A few years ago, the fact that an island was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton would have elicited very little excitement. But now since the advent of the hit Broadway musical “Hamiliton,” Nevis is all of a sudden a must-see destination. The very first line of the musical leads you here: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean…” That spot would be Nevis.  But more on that later.

Nevis is the baby sister of St. Kitts, two tiny islands in the West Indies. St. Kitts is the more outgoing, gregarious of the two; Nevis, more shy and retiring. Whereas I won $100 at a casino on St.Kitts, the only things worth counting on Nevis are an assortment of goats, sheep, donkeys and monkeys. Lots of monkeys. But Nevis has a recent suitor -– the afore-mentioned Hamilton — who is making her irresistible to throngs of others. They’re known as tourists.

But before Hamilton brought history and fame to the island, that position was held by old sugar mill plantations. Sugar cane was king in the 17th-19th centuries, and what remains of several of the plantations are now housing all those Hamilton-seeking throngs. History begets history.

The Nisbet Plantation, the largest of the lot, has its own claim to history. Here, Captain Horation Nelson (later, Admiral and Lord), a British Naval hero, met Frances Nisbet, the daughter of the plantation owner. The wedding took place in 1787 at nearby Montpelier Plantation, also on our itinerary. But Nisbet, where remnants of the 18th Century plantation windmill greet you upon arrival, has its own wedding tradition: if you get married on the property — and there are very few more beautiful settings — they plant a coconut tree with your names on it. And of course you’re welcome to come back and visit any time. How’s that for a marketing ploy?

Nisbet, despite its sugar mill connection, is the most modern of the inns, with 36 rooms, each named after a local village, spread out over 30 acres. Its wealth of palm trees as opposed to profusions of flowers also sets it apart and it has the very real benefit of being the only plantation inn on the water.

Montpelier, the site of the Nelson-Nisbet nuptials, was turned from an historic ruin into an inn in the 1960’s. And it remains the lodging of choice for the current British aristocracy from Princess Diana to her son Harry when visiting the island. The beautifully landscaped, manicured property with profusions of color popping up everywhere mixes handsomely with the stone remnants of the sugar mill factory it once was. So much of the equipment is sprinkled around the grounds and enmeshed into the decor that you might not even recognize it for what it is unless you knew to look for it.

The current Great Room boasting original stonework from 300 years ago — as attested to by a series of lithographs on the wall — is where guests gather in the evening for canapés and drinks before moving on at their leisure to dinner. And what a dinner that is! Imagine dining in the only sugar mill in the world that houses a restaurant inside –- where every morsel is a history-laden, stone-studded candle-lit magical memory.

But even more history and magical edible moments await at the next sugar mill plantation/cum Inn. The Great House of The Hermitage Plantation, dating back to 1640, is said to be the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean and there is evidence that a processing mill was once below the house. And that’s just for starters. When Richard Lupinacci bought the run-down property in 1971, he recognized the value of the original Great House –- but it was when he chose to expand his home into lodging that he became really inspired. To make room for more guests, he moved eight old wooden houses from other areas on the island where they lay in disrepair. Each cottage, lovingly restored, promotes an old island feel, an authentic lifestyle not found in other more modern settings, making the property a living architectural museum. Adding to the authenticity is an old slave privy from the 1740’s sitting amidst the cottages. Fortunately, it is not still functional…

What is still very functional is the Wednesday night Pig Roast — a very big head-to-tail pig on a very large spit, to be exact. Sitting in the Great Room awaiting its theatrical entrance, I couldn’t help but reconnect with the plantation owners and their guests of yore who feasted on roasted pig and its many local dishes over 300 years ago. With a special shout out to the Johnny Cakes, of course…

So how do you decide which connection to sugar cane history to immerse yourself in – at the Inn? Want to be on the beach? Nisbet. Want to be surrounded by history in a cozy, intimate setting from the time you step foot on the grounds to the cottage in which you abide. The Hermitage. Want to be surrounded by profusions of color rivaling a botanical garden interwoven among the remains of a 300-year-old windmill –- that’s Montpelier.

But we were talking about Hamilton, yes? He didn’t stay at any of these inns but his own family’s plantation is still on the island, and at the time was the country’s largest. Much to the government’s chagrin, however, it hasn’t been restored. You can visit, of course, but to really connect with the renowned American — as everyone who comes to Nevis wants to do –- a visit to the Charlestown Nevis History Museum is required.

The museum doubles as Hamilton’s birthplace, where depending upon whom you ask, he was born in either 1755 or 1757, both dates repeated to me by multiple knowledgeable sources claiming definitive information. The museum building, like so much else in Nevis, was originally built in 1680. The history and culture of Nevis is enticingly displayed but of course, the piece de resistance is the Alexander Hamilton section, which chronicles his remarkable life, contemporaries, influences, accomplishments and impact on the history of the United States. Which, ironically, all of us are currently reminded of today every time we reach for a $10 bill.

Because he was brought up in the islands, he brought a very different perspective to American politics than his Founding Father cronies. His early life influenced his views on racial equality (having been born across the street from a slave trade podium which horrified him at a young age), economic diversity and financial stability — ideas that were considered very progressive in early American politics. Hamilton had more of an impact on American history and politics than most Americans realized before the advent of the Broadway play. Historical footnote: He was our first Secretary of the Treasury, and was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr in 1804.

If you have seen the show, you will fall in love with Hamilton all over again. If you’ve just visited the museum, you will want to buy tickets to the show — which unfortunately, I suspect, you can’t afford! A fact which I doubt Hamilton would have been pleased by. What would please him is everything else his early island home has to offer. For more information, contact nevisisland.com, montpeliernevis.com, nisbetplantation.com and hermitagenevis.com.

 

My wife Fern traveled for work to San Jose and I decided to go along in the luggage. Years ago, I had a work trip to San Jose and was unable to see the sites outside of the office – not this time!

San Jose, not San Francisco, is the third most populated city in California, after Los Angeles and San Diego. San Jose is situated within the Santa Clara Valley, which became known as Silicon Valley in the 1970s as home to computer hardware, software and high tech firms.

With technology as a backdrop, our first stop was to stroll through the campus of Google (called Googleplex) in Mountain View. The corporate headquarters resembles an upscale college campus, where Google employees – looking only slightly older than college students – played volleyball, worked out in fitness centers, ate at one of the many cafes and worked at stand up desks in open floor plan offices.  When we googled google, we learned that without an employee escort we could not go inside the buildings.  Instead we talked to several employees who told us about the bikes loaned to employees for traveling across the large campus, the free buses for employee transport home and how much they loved their jobs.

