Sep 16, 2014

Visiting Schools while traveling

There are many places where students go to school six days a week
including the school I visited near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Interestingly they only have classes five of the days.  On Thursdays they clean the school and work in the garden where they grow food that is used for their lunch. When I entered the fourth grade classroom all the students stood up.  After greeting them I said that they could be seated. My guide said, “No, they must stay standing as a sign of respect to their guests.”  Oh, my, I can talk for a long time.  I noticed they had their math books open to a page of problems similar to what I saw when I visited a school near my house.  

I do school programs in the United States and in many of the countries we visit.  Visiting schools is a great way for me to meet the local people and learn about their customs.  What we learn in foreign countries we then share via presentations here in the United States.  Some schools are very modern such as International Schools but in most countries there is a wide diversity in the quality of education.  I was surprised when I visited an
International School in Yangon, Myanmar.  The students were dropped off by their parents in new cars just like here in the United States.  In most international schools all subjects are taught in English. There were familiar signs in the school such as “Don’t run in the halls” and the school was decorated for Valentine’s Day.  
We also visited schools in the remote part of Myanmar where the one classroom was made of bamboo with three walls.  Most of the students wore the traditional longyis, a waist-to-ankle wraparound “skirt.”  The girls’ longyis were more colorful than the boys. I noticed one boy had on blue jeans.  He must have thought he was stylish in his Western-like outfit but the truth is that the longyi is better suited to hot, humid Myanmar. 


In many Asian schools we have visited English is being taught.  In some the more remote schools the teachers had an extremely limited command of English but taught the words they knew so we would do an impromptu English lesson.  Tourism plays an important part in the economy of many countries and the language of tourism and business is English so those with a command of English have the opportunity to get a decent job. 

Some things that are the same world over: All students have to sit in
their seat, listen to the teacher, do their work, and afterschool they like to play with their friends.  Schools around the world are interesting in their differences. In a city school in Laos the students stood in line by grades in the yard for morning announcements made by the principal on a megaphone.  At the end she mentioned all the students who had not been doing their work. Many of the remote schools, especially those in Buddhist monasteries, know that visitors will leave a donation that is much needed. Buddhist schools are free and often offer the best education in some areas.

One school we visited in China was for students who went to Chinese schools during the day but in the evenings they attend English language schools. There were one thousand students just in this one location. 

Sep 9, 2014

Tailwater Lodge in Altmar, New York

John and I loved many things about Tailwater Lodge.  I love old buildings that have found new life as something entirely different.  Such is the case of the Altmar Elementary School. This is the third school turned hotel we have stayed at but the only one that is not even remotely recognizable as a former school. School-to-hotel is not a quantum leap. They have a lot in common: halls, rooms, and a kitchen making the adaption easier.  I read a little about Tailwater Lodge before our visit but it still caught me off guard. I never expected to find one of the finest hotels in Oswego County in Altmar. I was impressed – very impressed.  

Every aspect of the property has the stamp of quality. My first impression was of the well landscaped lawns with the tree-lined tailwater as a backdrop.  Tail water refers to the water immediately downstream from a hydraulic structure such as a dam, bridge or culvert.  In this case it is down river from Bennetts Bridge Hydroplant. Through the trees I could see the sun sparkling on the water so I took the short trail to the water’s edge. The scenery along the tree-lined water is bucolic. My husband thought he might like to go fishing again someday. This would be the place to do it.  The hotel rents everything one needs for a day of
fishing at a reasonable rate except for the license but they are easily obtainable locally. New York State had a license-free weekend at the end of June. Anglers staying at Tailwater Lodge have private access to 2000 feet of the best stretch of the Salmon River and, to sweeten the deal, it is only a short walk from the accommodations, restaurant, and bar. When I went into the hotel and saw how posh it was I tried to imagine fishermen trodding in with wet, muddy waders.  Not to worry, there is a wader washing station. 

Tailwater Lodge has its own guide who can arrange everything and it doesn’t have to be fishing. Tailwater is a destination resort and while the area is a mecca for anglers during fishing season and a hotspot for snowmobilers during the winter months there is much more to experience.  Bird lovers and hikers have plenty of trails to explore. White water rafting is nearby.  Not to miss in the area is the beautiful Salmon River Falls and the Salmon River Hatchery.  The Lodge hosts interesting events including the recent Uncorked Canvas that paired wine and painters,and recently a musical group performed under a tent on the expansive lawn.

