Photography by Yuri Krasov

Bali! The world of dreams. The world of smiles, bows, and frangipani flower necklaces, where the air is fragrant, the lush tropical greenery is awashed in warm downpours and sunlight; where subtle pleasures and indulgencies are delivered in a myriad ways – where you feel light and floating on air, like a flower petal…

All through the drive from the Ngurah Rai International Airport along winding narrow left-side roads of central Bali, I’m amazed and enthralled by the giant sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses; scary ugly demons carved of lava rock, guarding entrances to temples and dwellings under coconut palms; stone and wood carvings and pottery displayed in front of artisan shops. Children in school uniforms, women with baskets on their heads, teens on motorbikes, and crowds of brightly dressed people gathered for a temple ceremony move to and fro on our way.
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We head to Viceroy Bali – an exclusive five-star resort, literally cut into a vertical mountain side high above the green Valley of the Kings in the vicinity of a bustling Ubud village.
Beautifully appointed amid tropical wilderness, secluded and serene, Viceroy Bali is a paradise for newlyweds – and for olden-weds, too. 25 luxury villas under the traditional Balinese thatched roofs are light, spacious, with open-plan bedrooms and living rooms, marble bathrooms and private dipping pools.
The villas are perched on a steep ridge one above another in three rows, all facing the opposite side of a deep canyon overgrown with tropical forest.
Our Deluxe Terrace Villa has two glass double doors opening to a private patio with an endless-edge pool, a cozy gazebo for two balanced on its far corner, and on the other side – a small fountain streaming from a stone bowl held by a sculpted couple in tender embrace (Shiva and Parvathi?)
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At the tranquil indoor-outdoor Lembah Spa overlooking the Petanu River Gorge, our couple’s massage starts with a foot bath – the copper tub filled to the brim with rose petals. Spa therapists, trained in Swiss massage, are highly skilled and soon make us forget all the exhaustion of a long flight.

After the spa treatment, in pouring rain, we are escorted under large umbrellas to a next door CasCades restaurant, where high tea with finger sandwiches and house-made pastries is served just for us! The restaurant has no walls, and from any corner we can observe the endless jungle, lashed by the rain, and then suddenly blue sky, foggy vapors rising from the green lawns, and the large hotel pool – sparkling again, with a little tiled island lined with long chairs.

CasCades, multiple award-winning restaurant, serves creative Asian-influenced French cuisine, with nightly offerings including little masterpieces like Tomato Carpaccio, Barramundi Fish Teppanyaki, and Passion Fruit Mousse for dessert.

Come morning, we discover yet another CasCades wonder – a lavish a la carte breakfast, included with the room stay, and served on white table cloth. I inevitably pick a plate of tropical island-grown fruit and Bali coffee.
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After breakfast, we take a free hotel shuttle to Ubud village and walk to a sacred monkey forest Mandala Suci Wenara Wana. Cute little fluffy gray monkeys – many with tiny babies, firmly attached to their bellies – roam the trees, sit on the road, busily pounding fallen leaves with rocks, and communicate with visitors, looking for apple bananas sold from a cart right there, and skillfully peeling them. They go in and out of a locked up temple with a note on a gate, “For worshippers only,” and rest upon stone statues that surround the sacred ground.

We take a Balinese dance lesson at Arma museum with a professional dancer Ketut Riawati. When she tells us that a few years ago she traveled to San Francisco, and danced on a Berkeley stage in a large ensemble, my husband and I look at each other in disbelief. We’ve seen that performance! That was a remarkable show – only one in many years, and we remember it well – authentic Balinese dance and gamelan music brought to the California stage in all its exquisite beauty. We double our efforts to get to the core of the arm and eye dance movements (“Long arm! Big eyes, never small!”)…

We manage to pack a half-day tour departing from the hotel into our short stay at Viceroy Bali. Our experienced and friendly driver takes us to the “Moon Rock” temple Batu Bulan to watch a Balinese dance performance Pemaksan Barong Denjalan.

We drive to the “Elephant Cove” temple Goa Gojah, where worshippers still bring fruit and flower offerings in white coconut leaves to a Buddha statue, toppled over by an earthquake.

We admire a view of terraced rice paddies – emerald-green in drizzling rain, and travel to water temple Pura Tirta Empul where pilgrims perform purification rituals in a deep pool formed by underground streams.
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To bring back an exotic souvenir, we stop at a coffee plantation Teba Sari Bali Agrotourism, and get some Luwak coffee made with locally grown coffee berries eaten and “naturally processed” by mongooses. The small fluffy-tailed animals live on the plantation, gladly eat sweet red berry flesh, and excrete indigestible coffee beans, fermented in their stomachs. The beans then are washed, roasted, and sold as a delicacy.
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…The last two days of our journey we spent at the sea level in a futile attempt to experience Bali’s famous beaches. The rainy season prevented us from sun-tanning, but soon we’ve discovered that resort life in Bali never stops to amaze and indulge…
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Ayana Resort and Spa and Rimba Jimbaran Bali comprise Bali’s only integrated resort, a winner of multiple awards, located on a 220-acre Karang Mas Estate in south-eastern Bali, not far from Ngurah Rai International Airport.

The Villas at Ayana (“a place of refuge” in Sanskrit) are 78 individual secluded luxurious dwellings with private plunge pools and gazebos on limestone cliffs above the Indian Ocean. We felt positively pampered when our amiable on-call butler took us in a golf cart to our exquisite Cliff Villa surrounded by coconut palms and flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea.
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Everything seemed special, designed for ultimate relaxation and enjoyment inside the traditional Balinese-style gate, under the alang-alang roof… Inspired by the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana (“three reasons for well-being” – harmony with people, deities, and nature), indoor areas seamlessly connected with the outdoors.

