Nov 30, 2015

Visit the Mohammed Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky

When John and I were in Louisville, Kentucky a friend suggested
we visit the Mohammad Ali Center. Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in visiting a museum devoted to a boxer but the museum was a wonderful surprise. The museum is located on the waterfront in a three-story building with a unique design. The tour starts on the third floor with a five-screen multimedia presentation called “If You Can Dream.” It provided an overview of Ali’s life and explained his six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, giving, and spirituality. It lays the groundwork for understanding Ali and the museum’s displays. Not only does it preserve the legacy of Mohammed Ali but inspires people to release the greatness within. 

Mohammed Ali certainly displayed confidence which caused some people to consider him an egotistical braggart.  And, I guess, he was but it becomes more understandable when I learned that Ali’s self-esteem and demeanor gave new confidence to black Americans during the Civil Rights era. Changing his name from Cassius Clay to Mohammed Ali makes
perfect sense when he explains why, not the least of which was the fact that Cassius Clay was a slave name. And, of he became a Muslim because he said, “The word 'Islam' means 'peace.' The word 'Muslim' means 'one who surrenders to God.' But the press makes us seem like haters.” I like his quote, “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams - they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do - they all contain truths.”

Ali was right when he said, “After me there will never be another Mohammed Ali.” He always carried a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If,” in his wallet for inspiration. I had to rememorize in school. I reread it and it certainly has thoughts to live by. Ali is known for touting his boxing prowess with his now famous quotes: “The Greatest,”  “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” and “If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologize.”

One of the aspects of Ali’s life that I knew nothing about was his dedication to helping others. Ali is known as one of the greatest boxers of all time but his humanitarian side has received almost no press coverage; in part because he believes that charitable acts are a human obligation and should not be bragged about or broadcast. He said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”  The Giving Pavilion gives an insight to this aspect of his personality. In 1998 Mohammed Ali was appointed UN Messenger of Peace. He spoke out against Apartheid and “… brings people from all races together by preaching "healing" to everyone irrespective of race, religion or age.”  He has supported relief and development initiatives and has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to hospitals, street children and orphanages in Africa and Asia.

While John and I were there I watched a group of seventh grade students as they learned the aspects of “The Greatest.”  I could tell they were impressed but the part they enjoyed the most was the interactive exhibits where they could try their skill with the punching bag and learn basic boxing techniques from the video by Ali’s daughter, Laila.  His professional career is highlighted by a video projected on a full size boxing ring. Today his fight continues as he battles Parkinson’s disease. 

Nov 23, 2015

Exploring canals with Blount's Small Ship Adventures

I have always been intrigued by rivers. The Hudson, Mohawk, and St. Lawrence Rivers made NYS the Empire State. The waterways were used by the Native Americans, explorers, armies, and settlers. Not only was it a key to the development of New York State but to the expansion of the United States;
and, it still is. Traveling the length of the NYS’s waterways was at the top of my bucket list.  I didn’t think it was possible until I learned about Blount Small Ship Adventures’ “Locks, Legends, and Canals.” The two-week trip from Montreal to New York City via the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario, NYS Canal System, and the Hudson was a dream come true.  For two weeks John and I made our home on the Grande Caribe, a purpose-built vessel designed to make it through the narrow and shallow waters of canals. 

On our first stop, Quebec, we signed up for the four-hour excursion of Quebec City, with a walk in Old Quebec and other highlights of the city including a side trip to Montmorency Falls, which is higher than Niagara Falls. In Montreal Blount provided a shuttle into Old Montreal where we wandered the cobblestone streets. 

While we were asleep the Grande Caribe set off for Ogdensburg going through three of the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The vessel is amazingly quiet.  In Ogdensburg, after customs, there was a tour of the Frederic Remington Museum. We had been there so John and I followed the Revolutionary War sign boards and learned about the city’s part in the war. On the way
to Clayton we locked through the Snell and Eisenhower Locks. From the St. Lawrence we were raised 570 feet to the level of Lake Ontario. Very impressive. We stopped for a tour of Singer Castle on Dark Island to learn how the rich and famous spent the summer in their “hunting lodge” with 28 rooms and secret passages. In Clayton we docked at the Antique Boat Museum where the staff was ready to give us a personal tour. 

I was hoping to traverse Lake Ontario from Clayton to Oswego during the day; but, alas, due to the winds we left late in the evening arriving in Oswego at 2 a.m. While in Oswego the crew lowered the pilot house so the Grande Caribe would fit under the “low bridges” of the NYS Canal System.  I was hoping the passengers would have a chance to see Fort Ontario and Safe Haven but we started along the Oswego
Canal at 7 a.m.  The weather was glorious and the leaves at peak.  We crossed Oneida Lake and continued on the Erie Canal with a stop in Rome so some of the passengers could visit Cooperstown.  I stayed aboard marveling at the beautiful scenery and serenity thinking that the people in cars and trains whizzing by didn’t know what they were missing.