Within the valley, I strolled through three parks. The highlight of Overfelt Gardens (no charge) is the Chinese cultural garden which contains a series of statues, memorials and pagodas emphasizing Chinese culture and architecture.  A large statue of Chinese philosopher Confucius overlooks one of the park’s ponds.  Within a slightly run down area of San Jose, the park is easily accessible with street parking available.

Alum Rock Park ($6 for a day pass) offers scenic views of the valley and mountain ranges. I hiked along a flat trail parallel to a stream.  Along the trail I saw several black tailed deer and smelled hot mineral springs.  Throughout the park there are signs pointing out the park’s past glory days as a nationally known health spa.  Alum Rock Park itself is peaceful, but its facilities are in need of some updating.

On the site of former mines, Almaden Quicksilver Park (no charge) contains numerous hiking trails. At the base of the park, displays demonstrate the mercury (quicksilver) mining activities that took place on this site.  Also throughout the park are various remnants of mining structures.  I enjoyed a vigorous scenic hike within the mountain range.

In the evenings, Fern and I ate our way through San Jose. The lavishly decorated Moroccan restaurant Menara provided both entertainment and a feast.  The Casablanca dinner ($38/person) included 8 courses starting with Moroccan salad, ending with Baklava and Mint Tea, with chicken, fish and cous cous dishes in between.  To my surprise, the belly dancer induced me onto the floor.  The restaurant is lavishly furnished in Sahara style.

We spent several hours at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum ($9) which features an outstanding collection of Egyptian artifacts. The exterior of the museum is designed to resemble an Egyptian temple, including a peace garden authentic to ancient Egypt (with gardens and an ancient Egyptian board game).  One highlight was the 45 minute guided tour within a replica of an Egyptian rock tomb.  With the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the United States, we found the museum collective to be very extensive.  The free audio tour was useful to focus us in on key objects.

Finally, with San Francisco only an hour car drive away, we spend one full day in San Francisco, doing the one day highlights itinerary. We were joined by my daughter Danielle, who flew up from Los Angeles.  After riding the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf, we had lunch, bought chocolates at Ghirardelli Square and downed Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.

We ended our trip back in Silicon Valley in Mountain View, which has a nice row of international restaurants on Castro Street.

Photography by Emma Krasov; Friedrichstadt-Palast and Staatsballett Berlin press images

In the 1982 Hollywood classic “Victor, Victoria” Henry Mancini’s song stated the obvious, “Around the Rue des Beaux-Arts, where all the cabarets are… you’ll agree, what they mean when they say ‘Gay Paree’!”

Meanwhile, Gay Berlin surely holds its own. It actually mocks “Paree” in its Pariser Platz, named after the battle of Paris in 1814 that defeated Napoleon. This is also the location of the iconic Brandenburg Gate which became the symbol of German reunification after the Wall fell in 1989.

A walk along the historic Unter den Linden under the fragrantly blossoming linden trees will grant the views of classical sculptures next to new construction cranes, and take you to the major city sites, like Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island.

The best way to observe Berlin’s multiple monuments and architectural wonders is from a hop-on hop-off City Circle sightseeing bus that rides past the most important ones.

Berlin Victory Column, designed by Heinrich Strack in the mid-1800s to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, by the time it was inaugurated in 1873, acquired additional meaning after Prussia had also defeated Austria and its German allies in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and then France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 in the Unification Wars. These later victories were reflected in the addition of the 27 ft sculpture of Victoria, designed by Friedrich Drake.

The Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) is the red-brick town hall of Berlin, built in 1869 in Italian Renaissance style by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann is located in the Mitte district, where I was staying in a comfy and cozy Mercure Hotel Berlin Mitte, recognizable from afar by its wall-size “Berlin’s largest mural” on a side of the building.

 

Checkpoint Charlie (the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War of 1947–1991 can also be seen from City Circle bus that makes stops near all the sites along its route.

Or, take U-Bahn – the fast and efficient city subway to the legendary Friedrichstrasse (very much comparable to Rue des Beaux-Arts) with its world-famous revue theatre Friedrichstadt-Palast, or to Charlottenburg district – home to Deutsche Oper Berlin on Bismarckstrasse (you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction by the composers’ names written on U-Bahn station tiled walls). Walk through a tree-lined Schlossstrasse to Charlottenburg Palace with exquisite Baroque interior and impressive collection of art, surrounded by serene park grounds with a lake.

Friedrichstadt-Palast, where I watched the over-the-top glamorous “The One” Grand Show puts up the following statement signed by Berndt Schmidt, General Director: “Respect Each Other. As a theatre owned by the city of Berlin, the Palast has the utmost respect for all legitimate views and lifestyles… In light of its past, the Palast consciously advocates diversity, freedom and democracy. While democracy is far from perfect, it is the only form of government that allows both the majorities and minorities their freedom. Our history shows that freedom is not simply there – and it is often lost again more quickly than one would think. It must be asserted every single day.”

The Palast’s predecessor, the Grosses Schauspielhaus theatre was founded in 1919 by impresario Max Reinhardt, who engaged the amazing expressionist architect and interior designer Hans Poelzig, and artistic director Erik Charell.

The theatre foyer with layered fountain-like columns led to a cavernous, domed amphitheater with stylized stalactites. This vast grotto was dramatically lit with colored lights, and the ceiling was dotted with lights emulating the night sky. Lavish, risqué revues, typical of Berlin’s decadent 1920s nightlife, were being produced, until the Nazis came to power, and everything changed.

The building was seized in 1934, and renamed Theater des Volkes (The People’s Theatre). The spectacular vaulted dome was considered ‘degenerate architecture,’ and removed. Nazi propaganda shows were staged until 1945, when the theatre was damaged in a World War II bombing. Rebuilt and renovated in 1984, it became the flagship theatre of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) until 1990, and after the fall of the Wall, the Palast established itself as the first address in reunified Germany for extravagant and spectacular show entertainment. It continues to be Europe’s biggest and most modern show palace.

Being of Jewish descent, homosexual, and modernist, the original theatre creators, Max Reinhardt, Hans Poelzig, and Erik Charell suffered under the Nazi regime, and were memorialized in 2015, when the Palast inaugurated a sculpture dedicated to their achievements, depicting a stage spotlight, and placed next to the new building on Friedrichstrasse 107.