In our large marble bathroom the bath tub was filled with red rose petals and yellow frangipani flowers. Behind the tub, a picture window framed frangipani trees covered in white, pink, and yellow blooms on a green lawn.
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The beneficial presence of water was felt everywhere. We spent plenty of time at the Thermes Marins Bali Spa, unique to Southeast Asia, in the largest in the world Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool, deservedly praised for therapeutic properties of its vigorous underwater massages performed by powerful jets. We indulged in deep tissue Balinese massage with age-old techniques used by the thorough spa masseuses.

At Dava (Sanskrit for “water”) restaurant with koi ponds and lotus pools, we enjoyed flawlessly served a la carte breakfast, included with the Villa stay.
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By the end of the day, we picked fresh-from-the-boat rock lobster and giant prawns from an icy display at Kisik Bar and Grill right on the beach. Grilled, sauced, and served with an array of Balinese accompaniments, our dinner was brought to our table on the sand, lit by glowing tiki torches by the Ocean Beach Pool.

We took a brief walk to the iconic Rock Bar perched above the clear waters of Jimbaran Bay. Guests are taken down to the Bar in a lift descending along the steep cliff. At sunset, dozens of Bali vacationers line up for the lift, although the hotel guests are treated as VIPs and use their own, shorter line.
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A complimentary resort shuttle in mere minutes delivered us from more traditional Ayana to the boldly contemporary Rimba with its ark-shaped lobby, designed in the style of a ship surrounded by reflective pools. The 5-star hotel has 282 luxurious rooms and suites decorated with natural materials, like reclaimed wood and plant fiber.

From the balcony of our Jimbaran Bay Suite, we admired a sweet sound of a flute – the performer in a floor-length gown was standing barefoot on a platform half submerged in an oval-shaped endless pool as if suspended in the air.

As soon as the nightly musical performance was over, we headed for Unique Rooftop Bar, situated on top of one of Rimba’s four buildings that offers dramatic 360-degree views of the Uluwatu Hills to the south-east, and ocean to the west.

Here we lounged on long chairs under an umbrella, sipped our island mojitos garnished with sugar cane sticks, and took swims in a pool cleverly positioned between the tables and the long chairs area.
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After a good-night sleep in our large and quiet room, and before leaving the resort, we had a substantial breakfast at To’ge restaurant. The morning buffet featured dishes inspired by the street food from all corners of Asia as well as Western classics. True to form, we picked Indonesian chicken and rice, local tropical fruit, and coconut juice from a whole coconut.
More information at: www.viceroybali.com, www.ayanaresort.com, www.rimbajimbaran.com.

It’s winter in the USA, but many RV travelers and campers will be crossing the country to be with family for the holidays. Here are some good winter camping tips.
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Grants, near the middle of northwestern New Mexico, is a small town on Highway I-40. KOA Grants/Cibola Sands is a Journey KOA. Since Grants is about an hour west of Albuquerque most of their guests are overnighters, tired from long drives, and they know how to cater to all their needs and desires. On check-in they gave us yummy cookies and dog biscuits for our little pal. She not only told us all about the KOA’s amenities, but also volunteered the weather report for the night and offered home-cooked dinner to be delivered to our RV!
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There are other RV parks which have offered meal delivery, but usually from Pizza places nearby. We were amazed and delighted with the many offerings from a turkey and stuffing complete Thanksgiving kind of meal, to smoked beef barbeque, to chicken strips, and lots more, and delicious pies…all home-cooked from scratch and delivered to our RV! I bet EVERYONE who stops here orders their choice and enjoys a night out, IN!
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We settled quickly into the flat, clean site (all pull-throughs with 50 amp service and free cable TV and Internet.) By the time we were all set up and had relaxed in the cool evening air (in mid-August) our hostess delivered our smoked beef dinner with apple pie alamode, which was fabulous! Watching the famous big sky and orange sunset, we ambled along the paved walking trail in the lava field beside our campground on this high desert. We travel this road often and we will definitely return to stay here over and over. Next morning we enjoyed the free continental breakfast at the office and visiting with other campers.
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Tucumcari KOA Journey is mainly for overnight New Mexico campers and has a fenced-in area for horses…a real western park with lovely cool nights in the pleasant, but hot daytime, desert air. They offer dine-in delivery service or you can eat in their dining room in the evening and breakfast in the office restaurant area. The people are so nice and helpful, and tried to fix our cable which would not work for TV, but we got some antennae stations. The park is clean and tidy, though the wood picnic tables are old and some need changing. The restrooms and laundry area are very clean. The pool is nice and the playground has some fun equipment you don’t see often, including the popular southwestern horses for kids to ride, made from tires. This is a perfect overnight stopover KOA, for which the Journey signs indicate. The nice K9 dog area has grass and there are trees throughout the park, which is not easy in desert areas.
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The year is 1645. The most virulent strain of the Bubonic Plague has immobilized Edinburgh, Scotland, claiming the lives of more than half the city’s population. The area hardest hit: Mary King’s Close on High Street, a busy thoroughfare and lively 17th century street of pubs, shops and residences. Cries of suffering have replaced the friendly chatter, and the stench of death, the pungent aroma of tea and scones.

The place, the time, the horror have been resurrected as one of Edinburgh’s most unusual attractions. Archaeologically and historically accurate, the alleys you walk upon, the rooms you visit, the stories you hear are real. This is not a recreation; it is a resurrection of what already existed so many centuries ago.

