of Utica Station with its massive marble pillars and heated seats.  It was designed by the same architectural firm that built Grand Central Station.  

The Railroad offer several tours are including the popular Polar Express which books up fast. Some dates are already sold out.  There are two classes of tickets with two time slots on the days that the Polar Express runs.  All are encouraged to wear their pajamas. Years ago I took my grandkids on the Polar Express but in a different location. The Adirondack Railroad also offers a Christmas Train not to be confused with the Polar Express. 

Someday I’d like to take the Loomis Train Robbery excursion. The
Loomis Gang was one of the largest family crime family of outlaws who operated in central New York during the mid-19th century.  They were able to get away with their thievery because they did not steal from the people near them and when their neighbors suffered from thefts they would often enlist the help of the Loomis family in recovering their property.  I think the movie makers missed out on this story.  It leaves from Thendera which makes it a bit difficult for a day trip. 

Sep 17, 2019

Making Fish Cakes with Sea Purslanes

Before I went to Bermuda I searched for a place to do a cooking experience and found a unique one offered by Doreen Williams-James.  She calls herself a forager, an expert in locating, eating, and preparing food that grows in the wild. Foraging runs in the family; she learned from her father who learned from his father.  Doreen does many Wild Edible tours, makes a variety of items from items she has forage, and does cooking demonstrations.  Mostly, she makes things on order so everything is fresh. 

Doreen showed me how to make Sea Purslane Fish Cakes.  I was not keen on the fish part but the finished product was excellent and didn’t contain fish but made use of sea purslanes which are a perennial found along the coast in many regions of the world.  They looked like small snap peas. Eaten plain they were excellent. Not at all fishy but a bit salty and crunchy with a delicate lemony taste with a mild peppery kick.  I think they would make an excellent snack and they are healthy because they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene along with many minerals.

Sea Purslane Fish Cakes

Olive oil as needed
1 can of drained and rinsed cannelloni beans
1 can of drained, rinsed chickpeas
6 peeled and boiled potatoes
1/2 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup chopped onions
2 tsp chopped thyme
4 sheets of dried seaweed
1 ½ tbsp. vegetable bouillon
Handful of sea purslane chopped finely
Flour as needed

Salute chopped onions in a tbsp of olive oil, add chopped thyme
and bullion. Mash cannelloni beans, chickpeas, and boiled peeled potatoes in a bowl, add sautéed onion, mix in parsley, crushed seaweed sheets, and chopped sea purslane.  Mixed thoroughly and roll into balls. Take balls and roll into flour. Heat frying pan with enough olive oil to cover bottom of frying pan.  Place floured balls into the heated pan and fry till golden brown then turn over and fry other side. About two minutes on each side. Makes 12 - 15 fishcakes

St. George is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I met with Doreen at the World Heritage Centre in St. George where she often does the cooking classes and other programs. The World Heritage Center is located in the heart of the town near where the ferry lands. The Centre is located in the Queen’s Warehouse, an 1860 historic building that was once a cotton warehouse. The pulley system used to raise the cotton imported from the southern states of the United States is still visible in the center of the building.  The multi-functional building contains “Gateway to Bermuda”
Orientation and Exhibit Gallery on the main floor with interpretive and interactive exhibits. There is also Second-Hand Rose Shoppe loaded with “gently-used” second-hand “treasures.” A great place to look for a unique memento of Bermuda to take home. The Age of Discovery, Bermuda’s
historic links to Jamestown and the first settlers, the wreck of the “Sea Venture”, and the story of Bermuda’s first forts are explained. Upstairs there are three Exhibition rooms including a short film "A Stroll Through St. George’s" which is helpful when planning a walking tour of the town. They also offer several brochures including a handy walking tour.  I missed the “Daily Dunking” that takes place in King’s Square and other things I’d like to do so, hopefully I will get a chance to return.  

Sep 11, 2019

Exploring Downtown NYC

The last time I was in NYC I discover the Downtown Connection, a
free bus that goes from Southstreet Seaport to City Hall. It makes many stops but you can pull the cord for an unscheduled stop.  The shuttle bus runs seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The sign can be easy to miss but it is on the same pole as the bus signs and just says “Downtown Connection.” Most visitors to NYC don’t know about; and, it is handicap accessible.  There are many interesting stops along the way.  I used it on my last two trips to NYC.

There is a lot to learn in the Downtown area about the diversity of NYC; and many of the places are free. On a previous trip I took the bus to the last stop on the West Side where I visited the African Burial Ground.  During the construction of a federal office tower more the 15,000 intact skeletal remains of enslaved and free Africans who lived and worked in colonial New York were unearthed. The Burial Ground dates from the middle 1630s to 1795. Currently, the Burial Ground
is the nation’s earliest and largest African burial ground rediscovered in the United States. Today the site is a National Park with an area called the Ancestral Chamber created to bring to mind a slave ship; plus graves with the remains and artifacts of 419 Africans. There is an indoor visitor center but it was closed when I was there but the Outdoor Memorial is always open and free.  

On my most recent trip I took the Downtown Shuttle to the free Irish Hunger Memorial. The memorial is designed to represent the rural Irish landscape with an abandoned stone cottage with stone walls much like it must have been when so many left Ireland to immigrate to the New World and escape the Great Irish Famine. There is a fallow potato field and
flowers from the Connacht wetlands.   There are stones for all 32 counties. An app helped me locate the stone from County Galway where my husband’s parents came from and where his cousins still live.  On the outside of the memorial there are stones inscribed with words that tell about the history of the famine and about world hunger today.  However, I found them hard to follow.  The view from the top is great. 

Another stop on the Downtown Shuttle is the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian so it; too, is free.  It is located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House. The museum is extensive with hundreds of permanent objects on display, multi-media exhibits, live presentations, and much more.  Current holdings include all major
culture areas of the Western Hemisphere, representing virtually all tribes in the United States, most of those of Canada, and a significant number of cultures from Middle and South America and the Caribbean. 

 On my way to South Street Seaport to buy theater tickets I passed the Museum of Jewish Heritage.  It is a memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust. I didn’t know about it; had I, I would have made plans to visit. Next time! There is a fee. 

South Street Seaport is good place for lunch and where I like to buy half-price Broadway theater tickets because there is usually no line and I can get them a day ahead time which has not been the case with TKS in Times Square. Saw one of my favorites plays - “Chicago.”