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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

KOA Seattle/Tacoma Kampground in Washington State is certainly the BEST place to stay when you are visiting the city area. Well located on the outskirts of the traffic near Highway #5 at Exit #152 in Kent, KOA is convenient to the excellent bus system for the metropolis area, which is a huge plus since parking in the city is next to impossible. With all the amenities travelers expect and look forward to at KOA Kampgrounds, you will be Happy Kampers here!. The beautiful grounds are mature with tall trees at many of the sites and nice, grassy plots.
The K9 Kamp is the right place to give your pets a great run and is well equipped for their fun as well as keeping your Kampsites clean. The playground and swimming pool areas have games that are fun for the whole family, including horseshoes and life-sized chess. A bike path is nearby along the beautiful Green River, and bikes can be rented here also. An unusual feature at this KOA is that you can have extended stays throughout the fall and winter in the metered sites, a plus for those workers in the area as well as being very convenient to the Sea-Tac airport. Each person is thoroughly vetted before staying here. We have stayed here over and over, which is our BEST recommendation for any campground. You are also about a 90 minute drive to many of the amazingly beautiful and wondrous places in this area, including: Mt. Ranier, the Olympic Peninsula, and springtime fabulous tulip fields, also being even closer to the Puget Sound and ferries or cruises to Vancouver and San Juan Islands. We highly recommend this KOA as one of our favorites!
We journeyed to Junction City, Oregon, where there are thousands of RV’s for sale or rent and the home of many RV manufacturing companies and repair centers. We had to make a necessary stop and got good service. We highly reccomend the Chinese restaurant on the main drag. This is also a Scandinavian town with many festivals and traditions honored. A very nice place to have to make a mandatory stop.

Driving west to the Pacific coast Highway 101 we journeyed 60 curving miles on a narrow two lanehighway through the mountains , which was a beautiful but beastly hard drive in an RV in the rain. Even in the rain and fog what we could see of the Oregon coast was so beautiful all the way Southward. It was cold, so we didn’t stop much along the way. We made it to the California line and had to eat two oranges and forfeit two…We had forgotten about the agriculture checkpoint.
About 15 miles south of the Washington/Oregon state line we found the Crescent City Redwoods KOA, where we stayed two nights. The KOA didn’t look great as we drove in in pouring rain, but our campsite is facing the gorgeous, enormous Redwood forest, where the Kabins and a few RV sites and many tentsites are situated. We walked through the forest, a beautiful place. It rained all night and on and off all day the next day. Walking beneath these majestic woods in front of our RV is no problem because the enormous redwoods form a heavenly umbrella, and the soft reddish-brown needles all over the ground beneath the ferns are lovely to walk on and prevent any mud. But the hookups are never easy in the rain.
We followed the Self-Guided Tours the KOA gave us and drove about 12 miles away to enter the Jedediah Smith State and National Park in the Redwoods. All along the Northern California coast thousands of acres of coastal trees have been preserved by private, state, and national funds working together, so a corridor of the towering beauties exists all along the coast and Hwy 101 runs through it, a gorgeous drive. We spent all afternoon in the Jedediah Smith and Stout Forests. Stout was a lumber baron in the late 1800’s and when he died his wife donated 44 acres of redwood dense forest in his memory for a state/national park. The trees tower over 300 feet high and are 650 years old up to 2,000 years. Many years ago someone cut down one of the largest ones to count the rings and discovered it to date back to the time of Christ. The scientist was terribly chagrinned to have done this, and cutting down trees in this area is strictly forbidden now. No core sample testing works because the trees are so thick the drill breaks before extracting a core, so thankfully, we can only guess at the age of the other trees.
The woods are totally silent, and in the rain and cold there is not even birdsong. We took the Mill Creek Trail which is mostly flat, wide, gorgeous, with the understory of luscious ferns and beautiful redwood sorrel, which looks like bright green plants in the shalpe of shamrocks. The trunks of the thousands of redwoods surrounding us as far as we can see in any direction are absolutely straight, and they have no limbs or foliage until about 100 feet up. Then the green tops reach so high we cannot see the tops of any of them. In a very few places sun gets through and there are deciduous trees there and grassy understory and berry bushes. The path crosses the Mill Creek in a couple of places and forks into two other trails. We almost got lost, thinking we were on a loop, but it made our walk longer and more beautiful.
In late afternoon we drove on to the National Park Visitor Center where we got a good explanation of the way the parks are set aside and saw an excellent film about the redwoods and this history. For centuries no one thought of preserving these majestic trees but just cut them to build as they were needed by early settlers and then for money by lumber companies. Fortunately, before the ancient ones were all gone, preservationists became active in about 1900. But this area was not a national park until President Johnson in the 1960’s, although Rutherford B. Hayes had tried to get it passed. Lady Bird and other women organized to stress the importance of these ancient trees and their preservation. Thank goodness. Many of these magnificient trees have withstood fire, earthquake, fierce storms and other natural attacks through the centuries and have grown on through it. We could see evidence of some of the healthy trees having been burned severely at the bottom. The film explained that the thick bark and underlayer protects the heart of the tree and the heavy moisture of the area keeps it growing… amazing! Nearby is a tree so large cars drive through the trunk, but we did not get that far.