It is not necessary to be an angler, hiker, bird watcher, or any other nature lover because when I was there people came for the bucolic atmosphere and diner.  The restaurant in the former gym is beautiful with a great bar and the one-time stage is now home to a unique,
specially made pool table.  The meals, as one might expect, are excellent, which is only one reason to visit.  The accommodations are comfy and luxuriously appointed with rustic touches creating a relaxing getaway for a night or more.  John and I can’t wait to go back.  I am imaging a beautiful fall evening, or maybe a wintery evening with gentle falling snow, sitting around their fire pit eating s’mores. Tailwater Lodge would make a great fall driving trip. For more information check tailwaterlodge.com.

Sep 1, 2014

Seoul is the bustling capital city of South Korea and an excellent gateway city to the rest of South Korea and Asia. The techie, prosperous city has been called “The Miracle on the Han River” due to its transformation from the destruction caused during the Korean War to a thriving city. These are my favorite things to do in Seoul.

1.Bus Tour: Get acquainted with the city on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. The ticket is good for the day and can be purchased on board. There are several routes to choose. Board at 9 a.m. and take it once around deciding what to get to visit. The Downtown-Palace Course is probably best for first-time visitors. 
2.Best View: For the best view of the city head to N Seoul Tower with a 360 degree city view and 32 LCD screens that relate the 600-year history of Seoul. The revolving restaurant offers excellent views. It is a place for romantics based on the Locks of Love on the nearby fence. 
3.Gyeongbokgung Palace: Built in 1395, was the first royal palace built by the Joseon Dynasty, three years after the Joseon Dynasty was founded. It is located in the heart of the city not far from where the city bus tour starts.  Give yourself at least an hour to stroll around the pavilions and halls within the palace's spacious walled grounds. 

4.Changing of the guard: In ancient times the royal guards protected the Gwanghwamum Gate.  The 20-minute impressive ceremony is reenacted several times a day with the beating of the giant drums and guards in full regalia.  Every effort has been exerted to keep the ceremony authentic. It is a rare chance to get a glimpse into a traditional event.
5.Folkloric Museum: Explore 4000 years of Korea history at the National Folkloric Museum. Learn about the Korean way of life throughout the years. The open-air exhibition area includes jangseung spirit posts to which villagers prayed to ward off disaster.  The museum also offers a variety of classes are offered from martial arts to paper crafts. 
6.Free walking tours: Seoul offers nine free walking tours in seven
different areas offering insight into Korean culture and history. Options include tours of the palaces, city walls, gardens, and Hanok Village.  
7.Shopping: Today the word “Gangnam” is associated with a style of music but is an area known for shopping where there is everything from designer items to vintage clothing.  It is a favorite area of the young and fashionsitas.

8.Cruising: The Eland Cruise offers several short cruises on the Hangang River. It is a great way to relax while enjoying the scenery around the river that flows through Seoul. There are themed cruises with music, magic and/or lunch or dinner. 
9. Food: One of the best ways to experience a culture is by taking a
cooking class. O’ngo Food Communications offers cooking classes, restaurant tours, and even one on how to experience street food. There are cooking classes for the beginner and professional along with a Halal class. 
10.DMZ: The best way to experience the Demilitarized Zone, one the world’s most infamous borders, is on group tour. The guide offers information on the DMZ, the Joint Security Area and the opportunity to enter the Third Tunnel of Aggression said to be one of the ways the North Koreans planned to invade the South.


Aug 25, 2014

A Chocolate Walking Tour of Boston

Whenever John and I visit a new area we check to see if they havefree tours, Global Greeters, culinary experiences and/or chocolate tours.  While the culinary experience and chocolate tours are not free they add an interesting facet to our travels.  When we were in Boston we signed up for the Back Bay Chocolate tour offered by Boston Chocolate Tours, (www.bostonchocolatetours.com). It is just one of their tours.  They also offer shopping that includes chocolate stops and cupcake tours.  It is all yummy. 

The Back Bay area is a trendy area lined with unique shops, popular restaurants, and Victorian architecture.  It was once an area that had stagnant pools of tidal water and horse stables. The bay was filled in and the surrounding area developed in the late 1800s.  It is now compared to 5th Avenue in New York City. It is a great area for a walkabout even without the chocolate as the area is home to Copley Square, the Prudential Center and the Public Library. 

On Saturday morning, the only day of the week the tour is offered,
we met at Hotel Chocolat, a trendy European cocoa grower who manages the production of chocolate from bean to bar. The tour group is limited to 16 but our group was smaller. There was a group of young ladies who were just starting a long day of fun things to do with and for the soon-to-be bride.  There was also a married couple and the tour was a birthday gift for the wife – what a “sweet” idea. The others were just chocolate lovers. 