Beneath the City Chambers on Edinburgh’s famous Royal Mile, lies Mary King’s Close, a series of narrow, winding side streets with multi-level apartment houses looming on either side, which has been hidden for many years. In 1753, the houses at the top of the buildings were knocked down to make way for the then-new building. Parts of the lower sections were used as the foundation, leaving below a number of dark and mysterious underground alleyways steeped in mystery — and misery.
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The exhibit breathes new life into this underground world dominated by death. Reconstructed as it was then –- though without any contagious aspects –- the Real Mary King’s Close provides amazing insight into a period of history with which many are totally unfamiliar –- and it’s been preserved in an authentic environment and historically accurate depiction that defies most “commercial” historical reproductions.
It is eerie meandering up and down along dark, circuitous unpaved passageways, beaten down earth floors (good walking shoes are a must; wheelchair accessible it is not) –- past room after room, each with its own story to tell –- a projection of people who lived in the Close in the mid-16th-19th centuries. I almost feel an intruder, the subtle lighting enhancing the effects of a shadowy past.
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The inhabitants — ranging from those gracing a grand 16th century townhouse to plague victims of the 17th century to the third-generation saw makers who departed in 1902, when the last section was finally interred — are not composites of might-have-beens; the lives recounted are based on real people gleaned from primary documentation (written at the time) and preserved in the Scottish Office of Records and its archives.
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Lighting conveys the supernatural nature of the attraction as much as does the narrative. Only “practicals” –- original methods of lighting the dwellings –- are used, re-creating the actual lighting conditions of the 17th-18th centuries. Candle light illuminates one room, while the glow of firelight casts its spell in another. A single low-watt light bulb brings others into hazy focus.

The dark hallways are lit by lantern-like “bowats,” providing only as much light as was necessary to light the streets at night. The lighting levels in each room are just enough to highlight its architectural features, furniture or inhabitants –- no more or less than was available to the tenants at the time. The concept of atmospheric lighting takes on a whole new dimension.

Rounding one curve reveals a large window, lit by a gloomy, greenish, unhealthy light. A doctor emerges, tending to bed-ridden figures, covered with sores, boils and diseased skin. It’s the home of John Craig, a grave-digger who has already succumbed to the “visitation of the pestilence,” his body awaiting “collection.”

His wife, Janet, and three sons suffer from varying stages of the deadly malady. The Doctor is lancing a boil on the eldest son, Johnnie, with a hot iron to seal and disinfect the wound. Repellant odors arising from the family chamber pot of vomit provide a little more “reality” than even today’s cable TV has prepared me for. By the door there is bread, ale and coal delivered to the quarantined family. The townspeople want to ensure the afflicted stay in their homes, so the healthy have good reason to give generously.

And therein lies the tragedy of Mary King’s Close -– much of its history parallels that of the plague. The epidemic struck its residents fiercely; as the deaths rose, the bodies accumulated outside to be carried away by those designated to perform the loathsome task. Mary King’s Close was a pariah in the neighborhood –- and ultimately fell victim to its own diseased fate. It disappeared, as well.

With more than two dozen stops along the tour path — each accompanied by an intriguing bit of personal history –- I became intimately acquainted with the residents who lived there.
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Mary King herself, of course, who moved here with her four children in 1629 after her husband died. You’ll get to meet her personally and boy, does she have some good stories to tell!

While listening to the story of another early dweller, the narration is interrupted by a scream from across the way. We quickly run to see what happened. The widow Allison Rough, murder weapon in hand, is standing over her son-in-law Alexander Cant, a prominent Burgess of Edinburgh, whose body lay on the floor –- the dowry agreement over which they have been fighting still in his hand. Events leading up to the murder, as well as its aftermath, are wound into a true-to-life rendition of Allison’s memorable life.

Similar stories, some enthralling, others bizarre –- all authenticated by original documentation –- abound as we wend our way around the windy, up-and-down corridors. Shifts in lighting reflect the various circumstances. Not to mention the assorted ghosts (the only residents not authenticated by original documentation) who are said to inhabit the property.

Edinburgh native Jennifer West is awed by this backyard discovery. “This really brings to life all the stories I’ve heard over the years about this part of the city’s history. It’s hard to grasp that these underground chambers were once bustling street-side shops.”

One of the most important — and saddest — among a multitude of rooms that witnessed much sadness is one in which eight-year-old Annie died of the plague in 1645. A Japanese psychic, visiting in 1992, could barely enter the room because of all the misery she felt there. As she turned away, she claimed to feel a tug at her leg. Annie, in rags with long dirty hair, was standing by the window, crying because she had lost her family, her dog and her doll. The psychic brought Annie a doll to comfort her –- and people from around the world have been leaving trinkets and toys ever since.

Key chains, jewelry, dolls, stuffed animals line the walls as a shrine to the sad little child who has long since passed away. ”What a sad story,” laments 10-year-old Harriet Peterson, visiting from London. She slowly adds the small stuffed teddy bear she is hugging to the other offerings.
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There was a lot of life lived within these buildings –- and a lot of lives lost. As one of the most fascinating and unique walks –- literally — through history I’ve yet to tread, the unsettling stories, the ethereal lighting, the serpentine alleyways remained with me, even as I explored the many other, more traditional sites of Historic Edinburgh.

The Real Mary King’s Close is open daily, with tours at 15-minute intervals. Price is adults, $23; children 5-15, $13; seniors and students, $20. For more information, please contact: VisitBritain at 1-877/899-8391 or visit www.realmarykingsclose.com.

