Finding picture perfect postcard views on Prague’s Charles Bridge isn’t difficult, but during the peak hours of the tourist season you may need to check yourself and be a little patient.

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“Is it always this crowded?” I asked an arts and crafts vendor on one of the Czech Republic’s iconic and top tourist attractions. It was a little after ten in the morning, and the flow of visitors on the pedestrian only bridge above the meandering Vltava River was in full force.

“Oh, this is not so bad,” she laughed and went on to explain how during the months of June, July, August, and even well into September the Karlov most, as it is known locally, is flooded with wave after wave of tour groups. Good for the many artists and crafts vendors and local economy, bad for the casual strollers.

“Early morning or late in the afternoon are the best times to see the bridge, I think,” she added. She was right both with respect to the crowds as well as the best lighting for photography, digital or otherwise.

Until about 10 a.m. and perhaps a little after five in the afternoon, the bridge offers up some spectacular views of Prague’s hill top Vysehrad castle, the historic river that runs through the heart of the city, and the gothic bridge towers that guard the adjacent old town in fine photographic light.
Just keep in mind that once the many tour groups surge over the centuries old walkway you may find yourself swimming with or against the tourist tide and your only safe bet will be to hug one of the bridge walls until the sauntering deluge subsides.

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However, you can make the most of your wait by taking in the impressive and unique work of local arts and crafts (there’s talent here), the ubiquitous and kitschy souvenir stalls, and one or two talented jazz or Dixieland bands belting out lively tools near the center of the bridge. The pause also provides you with a chance to get your bearings and take in the rich Bohemian flavor that the bridge and the city have to offer.

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It’s a short walk to the Old Town square and Prague’s famous Astronomical clock, the Tyn Church, Jan Hus memorial, St. Nicholas church, and the many outdoor food and wine stalls, and cafes and wine vendors that line the large square.

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Hang out in front of the Astronomical clock a minute or two before the hour and wait for the 15th century mechanical show or the line of Korean couples taking their wedding photos at the site.  For a more modern touch stop by the John Lennon wall on the north side of the bridge and take in the impromptu art, graffiti, and tribute to the late Beatle. While Lennon never actually visited the site, hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists have since his death, leaving notes or flowers to the songwriter and singer who wrote, sang and championed to, `Give Peace a Chance.’

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Finally, there’s this: when you visit the bridge and the city make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. Avoid heels or trendy but slippery leather soles. The well worn and winding cobblestone streets that lead to the bridge and the uneven stones on the bridge itself can make for a hazardous walk for the unsuspecting strolling sightseer.

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Avoid a stumble, sprained ankle, or face planting fall as you wonder how the stylish and chic Czech women seem to artfully and effortlessly negotiate the problem in high three inch heels.

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h well, there are some mysteries in life that man is never meant to resolve but only ponder over with a great Czech beer in one of the most scenic cities in the world. That too, you can find at either end of the bridge or anywhere in Prague. Cheers! Or in the local vernacular, na zdravi!

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There’s no place like Santa Barbara; it’s the paradise getaway that everyone seeks. Residents love it; film people love to live here, and filmmakers locate to film here. Every year the highlight of the city is the Santa Barbara International Film Festival
(SBIFF), a spectacular Winter event. The 27th SBIFF welcomed film lovers, stars, professionals and visitors from everywhere for a whirlwind 11 days of distinctive traditional tributes, awards, panels and all day ongoing films. Savvy Festival Director Roger Durling’s imminent choices of honorees were the talked about Golden Globe and Oscar buzz winners for the year’s best performances in films.

 

The city was immersed in everything film with Film Feasts at local eateries and Film Sleeps from budget inns to boutiques hotels, B & B’s to luxury resorts. The coveted SBIFF Pass is the ticket to pleasure. The best way to enjoy the coastal charm of
Santa Barbara and the thrill of the film festival is to reserve a Film Sleep and a Festival Pass. You know it’s SBIFF time of year with the banners and posters decked out on State Street, the main street of the city and the searchlights at twilight directing everyone to the historic Arlington Theatre. Opening night was a mega sold-out event, red carpet with no ribbon cutting, just a warm welcome from Board President Douglas R. Stone and Festival President Roger Durling, in the presence of Mayor Helene Schneider and other City dignitaries, celebrities and the stars of the evening with sponsor Lynda.com. The 2012 Opening Gala started with a bang as Director Laurence Kasden premiered his new film, written by Kasden and his wife Meg, “Darling Companion” with stars Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton signing autographs for cheering fans. Everyone got a kick out of loveable dog Kasey, who plays Freeway, the lost dog and focus of the film. Opening night after bash was filled with music, tastings, wines from local vineyards and more at the beautiful Paseo Nuevo courtyards.
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Kevin Kline & Diane Keaton