“Colors of Respect” poster designed by Zhoi Hy, became a symbol for the Palast mentality, inspired by the colors of the rainbow flag, designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It has since been a symbol of the LGBTI international community.

The abundance of rainbow colors spilled out onstage at the Palast current show, “The One,” set to run until mid-2018.

Directed by Roland Welke, with 500 costumes by the world star fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, lighting by Emmy Award winner Peter Morse, choreography by Brian Friedman, Craig Revel Horwood, and Marguerite Donlon, and songs by Daniel Behrens, Christian Lohr, Gregor Meyle, Maya Singh, and KT Tunstall, the show features Roman Lob and Brigitte Oelke as solo artists, and more than 100 of their colleagues from 26 nations.

“I have dreamed of working on a revue ever since I was a little boy; when I had seen the premiere of Folies Bergère on TV at my grandmother’s,” said Gaultier. “The following day, I got into trouble at school for drawing girls with feathers and fishnet stockings. But I also noticed that I was being admired for my drawings as I started to become more and more popular among my classmates. Now, more than a dream is coming true for me: The first revue for which I have designed the costumes takes place in Berlin. This city defined the cabaret of the twenties, and the Palast is a place with a rich and eventful history, having reinvented itself more than once. I am flattered and honored to be a part of this production.”

“Only in dreams, on stage, and in movies, everything is possible,” said Welke. “That’s why I want to combine these elements; the three-dimensional images of theatre, the cross-fade and slow-motion effects used in the film industry and the endless possibilities of dreams that are not limited by natural laws. A rushing stream of images, where everything changes and nothing stays the same.”

On my short two-day visit to Berlin I was lucky to catch a Staatsballett Berlin show “The Sleeping Beauty” by Tchaikovsky, performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Berlin’s new State Ballet Company – Staatsballett, founded in 2004, was created by merging the previously independent ballet companies at Berlin’s three opera houses. Today, it’s acknowledged as one of the world’s leading ballet companies performing in three venues – the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Komische Oper Berlin, and the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater. Starting with the 2014/2015 season, a renowned choreographer and director Nacho Duato took over as Artistic Director of the Staatsballett Berlin, bringing in a wealth of experience and his own much admired choreographic techniques.

The company’s dancers present the entire range of the ballet repertoire including all of Tchaikovsky’s ballets as well as neo-classical and contemporary works.

“The Sleeping Beauty,” choreographed by Duato, with set and costumes by Angelina Atlagic, lighting by Brad Fields and musical direction by Robert Reimer (Deutsche Oper Berlin orchestra) featured Ksenia Ovsyanick as Princess Aurora and Marian Walter as Prince Désiré, supported by the talented ensemble. The entire ballet was performed with abundant energy and skill, however, Rishat Yulbarisov in the role of the evil Carabosse completely stole the show. The 6’4” agile and highly powerful dancer, clad in a shiny strapless black dress with a full skirt of rustling ruffles, dominated the stage in his every graceful move, surrounded by a soundless, acrobatic team of the evil witch’s shadowy sidekicks – Alexander Abdukarimov, Taras Bilenko, Joaquin Crespo Lopez, Artur Lill, Lucio Vidal, and Wei Wang. (Currently on summer break, the show will resume on September 15).

Gay Berlin was on my mind while I was traveling on U-Bahn with my trusty Berlin Welcome Card. On U-5 line construction site there was a depiction of a train car with passengers of different races, ages, genders, and sexual identities sending a clear message of inclusivity and acceptance. CSD Berlin was advertised – the coming up on July 22 Christopher Street Day a.k.a. Berlin Pride. The first CSD took place in 1979, and since 1993, the gay/lesbian city festival has been celebrated every year becoming the largest of its kind worldwide. These days, up to 750,000 people celebrate the CSD in Berlin with more than 50 floats moving toward the Brandenburg Gate.

Many Americans remember Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit (in office October 2001 – December 2014), the first openly gay German politician who famously proclaimed, “I am gay – and that is also a good thing.”

Apparently, Berlin was considered the gay capital back in the 1920s. Despite the financial struggles of the time, a vibrant scene of bars, clubs, and cabarets existed in numbers still unrivalled today. According to some historical accounts, there were about 400 venues for homosexuals at that time, ranging from the famous cabaret Eldorado (closed down by the Nazis in 1932) to the ladies’ dance hall Zur Manuela, and to the large balls organized by various homosexual associations.

As early as 1897, Magnus Hirschfeldfounded, a German Jewish physician and sexologist, founded the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitäre Komitee (The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in Berlin as the first ever gay and lesbian human rights organization. From 1919, he ran the legendary Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science), which made an important contribution to the emancipation of gays and lesbians all over the world.

After the suppression of the entire gay and lesbian community and subculture by the Nazis, it wasn’t until 1971 that the homosexual scene recovered again – which is when the gay movement Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (Homosexual Action West Berlin) was founded.

Today, Berlin is one of the most open and tolerant cities in the world. Gay bars, clubs and parties as well as wide-ranging cinema programs, the Gay Museum and many other venues and events, including the annual CSD, for LGBTI community, are readily available and well-attended.

VisitBerlin website provides tips, practical information, and points of contact for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexual people. LGBTI-friendly hotels in Berlin are listed in Pink Pillow Berlin Collection. All participating hotels have signed the gay-friendly hotels promise: to treat all guests with same courtesy, dignity and respect; to actively contribute to social LGBTI projects; to create a work environment of respect and tolerance; to offer guests information about the LGBTI scene; to participate in VisitBerlin’s semi-annual LGBTI information days.

Find more information at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en.

Press images: Friedrichstadt-Palast “The One”: photography by Sven Darmer. Staatsballett Berlin “The Sleeping Beauty”: photography by Yan Revasov (Princess Aurora) and Ed Shelley (male trio).

Upon our arrival in Stockholm, via Wow Air and Flybus, we navigated the subway and buses without difficulty. Although signage in English is limited, English speaking transportation workers did not hesitate to direct us to the correct line when asked.  Throughout the week we found local Swedes quite willing to talk to us in English.

Prior to our trip, we purchased the 5 day Stockholm pass. This pass provides free admission to approximately 60 major attractions, museums and tour.  The pass is also available in 1, 2, or 3 day versions.  The 5 day adult pass was about $135, but the pass is periodically on sale at 10 percent off.  If you intend to see a large number of sites, the city pass provides a great value.  One particular advantage of the Stockholm pass included unlimited hopping on and off the 24 stops of the site seeing bus each day of our pass.  The pass can also be purchased in Stockholm.