The well-maintained Highway 101 is a difficult drive for large RV’s, along the beautiful coast and amidst the corridor of enormous redwood, if you are in the pouring rain, as we were.. We were thankful there were many pullouts where drivers can rest and many overlooks for photography.

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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

The origin of the word Chianti can be attributed to the Etruscan term clante, a common name given to a person in that language or to the Latin verb clangor, referring to the noise of the battle. During the Middle Ages there were fierce battles between Florence and Siena over control of that part of Tuscany. The warring parties built castles and fortresses, which in peacetime were converted to the present day villas and stately homes.

The Black Rooster is the symbol of the whole Chianti region. Florence wanted to fix the boundary line with Siena through the Chianti region and Siena asked to settle the affair by arbitration. A horseman would set out at cock’s crow from their respective communities and gallop down the highway. Where they met would be the frontier. The Sienese selected a fine, much-pampered white rooster. The Florentines chose a black rooster and gave it so little to eat that on the appointed day it began to crow long before dawn. As a result, the Florentine rider set out early and met the other horseman at Croce Fiorentina – only 12 miles away from Siena. The boundaries of Chianti Classico are Florence in the north, mountains on the east, Siena in the south and Pisa in the west encompassing an area of about 100 square miles.
In 1716 the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo the 3rd established with an edict the boundaries of the Chianti wine’s production zone. That proclamation is the first legal document in history delimiting a winemaking area. It was a forbear of the DOC (Controlled Denomination of Origin). As the phylloxera epidemic swept over Europe there was a new interest in Chianti. In May 1924 a group of 33 vintners in Chianti assembled at Radda in Chianti to establish a voluntary association to defend and promote their wine. They adopted the name Consorzio per la difesa del vino tipico del Chianti (Consortium for the defense of the typical wine of Chianti and its brand name of origin) and now it’s known as the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico.

In 1932 the Chianti region was delimitated to its current 173,000 acres. Of the 25,000 acres of vineyards about 17,500 are destined for Chianti Classico DOCG. There are also 20,000 acres of olive plantations. Oak and chestnut forests cover 2/3 of the area. The soil is galestro, layered limestone and sandstone with much clay and chalk. It has a continental climate with 23-25F degrees the low temperature and 86-95F the high, receiving 27 to 31 inches of rain annually. The altitude ranges from 820 to over 2,000 feet. The wine produced there was given the suffix Classico to distinguish the original from the other Chianti wines made outside the historical production zone.
By order of the ministerial decree of 1932, the territory for the production of generic Chianti wines was divided into six new zones, Classico among them. Only after decades of its tutelary consortium’s endeavors to get exclusive recognition for Chianti Classico was official approval given in 1996 for separate production rules for the Chianti Classico appellation, transforming Chianti Classico from a sub zone in the “Chianti” denomination to an independent denomination.

The decade of the 1950’s was not a good time for Chianti. The wines that were being produced at that time were of such poor quality that the consensus among the residents was to turn the vineyards into grasslands. At that time there were only 4 famous vintners that produced Chianti Classico Wines – Antinori, Brolio, Frescobaldi, and Ruffino. Almost all of the other wine makers sold their product in bulk.

In the 1960’s the Chianti Classico Wine industry was in a state of transition. Numerous tenant farmers in the area were walking away from their land to find jobs in town while the larger land owners were selling off their farms to new residents that relocated to the area. Some of these new landowners re-planted the vineyards using the coltura promiscua, which means that rows of grain and olive trees were alternated between rows of grapes. Most Chianti was shipped in squat bottles enclosed in a straw basket, known as a fiasco. Now, most Chianti is bottled in the traditionally shaped wine bottles.
In 1984, DOCG status (highest rank for premium Italian wines) was awarded to the Chianti Classico Wine region. Basically, this required that the wines had to be approved by a tasting panel. A Chianti Classico may be made from a minimum of 80% Sangiovese grapes (up to 100%). The other 20% can be native red grapes such as Canaiolo and colorino or international varieties such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Beginning with the 2006 grape harvest it was no longer permitted to use white grapes such as Trebbiano or Malvasia, as formerly they were allowed to a maximum of 6%.
In 2005 the Black Rooster trademark (previously the symbol of the Consortium members) became the emblem of the Chianti Classico appellation and was made compulsory on all bottles of Chianti Classico. To be labeled Riserva the wine has to have alcohol of 12.5% and matured for a minimum of 24 months, at least 3 of which in bottle. There are 570 Chianti Classico Consortium members, and the US at 27% is the number one market, followed by Italy at 24% and Germany at 12%. In 2010 production of Chianti Classico was over 7 million US gallons. In 2005 the black rooster (previously the symbol of the Consortium members) became the emblem of Chianti Classico. In early June the Chianti Classico Black Rooster Festival includes music, art, history, food and of course wine tastings.