Travel is always an adventure and no more so than on a cruise where you are definitely not in control, as that is the responsibility of the ship’s Captain. With a Blount Small Ship Adventure you are sure to have an adventurous nature as their relatively small ships (80 passengers) traverse less traveled waterways and dock at destinations where only small ships can go. My trip aboard the Grande Caribe took me from Montreal (see Part One of this sojourn) up to Quebec, then back through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, along the trail of the Erie Canal via the New York Canal System, down the Hudson River and docking in little old New York City, after a farewell cruise by the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan while pausing at the Statue of Liberty.
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This being my first time with Blount (it has about a 50% return booking of previous passengers) I have to commend the cruise staff from Captain John Hunnewell, to the all-important Cruise director, Lisa Pontarelli, down through all the seventeen support staff of housekeeping, galley servers and the deck hands who were all cheerful and helpful day after day of my twelve day cruise. A cruise ship company can have little control over weather, or tides, but when they pay special attention to passenger service, you know you have a good company and see why Blount has such a good return booking. Blount is not so much about luxury accommodations as they are about informative and enjoyable destinations where many other cruise ships cannot go. Among other destinations my favorites (I have several favorites) include historic Hyde Park, home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the Impressive West Point academy; Cooperstown with its charming main street shops, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and nearby Fenimore Art Museum preserved in an historic house. The Grande Caribe also stopped off at the Wooden Boat Museum, the town of Troy, the Fredric Remington Art Museum and a tour of the Singer Castle. But most enjoyable was progressing at a leisurely pace along the waterway with its homes and mansions of the Thousand Islands and all along the fabled Hudson River valley. Traveling on the water gives you a tangible concept of the country’s geography and how it influenced the area’s history.
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For true marine lovers the over thirty canal locks encountered from Montreal to NYC, is illuminating. Passengers continued to marvel at these engineering mechanisms and how adept the crew and captain was at navigating through them. These relatively short pauses give one time to reflect on the communities they bolster as well as a glimpse into American culture.
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A Blount Small Ship Adventure nurtures a leisurely pace of travel. While the day is structured with a 7:30 a.m. bell to call you to an 8 a.m. breakfast, and the following lunch and dinner, you never feel rushed, even though everyone on my cruise was eager for the delicious meal times. Breakfast offers a cold buffet of fruit, yogurt cereals, as the crew serves the specialty of the morning which might be eggs benedict, fresh scrambles eggs, hot pancakes, muffins or waffles. If there is a special egg order it is gladly taken. Lunch usually consists of a soup of the day and a variety of sandwiches throughout the cruise. After a BYOB cocktail hour, dinner may start off with a salad, followed by an entree of the day, maybe a steak, Mahi Mahi, pasta or Game Hen. Complementary wines are served by the glass during lunch and more extensively at dinner. Of course a desert of ice cream or cake or pie tops off the meal. All meals are open seating and it’s fun to mix up your dining partners, or cling to the congenial folks you like the most. The hit of any of our meals was the fresh baked variety of breads.
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As a single traveler I relished having one of the few cabins with an outside door to the walk around deck. While the sliding door often would not stay shut, when it was open during day cruising it was a joy to relax on the opposite bed with views out the door of the shoreline accented with a variety of homes and landscapes dotted with colorful autumn trees. My cabin was designed for two, and I might suggest for my tastes two persons might be one too many in any of the cabins, as elbow room in the cabins is at a premium. But such is the design of small ships. I did hear some first time passengers comment on the noise in the cabins of the individually controlled air system , the engine noise, and the challenge in taking a brief compact shower, but that has to be chalked up to part of the small ship adventure. Again, the Blount cruise is about destinations not accommodations.
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The evenings offered a formal cultural lecture in the common area, by Frederick Stonehouse, author of thirty books which made him an expert on the maritime history we were experiencing. A personable gentleman who was just as interesting when joining him during the informal family styled meals. Other evenings there was on board entertainment. The best perhaps was the jazz trio of Skip Parsons who brought a Dixieland style to this ultimate river boat. As my trip was in late October, when children would be in school, my cruise was made up almost entirely of senior citizens. I found all the fellow travelers well informed and well-traveled. Getting to know a portion of their knowledge was an added Blount Small Ship Adventures treat.

For your specal interests sign up for email alerts and explore a variety of 2015 cruise destinations at:

http://www.blountsmallshipadventures.com/

As you can tell from the title I had a near 3 week tour of the North East which was an all-consuming adventure of over 1100 miles, 32 locks and many city visits via Blount’s Grand Caribe small cruise ship. Blount specializes in traveling where large ships cannot go and giving their guests exceptional access to destinations approachable by rivers in North America. Blount cruises are ideal for Senior citizens. (More details about my cruise in Part Two.) It’s always a good idea to arrive early for any cruise ship departure, as you’d had to miss the boat because of airline or weather delays. I did that with my 3 night stay in one of my most enjoyable city explorations in Old Montreal.
Taking the suggestion of Montreal Tourism, I stayed at the upscale boutique Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel, in the middle of historic yet modern old town. The hotel offered all the amenities expected with a flare and style for which you always wished. The dining, bar, concierge, bell men, Internet access, housekeeping and staff all were the best of the best with efficient and congenial service. Le Saint-Sulpice is indeed a pleasant and quiet oasis from your Montreal touring.
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Being my first time in Montreal, I enjoyed my morning car tour by expert guide, Ruby Roy, who showed me many Montreal iconic sights. They included the past Olympic and Expo venues, several overlook vistas of the Montreal skyline, an exposure to the variety of unique architectural styles of its neighborhoods (where the design of street lights change with each neighborhood), the Atwater Farmers market and of course topping off with a visit to the 1823 Notre-Dame Basilica (entry fee), which is only half a block from my Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel.
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It’s said that Montreal has over 6,000 restaurants, but as only having 3 days, I was pleased to accept the challenge and sample a few, most in Old Montreal and within walking distance. Many were near the main street of Old Montreal, Saint Paul Street, East and West. The street is filled with enticing upscale art galleries, shops and other businesses housed in vintage Montreal facades. At times I felt I was strolling through a European city, exhibiting its sophisticated culture. A short distance from Le Saint-Suplice is the Montreal Museum of Archeological and History, a must to see for its original foundations of Old Montreal, and to explore its history through a labyrinth of exhibition narratives. The experience of taking in their multiple image movie was a welcome diversion and informational. A real treat is the very popular museum café, Restaurant l’AArrivage. The concierge at the hotel retrieved the last table available for my noontime respite, where the food was economical and delicious along with a variety of local people watching. So as not to be disappointed reservations, even for a noon time meal, is a must at most all Montreal restaurants. My other dining pleasures included: Helena is very popular and crowded with a Portuguese style menu. Chez L’Epicier has an elegant atmosphere and food presentations which started off with a Kir Maison of sparkling apple cider, cranberry and maple, to accompany their amuse bush of a sweet macaroon and chocolate mint. This may be their “eat dessert first” philosophy. Ask for their Club Sandwich, which is a dessert of sweet delights presented as if it were a sandwich. Perhaps the best taste in all Montreal was their Roasted Butternut Squash (tasting like peaches!) with sour cream and walnut crumble.
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Osteria Venti, was again a very popular restaurant. It seems everyone in Montreal eats out all the time. The service here was congenial and I must say that they followed my Martini instructions to the letter without hesitation. It seems in Canada in particular, that martinis are stirred not usually shaken, so my detailed instruction (ice on the pond) was welcomed, as they wanted to please this customer, as they also did with my meal of oven roasted half chicken, rustic peperonata, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