Every day is movie day at the SBIFF, so I adorned my Pass and headed for the Metro Theatre on State Street for films by day and for tributes by night enroute to the Arlington. Multi-award winner Viola Davis was the headliner for “Outstanding Performer of the Year.” Her riveting performance as Aibileen, who revealed social injustices, as amaid in the 60’s, to a white journalist writing a tell-all book in “The Help” caught everyone’s attention.
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Everyone was thrilled the SBIFF honored the amazing career of 82 year old, Christopher Plummer, for his five decades of acting in theatre, films and Television. He was presented the highest honor the “Modern Master Award” by director Mike Mills of Santa Barbara. Plummer has received continual accolades in Mills’ film “Beginners” depicting the life of his late father, former Director of the Santa Barbara Art Museum and his Gay life change at age 75. In addition, Plummer is presently receiving nods for his character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
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Academy Award winner director, writer, producer, film preservationist Martin Scorsese has been a major influence on American Cinema. He wowed everyone with his stories and revelations including 3-D clips of his latest hit “Hugo.” He received the “American Riviera Award” from the film’s actor Sir Ben Kingsley, referring to Mr. Scorsese as ‘the consummate storyteller.’
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It was unanimous that the French stars of the award winning silent film “The Artist,” depicting a 1927 bygone musical drama, starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, dazzled Santa Barbara. This irresistible duo and their writer/director Michel Hazanavicius converged on the “American Rivera” for the “Cinema Vanguard Award.” And the “Virtuosos Award” went to the year’s favorite outstanding performers: Damian Bichir, Rooney Mara, Patton Oswalt, Melissa McCarthy, Andy Serkis and Shailene Woodley.
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Film Feast tableside is wining and dining at Santa Barbara’s best eateries: At past festivals, I have enjoyed Olio E Limone, Blue Agave and Kunin Winery. Feasting for filmgoers was a Fixed Price -3 Course tasting Meal, prior to getting off to the movies. There are seasonal specialties for this special fixed price feast. Dining in Santa Barbara is always a popular past time and there were plenty of participating restaurants.
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I was delighted this SBIFF 2012 to dine at The Paradise Café, 703 Anacapa Street, 805-962-4416. It’s just minutes from the movie action with lots of local charm, perfectly located right off downtown State Street. The proprietor was none other than City Councilman Randy Rowse, who took time to welcome us to his home town comfy café and let us know this is the only eatery in town with an oak wood grill. You can be sure the oak flavor gives a tasty edge to their high quality meats and fish. We dined on the Film Feast 3-Course Menu. Course #1 Oak Grilled Artichoke with marinated roma tomatoes, Course #2 Double Cut Pork Chop with Logonberry mustard for me and Scottish Salmon basted with olive oil and herbs for my friend-delicious generous portions, Course #3- Dessert: Paradise Pie, everyone’s favorite, a semi-sweet chocolate mousse with expresso butter cream icing and cookie crumb crust, definitely a winner. We liked the ambiance and the Santa Barbara upscale trendy style here and the hopping bar with the signature Paradise Margarita. We fe;t we must return for the famous Paradise Burger, which is described with raves. Dine here for Lunch and Dinner and Sunday Brunch.The Paradise Café is definitely worth a visit, and don’t forget to say hello to Randy Rowse.
Film Sleeps – After an eventful film day, decide where to stay. Curl up on the “American Rivera” with many lodging options, which range from budget Best Western Plus to numerous Inns: East Beach inn, Harbor Inn, Lavender Inn or downtown hub at The Santa Barbara Hotel, as well as B & B’s like the Simpson House or enjoy top of luxury at the Four Seasons, The Biltmore Santa Barbara or beautiful Bacara Resort & Spa.

 

Film Package Deals include a 2-night stay, complimentary breakfast and dinner for 2 at a fine restaurant, plus a 4-film mini-pack, starting at $479. The candor of filmmakers at the notable producers, directors, writers and women’s panels was worth the price of the tickets. Successful in their fields and their films nominated for Academy Awards, they gave advice and
inspired attendees, who were aspiring in the respective fields. A visitor to Santa Barbara is also able to go sailing in the morning on the Santa Barbara coast or explore Santa Barbara’s history with a visit to the ‘Queen of the Missions’, the Santa Barbara Mission and the historic Santa Barbara Court House; this is certainly the essence of Santa Barbara.
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As the SBIFF 2012 came to a quiet end, I reflected on films that made a difference to me: “Samsara,” a photographic world phenomenon of people and places by Ron Fricke, the documentary “West of Memphis” based on injustice in Arkansas, where three boys went to prison for a crime they didn’t do and the French (Quebec) winning film “Heat Wave,” which caused four
people to interact leading to a tragedy. Banners came down and another great SBIFF festival came to a close. Get to Santa Barbara and the SBIFF any way that works: by air to LAX or Santa Barbara Airport, by car or Greyhound Bus via Freeway 101 or direct via Amtrack Train, car free. Festival passes range from all access to limited access depending on fees, which are partially tax deductible. Tickets can be purchased for films, tributes and panels individually.

Noted for its charm, and its French style pastries, a visit to Victoria, British Columbia doesn’t disappoint. Victoria is a great walking city with different neighborhoods offering different pleasures. Lower Johnson Street combines colorfully painted historic buildings with local shopping, restaurants. Nearly all estimated 40 businesses are locally owned.
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The Inner Harbour is the premier strolling area of the city. It’s home to the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and places to enjoy the activities of the harbor. Head to Government Street for more shopping and dining. Kids may not be interested in shops, but they might enjoy the Victoria Bug Zoo. At the other end of town, stop by Chinatown. It’s small, but offers Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada – as well as Dragon Alley.
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Major Standout Attractions
The dream of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch (which means “rocky oak place” in Gaelic) was completed in 1890 and filled with stained glass, intricate woodwork, and plush Victorian-era furniture. Subsequently it functioned as a military hospital, a college and now the Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Museum.