Super Tuscan is a marketing term used to describe wines that don’t follow the official DOC/DOCG rules for the particular region. These rules specify where the grapes must come from, which grapes must be used and occasionally how long they must be aged in order to be called Chianti or Chianti Classico. In the 1970s some producers (notably Antinori) started making wines which didn’t follow these rules because they were using other grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah instead of Sangiovese). As a result they could only be designated as vino de tavola (table wine), the lowest designation in the Italian system. A Super Tuscan can contain anything and indeed can have no Sangiovese. Now they have a new designation IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, to indicate a higher level of quality wine than vino da tavola but which doesn’t follow the DOC/DOCG rules. Super Tuscan labels can have information as to region (i.e. the label on Sassicaia will say Bolgheri) but they cannot carry the official DOC/DOCG designations of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, etc.
Ornellaia is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a touch of Petit Verdot. (Tenuta dell’Ornellaia)
Sassicaia is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25%Cabernet Franc. (Tenuta San Guido)
Solaia is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese. (Antinori)
Tignanello is 80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. (Antinori)
Super Tuscans can cost $40 to well over $100 per bottle. I have enjoyed many Chianti Classico Riservas that are the equal of their Super Tuscan cousins.

Pat Savoie and yours truly were the only Americans invited by the Italian Trade Commission and the Chianti Classico Consortium to spend five days in the region. There were journalists from 15 other countries present. We stayed at the My One Hotel in Radda and every morning we tasted wines from up to 20 producers. In three days we visited 10 producers including: Rocca delle Macie, Fontodi, Castello di Volpaia and Castello di Brolio.

For More Information-

Ron Kapon
The Peripatetic Oenophile www.ronkapon.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).
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)
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)
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)
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)!

With a long overnight delay in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport we discovered Grapevine, Texas, the terrific hidden jewel of a small town nearby. (In December remember Grapevine is the official Christmas Capital of Texas.)
Grapevine Shuttle runs from the Grand Met Hyatt Hotel at Termina D, and many moderate priced hotels in Grapevine have their own free shuttle service to and from the airport with car parking included while you fly. We selected Tolbert’s Restaurant for terrific food with a Texas atmosphere. It is owned and operated by the daughter of Frank Tolbert, a long-time famous Texas journalist. Their specialty is A Bowl of Red (chili).
For city folks who have few opportunities to visit a farm, spend a couple of hours at the historic Nash Farm, where you will find one of the early pioneer homes beautifully restored and the old barn recreated and housing antique farm machinery. There are a few farm animals and examples of crops. Throughout the Christmas season and during many other times of the year children can create adorable crafts here and proudly take them home. We watched little ones make gingerbread men and Christmas trees from paper and glitter, string cranberries and popcorn, make peppermint candy Rudolphs and more.
Another farm homestead from the 1800’s is a popular venue for weddings, corporate events, parties, meetings and family reunions. Formerly the Doris-Briggs house of L-construction in pioneer days, the house now is the center for the wine tastings for the Cross Timbers Winery. You can enjoy wine by the glass and sample many varieties with cheese and cracker. You’ll want to purchase here bottles of award-winning Texas wines from Don Bigsbee’s vineyards in West Texas.
Grapevine Mills Mall, one of the largest malls in the state, is where you’ll find almost any national store or brand factory outlet. Your family will love spending several hours at the newest attractions here: Sea Life Aquarium with over 5,000 beautiful marine animals of over a thousand different species. Glass walkways take you beside, on top of, or beneath the water, and in some you even feel as if you are in the tank. Go Behind the Scenes for the full educational experience.
Just across the Mall hallway is Legoland Discovery Center, where you will be amazed at what has been created with those little building blocks: a miniature re-creation of the DFW airport and the main buildings of Dallas and Fort Worth. Children can play in many different areas building an earthquake tower (which shakes and falls down), building and racing little cars, and playing with enormous Legos on which they can climb while large Leggo animals look on. For lunch or dinner be sure to have a fabulous meal at the Love and War in Texas Restaurant near the Mall. The food is fabulous; I recommend the crab cakes and portabella mushroom combo, delicious!
There is always so much to do in Grapevine. The small town feeling and convenience in a very sophisticated atmosphere is what you will find in perhaps no other place in the United States. For a great family vacation stay one or more nights at Great Wolf Lodge, where kids of all ages can have a blast year-round at the fabulous water parks, one indoors and one out-of-doors. They can play interactive or arcade games to their hearts’ delight, enjoy excellent foods and snacks, compete in the Magic Wand scavenger hunt, have special treatment at the Kids’ Spa (while their parents are pampered at the Elements Spa).