You’ll need to take a taxi to Chez Ma Grosse Truie Cherie – but it was worth it to dine on their onion soup, pork tenderloin encrusted (port is their specialty), a hazel nut crème Brule, and accompany all with either an apple Martini or their special drink created by the bar tender, David, a martini of Montreal gin, herbs and a hint of maple syrup. To know that most their interior is from recycle materials including bowling alley wood made into table tops, is an added treat.
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Back at Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel your choice of breakfast dishes at the Sinclair restaurant is extensive, and who doesn’t need an early morning wake up for a full day of touring? If weather permits you might eat out on the patio, or if not, inside the enclosed terrace offering floor to ceiling windows. Having this hotel as your elegant, secure and convenient home in Old Montreal is a comfortable way to enjoy the city. There is even a Christmas shop halfway between the hotel and the Notre-Dame Basilica, and a liquor store across the street. Old Montreal…my new favorite haunt. Check out: www.tourisme-montreal.org, www.lesaintsulpice.com, www.restauranthelena.com, www.chezlepicier.com, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/plan-your-visit/larrivage-restaurant, www.osteriaventi.com, info@blountsmallshipadventures.com.

In 2008 I spent two days in Westchester County and referred to the county as New York City’s 6th borough. The tourism folks liked the name and used it on many of their advertising campaigns. This September I spent the better part of a Sunday in Scarsdale at the Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival which was located 10 steps from the Metro North station. I thought it was time to spend a day looking at some new areas of the county. I was lucky that Lydia Ruth of the Westchester County Tourism & Film office once again served as my guide.
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Who needs a car in the county when they have lots of public transportation options? My senior fare on Metro North from Grand Central to Yonkers was just $5 one way. I could have opted for any of the NYC subway lines and caught a Bee Line bus from the end of the lines as well. I was in Yonkers in less than 30 minutes and only had a 2 block walk to the Hudson River for my first (but not last) WOW! moment. Yonkers is the 4th largest city in New York and downtown Yonkers is experiencing a renaissance of culture, community, development and art: a parking lot replaced by a babbling brook filled with fish; new and converted apartment buildings facing the Hudson; many restaurants, a post office, hotels, the public library, sculptures galore, the Motor Vehicle Bureau and clean streets and sidewalks. Robert M. Walters, the Science Barge director, was my guide. The Science Barge is a prototype sustainable urban farm developed by NY Sun Works and acquired by Groundwork Hudson Valley in October 2008 to be operated as an environmental education center. The Science Barge is a sustainable urban farm powered by solar, wind and biofuel and irrigated by rainwater and purified river water. They grow fresh fruit and vegetables using recirculating hydroponics and aquaponics. It is designed for school kids in grades 3-12, youth groups as well as teacher training. I was then led next door to the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). A long name for a comprehensive river education experience, learning about the Hudson River ecosystem and water quality. But the best was still to come. Lunch was at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson.
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X2O is Peter X Kelly’s latest addition to the Xaviars Restaurant Group which includes Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar in Congers and Xaviars at Piermont as well as Freelance Café & Wine bar, also in Piermont. X2O sits in the Hudson on the only turn-of-the-century Victorian pier still existing in the river. The main dining salon’s 25-foot vaulted ceiling and 3 walls of glass frames offers views of the George Washington and Tappan Zee Bridges, as well as sunsets over the Palisades. Dishes incorporate classic French technique with Italian and Spanish influences and Asian embellishments. In 2007 self-taught Chef-owner Peter Kelly appeared on the Food Networks Iron Chef America and beat Bobby Flay in Battle “Cowboy Rib Eye”. He also played host to Anthony Bourdain on his “No Reservations” program, introducing Tony to the beauty of the Hudson Valley. Since the early 90’s Peter has also been a vintner. His wines at Xaviar’s Cellars in Napa Valley are known as “Silenus” (the Teacher of Bacchus in Greek Mythology). Peter has also consulted on several bottlings from the emerging Hudson Valley region. My salmon was so fresh I did not need a fork; it melted directly into my mouth. The real bargain was the 3-course lunch for just $25. I had such a great experience that I plan on taking Metro North to Yonkers once the weather turns warm for another lunch, along with the nearby farmers market and concert pavilion.
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Another WOW! moment was my visit to Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway. It is a half-mile harness-racing track & a casino with slot machines, electronic games & multiple eateries. You can play the roulette wheel or blackjack using electronics with no human interaction. I am not a gambler but what really impressed me was pinch (not Pinch) which is run by Alain Ducasse’s consulting company, Ducasse Studio. There are 245 seats and both the beverage and dessert menus come on an iPad. The restaurant has a growler filling station (to go), where you can choose from one of 100 New York State beers. It also has six “draft booths,” which are tables outfitted with self-service beer taps (I am not kidding). The interior design inspiration is a classic 1950’s vintage diner with automotive interiors, tailored banquettes, a raw bar and an open kitchen. Since I grew up in the 1950’s this is my kind of restaurant. I can’t wait to go back for a meal. I asked my host if we could stop at Untermyer Gardens Conservancy in Yonkers. I didn’t realize that nothing was growing during the late fall and winter months & vowed to return next spring. Samuel Untermyer was passionately interested in horticulture. He said that if he could do it over again, he would want to be the Parks Commissioner in New York City! Unlike most wealthy garden-owners, Untermyer was expertly knowledgeable about horticulture. The level of horticulture at the Untermyer Gardens was nationally famous and some great gardeners got their training there. The only place I revisited from my 2008 trip to Westchester was Lyndhurst. It was built in 1838 and purchased in 1880 by railroad magnate Jay Gould as a summer home. Mr. Gould used Lyndhurst as an escape from the pressures of his business life and when his health was impaired by tuberculosis; Lyndhurst served as a country retreat until his death in 1892. After passing to various family members the 67-acre estate became a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The grounds at Lyndhurst are an example of 19th century landscape design including sweeping lawns accented with shrubs and specimen trees, the curving entrance drive, the angular repetition of the Gothic roofline in the evergreens and the nation’s first steel-framed conservatory. The rose garden and fernery were later additions. The building was temporarily closed as they decorated for the holiday season. They kindly allowed me to get a sneak peek of A Very Dutchess Holiday. I want to return for the full effect.
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As I was still full from lunch I only tried a lobster main course (yummy) at The Stone Manor in Hawthorne. The restaurant is the latest project by Michael Casarella and Tommy Stratis, the owners of Goldfish in Ossining and Casa Rina in Thornwood. It opened in July 2013 after an 18-month renovation of its old stone building. The 14,000-square-foot Mediterranean steakhouse and catering hall creates a modern ambiance that embraces nods to the space’s 180-year history.