After we gathered in the private tasting area of Hotel Chocolat we learned about the production of chocolate from bean to the bar.  Inside the large cocoa pod are the chocolate beans surrounded by a white mucous substance. Chocolate only grows in the tropics and the children in that area suck on the seeds calling them “poor-people M&Ms.” Interestingly, the shells are now being marketed for making tea instead of throwing them away.  Hot water is poured over them creating a refreshing energy-boosting tea.  After the informative chat and a melt-in-your mouth dark chocolate truffle we headed out on the leisurely 2.5 hour, 1 mile walk, but first we stopped outside Hotel Chocolat for a cupcake – chocolate, of course.  A great way to promote their chocolate tour. 

One of my favorite stops was at Teuscher Chocolatier where their
signature chocolate delight is their Champagne Truffle that uses the finest chocolate ganache – of course – infused with Dom Perignon champagne. Teuschers is a Swiss company that started in 1932 and has had a presence in the United States for over 40 years. We were told the Teucher Truffles should be kept at a low room temperature, about 68 degrees, and best if consumed within 10 days which brought a chuckle from all of us because they would never last ten days! We visited several chocolatiers and stopped at Ben & Jerry’s where we learned about
Fair Trade which is an important element in Ben & Jerry’s and most chocolatiers.
Fair Trade is a social movement with the goal to pay a fair price to producers in developing countries to help them achieve better conditions and to promote sustainability. Think about it: Awesome, while we were eating chocolate and ice cream we were helping those in Third World countries. 


Aug 18, 2014

War of 1812 Peace Gardens

It is so easy to drive by places day after day and not notice what is along the way. In my case it was the 1812 Peace Garden on Oswego’s Leotta-Seaway Trail Park. I knew about the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail because when John and I were in Batavia we visited theirs.  Volunteers were busy planting new flowers.  They had box lunches which they offered to share with us. Another wonderful person-to-person experience. 

When I returned home I did some research on the Peace Gardens and learned that the War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail commemorates two hundred years of peace and friendship between the United States and Canada. Our shared border is the world’s longest undefended border. The 1812 commemorative gardens are part of the International Peace Gardens established in 1992 in Canada to promote global friendship and international understanding. The history is fascinating. During WW II Canada offered a safe haven for the Dutch Royal Family. During their stay Princess Juliana gave birth to a daughter, Margriet. That day the Canadian Parliament declared the hospital wing where she
was born to be Dutch territory so that one day Margriet would be able to inherit her country’s throne. She is currently eighth in line of succession. Each year the royal family sends thousands of tulips to show their gratitude. In that same spirit of friendship Ottawa gifted the United States with a tulip garden. There are International Peace Gardens in many countries. Each year an International Peace Garden is dedicated in a city around the world to recognize the contributions that the city/country has made in making the world more peaceful. Their motto is “Let the seeds of peace begin here and spread throughout the world.”

The War of 1812 Commemorative Gardens are an outgrown of the International Peace Garden movement. There are 17 War of 1812 Peace Gardens along Lake Ontario at places that were significant during the War of 1812. The garden route covers more than 600 miles. It is only right that there is one in Oswego where so many significant events of the “Forgotten War” took place.  Oswego’s was developed in 2003 by City Engineer Anthony a. Loetta, the Jay Saternow family and several community volunteers. It is part of the Leotta-Seaway Trail Park and the Oswego Harbor Rail Trail with a pedestrian Bridge that spans the Oswego River and continues on to Fort Ontario. 

The creation of a pedestrian walkway out of the defunct rail tracks
is a wonderful way to connect the city for walkers and bikers. It is a great reuse of property.  The Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie opened to the public in 2009 and is a popular place for biking, hiking, and walking with over three million users since it opened. Many events have been developed to raise money for its upkeep. Because of its elevation it offers great views of the Hudson River and the countryside. There are historic panels along the way. 

One of the newest walkways is the one-mile High Line in New York City on the elevated former NY Central Railroad spur. It is on my “Gotta’ Do” list. Meanwhile I will enjoy Oswego’s. There are informational signs on the edifice between the garden and the walkway over the river.  The edifice is designed to look like a railway station so there are lovely benches.  

Aug 11, 2014

Check out Global Greeters for a free tour

Global Greeter Network, www.globalgreeternetwork.info, is a
wonderful way to find a free person-to-person tour.  Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much they volunteer to give free two-hour tours. They take visitors to parks, shopping, or lesser known neighborhoods. Greeters are not professional guides so Greeters do not take their guests to museums leaving that to professional guides. 

Big Apple Greeters in New York City started the first program of its kind in 1992. They offer tours of many neighborhoods in all five boroughs.  Several years ago we signed up and had a wonderful walking tour of the heart of New York City.  The guide explained fascinating details about the buildings and their architecture.  On my next visit I’d like to explore DUMBO, an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, an area that was once a hub of industry in Brooklyn. 