The Royal BC Museum offers an introduction to the richness of the history of British Columbia. Guided tours are available of First People, Natural History, and Modern History tours or join the Highlights Tour with a taste of each. Admission to the IMAX Theatre is extra. Don’t miss the third floor history gallery and First Peoples Gallery. Be certain to walk through their impressive outdoor totem pole collection towering over Thunderbird Park, and the kids will love it, too.

Located on Vancouver Island about equidistant from Victoria and Vancouver, no visit to the area would be complete without spending the day enjoying Butchart Gardens — easily one of the finest on the North American continent.
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Food and Lodging
The Chateau Victoria Hotel & Suites is highly recommended. The suites are huge and the hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the city, but just off a main street so it isn’t noisy or congested. Stop and admire the statue in front of Clive Piercy, owner of the Chateau Victoria Hotel and Suites and his beloved dog Shaker.

Have breakfast at Willie’s Bakery & Café. It’s the oldest bakery in Victoria, and you can even sleep in the two guestrooms upstairs in a heritage building in the neighborhood called LoJo — Lower Johnson. An alternative for a lighter and more casual but quite excellent breakfast is Murchies at 1110 Government Street. There’s plenty of seating, including comfortable chairs and low tables for a sitting-in-the-living-room feel. They serve breakfast (quiches, muffins, croissants, scones), lunch and of course their teas (their coffee is good, too).

For take-away light meals and pastry for any and all occasions — there’s one total standout. Patisserie Daniel (1729 Cook Street). The feather light mushroom and Parmesan quiche with a hint of a crust was delicious. Their almond chocolate croissant had me swooning.

There’s no shortage of tea shops, but one standout is Silk Road Tea on the edge of Victoria’s tiny Chinatown. Silk Road’s newest offering is tea and chocolate pairings. The chocolate is locally made artisan chocolate. One pairing was Peach Paradise – a peach black tea – with a smoked caramel dark chocolate flavored with Lapson Suchong. Unique, delicious, intriguing.

 
Getting To and From Victoria
You can fly in to Victoria International Airport and then a cab or a shuttle into the city. If you’re in the pacific Northwest, you can take Black Ball Ferry and have your car right there for excursions — including driving to Butchart Gardens. Their Port Angeles terminal is just a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle, WA.

Regardless of how you travel, remember that if you are an American citizen you will need your passport to enter Canada and re-enter the USA.
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As a consequence of the innovative thinking of Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg and others, the 20th century bore witness to the concept of found object as visual art becoming a mainstream European and American medium of artistic expression. In the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca, itself known for quality, cutting edge art, found object has received attention over the past 20 years. Take for example the masterful works of Damien Flores, the collages produced by Rodolfo Morales during the final years of his life, and young Mixteco artist Manuel Reyes’ use of archaeological pieces as well as local sands and soils as aids in expressing the strong sense of indigeneity he seeks to impart through his art.

Oaxaca’s 16 native cultures, the diversity of its landscapes and climatic regions, and its rich human history beginning with pre-Hispanic times, continuing through the era of the Conquest, to ongoing 21st century human struggles, provide a diverse, ultra – rich proving ground. Within it, visiting and resident artists, tourists with a bent towards antiques and collectibles, and both expat and native born Oaxacans who are inclined to think out-of-the-box, can readily encounter found objects to incorporate into their aesthetic lives.
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Contemporary Manifestations of Found Object as Visual Art

A found object within the context of visual art may be defined as the artistic use of an object, man – made or otherwise, which has not been created for a predominantly artistic purpose. It can be a toaster, a shoe, a car part, a beaded jacket, a newspaper, a simple tool or a farm implement, a leaf or stone, a wrestler’s mask, a clump of clay, or a Coke bottle – empty or full. One can designate three broad categories of found objecst which are then transformed into the realm of art:

An object encountered by chance or sought out by design, for the purpose of using it essentially “as found,” to enhance the aesthetic environment of a home, an office, a store or other workplace environment, or a landscape. Of course it can be a featured artwork in an exposition (i.e. Duchamp’s seminal display of a ceramic urinal in 1917) which eventually finds its way into one of the three foregoing contextual environments or as a permanent gallery exhibit.

An object or objects encountered by chance or sought out by design and incorporated into a traditional piece of art such as an oil or watercolor for the purpose of enhancing its overall aesthetics, or the imagery its author seeks to impart, or both (i.e. Manuel Reyes’ use of potsherds). Objects are usually sought out by design for the purpose of employing them to create a specific art form, which may or may not include a utilitarian function (i.e. rusted horse shoes made into a wine rack or polished old metal car parts fashioned into a twirling ballerina).
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Found Objects in Oaxaca for the Expat Resident and Tourist Alike

Artists resident in Oaxaca should have no difficulty advancing the breadth and quality of their works within the realm of the last two categories noted above. They already have a trained eye and a mind yearning to continually grow in different directions with a view to keeping the art fresh, both on a personal level and for their benefit of public consumption. It’s the availability of the broadest selection of Oaxacan material culture, objects which can be used “as found,” which should attract the attention of non – artist expat residents and tourists alike. The case can be made within the following parameters:

1. Middle and upper classes have an eye for a different and often broader continuum of objects which they deem aesthetically pleasing, than working and lower classes.
2. There is a much larger per capita middle and upper class in the United States and Canada, than in Oaxaca, of which a significant segment of the former is inclined to visit Oaxaca.
3. It’s relatively difficult for members of those same two classes in Oaxaca, having grown up surrounded by and conditioned to ignore much of their day – to – day material culture (indigenous or otherwise), to appreciate its aesthetic value; they are accordingly less interested in its acquisition.
4. Based on the foregoing, relative to the American and Canadian phenomenon over the past 50+ years, found objects in Oaxaca have only to a minor extent become deemed collectibles.
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The Transformation from Found Object to Collectible

When an object becomes a collectible, its acquisition price tends to increase exponentially. The first time an American saw a discarded or stored away pine foundry form, he probably picked it up for free or at a nominal charge (perhaps its value as firewood). After he took it home and then cleaned and oiled it and put it on the wall in his den, he began using the found object as art; a piece of wood used to fabricate industrial metal, now adorning an upscale contemporary household.

Foundry forms became collectibles, offered for sale in antique stores and interior design galleries. Much in the same vein, old working wooden duck decoys have been transformed from utilitarian hunting paraphernalia into thousand dollar (and indeed much more) adornments of fireplace mantels; and wooden tongue and groove Canadian Butter and Southern Comfort boxes initially used to transport product from manufacturer to market have become aesthetically pleasing receptacles to store kindling for those fireplaces.

These days one rarely picks up a foundry form, a decoy or an old wooden advertising box “for a song” because each has been transformed into a class of collectible. In Canada and the United States, and it is suggested throughout most of the Western World, a solitary found object as visual art is virtually non – existent outside of the context of being offered for sale as art, folk art or otherwise for interior design purposes. On the other hand, objects found for the purpose of either incorporating them into a traditional art form (newspaper comic clippings, potsherds, shoe laces) or fabricating a piece of art using only that class
of object (the car part ballerina), will be easily encountered for generations to come, bought outright based on non – aesthetic value, scrounged on the street, or found in a junk yard and purchased by the pound.
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Found Objects in Oaxaca Still in Abundance for Aficionados of Art & Aesthetics

Insofar as Oaxaca remains a developing state, with a middle / upper class contingent as previously described (small, generally unconditioned to appreciate a certain level of aesthetics), its realm of collectibles has not reached the level one encounters in the Western World or even within the Mexico City environs. This provides interesting buying opportunities for visitors to Oaxaca.

Although in each of the three or four downtown Oaxaca antique stores one does encounter found objects, these particular objets d’art have been transformed into collectibles over the past few decades and in some cases merely years (stone metates or grinding stones, well worn ritual masks, pine votive candle holders, chango mezcalero clay painted mezcal bottles, etc.). However, by getting out of the city and knocking on villagers’ doors and even simply walking along dusty roads, visitors can still stumble upon a treasure trove of found objects which when brought home to be givien proper placement and juxtaposition are easily transformed into visual art.
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Of course residents of Oaxaca are not restricted in the size or weight of what they choose to transform, nor by customs and immigration rules. Hence, one might find in their homes, now as art, an old rusted iron plough adorning a well landscaped garden or a pine mule saddle, riddled with tiny holes evidencing a period of insect infestation, now gracing an interior wall of a new home, draped with colored twine and worn leather parts, all as originally found in a farmer’s shed.

Indeed the traveler on a brief visit to Oaxaca can also return home with a bounty of found object art. The big old rusty plough and the well worn wooden saddle are found objects which today complement the aesthetics of this writer’s Oaxacan home.

Opportunities abound to find smaller found objects, manageable for export, to transform into art, simply by exploring villages in the state’s central valleys. Examples? Just keep a keen eye and remember to think out-of-the-box.

I arrived in Durango a week too early for the fall colors. Still, I got to see them in the Circle of Life panorama at the $38 million Southern Ute Cultural Center in Ignacio. Standing in the center of a panorama, surrounded by the orange and persimmon colored trees, listening to the calm voice of an elder telling the story of the Ute Indians transported me to a time when man lived in harmony with Earth Mother. I could almost feel the breeze as it rippled across the Pine River and see bronze warriors riding bareback across rust-colored meadows in search of game.
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The Utes say that “When a man moves away from nature his heart becomes hard.”
Seven tribes of Utes called “Blue Sky People” by other Native Americans occupied the San Juan Mountains from about 1500AD until they were displaced by swarms of gold-hungry miners in the 1800s. The cultural center with its unique architecture resembling a bird’s nest in the center with two wings that serve to enfold and embrace the visitor opened in May 2011. Local timbers and boulders were used in its construction to remind us of our connection to the land. Extensive collections of historic photographs, exceptionally beautiful woven baskets, ceremonial dance regalia, and numerous artifacts are on display along with storytelling videos.