Our stay at the Hilton Slussen greatly enhanced our visit. Located on the island of Sodermalm, the Hilton is situated directly across from the old town (Gamla Stan), providing dramatic day and night views of the Stockholm old town with its beautiful medieval architecture and the mighty city hall (Stadshuset) on the island of Kungsholmen.  The hotel location provided easy access to Stockholm sites by public transportation or by foot.  The large fitness center is part of a local fitness club and included, without charge, a great variety of cardio and weight equipment and fitness classes where instructors led sessions in English and Swedish.  For European standards, the rooms are decent sized.  Our hotel rate included an extensive breakfast buffet with hot and cold offerings and evening appetizers in the executive lounge, with a wide array of American and Swedish style food, as well as drinks.

We took the Lonely Planet Pocket Stockholm everywhere. The neighborhood-by-neighborhood layout provided focus on top sights and the maps were easy to follow.

Our top ten activities and favorite moments:

Changing of the guard at the Royal Palace (Kunglia Slottet): With over 600 rooms, the palace dominates the old town (Gamla Stan).  The Royal Palace is the largest royal castle still used as home to royalty and as a working government building.  Most days at the outer court yard of royal palace at 12:15 p.m. you can view the elaborate changing of the guard rituals.  This is a magnificent and dramatic ceremony, fully of pomp and circumstance.  The guards, clad in blue or black military uniforms, move with precision along with a band.  In one of our two viewings, the band marched with fanfare while sitting on top of beautiful horses and the ceremony honored one of the Swedish recipients of an Olympic silver medal from Rio.  We toured several portions of the palace open to the public, including the royal chapel and the royal apartments.

Boat tours: Stockholm is called the Venice of the north and we really enjoyed getting on the water to fully experience the area.  The city covers 14 islands, with bridges everywhere.  Lake Malaren in the west gives way to the Baltic Sea in the east.  Taking the three hour boat tour to the Archipelago provided us with a scenic ride as we wandered in and out among the thousands of rocky islands.  Most of the islands are uninhabited with forests and fields of wild flowers, but the inhabited islands are dotted with attractive holiday cottages and boats of various sizes.

We traveled one hour by boat to the summer residence Drottningholm Palace (Slott) for generations of Swedish royalty families, on the island of Lovon. Although the 17th century palace was closed for a royal function, we strolled for several hours in the vast geometrical garden parks, which are often compared to Versailles.  The pretty palace gardens contain sculptures and immaculately manicured greenery behind the striking Renaissance style palace.  We enjoyed lunch on the palace grounds at a café.

Eating lunch al fresco at the Kaffekoppen café. Set in the heart of the old town’s main and oldest square Stortorget, we twice enjoyed lunch on the outside terrace across from the Nobel Museum. The lunch portions were large, fresh, tasty and reasonably priced.  After talking extensively to the very welcoming proprietor, he served us –without charge – several yummy deserts.  The terrace is perfect for people-watching, and live street music played in the background.  The café is set in a brightly painted red historic 15th century building with 82 white stones on the exterior honoring the members of the Swedish nobility and clergy who were killed by the Danish king Christian II in a bloodbath in this square during three days in November 1520.

Biking through Djurgarden: Once a royal hunting ground, this island connects by bridge to the center city.  The setting is a park-like oasis in green, a smaller version of New York’s Central Park.  We rented three speed bikes through Stockholm City Bikes at the stand just behind the Abba Museum.  The rental lasted for three days and was inexpensive (about $17 for the 3 day card).  We wandered around quiet trails and roads, passing by herons, goats, gardens, various bodies of water and a series of museums.

Touring city hall (Stadshuset): Stockholm’s impressive skyline includes this striking brick landmark building with its massive tower and internal courtyards.  English language tours were frequent and very detailed.  The tour included the golden hall with its beautiful gold and marble mosaics, the Italian style blue hall – site of annual Nobel prize banquets and festivities, the dramatic fresco painting of the lake view (The City on the Water) which faces windows opening to the actual lake view and the council meeting chamber.

Exploring museums: Like Washington D.C., Stockholm is a city of museums, mainly situated at the entrance of Djurgarden.  Daily English language tours were informative and enlightening.  Our favorites was the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) which is literally built around a massive salvaged ship which sunk in Stockholm harbor within minutes of setting sail on its maiden voyage in the 17th century.  The tour was a Titantic experience!  Abba The Museum is simply a fun and entertaining tribute to the best known Swedish rock group, with costume displays and videos.  The Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) was mostly enjoyable for the building itself with its massive indoor space and its design as an enormous Nordic castle, and to understand how the cultural collection of all things Swedish was initiated as the passion of one man, Artur Hazelius.  The photography museum (Fotografiska) in Sodermalm housed in a converted customs hall showcased four different exhibits, including one of celebrities shot by singer Bryan Adams.  This museum is open late into the evening with its top level containing a lively bar and café where locals were partying the night away.  The Nobel Museum, temporarily housed in the old town (Nobelmuseet), focuses on the history of the recipients and their discoveries, as well on Alfred Nobel who became very wealthy based on his discovery of dynamite.  The café includes chairs signed by Nobel awardees, including Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Admiring cathedrals: In the old town, right next to the Royal Palace, the gothic cathedral Strorkyrkan – built in the 13th century – contains dramatic sculptures, medieval paintings, high ceilings with bells and royal pews which have been used for royal weddings and coronations.  We were particularly impressed with the life size wood St. George and the Dragon sculpture, created to honor victory over the Danes in the late 1400s.  Lutheran services are open to the public on Sundays.  On the nearby island of Riddarholmen, the interior of the 13th century Riddarholmen Church is more in the nature of a cemetery for royal families.  The church contains the vaults of kings, queens and their families.  Sweden’s monarchs are buried under the floors and within majestic crypts.

The Ice Bar: Just like you have to go to the Blue Lagoon while in Reykjavick, Iceland, one trip to the Ice Bar in Stockholm is a must.  The Ice Bar is located within the Nordic C Hotel in city center.  Created by the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden, the Ice Bar is totally a creation of ice, containing ice etchings and sculptures of Nordic creatures, just perfect for photo ops.  Patrons borrow  parkas with hoods and thick gloves to keep warm.  Admission includes one drink in a shot glass made of ice!  The 45 minute experience was a little tacky but very cool.