It was a short drive into White Plains where I caught my Metro North train back to Grand Central. I am already planning my return trip. So should you.

For More Information – www.mta.info/mnr, www.yonkersdowntown.com, www.beelinebus.com, www.westchestergov.com, www.visitwestchesterny.com, www.xaviars.com, www.centerfortheurbanriver.org, www.thestonemanor101.com, www.untermyergardens.org, www.empirecitycasino.com, www.lyndhurst.org.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

 

One of the most beautiful coastal towns, Pacifica is found along the beloved by travelers picturesque Highway One, mere a 20-minute drive from San Francisco. So close to the busy metropolis, yet so far away from its hustle and bustle, the town is shrouded in summer fog that rises from the cold oceanic waters, and gets sunnier by wintertime when the temperatures of air and water equalize in seasonal harmony. Known as a surfer’s and fisherman’s paradise, Pacifica holds many unsung treasures for art and nature lovers as well. It’s good to visit any time of year, with numerous things to see and do.
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Built by a San Francisco attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey in 1908, the fortress-like building on a hill was supposed to shield his family forever from natural disasters like the catastrophic 1906 earthquake. In its more than a century-long history, the Castle hasn’t suffered any damage from shaking ground, but took its fair share of disasters from a motley crew of its occupants who came in the wake of the original owners. They have ranged from an illegal abortion clinic and a Prohibition-era speakeasy the “Chateau Lafayette” to a communications center for the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II to guard against Japanese saboteurs potentially coming ashore from their submarines.
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In 1959, Sam Mazza, a theater painter and decorator for 20th Century Fox, purchased the Castle – not to live in it, but to “store his junk,” and thus created a museum of theater décor with its 24 rooms filled with period furnishings and artwork that had been used in films or onstage.

Lately, the Sam Mazza Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, was using the Castle for its charitable work to promote arts and education, and for private events. Now the museum is open to the public for monthly Sunday tours with an experienced and knowledgeable guide. (The upcoming tours are scheduled for November 29, December 20, and next year January 18, February 21, and March 8).

Sanchez Art Center

Located in a former elementary school building, Pacifica Center for the Arts is home to various performance arts and multiple artists’ studios. Sanchez Art Center, founded in 1996, began with a group of local artists who saw the potential for studio and gallery space in the unused school building. It now includes 18 studios, three galleries, and an arts education room. The Main Gallery holds four major exhibitions a year by well-known and emerging artists. Two annual juried competitions, Left Coast Annual, and the 50/50 Show are judged by distinguished jurors, while a lot of gallery space opens on a regular basis to the artists from the community, including children, seniors, and disabled adults.
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Lovey’s Tea Shoppe

This tiny tea house is filled with mismatched china, toys and figurines, gingerly covering every surface in a cozy sun-lit dining room. There are dozens of black, green, flavored and herbal teas to choose from, all served in whimsical teapots and accompanied by finger sandwiches, greens-and-fruit salads, homemade soups, hearty lunches, or scones and crumpets with clotted cream and berry preserves. According to the shop owner, Muna Nash, women love to bring here their kicking and screaming husbands and boyfriends for high tea, but all of them leave with a smile on their faces, and many become regulars of this sweet, warm and delicious place.
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Moonraker Restaurant