The stop at the cultural museum before heading out on the San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile loop that links Durango, Mesa Verde, Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton greatly enhanced my explorations of the region. Lynn, owner of Rimrock Outfitters in Mancos stopped our ride under her corner of blue sky to point to Sleeping Ute Mountain lazing on the horizon. The giant warrior resting on his back with hands folded on his chest is held sacred by the Utes. They gather at the base of the mountain each winter to perform the Sun Dance.
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The Tribal Mountain Ute Reservation abuts Mesa Verde National Park, famous for the elaborate dwellings carved into the cleft of canyons by the Anasazi or the Ancient Ones. Unlike the sedentary Anasazi, the Utes lived in tipis and were nomadic hunters and gatherers so the only structures to explore on their tribal lands are those of the Anasazi who left the region in about 1250 AD. However, there are numerous petroglyphs and wall paintings left by the Utes in the 125,000-acre park. Half- and all-day excursions can be arranged through the Ute Mountain Museum and Visitor Center twenty miles south of Cortez.
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Following in the footsteps of the Utes, the scenic skyway turns up the verdant Delores River valley through four mountain passes to high country meadows and their summer hunting grounds. The sparsely populated river corridor was once home to 10,000 native peoples. The Anasazi Heritage Center ten miles north of Cortez houses a rich collection of artifacts. Each spring the Utes made the stiff climb up the canyon to Lizard Pass passing beneath stark Ophir peak to welcoming San Miguel Mountain Park. How happy they must have been to return to this valley framed in staggering snow-capped peaks streaked with misting waterfalls. Meadows flushed pink with flowers and shrubs heavy with ripe berries awaited their return. Plentiful elk, deer, and other wildlife made this a land of milk and honey for the Utes. Today the park is home to Telluride the gentrified Victorian village famous for black diamond ski runs and its many festivals.

When the Spanish arrived in the San Juans in the 1600s, the Utes were able to trade the bounty they enjoyed with the Spanish for horses. The “magic dogs” gave them a tremendous advantage over other tribes and enabled them to remain the dominant force in the region until gold was discovered here in 1860. The Tom Boy Mine sitting above Bridal Veil falls at the head of the box canyon overlooking Telluride was the site of one of the richest strikes in the San Juans. The Utes were no match for the thousands of miners who came here despite daunting winters to seek their fortune. The boisterous mining towns of Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton sprang up overnight. The legacy of the miners who brought prosperity to the region are hundreds of miles of trails inter-connecting the mountain towns enjoyed by hikers and mountain bikers and 4WD enthusiasts.
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The Skyway turns east over the Dallas Dive to neighboring Uncompahgre Mountain Park and the hamlet of Ouray-the sweetest spot in the San Juans. Mt. Abrams, a Matterhorn look alike, stands guard over the hamlet framed in an amphitheater of rose-colored cliffs. The mountain tribes congregated here each spring to perform the Bear Dance, a ceremonial rejoicing that lasted many days. The healing waters of natural hot springs were favorite resting places of the great Chief Ouray. Today, clothing optional Orvis Hot Spring with eight pools in lushly landscaped grounds is a favorite of locals. A more family-oriented hot swimming pool is beside the Visitors Center in Ouray. The trailhead to the newly completed Perimeter Trail that overlooks “little Switzerland” with stops along the way at triple-tiered Cascade Falls and not-to-be missed Box Canyon with its magnificent formations carved in basement rock is across the street from the pool.
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Chief Ouray was chosen to be spokesman for the Utes in Washington. He is credited with having saved his people from massacre by signing the Brunot treaty in 1873 that ceded away millions of acres of his mountain home to the U.S. government. This led to the migration of the Utes to reservations and the end of their nomadic existence that flowed with the seasons connected to Sky Father and Earth Mother. Visitors may learn more about the Ute people and their history at the Ute Museum in Montrose or in the Ute Room at the Ouray Historical Society.

The stretch of the Skyway between Ouray and Silverton traverses the treacherous Red Mountain pass famous for avalanches Here the world is ethereal, wild, and pristine. Ragged, stark peaks glare down upon puny mankind unmoved by the scratch marks made by early miners in their flanks. At this lofty elevation, fall had arrived. I descended into the volcanic caldera where the tiny berg of Silverton rests. The iron rich waters ran pumpkin orange, adding to the autumn bouquet of lemon yellow willows lining the creeks and rusty sedges in the meadows. My heart softened at the wild beauty of the place. My thoughts drifted like the white clouds floating above to the Blue Sky People and what they lost.
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The bones of Chief Ouray who saved his people from a war they could not win are buried in Ignacio near the cultural center. Unlike many Native Americans, the 1,400 Utes who live on the reservation in Ignacio are prospering. Wise use of their natural resources and a thriving casino that generates revenue allows continued efforts to keep their stories, dance, songs, and celebration of the Circle of Life alive.
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Photography by Yuri Krasov