Walking tour of the old town (Gama Stan): Starting from the tourist center, the daily English language tour guided us along the charming cobble streets.  The narrow streets still wind along their 14th century lines and included one lane less than one meter wide (Marten Trotzigs Grand).  For the history buff, the guide told stories of Stockholm’s beginnings.  She showed us Viking ruins from an early settlement that are part of a building foundation, as well as sites from Danish and Germanic influences.

What we missed: Several buildings were not open to touring during our stay.  We visited the grounds of the Great Synagogue on a small street near city center, an impressive building which contained a large menorah, a holocaust memorial plaque and a dramatic sculpture of the lifting of the torah.  Since the synagogue is only open to the public for Shabbat services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, we were not able to go inside.  Stockholm has the largest Jewish population in Sweden, but there are only about 20,000 Jews in Sweden.  Not far from the old town, we repeatedly passed by the large Swedish Parliament Buildings (Riksdagshuset), but were not able to tour because the buildings were only open on one weekend day for a limited time period.

Final thoughts for a perfect trip: The fall weather is surprising pleasant in Stockholm.  The currency is easy to convert, with ten krona being worth approximately one U.S. dollar.  Although roads seemed well maintained and driving is on the right side of the road, we saw no need for a car rental since we did not venture outside of greater Stockholm.  The city is one of Europe’s most beautiful!  We had a tremendous adventure.  In one week, we covered all of the major sites.

What was expected to be a Peaceful 16 day Pilgrimage to Portugal, Spain, France and Italy turned out to be, for me, a tour of tribulations. Looking back it seems so strange that we can laugh about things that were not in the least amusing, when they actually took place. My thoughts went back to where it all started. Our travel agent called to let me know that she could not accompany us on this trip as she did on the previous Pilgrimage and since I was the coordinator, it was all up to me to carry out her duties. Thinking positively that this might be, just maybe, a real learning experience I agreed. So the story unfolds.

Because we were arriving at Fatima on the 99th Anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the three children, it was impossible to get rooms at the same hotel for all 32 of us. Two hotels were booked, about two blocks from each other and since it was going to be our first night there, we decided in advance that the 10 of us at one hotel will walk over to the other hotel so that we will all be together for our first dinner as a group.

We arrived at Lisbon Airport, expecting to be greeted by our guide who should be carrying a sign to let us know who she was. But where is this guide I thought, walking around, dragging my suitcase behind me plus coping with my heavy backpack on my back. I told the others to stay in one place while I looked for her but after a futile search I realized she was just nowhere to be found. I am one of those people who just cannot sleep on a plane so by now I was feeling really exhausted and about to start pulling my hair out!

I approached a young lady who was helping other arrivals and inquired about our guide but she too could not find our ghost guide. When she heard we were heading to Fatima, she remembered someone telling her that there was a bus waiting outside to take a group there, so off we went to see the driver. They spoke in Portuguese and she confirmed it was the correct bus. I thanked her and headed back inside to collect our group to follow this pied piper to our Bus.

We settled ourselves in the bus and I started talking to the driver to let him know which hotel we needed to go to first but, what’s this, is this a joke? Could this be for real? I can’t believe this driver does not speak a word of English whatsoever. Being very clever, I called out the names of our hotels and showed him on my fingers, the first one he had to take us to. Whew! I patted myself on the back and told myself: “Way to go man”. What a relief, all our problems were over, cool sailing from now on, after all, those were just some small everyday mishaps, weren’t they? Time to move on with our Pilgrimage which I knew was very well organized so from now on, everything should go smoothly, I mean, what else could possibly go wrong? Trying to extract the entire morning’s events out of my mind, I reminded myself that at least I knew from then on we will have only English speaking bus drivers and guides, right?

The first night we walked over to the other hotel, had a beautiful dinner and got to know each other better then we headed back to our hotel for a much needed sleep. Morning came and wait, where are some of our group? I wondered if they went to the other hotel for breakfast. I was positive I told everyone that we will be having breakfast at the hotels where we slept so running over to the other hotel, I was just in time to see them finishing their breakfast at the hotel where their breakfast was not paid for! Up to this point nobody bothered to tell me there was a couple with us who did not speak or understand English.

We had a really nice balance of the day as our English speaking guide met us and took us around showing us what was needed to be seen and telling us all about what was to be told. The following morning at breakfast I noticed that this couple who came from Peru, was nowhere to be seen. I went to their room and knocked, then knocked louder until I was banging on the door, no answer! I suddenly thought: “Oh my Lord, could they possibly have misunderstood and thought that we were to meet the bus at the other hotel and pulled their luggage over there?”

Off I ran (and ran I did!) to the other hotel, but wait, what is this, are they really not here? No they weren’t so I did a small marathon back to our hotel as I was now having all sorts of awful negative visions which I will leave to your imagination. After finding a porter who spoke a little English and trying to explain the situation, I finally urged him to go to their room and open the door to see if they were ok. Well, well, why was I so foolish not to think of this? There they were, just as I had not suspected, sitting on their beds. I felt to give myself a swift kick for not guessing this only logical answer. So, moving on, our new bus pulled up and we started embarking, oh no, this just cannot be real, I just can’t believe our new driver really does not speak a word of English! This is the driver who is supposed to drive us from Portugal to Italy for 16 days and he does not speak any English? This is just unbelievable! Well, lucky for us we had God on our side and He saw this problem before we knew about it and He put one of His angels there with us, our very own angel Napoleon. He was the only one in our group who spoke Spanish so his work was cut out for him, poor angel. I will not like to think what would have taken place if he was not on this trip with us. He translated everything to the couple who spoke no English and throughout the trip he was constantly running to the front of the bus to translate for us, telling the driver what we wanted, what time to stop for lunch, washroom breaks and the list goes on and on.

There were quite a few other mishaps along the entire trip that I kept from the others because I felt they did not need to know or share those negative things. They were there to have an enjoyable trip and that’s just what they were going to get. What really amazed me was the fact that these 32 total strangers instantly bonded as one very close family. We were all joking, laughing, praying, helping each other, singing and doing all that a normal, loving family will do. They were an amazing group of spiritual people who will always remain in my heart as very dear friends and I can’t thank God enough for sending us our angel Napoleon.

 

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Denver, Colorado, is a gateway to advanced skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and so many other wonderful outdoor activities so many of my athletic friends appreciate and pursue here. I love mountains, too, but we have an incompatibility issue… In a Mile High City – only a mile above the sea level – I’m besieged by the altitude sickness symptoms, feeling sluggish, light-headed, and having to literally drag my feet even to the most enticing places in this beautiful area.