At Troy the crew raised the pilot house signaling that we had completed the NYS Canal System and were heading down the Hudson River to NYC.  There were two excursions on the Hudson: Hyde Park and the fortress-like U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The weather was outstanding as we cruised passed by the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty to Pier 59.  On our last day we took the Blount-organized tour of New York City with time at the 9/11 Memorial.  An incredible cruise.

Nov 14, 2015

The Fairmont's famous Bed-In

One of the finest hotels in Montreal is the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth with a great location in downtown Montreal above the train station and Amtrak, the underground city, and within walking distance to the hop-on bus tour station. I think all hotels have stories that would make a fascinating book.  Hotels of the caliber of the Fairmont have seen the likes of the
Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Charles de Gaulle, Jimmy Carter, Harry Belafonte, and John Travolta. Hotels try to protect the privacy of their guests but one story the Queen Elizabeth Hotel is willing to share is the week-long Bed-In staged by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  It is where Lennon wrote and recorded “Give Peace a Chance.”On the way for a bite to eat at the Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar I noticed a wall-size image of the Bed-In. John and I enjoyed fish and chips while entertained by a pianist. Hotel staff was willing to share information about the famous Bed-In.

To protest the Vietnam War Lennon decided to stage a new non-violent protest – a Bed-In instead of the more familiar Sit-In. The first Bed-In was staged in Amsterdam and received wide coverage. The couple planned a second Bed-In in New York but Lennon had a legal issue and couldn’t return to the U.S. so on May 29, 1969 they ended at the Fairmont in Montreal. The couple grabbed world-wide attention during their week in bed in Suite 1742 where they spoke to over 150 journalists each day in an effort to get their message of peace out but the highlight of their stay was the writing and recording of “Give Peace a Chance.” Occasionally roses will be left anonymously by the suite’s door.

Today people can book the Fairmont’s Bed-In Peace Package that includes accommodations for one night, a Lennon CD that includes “Give Peace a Chance,” souvenir pajamas and nightgown, and breakfast at the Le Montrealais or in bed.  We had a wonderful room but, alas, the Suite 1742 but before we left the hotel John and went to get a look at Suite 1742.  As luck would have it just as we approached the door the housekeeping supervisor came out of the room and asked, “Would you like to see the Lennon suite?” “Of course!” I could feel the

mystical aura in the suite where the walls are decorated with press articles, a framed “Give Peace a Chance” with music and lyrics, and pictures of the couple. There is an interesting photo that includes a young girl, Gail Renard, who bypassed security and was then asked by Lennon to return each day to entertain Yoko’s young daughter. She later wrote a book about her experience.

A stay in Suite 1742 a must-do for dedicate Lennon fans. Other iconic Lennon spots include the 2.5-acre Strawberry Fields in NYC’s Central Park that includes the iconic black and white “Imagine” mosaic and named after the Beatles’ song “Strawberry fields.”  When John and I were in Prague we visited the Lennon Wall where in the 1980s the wall was filled with Lennon-inspired graffiti. The communist regime claiming it was the work of alcoholics, the mentally ill, sociopaths or agents of the West had it removed only to have it reappear. They gave up.

Nov 9, 2015

Mysterious and Historic Savannah

Savannah, Georgia, the oldest city in the state of Georgia, is
unique, historic and romantic that never fails to charm visitors. The riverside city has small, interconnected squares and oak-lined streets with dripping with Spanish moss making it perfect for ambling. Before visiting watch “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” “Forest Gump,” or one of the other movies filmed in Savannah. 

1.The history: Start at the beginning. The Savannah History Museum is housed in the old Central Georgia Railway passenger shed, a National Historic Landmark built in the 1850s. It affords an overview of Savannah’s history from its founding in 1733 to the present day.

2.On & off: The best plan is to make one full loop on an on/off trolley tour for a complete overview of the historic district before disembarking. The guides are full of interesting tidbits and local lore. 

3.A walk about: Walking tours abound dealing with a variety of topics from haunted pubs to the Civil War to architectural tours. Movie buffs will enjoy tours that highlight the films made in Savannah including “Forrest Gump,” “Roots,” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” 

 4.The traditional way: It is the time-honored way to see Savannah.  Consider a romantic nighttime horse and carriage ride when the gaslights twinkle and homes have their lights on affording glimpses of their interiors. 

5.The river is the thing: If it wasn’t for the river there would be no Savannah.  No visit is complete without taking one of several cruises on a replica paddle wheeler. Besides the traditional daytime narrated cruises there are dinner, gospel, moonlight, and “Whodunit” cruises. Take note of the Waving Girl. The riverside statue honors Florence Martus, who waved at passing ships for forty years waiting for her lover to return. 