For a spoiled Californian, softened by the temperate climate of San Francisco, Hong Kong can be too hot and humid, but it’s also cool, just like the City by the Bay. Behold a slow yellow boat cruising Victoria Harbour between Wan Chai and Kowloon, as bright as a flower against a hazy backdrop of Hong Kong hills and man-made structures.
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The mirror-walled skyscrapers and high-rises create the most gorgeous cement jungle in the world, interspersed with public parks, ancient temples, and urban playgrounds. In the city of banks, international brands, and grand hotels, the governing system is conducive to economic prosperity, market competition, and bustling trade.
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“I am cool,” states a subway ad for bottled water, and you can’t help but feel how cool the most visited city of Asia is, with its enormous crowds, mighty traffic, and busy streets. Rules of the road are reinforced in the form of gentle reminders, also in English, written right under your foot ready to step into the traffic: Look Left or Look Right, so you won’t get killed by a speeding bicyclist or a double-decker bus.
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Tourists are encouraged to follow the rules everywhere. A wall of Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road bears several well-executed signs in red and gold, prohibiting smoking and photography, and warning about slippery floors, steps, and naked flame. One of the oldest historic buildings in Hong Kong is the Old Wan Chai Post Office on Queen’s Road. Opened in 1915, it stayed in operation until 1992 and currently serves as a resource center for the Environmental Protection Department.
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This small white building, modestly decorated with architectural detailing, wraps around the street corner, and climbs up along the steep street, losing its first floor on the incline. On the back of the L-shaped structure, there is a staircase, a serene garden with a bench, and more architectural details. As a declared monument, the building is supplemented with a graphic sign, featuring an unshaven mug behind bars and bold and underlined words, “No pissing, no spitting is allowed.” The coolest and the longest in the world at 2624 feet and 8 inches, the Midlevel Escalator runs through the city like through a giant shopping mall in the north-south direction, passing a cool hangout district of SoHo with European restaurants, bars, and art galleries.
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Across Victoria Harbour, in Kowloon, one of the coolest places is the Walled City Park, with trees and ponds, fountains and pagodas, a sculpture garden, an aviary, and a banyan grove. Big hotels, overlooking the water, are always welcoming for a short stop at one or another bar or lounge for a needed cool down and refreshment. An elegant tea service is appreciated by the tourists and locals alike.
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After a day of exploring, a not-to-be-missed adventure is taking a vertically moving tram to the Peak Tower Sky Terrace. It offers the most amazing views of Victoria Harbour just in time for the nightly Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest permanent light and music show that plays out on the walls of more than 40 tallest buildings on both sides of the harbor. From the sea level, the show is best observed from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade in Kowloon, on the southernmost tip of the peninsula.
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While leaving Hong Kong, expect some more surprises at the Chek Lap Kok international airport built in 1998 on Lantau Island. This cool metallic sculpture looking like a giant drop of mercury is found in the departure area.
Plan your visit to Hong Kong at: www.discoverhongkong.com.

My love affair with New Orleans began when I was a student at Tulane University. Peel and eat shrimp, oysters on the half-shell, gumbo, beignets and muffaletta became standard fare. Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Louis Prima and Fats Domino appeared nightly in French Quarter clubs. Food and music are the foundation of the Big Easy. It was heady stuff for an 18 year-old college freshman. In my opinion, there is no city in the world of its size that has better food or music. On this return trip (one of many), my goal was to intertwine dining experiences with sightseeing over a three day period.

After my wife and I arrived, we made a pilgrimage. “Breakfast at Brennan’s” features an ala carte or a three-course prix-fixe menu. The latter is my recommendation. We started with two of their specialty drinks, a Creole Bloody Mary and a New Orleans Gin Fizz. Baked apple with double cream was followed by hot French bread and their signature dish, Eggs Hussarde (poached eggs atop Holland rusks, Canadian bacon, topped with Hollandaise sauce). Save room! Banana’s Foster, a Brennan’s creation, is served for dessert. Once you’ve eaten here you understand why the place has been a favorite since 1946 (www.brennansneworleans.com).

A French Quarter self-guided walking tour, using a brochure provided free by the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, was our next agenda item. Wandering the French Quarter reminds you of the history of this special city; homes and commercial buildings from the 1800’s, the St. Louis Cathedral and, of course, Jackson Square (www.neworleanscvb.com).

Night brought us to Jon Besh’s Domenica Restaurant in the iconic Roosevelt Hotel. We started with torta fritta (fried pizza dough), followed by the chef’s selection of house-cured salami, imported cheeses, marinated olives and roasted vegetables. We shared a brick-oven baked pizza and lasagna Bolognese. Dessert was gelato topped with a shot of espresso. The relaxed atmosphere plus great food is a winning combination. Note: In January 2010, New Orleans CityBusiness magazine honored Chef Alon Shaya and Domenica as Culinary Connoisseurs’ Best Executive Chef and Best Casual Upscale Establishment of the Year. (www.domenicarestaurant.com).
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Since the goal was sightseeing between courses, we headed to Preservation Hall after dinner. This is home to the New Orleans Jazz Band, where the city’s top musicians jam seven nights a week. There are a few rows of benches and some pillows by the stage but, otherwise, it is standing room only in a funky, no-frills building originally built in 1817. It’s traditional jazz at its best. . (www.preservationhall.com)
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The following day, we went to the National World War II Museum. It features 3,500 oral and video histories from veterans and Home Front workers. Additionally, more than 100,000 artifacts are on display. The Solomon Victory Theater’s Beyond All Boundaries is shown on a 120-foot wide “immersive screen.” It’s a dramatic, high tech experience and a moving tribute to the bravery of the “Greatest Generation” who fought to secure freedom for America and the world. Note: Military in uniform and veterans get in free. (www.nationalww2museum.org)