That is not to say that I would abstain from whatever leisurely pursuits are still available to me in Denver – and those could easily fill out a weekend turning it into a pleasantly relaxing vacay.

On a Friday night my husband and I arrived at the capital of the Centennial State (formed in the year 1876), and I checked my list of planned activities. I soon realized that the pesky elevation fatigue wouldn’t let us hurry up and get here and there before the closing time. All I wanted was to keep awake at least until dark. We decided that everything else could wait, but we had to have dinner, and for that we went straight to Vesta – a reputable and very popular dining establishment awarded for its memorable food and drink as well as for its excellent service and ambiance.

3. Vesta restaurant lights

Named after an ancient Roman goddess of hearth, usually personified by the fire, the restaurant, located in an historical 1800s building – a former spice mill – boasts the original brick walls and hard wood floors, a row of weathered wood pillars, an open kitchen, and a long stone bar under a copper roof that reflects the lights of six red-orange orbs with frozen glass “flames” positioned vertically along the counter.

As explains Josh Wolkon, the proprietor, those six artisanal light fixtures – the most striking feature of the interior – symbolize the priestesses of Vesta who served in her temple in Rome and had to guard the eternal fire in her hearth.

4. Executive Chef at Vesta

Whatever’s the connection with the virgin vestals, the fire at Vesta produces some really impressive grilled, roasted, and charred delicacies created by the Executive Chef Nicholas Kayser, who was awarded a Michelin star during his previous tenure in New York City, and sous chefs Steven Cox, Brian Hardy, and Wes Oswalt.

Vesta bread plate presents a rotating house-baked selection of fresh breads served with roasted garlic, black pepper truffle honey, and compound butter, while a charcuterie plate contains house-cured meats and Colorado cheeses – behold for example, salami fino, chicken liver pate and Haystack Mountain Cashmere cheese served with house-made mustards, fig jam, peppered honey, and candied walnuts.

5. Charcuterie at Vesta

6. Cocktails in Vesta

Just these starters alone are great with the whimsical libations from the cocktail-driven bar, like Down by Law, Mezcal Last Word, and Where the Buffalo Roam. However, it wouldn’t be wise to miss on the small plates and mains at Vesta – all made with locally grown, organic and sustainable ingredients.

Be it braised pork belly with yuzu aioli; charred baby octopus on a bed of white beans and red cabbage; or a generous portion of extracted from the bone and pan-fried bone marrow – it’s hard to go wrong with anything at Vesta!

No matter how full you might feel after consuming Green Garlic Bucatini Carbonara or Madras Grilled Venison, try not to skip dessert. Executive Pastry Chef Nadine Donovan makes wondrous seasonal sweets, like Spring Crème Brulee with strawberries, rhubarb, lemon curd and white chocolate.

After a good-night sleep, induced by the substantial meal at Vesta, we were ready to explore the city over the weekend.

7. Denver Art Museum

Denver Art Museum is an imposing architectural wonder that consists of two buildings – the original one, resembling a fortress, designed by the famous Italian architect Gio Ponti, and the newer Hamilton Building – a jagged shimmering titanium fantasy by Daniel Libeskind, inspired by the snowy peaks of the Rockies.

There’s a wealth of art pieces exhibited at the museum’s galleries – from more than 70 000 in the entire collection – ranging from Native American art of more than 100 tribes to Western and Asian, classic and contemporary, derived from the permanent collection, and currently on display in temporary shows.

8. Museum of dolls

On a much smaller scale, in more than one sense, The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys is located in the historic Pearce-McAllister Cottage, and holds an impressive amount of tiny doll houses populated by well-dressed dolls, furnished and decorated in the most meticulous fashion with glass, metal, and even pure gold objects measured from half an inch to a pinky size.

9. Molly Brown House

Of life-sized fully furnished and decorated historical mentions, Molly Brown House Museum, formerly a property of Margaret Brown, or the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Byers-Evans House Museum provide fascinating guided tours and a glimpse into the bygone era. Interestingly, the guide at one of the house museums noted in the course of our excursion that on his tours he encounters mostly out-of-towners. Denver residents rarely explore the fascinating past of their gorgeous city. Perhaps, they have a reason for that – the surrounding nature is too good to miss on a day in or a day out.

10. Byers-Evans House Museum

By the end of our short trip to Denver, I felt energized enough to explore the outdoors. We ventured no further than the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – famous for all the musical stars that graced its stage over the years, but also for the legendary red rocks that surround it.

11. Red Rocks Amphitheatre

More information at: www.visitdenver.com, www.vestadenver.com, www.denverartmuseum.org, www.dmmdt.org, www.mollybrown.org, www.historycolorado.org.

Walking home to our apartment in Venice, we share a wave through the window with the owner of Baba, our local osteria. Leaving for a day of sightseeing, a cup of my favorite pistachio gelato awaits me despite the early hour. At the Bar Dugole, we relax after a day of sightseeing and order the regular: vodka for my husband and Amaretto for me. And we sit and watch everyone else in Venice try to figure out where the hell they are! But more on that later.

Welcome to UNTOURS, a wonderful well-kept secret that may change your concept of travel forever. The program offers tourists a unique opportunity to not be tourists. Serving close to two dozen European countries, Untours inundates you with information, puts you up in unusual accommodations, provides whatever transportation is necessary to get around and voila! You are a local. (Yes, that works as well in Italian as it does in French…)

1. Filler-up Wine Shop - Copy

We were learning about our neighborhood, but on our terms. Rise early or sleep in. Sightsee or stroll around town. Cook in or eat out. And whatever the choice, we returned to our apartment, a much roomier and warmer ambiance than any hotel would provide. The orientation told us where to get the best produce, meat, fish, pastries, and of course, wine and gelato, the afore-mentioned shop which just coincidentally was directly next door to our apartment.

Our favorite local discovery? The Filler-Up Wine Shop. Bring in any empty bottle and fill it with the wine of your choice for $2.50-$4.00 a bottle – less than you would pay for a glass at a local trattoria. What a terrific way to recycle empty water bottles!

We stayed at a small but cozy 2-story apartment with a full kitchen, lovely balcony and wood-beam ceilings. First it just felt homey – then it was home. The fact that it was built in the 1700’s was just a bonus. The building across the alley was so close I could reach across the balcony guard rail and tap on their window.