6.Dimes for Daisy: Juliette Gordon Low called her friend and said, “Come right over! I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah and the world and we’re going to start it tonight!”  With those words the Girls Scouts began. The Low house is just one of many historic houses open for viewing.  Also open for touring are the Mercer House, the Isaiah Davenport House, and the Flannery O’Connor house.

7.To worship: The newly renovated Gothic Saint John the Baptist Cathedral is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Savannah and inspiring beautiful.  The First African Baptist, built in 1788 by slaves for slaves, is the oldest continuous black congregation in America. It was a refuge for slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad.   

8.To Remember: Colonial Park Cemetery is the historic burial ground where, Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence is reposed.  During the Civil War bored soldiers changed the dates on the stones so it appears that some people lived 100s of years and others died before they were born.

9.The arts: The best artistic expression in Savannah may be the architecture. But not to miss is the Telfair Museum of Art, the oldest public art museum in the south. Made up of three museums, each building offers a distinctly different experience. 

10.Dining: Start the day with breakfast at Clary’s, made famous in John Berendt’s book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Have dinner at Paula Deen’s and end the day at Wet Willie’s where high-powered frozen Daiquiris are dispensed like soft ice cream. 

Nov 3, 2015

Visiting Pres. Coolidge's hometown

Plymouth Notch is a very small town nestled in the quiet Vermont
countryside and is now a Vermont State Historic Site and the entire settlement is a Historic District. There is a Coolidge Museum & Education Center plus a restaurant, general store, a few other buildings, and an operative cheese factory. The village is virtually unchanged since the time when Coolidge lived there. Even though he spent most of his adult life elsewhere he often returned to the old homestead and never lost his fondness for Vermont and its people.

In the Museum Center we learn more about the life and times of Coolidge through interactive displays that personalize him for us.  A spry 80-year-old docent, Bill Tenney, gave us a guided walking tour of the village. Coolidge became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding, who died suddenly in 1923.  Coolidge took the oath of the office of president in the parlor of his
boyhood home by his father who was a Justice of the Peace. After officially becoming president he is reported to say, “Guess we
better have a drink.” With his wife, father and a few others they went across the street to Florence Cilley’s General Store where they toasted the occasion with Moxie. Moxie is a one of the first mass-produced soft drinks. It is not as sweet as modern soft drinks and it is still sold in the General Store. The store was built by Coolidge’s father and was in the Coolidge family until 1917. The post office was in a former carriage house
attached to the general store and was operational until 1917. Coolidge worked there at the general store and later became a partner in the business. As a boy Coolidge had regular chores such as filling the wood box and caring for the animals. During
that time families had a variety of enterprises to support themselves. The Coolidge family was no exception, besides the General Store, post office, and a small farm, the Plymouth Cheese Factory was founded by the Coolidge family. It was a way to handle the milk produced by the local farmers. On the second floor an exhibit details the story of cheese making in Vermont.

Historians have not always been kind to Coolidge but I love some of his quotes. “No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.” “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.” A plaque in the museum that has part of one of his famous sayings, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.”  Coolidge was dubbed “Silent Cal.” His terseness became legendary. One contemporary quipped, “He can be silent in five languages.” My favorite tells of a young lady who told the president that she had bet a friend she could make him say more than two words. His response, “You lose.” Coolidge, commenting on his quiet nature said, “I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.” He is buried nearby in the local cemetery with other family members. No big
elaborate tomb for a president who was considered frugal.

I developed an appreciation for Coolidge’s dry Yankee wit and frugality. The journalist, Walter Lippmann, said the political genius of President Coolidge was his talent for effectively doing nothing. What would he think of today’s government?

Oct 30, 2015

Visit Charleston on the way south

Heading south?  Consider stopping in Charleston on the way. Charleston has survived wars, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes - and despite it all, retained both her beauty and dignity. With more than 130 churches Charleston has been dubbed “City of Spires.”

1. Forever Charleston: At the Visitor Center the staff will book tours and help find accommodations.  It is home to "Forever Charleston," a 36-minute multi-image presentation that offers insight into the city’s history. Charleston's citizens tell about the city in their own words.

2. Museums: The Charleston Museum founded in 1773 is America's first museum. It has a replica of the Hunley and exhibits featuring the cultural, historic and natural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry.

3. Touring: The Gray Line city tour is the best way to learn about Charleston. Several tour options are available including one that offers the city tour plus a stop at Charleston’s Battery and a choice of a cruise to Fort Sumter or one around Charleston Harbor.