From January till November the Historic Vintage Railroad train will take you from Grapevine to the Fort Worth Stockyards (about 45 minutes) for several hours of exploring a favorite Texas historic landmark in a street of authentic cowboy fame and fun. You’ll see a real cattle drive, discover western shops, eat Texas fare, and return in the luxury of the comfortable first class train experience. In holiday time for November and December the train becomes the North Pole Express with treats and fun for families.
On return to Grapevine you can enjoy a nightcap at another winery on Main Street: Cork It! which offers over 100 selections of Texas wines. Or go to the convenient and modern hipster Sky Bar at the nearby Vineyard Steak House. In the daytime return here to honor the memory of the airline crew and personnel who lost their lives helping comfort others during the horrific 9/11/2001 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City. The local funds for this very appropriate 9/11 Memorial were raised by people in Grapevine, and this memorial is especially touching if you read the explanatory plaques there.
The Glass Cactus Bar, near the Gaylord Texan Hotel, features live music Wednesday through Saturdays and many special event concerts throughout the year. There is never a cover charge for Gaylord guests, nor for anyone before 8 p.m. All the restaurants in the Gaylord are excellent. And even if you are not a paying guest you can spend hours in the gloriously decorated hotel central area, where a million lights twinkle at night during Christmas. But any time of year this huge foyer is beautifully decorated and you can walk through a recreation of some of Texas’ most famous landmarks.
For a moderately priced overnight or business stay, we chose the lovely Residence Inn DFW North/Grapevine in walking distance to many of these places. We enjoyed the large suites with stove and refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker and full hot breakfasts included, and even light evening meals on Sunday and Thursday nights. A convenient Conference Center makes this the perfect place for your business meetings in the metroplex, and you can relax or workout at the fitness center or outdoor pool. Just across the street is the huge and always fun Bass Pro Shop for all your outdoor needs, Bass Pro is an experience in itself with indoor waterfall, river, fish tank, preserved wild animal trophies, restaurants, bar, shooting range,and more to enjoy while shopping. Grapevine will be our stop every time we go to DFW now.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

If you thought Sandwich, Massachusetts was the birthplace of sandwiches in America, you may be surprised to find it is really the home of historic glass manufacturing factories. Along the scenic Cape Cod coast is the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company museum in no other than Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Sandwich was given its name after Sandwich, England and is an area chosen because of its shallow waters and shipping capabilities. There were other glass factories in New England during the industrial revolution but the name Sandwich always intrigued me so I visited the glass museum while touring “the Cape”.

As I walked through the building, I marveled at over 6,000 pieces of glass on display and many of them reminded me of my grandmother’s salt shakers, sugar bowls, cologne bottles and vases kept in her curio cabinet. Pink, amber, violet, green and red were hand painted on the designs and a special process enabled the vibrant colors to be infused into the glasses in later
times. Some of the works I saw in the various display cases looked to be from Ireland and Great Britain and I wondered why they would be in this Americana museum. Turns out, the company recruited and hired knowledgeable glass makers from Ireland and England and they left their imprint in America with this booming business of its day.

Women joined the work force, too, making stoppers for bottles, painting, etching and staining glass works. I viewed a special exhibit about the women who had worked in the factory including pictures from the 1800’s and the glass works they hand crafted. There are continuously changing exhibits and I found out more about glass blowing, shaping, pressing and design within the museum than I learned from any history books.

The civil war changed the success of the glass making factories and more competition came from other states eventually shutting down the Boston and Sandwich Glass company. The museum gives a person the opportunity to see
firsthand the process for creating and shaping glass with a 20 minute video and demonstrations by a glass blower showing different techniques. On the way out, the gift store sells glassworks from local artists and a curator is on hand to identify the antique items since there are no markings on the older pieces. Christmas time is especially bright and colorful with twenty
glass blowers making ornaments to decorate the indoor Christmas tree.

Children are given a treasure hunt brochure to find the early handmade glass and pressed glass in display cases with items such as fly traps, roosters, hats, sitting hen and vases. As they exit, the children are given a small package of marbles made on premises, not from China.

Glass works tell a history of bygone times and reaching for Grandma’s lacy glass candy jar made me realize how factories evolved into our current daily lives.