But then everything in Venice is in tight quarters. Venice is an old city – it looks old – sometimes very old. The water-logged foundations date back to the 11th century; the newer building facades are as recent as the 15th. So many buildings stripped of paint and plaster on both sides of a small alleyway, I expected them to crumble before my eyes until I reminded myself they have looked pretty much the same for over 500 years.

Going from the crowded parking lot area with throngs of cars, buses and vans — the last vestiges of the auto industry I was to see for a week — I was transformed into another world filled instead with canals, gondolas, water buses, cobbled streets, alleyways, bridges and cafes.  Picture everything that makes any city run – buses, taxis, fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, postal services, Fedex deliveries, garbage pick-ups – but they’re all boats! And the city still runs.

Expect to get lost. And thank goodness because that is the best way to explore the city and find those gems that are not part of the major tourist itineraries. Among those gems is Pinocchio Island, home to a local Geppetto whose real name is Roberto Comin, maker of magical marionettes. These brilliant little string creatures represented all aspects of Venetian historical and theatrical culture lovingly produced by Comin for 25 years in a workshop over 350 years old. Requests now come in for characters from Shakespeare to Cleopatra and yes, a Johnny Depp look-alike that was given to the actor for his birthday. The costumes rival the intricacy and elegance of any Medici gown or regal accessory. Want a marionette dopple-ganger of yourself?  It’s doable but it’ll cost you about $600.

3. Marionette

Another unusual find, especially surprising in such a Catholic city, home to well over 100 churches, is a small square that is actually referred to as Ghetto Campo de Nova where there are five synagogues, several kosher restaurants and residents sporting traditional Jewish skull caps known as yarmulkes. The kosher menus include antipasto and spaghetti as well as bagels and potato latkes. Talk about an ecumenical meal! With a little imagination, and a lot of Manischewitz wine, you could be in Israel!

Getting lost is a given – did I mention that? People spend as much time looking up at the signs designating different sections, squares and churches of the city as they do looking down at maps, phones and GPS’s. My favorite response from a young street vendor: “Go right, over the next bridge, then ask someone else.” And then when you don’t think things can get any worse, you see the sign you’ve been searching for and it points in both directions. I thought about giving up and going home but I had no clue how to get there.

4. Narrow alleyways - Copy

We wandered everywhere, sitting at cafes to eat or drink wine, always aware of how little English we heard – again reinforcing the idea of living like a local. And the more we wandered, the more enjoyable the discoveries: a delightful mask store, street musicians in jeans playing Vivaldi, an out-of-the-way Leonardo DaVinci Museum.

Not every stop in Venice is off-the-beaten-path. There’s the de rigueur visit to Piazza San Marco, a World Heritage site and symbol of Venice. Like the Spanish Steps in Rome and the Uffizi in Florence, it’s the symbol of the city. So if you want to avoid tourists, don’t go there – especially not on a weekend. But part of the reason they’re there are the pigeons. Now in my unfiltered 19-year-old memory, the square was covered with them. Decades later, my first thought was, “Where are all the pigeons?” Then I saw them. “Oh yes, over there by that guy with all the bird food.”

5. Man feeding pigeons - Copy

As we took the vaporetto to the island of Murano, we left the canals behind and felt the freedom of open waters as we entered the lagoon surrounding the city. Murano, world famous for its glass figurines, jewelry and home décor since the 11th Century, is a must destination if you want to be absolutely sure you’re buying Murano glass  and not a knock-off. A visit to the factory offers insight into how the glass is made, the colors created, the intricacies of the designs and the skills of the master glass blowers. Makes you better appreciate the high prices you then encounter in the gift shops…sort of….

6. Murano Glass - CopyI was amazed at the intricate convoluted shapes in colors so vibrant and translucent that the light passing through intensifies the whole experience. I wanted to decorate my whole house with cups, vases, dishes and elaborately designed decorative pieces but I settled for a pair of earrings.

As we exited another vaporetto at Lido, the beachfront community, we were transported to another era. That of a modern beach town hawking flip flops, beach toys and sunglasses. And then I saw a bus! One with actual wheels. Dorothy, you’re not in Venice anymore!

Wide sand beach with crowded umbrellas and chaise lounges on one side and isolated blankets on the other. Large elegant hotels front the tree-laden boulevards with greenery everywhere, a color sorely lacking in the squares and alleyways of Venice. It was a fun diversion but I was so happy to get back home, pick up some Branzini from the fish market in Santa Margherita Square plus a water bottle full of wine from the Filler-Up shop, and dine out on our balcony.

Perhaps, that’s the essence of the Untour experience. There’s something more special about discovering such treasures on your own than being herded there as part of a group, according to a pre-determined time schedule that dictates how long you can spend looking before it hurries you through because the bus – in this case, one on water — is leaving to go to the next stop.

It was so much nicer just to pick up some fresh fish, wave to shopkeepers we had befriended and return home to sit on our porch, sip yet another glass of wine and savor our most recent exploits. And feel reassured that no one has ever been irretrievably lost in Venice, but if so – how lucky for them. They’re still there!

For more information, visit www.untours.com.

According to the French Quarter bartender serving my Sazarac, the Easter Parade was the brainchild of, “A well preserved eighty year old showgirl and her curated contingent of New Orleans friends.” My back home New Orleans to Seattle expat friend assured me the Easter parade would illustrate the grand tradition of genteel Southern ladies dressed in Easter bonnets accompanied by dapper gents in boater hats. And the NOLA pedi-cab driver described it as the craziest, wildest party in New Orleans, second only to Mardi Gras.

As it turned out all three descriptions were spot on because the New Orleans French Quarter celebrates Easter Sunday in exuberant style with not one, but three distinctly different parades. Amazingly, not one of the three NOLA locals I spoke to knew about the entire triumvirate of festivities which get increasingly more colorful and flamboyant as the day progresses.

NOLA Parade 2

Easter Sunday morning begins with the most traditional of the processions, The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade. Big hats, straw boat hats, flowing chiffon and a sea of seersucker and bowties were the costume de rigueur as ladies and gentlemen boarded fancy horse drawn carriages and convertibles at Antoine’s Restaurant and rolled through the French Quarter streets tossing plush bunnies and candy before disembarking at Jackson Square. There, they made their way through the artists, tarot card readers and unsuspecting tourists strolling with their plastic cups of Bloody Marys to St. Louis Cathedral for 11 AM Mass. Post service, the celebrants promenaded Jackson Square before boarding their buggies and returning to Antoine’s to award prizes for Most Exquisite Chapeaux, Grand Easter Basket and Regal Attire.

??????????????