4. Fort Sumter: Decades of growing strife between North and
South erupted in the Civil War on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery opened fire on the Federal fort in Charleston Harbor. While waiting for the scenic boat ride to the island fort on-shore historical displays set the stage for a visit to the fort where the history is explained more completely.

5. Gullah: African American heritage, the Gullah culture, is an integral part of life in Charleston.  An estimated 40 to 60 percent of all enslaved Africans entered the United States through the Lowcountry. Gullah Tours offer an introduction to the African American culture with a stop at the workshop of Philip Simmons, Charleston’s most celebrated ironworker.

6. Churches: The Circular Church was organized in 1681. Fire and earthquakes caused it to be rebuilt many times until it reached its present configuration. Once a week, visitors are invited to “Yeddy dat music,” (Gullah for “hear the music”). During the free musical presentation visitors are encouraged to “clap yo’ hans’ an’ stump yo’ futs.”

7. Houses: The distinctive single-style houses with the long side porches called piazzas are found on homes of working-class families as well as the huge Grandes Dames of Charleston.  Rich or poor, most of the porch piazza ceilings are painted “haint” blue because it was thought to keep away the evil spirits. Many historic homes are open for tours includung the 1803 Joseph Manigualt House, which is a premier example of federal architecture.

8. The water: Besides visiting the fort and taking water tours, the
Hunley submarine and USS Yorktown are part of the history of Charleston and the United States.  The Hunley, a Civil War submarine, is housed in a specially designed tank of freshwater and tours of the USS Yorktown, a Ticonderoga-class ship operational from 1984 to 2004 are also available.

9. Plantations: The very words Charleston and Lowcountry evoke images of live oaks lining the way to columned plantation houses.  Explore the antebellum culture with a visit to one of the many plantations open for visitors, including Boone Hall and Magnolia Plantation.
10. Dining:  Seafood lovers will be spoiled for choices from white-tablecloth dining to the quirky Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, inspired by the film, “Forrest Gump.” The restaurant has a unique paging system consisting of two license plates on the tables marked "Run Forrest Run" and "Stop Forrest Stop," famous quotes from the film.

Oct 25, 2015

Things to see in Bonaire

The Spanish brought the donkeys to the island to use as draft
animals. When they were no longer needed the donkeys were set free to roam the island. They did not fare well. In 1993 Dutch Nationals, Marina Melis, and her husband, Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys. Currently there are about 600 donkeys under their care including newborns.  They provide food, drinking water,
medical care plus a free-roaming area.  Visitors are welcome to visit and interact with the donkeys for a nominal fee. The Special Care area is accessible by foot behind the visitor center but the highlight is feeding and interacting with the friendly animals on a drive through the sanctuary. This was one of our favorite stops on a drive-about on the southern part of the island.

The original inhabitants were the Caiquetios. Rock paintings and
petroglyphs from that time have survived in the island’s caves. The first Europeans were Spanish and then the Dutch. Control seesawed between them until 1816 when the Dutch took permanent control. To learn about the history and culture visit the newly upgraded cultural center in Rincon called Mangazina di Rei (The Storehouse of the King) where slaves were given provisions. The museum was closed for upgrading while we were there.  It is the best place to learn about the culture.  So sorry we missed it. 

Frommer’s rates Bonaire number one when it comes to scuba diving. The island is surrounded by reefs that are pristine and easily accessible. We don’t scuba but went out on the Divi’s dive boat and went snorkeling.  The waters of Bonaire have been designated as a National Marine Park so divers need to purchase a permit tag ($25 for scuba divers, $10 for Snorkelers).

It is almost always windy on Bonaire making it a mecca for wind
surfers and kite boarders.  John took some more kite boarding lessons. There is also a place for wind surfing Newbies can be wind surfing after a few lessons whereas kite boarding requires more lessons. Both locations offer equipment and skilled instructors.

Bonarie is a bird-lover’s paradise. The iconic symbol of Bonaire is the elegant pink flamingo. Bonaire is only one of four areas in the world where flamingos breed. The flamingos are shy so it is important to not get to close and disturb them. For picture taking a telephoto is a help. The best place to see them is Lake Gotomeer in the north and around the salt pans.  The breeding area is off limits. We saw flamingos but I was hoping to see a lot of them together.

In the evening we would sit at the end of Divi’s stone pier to watch sunset.  The sailboat, the Woodwind, offers snorkeling and sunset tours. One of my favorite evenings was taking their sunset cruise that included snorkeling and a great dinner.  

Hotels and most restaurants offer international fare including the fresh fish of the day.  There is even a Subway and KFC.  We like to try something new. In Rincon we visited the Cadushy Distillery where they use the cactus that is found all over the island to make cactus liqueur.  Posada Para Mira, also in Rincon, is one place to sample local fare such as goat stew. They also serve conch soup and, the more adventurous should try iguana soup.  It tastes like chicken but is very boney.