Within the museum is another John Besh restaurant, The American Sector. It features an eclectic menu. From their “Snacks” column, we chose fried chicken gizzards (fabulous!), rabbit pate, shrimp cup with aoli sauce and smokey lamb ribs. This was followed by meatloaf, fried soft-shelled crabs served over cheesy jalapeno grits, and crab and sausage stew. Dessert drew us to the homemade Twinkies and warm apple turnovers with ice cream. It’s fun and kid-friendly; a perfect pairing with the museum. (www.nationalww2museum.org)

A shopping break took us to Riverwalk Marketplace. The mall features a half mile of local and national shops, dozens of restaurants and regularly scheduled special events. (www.riverwalkmarketplace.com)

Evening brought us to Besh Steakhouse in Harrah’s. Our starters included BBQ shrimp and sweet corn and crab bisque followed by locally grown heirloom tomato salad with onion vinaigrette. Then steaks – a roast ribeye with peppercorn sauce and filet of beef tenderloin. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, dessert was served including bread pudding with Irish whiskey ice cream and toffee sauce, plus a molten dark chocolate cake with brandied cherries and vanilla ice cream. Memorable feasting at a Besh restaurant is the default. (www.chefjohnbesh.com)

The following morning, found us at the daily jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, another New Orleans institution. Although it has the French Quarter’s largest outdoor courtyard, it retains a charming, romantic ambience. A trio played Dixieland jazz while we loaded and reloaded our plates from their buffet, featuring an array of soups, salads, eggs dishes, a carving station and local favorites (shrimp, crawfish and ribs). Their in-house baker turns out wonderful mini bagels, French bread, buttermilk biscuits and cornbread. The dessert table was laden with a variety of fresh fruit, cakes, pies, bread pudding and home-churned ice cream with praline or chocolate sauce. The experience can be described in one word: delightful. (www.courtoftwosisters.com)
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We strolled to the French Market. It includes historical monuments, public art, shops, performance venues, restaurants, cafes, flea and farmers markets and great shopping. Don’t miss Aunt Sally’s Praline Shop and be sure to sample freshly made Creole pralines. (www.auntsallys.com and www.frenchmarket.org)

Later, we walked to the Entergy IMAX® Theatre, part of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. We watched the dramatic movie Hurricane on the Bayou which shows the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana’s vanishing wetlands, the survival of the region and the ongoing post-Katrina drama. (www.auduboninstitute.org)

We dined at 923 Meson. It is a small, elegant but casual bistro located in a beautifully restored building. It features a diverse menu, excellent wine list, a half dozen specialty drinks and expert and attentive service. Combining Spanish, French and New Orleans influences it delivers an outstanding product. We split oysters on the half shell, seasonal greens, duck with papperadelle pasta and filet of beef. Don’t miss the owner’s mom’s coconut flan or the frozen chocolate mousse for dessert; both sublime. Just go! (www.meson923.com)
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It was time to return to our hotel, the newly renovated Omni Royal Crescent Hotel, in the central business district just two blocks from the French Quarter, to pack up and head home. Here’s a travel tip: sign up for Omni’s Select Guest program and immediately receive benefits including wi-fi, airline miles, bottled water, express check-in and check-out, newspaper, and turndown service to name a few. (www.omnihotels.com)

Safe travels, enjoy the journey and “Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)!

Even in the depths of winter, Wichita, Kansas, is an inviting destination. My wintry escape included a traveling Broadway show, museums, dining, a Cowtown Christmas and quality comfort in an expansive historic Hotel. Over the decades, I have seen several theatrical events at Century II, Wichita’s modern convention and entertainment venue, and it was my starting point in planning my weekend get-a-way. Having never seen the show and needing a humorous musical entertainment, I booked a ticket to see the traveling, “Young Frankenstein.” It was performed admirably, and despite the inevitable comparison to the movie, it held up rather well as an evening’s respite from reality.
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The convenience of my hotel stay at the Drury Broadview Hotel, across the street, added to my pleasure as did the perfect meal at its adjoining restaurant AVI. My filet was prepared to my directions as was the three blue cheese olive Stoli Martini, which got the evening off to a fine start. Completing the meal it was hard to choose from the dessert offerings of: Carrot Cake with German Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate and Orange Vanilla Cream Brule, Apricot Almond Goat Cheese-cheesecake, or a Chocolate covered Cranberry Chipolte bread pudding with Mixed Berry ice cream. But I did.