NOLA Parade 4

Following that event comes the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade. 2016 was the 33rd time the local icon of Bourbon Street and former showgirl, Chris Owens and her merry band of friends and supporters put on this impressive event. It also began at a local hotel, The Astor Crowne Ballroom, with a Southern breakfast, an Easter hat contest and silent auction of bidders who want to ride in one of the parade floats. Then the vintage cars, brass bands, dance teams and floats lined up at the corner of Bourbon St and Canal St and snaked through the French Quarter tossing out beads and Easter themed trinkets to the crowds. By tradition the parade is led by Ms. Owens, as Grand Duchess (it is her parade after all) who stands on an extravagant float dressed in a colorful Easter ensemble and bonnet that she designs each year for the event. The money raised supports music education in New Orleans schools.

NOLA Parade 5

NOLA Parade 6

The final parade, the Annual Gay Easter Parade (last year marked the 17th event) had all of the trappings, costumes and extravagance of the earlier processions. There were Easter chapeaux, chiffon, bow ties and horse drawn carriages that made the two earlier festivities feel sedate by comparison. Brass bands in traditional and untraditional uniforms, dance teams and Grand Marshalls all competed for the crowd’s attention. While this parade follows some of the same French Quarter route as the other two, it makes a point of passing by LBGT friendly bars and restaurants often pausing to pick up costumed onlookers who turn out for the celebration. The parade ends at an after party at Grandpre’s, a gay bar with a colorful history. It was a raucous, irreverent bead tossing extravaganza – a fitting end to an Easter Sunday celebrated as only the French Quarter knows how to celebrate. It’s also a benefit parade with proceeds going to NO/AIDS Task Force Food for Friends program.

We spent New Year’s Eve in the Southern Hemisphere, a day early for us, since we crossed the International Date Line to get there. It is the second week of summer in New Zealand, so the 4.5 million residents are celebrating in the way we in the USA celebrate 4th of July with camping, picnics, swimming, and beaches, and fireworks. All the facilities and grounds everywhere are so clean with no litter. People are friendly and helpful, and we enjoy their accent, which, to our ears, seems to be a mixture of lilting Australian and British.

The closest town to our City Escape B&B is Matamata, formerly a quiet little agriculture village. Today this is a thriving tourist town thanks to the largest attraction and business in New Zealand: Hobbiton Movie Set, where the Lord of the Rings  and The Hobbit  trilogies were filmed. The Director, Writer, and Producer Peter Jackson  is a native of Wellington, NZ, and he had his scouts fly all over New Zealand to determine the best location to replicate accurately J.R.Tolken’s The Hobbit.  The Kaimai  Mountain Range on the North Island fit, and the setting chosen was the vast and hilly sheep farm belonging to The Alexander Family of Matamata. Now even the I-Site, or Tourist Information Center, looks like a Hobbit building.

2 I-site Matamata, NZ 450K

Matamata locals embraced the fact that Hollywood was coming to town and did all in their power to supply the needs and help in every way. The company was to create the temporary set and take it down when the filming was complete after a few months, which was the typical Hollywood custom. But it didn’t happen that way. Before the set was struck there were torrential rains. People wanted to see the remains of the set, which inspired the Russel Alexander to petition the film studios to keep the remaining set of Hobbiton.  and reconstruct it in permanent materials to create a tourist attraction. Hollywood had never granted permission for a set to be kept, so lawyers spent years getting the proper paperwork.

Tours begin at the Shire’s Rest where you’ll find the ticket office, gift store and café about 10 minutes’ drive outside Matamata. The views of rolling green hills dotted with thousands of sheep and cattle along the way are stunning. At Shire’s Rest, since no one is allowed to wander Hobbiton on their own, you will board a Hobbiton bus, and your guide will take you on foot all around the adorable, fabled, little 11th Century village of Middle Earth. The setting is a picturesque valley amidst tall pastoral hillsides with hundreds of sheep grazing nearby.

3 Hobbit Hole 400K

The village is complete with thirty-seven little Hobbit Holes, each with a business necessary to the everyday life of the little people. (You can imagine that you ARE one of the villagers as are the other tourists because the village is miniature and real but not actually inhabited.) You see the home of the baker, one for the butcher, one for the pottery maker, a seamstress, etc. Each house has its little garden, flowers, window box, curtains. Behind each little fence in front of the home the details are fascinating and each home has different features and decor.  Several of the houses are one fourth size, some are half size, and some are full size for the little villagers, since cameras were placed at different distances when the set was filmed. The imagination of the creators and care for detail thrilled us. Even the clothing hanging on the line beside several houses was diminutive in size.

4 Bilbo Baggins Home & fake tree 400K

When we got to the large home of Bilbo Baggins at the top of Hobbiton we saw the big tree which is prominent in the films. This is the only unreal tree in Hobbiton set and was masterfully created and put together by amazing artists. The huge real tree under which Bilbo’s 111th birthday party takes place in the center of the village in the movie is there for your mind’s eye to recreate all the festive movie scenes that took place here.

5 Green Dragon Bar 400 K

At the end of the tour we stopped at the Green Dragon Inn to have a drink from their list of specialties made locally. Some are alcoholic and some are not, and your selection is a tasty treat included in your tour. You can reserve a banquet tour instead of a normal one and then enjoy a special theme dinner in the Banquet Hall of the Green Dragon. The really fun visit to Hobbiton in Middle Earth exercises imagination and also body. The two hour tours require walking and some hill climbing. The set covers 12 acres with the pond and mill house.  Hobbiton Movie Set is a must see, even if you have not viewed the movies that were filmed here…You will really want to see the trilogies afterwards!

6 City Escape B&B patio 450K

We selected nearby accommodations City Escape B&B in the pretty Kaimai Mountains . Phil and Alison Jones were our hosts. We had a private, apartment over the garage: clean, lovely, modern and much larger than we needed. It has a great private balcony overlooking the lovely landscape of their garden, swimming  pool, exercise equipment, chickens, sheep, dog, cats (outside only) many flowers and trees.  Alison brought us snacks and fruit when we arrived and a big, delicious breakfast in the mornings. They are gracious hosts on this large estate. We highly recommend this wonderful Bed and Breakfast in the quiet countryside, but note it is about 25 minutes from a town, restaurants, and supplies, so eat before you arrive or bring your groceries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matamata, http://www.hobbitontours.com/, https://www.tolkiensociety.org/author/biography/, http://www.hobbitontours.com/the-shires-rest/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Jackson, http://www.cityescape.co.nz/.