In Pacifica, this glorious salty air beach town, the culinary emphasis is understandably placed on fresh seafood, and there’s hardly a better place to enjoy it than Moonraker Restaurant overlooking the famous Rockaway Beach. Every window offers a panoramic ocean view, and a Sunday brunch buffet is nothing short of spectacular. From oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, and smoked salmon to soups, salads, vegetables, meat dishes, and overwhelmingly lavish desserts, the Moonraker has it all, including your morning champagne and mimosas. A wonderful place to enjoy with a family or a company of friends! The regulars say that from the restaurant windows they often see migrating whales in season (December-January and February-April). According to the National Marine Sanctuaries of the West Coast, Pacifica is one of the richest areas in the world for marine mammal life.
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Puerto 27 Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar

This new restaurant, packed on any evening, serves Latin-American staples and Peruvian specialties. Spicy tangy starters include Ceviche Elegancia (classic Peruvian ceviche with white fish, aji rocoto leche de tigre, red onion, lime, sea salt); Mushroom Empanadas (maitake, shiitake, beech mushrooms, spinach, corn, Jack cheese); Jalea Mixta (calamari, shrimp, scallop, yucca, salsa criolla, black mint tartar sauce), and Anticuchos de Corazon (beef heart skewers). Among the mains Lomo Saltado (steak strips), Aji de Gallina (chicken stew), and Choritos (mussels in tomato-chorizo sauce) are the stars.

Nick’s Restaurant

Built in 1927, the historical landmark restaurant is still owned and operated by the fourth generation of the founding family. Located right on the Rockaway Beach with raging waves and silvery foam under a full moon, this respectable establishment, well-known way beyond its native town, serves classic libations, generous portions of fish and meat dishes, and decadent desserts. Live music plays on weekends over a dance floor that’s never vacant.
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Devil’s Slide Trail

Hikes and walks in Pacifica are a great addition to bicycling, Segway tours, watersports, and other outdoor adventures. A newly opened Devil’s Slide Trail stretches for a little over a mile on a former Highway One segment known for its dangerous landslides and associated with them accidents and closures. Last year, with the opening of an engineering wonder – Tom Lantos Tunnels – the San Mateo County Parks Department began converting this segment of the old highway into a non-motorized trail opened to hikers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. An easy walk along the Devil’s Slide Trail grants unparalleled panoramic views of the endless Pacific and dramatic cliffs populated by seagulls and cormorants.

Mori Point Trail

Even on a foggy day, a leisurely walk to Mori Point is a fascinating experience. With an endless ocean beach of one side, and the Alister MacKenzie-designed Sharp Park Golf Course on another, the trail opens to stunning seaside vistas, and to golfing greens surrounded by dramatically crooked cypresses bent by the Pacific winds.

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Hotels in Pacifica

Pacifica Beach Hotel across from the surfer’s favorite Linda Mar Beach is a great place to watch sunsets from you room window, and to relax in a Jacuzzi tub right in your room after vigorous outdoor activities like surfing, boating, scuba, fishing, paragliding, hiking, birding, cycling, golf, tennis, bowling, archery and horseback riding. Pacifica Beach Hotel: (650) 355-9999, www.pacificabeachhotel.com.

Other accommodations include America’s Best Value Inn Pacifica: (877) 784-6835, www.pacifica-bestvalueinn.com; Best Western Plus Lighthouse Hotel: (650) 355-6300, www.bestwesternlighthouse.com; Holiday Inn Express & Suites: (650) 355-5000, www.hiexpresspacifica.com; Pacifica Motor Inn: (800) 522-3772, www.pacificamotorinn.com; Sea Breeze Motel at Rockaway Beach: (650) 359-3903.

For more information about the destination of Pacifica, California, please visit http://visitpacifica.com.

A drive through Eastern Washington State is lovely. For miles and miles we passed the rolling yellow wheat fields as far as we could see on both sides of Highway 261. Definitely, this is one of the bread basket areas of America, very impressive and unusual scenery. Starbuck/Lyons Ferry KOA is located at the historic site of the ferry which took passengers, animals, and wagons and cars across the Snake River for over a century, until the Lyons Ferry Bridge was opened in 1968. This has been a favorite fishing place for more than 100 years, with record catches of sturgeon, and other fish. The Monumental Dam creates the Herbert G. West Lake, and the Marina is located at this KOA. The setting is beautiful with rolling hills, rivers, lake and a beautifully kept KOA Kampground.
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Jim, the owner, is so personable and we loved having a delicious meal prepared in the KOA restaurant. The menu was quite varied and really well prepared and yummy from early morning breakfast through a very good evening meal. Jim and Angela are terrific personalities who give a great welcoming feeling to their guests from March to October. Fishing here is legendary, and you can see salmon climbing the ladders near the fish hatchery in late summer. PHONE 509 399 8020 or EMAIL lyonsferrymarina@columbianet.com
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There are many things to do in the area, especially the 1,000 acre Palouse Falls State Park just a short drive north of the Marina. The park is bordered by the Snake and Palouse Rivers, where you can enjoy swimming, a sandy beach, fishing, boating, or hiking. There are picnic tables and restrooms. The recently designated Palouse Falls is the official waterfall of Washington, and you’ll get great views of the very deep canyon from the park above, or you can hike along the river on a trail below. During the Ice Age a 2000 foot high ice dam was breached many times and this area flooded with water over 13 times the volume of the Amazon River (the largest river in the world today.)
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This was a site where Lewis and Clark found Indians drying their salmon. The rocky bluffs are called Marmes Rockshelter, where in 1962 an archeological team discovered about a dozen skeletons of people who lived here 13,000 years ago. This is the oldest inhabited site in North America. This is also a good area for bird watchers, and many of the birds to look for are illustrated on placards in the park. There are especially large raptor birds in this area, but don’t let your children who saw Jurassic Park Movie think they should be frightened of being eaten by velociraptors!
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We had fun watching the adorable and friendly little ground squirrels, who loved the wild wheat along the rim. Just downstream you can see the Joso Railroad Bridge, built in 1910-1914. At 3500 feet long and 180 feet above the water it was the longest and highest in the world for trains. Today it is still one of the longest and is operated by the Union Pacific Company.
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A walking holiday in the second largest country in the world seemed a bit ambitious for beginners, but my wife was keen to go.