Big Apple Greeters was our first Greeter experience since then we
have enjoyed meeting Greeters in Chicago, Adelaide (Australia), and Buenos Aires (Argentina). In Buenos Aires we asked Alberto Levin, our guide, to take us to places associated with Eva Peron of “Evita” fame. Sr. Levin was a real help because we had dropped our camera and he took us to a Pentex repair place that would have been impossible to find without his help. 

On our recent trip to China we signed up for a Greeter tour in Chongqing. We wanted to learn about hot pot and other street food.  When we were in Beijing in the 1990s we had hot pot and loved it. The broth was on the table and we went to a buffet to pick out what we wanted to put in the pot. When we were in Chengdu, China a few years ago we went into a traditional hot pot restaurant thinking we would know what to do but hot pot has modernized. The tables now have a recessed hot plate for the hot pot and guests choose what they
want from a menu.  The menu was in Chinese and even though the staff was very helpful we did not share a common language so we never quite figured out the fine points of eating hot pot modern-style.  Nick, our Chongqing Greeter, arrived at our hotel, the InterContinental, with two young ladies.  We were the first to sign up with the Chongqing Greeter Program so I think they were unsure what to expect and there is safety in numbers.  They were all college students and proficient in English.  


The InterContinental is located on a pedestrian street lined with high-end shops but they knew exactly where to find a traditional food court.  It was just down the street but we would not have found it on our own. Like all malls there was a variety of food from grilled corn to dim sum.  The hot pot table had a recessed area for the hot pot which was divided into spicy and mild broth – the ying and yang of hot pot. The menu of items to cook in the hot pot was in
Chinese so Nick ordered for us. We preferred vegetables but they preferred the organ meats. With hot pot everyone gets to eat what they prefer because the items are served on a plate and diners dunk the items in the preferred broth. When it is cooked it is time to enjoy it.  Another great Greeter experience. 

Jul 29, 2014

A luxury eco-resort in Honduras - Las Cascadas


Several years ago when we were in Honduras, John and I stopped to see a new luxury ecolodge outside of La Ceiba called Las Cascada Lodge.  I fell in love with it.  It is nestled in the rainforest surrounded by trees and flowers. The rooms, there are only three of them, have a view of the jungle waterfalls. There are several cascading falls each with a small pool at the bottom that is big enough to swim in. The hotel also has a swimming pool. I always
wanted to stay there and finally this time we did. Everything about the lodge is first rate including the construction which makes use of natural materials. I walked up the well-built stone steps and crossed the short wooden bridge to the second level and luxuriated in the pool. I tried to image it during the rainy season when the waterfalls and pools have more water but even so it was wonderful swimming surrounded by the rainforest.  I went in the pool below the lower falls too. We were the only people at the lodge it was serene. Olvin was our personal chef.  

In the morning Olvin made us a traditional Honduran breakfast: Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs ranch style) with refried beans, cheese, Honduran spicy sausages called “chorizo” and tortillas. Of course, Honduras coffee is a must.  I find Honduras coffee very smooth and the caffeine doesn’t seem to bother me. I watched Olvin make the eggs and thought he had the easiest method I had ever seen. 

Huevos Rancheros
1 tomato
Half of a green chili
4 cloves of garlic
3 small sprigs of cilantro
1/4 white onion
Salt to desire
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp salsa
1/2 tsp habenero pepper (optional)
A bit of sugar
Black pepper

Place all the ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.
Seasonings can be adjusted to personal taste.  Pour into a sauce pan add a little Tabasco sauce if desired. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add eggs, cover and cook for about 20 minutes until eggs are cooked. 

After breakfast a nother couple checked in and headed out on a river rafting trip on the nearby Congreal River. Olvin served us a wonderful lunch after which Ryan, the General Manager, took a group on a Waterfalls Descents and Canyoning Tour. Their trial descent was on the waterfalls just in front of the lodge.  It looked like a lot of fun. Las Cascadas is for sale what a wonderful family compound it would make.

John and I hated to leave but we wanted to check out another
place – La Ensenada Resort near Tela, and only 75 minutes from the airport in San Pedro Sula. The resort is an all-inclusive and similar to Palma Real Resort near La Ceiba but not as extensive; however it is only seven years old so there are expansion plans.  The resort was excellent with a
great pool, long beach, well-appointed rooms, and the buffet meals were very good. I think all trips should end with “me” time so I spent my time around the pool. The resort is busy on weekends but virtually empty during the week.  My husband visited Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, which is one of the largest tropical botanical gardens in the world.  It was established in 1926 by United Fruit Company to see what fruit and hardwood trees would be best for Honduras.