Besides the complete renovation of the Drury’s interior, the free extras of Internet, a hot buffet breakfast, the offerings of 3 free cocktails at their evening breakaway ~ complete with heavy additional treats that might include hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and nachos ~ made the reasonably priced stay even more of a pleasure. Of course the pool, exercise room and hot tub along with covered parking let you know you were an appreciated guest.
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The highlight of my weekend’s theatrical entertainment was the surprise virtuosity of the Diamond W Wrangler singers at the Empire House Christmas Dinner at the living history Old Cowtown Museum. Their close harmonies ~ reminiscent to the “Sons of the Pioneers”~ along with tongue in cheek humor and a sufficient western style meal made the evening worth the effort to venture out in the cold. I was there during a Santa Claus visit, with his lap a venue for good little girls and boys, along with singing in the western church ~ complimented by guitars and dulcimers courtesy of the Great Plains Dulcimer Alliance and Acoustic Treasures ~ and wandering in the moonlight over boardwalks past wooden storefronts and Victorian styled houses lit by kerosene lamps, set the stage for a congenial wintry outing.
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Wichita has a number of exceptional museums and galleries, including the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum with its authentic recreation of an 1890 Wichita Cottage; the work in progress Kansas Aviation Museum with its collection of everything aviation; the Museum of World Treasures with everything from pre historic dinosaurs to Hollywood movie memorabilia, and the Wichita Art Museum where I saw the traveling exhibit of “Supremes” gowns. While the gowns have traveled on, check out their web site for current exhibits.
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A visit to Hat Man Jacks, in the historic Delano district, will custom fit your head to the appropriate covering for comfort, utility, and most expertly for an appealing appearance. Jack is the couture of men’s hats. He also has an extensive knowledge of early Wichita, and his stories are not only educational on frontier Chisholm Trail times, but entertaining. Ask him to tell you about the Amazon Run, in the bawdy days of Delano, when it was a rough and tumble cowboy respite at the end of the Chisholm Trail.
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And there is more to share of Wichita, yet space doesn’t allow, so please explore :

www.gowichita.com and asking for their visitor guide.
Drury Plaza Broadview – https://druryhotels.com/content/broadview.aspx
Wichita Historical Museum – www.wichitahistory.org
Diamond W Wrangler singers – www.diamondWwranglers.com
Wichita Art Museum – http://wichitaartmuseum.org/
Hat Man Jacks – www.360wichita.com/ClothingApparel/HatmanJacks.html
Kansas Aviation Museum – http://www.kansasaviationmuseum.org/
AVI – www.360wichita.com/Restaurants/Steakhouses/AVI.html
Century II – www.century2.org/
Museum of World Treasures – www.worldtreasures.org

Every year thousands of visitors from around the world come to Quebec City to enjoy the festivities of one of the world’s most enormous winter festivals. Quebec Winter Carnival is ranked among the world’s top ten best winter festivals and is considered one of the world’s 1000 must-see destinations.Parades, rides, attractions, sporting events, dog sledding, dining, ice sculptures, ice buildings, skating, skiing, snow shoeing and more create a world class vacation destination in one of North America’s most majestic cities.
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Flying into Quebec City at Jean-Lesage International Airport is hassle free. The magical and historical city of Quebec is transformed into a winter wonderland worthy of a movie or fairy tale. Music, events, dining and activities abound that celebrate Carnaval. Bonhomme, the snowman, is the mascot whom visitors revel in spotting and meeting throughout the city during the Carnaval festivities. We stayed at the Hilton Quebec which was within walking distance of everything the picturesque city offers. This proved invaluable. We enjoyed dog sled races and show shoe races and live bands on the Plains of Abraham. The Carnaval Day Parade rivals the Macy’s Parade and is a must see with dozens of gigantic inflatable characters including Bonhomme.
Also one magical evening we were enchanted by a lovely ice skating session just blocks from our hotel at Place D’Youville where folks of all ages skate under gently falling snow to music. Bonhomme arrived and everyone went wild with excitement. It was like a scene out of the movie with the beautiful and historic buildings and lights framing the rink. One highlight was a guided Snowshoer’s Walk on the Plains of Abraham where our entertaining guide dressed in period costume, narrated and sang with us while weaving a tale of the history of the area.
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Just a few beautiful miles from Quebec City is Le Nordique, a gorgeous spa retreat where couples can enjoy massages, hydrotherapy pools and more, all amongst majestic mountain backdrops and frozen rivers and lakes. A beautiful hotel property nearby, Le Manoir du Lac Delage offers sumptuous meals and gorgeous views. We spent the afternoon eating a simply wonderful lunch and partaking in a fun outdoor activity called Rand Orientation where, on snowshoe, participants hunt for markers in the forest from coordinate clues and a compass. It was a wonderful way to see the back country and exercise while testing our skills.

Also nearby is the Wendake nation’s hotel and museum. Home of the first inhabitants of the Americas, this village is very intriguing. The four star hotel, Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations, blends tradition and culture of the Wendake native people. The food is a cultural experience where delicious native foods like smoked sturgeon and seal are extraordinary. And home baked breads made by native grains like bannique bread made with wild berry corn and flour are tantalizing. The foods are prepared by native peoples or by elders using generations-old techniques. Local cheese and locally crafted adult beverages make this so unique and delightful. Even the herbs used to prepare the foods, over 90 of them, are locally produced.
The entire community is full of historic and educational buildings and a walking tour is a must.
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Also just outside the city of Quebec we enjoyed Montmorency Falls Park where we took the grand cable car ride up the mountain to a spectacular historical and natural wonder. These falls are higher than Niagra Falls and simply amazing. Quebec City is an immensely romantic destination and perhaps there is no better time to visit than during Carnaval. Another novelty of the Quebec City area is the Hotel de Glace just a few miles from the city. To learn more about the Hotel de Glace you can read more HERE.

Carmel is the editor of Roadtripsforcouples.com and you can hear her every Sunday at noon talk about her travels on KJAY 1430 AM in Sacramento.