Fortunately we weren’t covering the whole country. Our itinerary encompassed Toronto, Quebec and Niagara, some of the highlights of this vast country that is home to only 35 million people, less than the population of California.

So, armed with waterproof jackets (which we didn’t need) and our most comfortable walking shoes, we set off on our adventure.

We had to delay the start of our trip. However, we met up with the rest of the group over dinner in Quebec, caught up on what they had experienced in Montreal and Sacacomie and immediately made new-found friends.

The next morning we boarded our coach to the toughest walk of our trip. A short drive took us to the Jacques-Cartier National Park, 260 square miles of mountains, lakes, rivers and walking trails. Blessed with almost cloudless blue skies, warm sunshine and trees turning to their Fall shades of red and gold, we chatted to our new-found friends as we walked the steep inclines through the forest. As the going got tougher and trails became staircases, conversation ceased and it became a struggle for us two beginners to keep up the pace. Thankfully our guide, Jean-Francois, made regular stops to admire the view and allow us to catch up. Those views were fantastic and well worth the climb, and as the trail started to descend we felt we had already achieved something special.

We stopped at the Visitors Centre and Jean-Francois produced picnic lunches for us all at a spectacular location, right on the water’s edge. It couldn’t have been better.
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Later that day we had some free time to explore the city. Old Quebec has a strong European feel and is the only fortified city in North America north of Mexico. It is divided into the higher and lower towns, the latter being right at the water’s edge of the St Lawrence Seaway and offering moorings to an increasing number of cruise ships. We enjoyed walking along part of the fortification walls and gates that stretch nearly three miles around the edge of the old city. The streets are lined with buildings of great character, none more imposing than the Chateau Frontenac. It claims to be the most photographed hotel in the world and we could see why.

We walked along the boardwalk past the hotel to the Citadel and the Plains of Abraham where, in 1759, the English and French armies, under Generals Wolf and Montcalm, battled it out. The Plains are now a spacious urban park and being right in the City are easily accessible to locals and tourists alike.

After a short flight the following day we found ourselves in Toronto. Originally named York, it changed its name in 1834. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, towering new skyscrapers and ongoing re-development are evidence of the rapid growth the city is experiencing. Tallest of the structures is the CN Tower and the best way to get an overall view of the city is from its revolving restaurant and viewing platform around 1,150 feet (351m) above the ground. If you are brave enough you can also venture onto the vertigo-inducing glass floor – great for selfies.

Toronto is the commercial hub of Canada and home to the Canadian Stock Exchange as well as its five biggest banks. This contributes to not only a high standard of living but also high housing costs and high-rise accommodation.

The city is culturally diverse with more than 80 ethnic groups. Street signs often proclaim the nationality of the immigrants who built their community there.

However, it’s not all concrete and glass skyscrapers, some older building survive including the famous ‘flat iron’ building and the St Lawrence Market, an indoor market founded in 1803 and full of stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Toronto is also a major Arts centre and boasts theatres, concert halls and galleries as well as the University of Toronto which dates back to 1827.

After two days of city walks we needed some open spaces, and where better than our next destination, Niagara Falls.
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Many people think that the Falls are in a remote area but they are in the city and the hotels are in walking distance. There are in fact three falls that flow into the Niagara River which forms a natural boundary between Canada and the US, but the Canadian falls, the Horseshoe Falls, are the biggest. The other two falls are the American falls and the much smaller Bridal Veil falls, separated from the American falls by Luna Island, a mere 130ft (40m) wide. All three falls are best viewed from the Canadian side but recent passport controls have reduced the number of people walking or driving over the Rainbow Bridge that links the two countries.

The area along the waterfront consists of well manicured gardens and smart hotels but just behind this area, downtown Niagara Falls and particularly the Clifton Hill area, looks more like an amusement park with a range of attractions, lower priced accommodation and eateries catering for families. Attractions such as the upside down house, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and several wax works can keep kids, young and old, amused for hours.

No visit to Niagara would be complete without a boat ride into the whirlpool at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls. All passengers are provided with hooded plastic ponchos to help keep out the water which, as you get closer to the falls, feels more like driving rain. It is from the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, cascading half a million gallons of water a second into the Niagara River, that you really appreciate the might of the second largest waterfall in the world.
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Whilst the Falls are the central attraction, the area boasts numerous vineyards, many of which are happy to welcome visitors in the hope that you might buy a bottle or two. There is also the famous Welland Canal, allowing cargo ships to sail between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, its seven locks allow ships to navigate the Niagara Escarpment which, in 1990, was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is part of a network of canals linking the Great Lakes that allows cargo from both Canada and US cities like Detroit and Chicago to reach ocean-going vessels at ports such as Montreal and Quebec.

Nearby townships such as Niagara on the Lake and Jordan provide picturesque places to visit and the nearby Balls Falls Conservation Area, one of the earliest settlements in this part of Canada, includes the Grist Mill dating back to 1809 and St George Church, built in 1864.

Our final walk was along part of the famous Bruce Trail. The trail follows the Niagara Escarpment for over 500 miles (800km) and is the longest marked trail in Canada. It’s paths and bridges are maintained by a number of clubs that have sprung up along its route. For many hikers around the world it ranks as a ‘must do’ trail.
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This is just a slice of what Canada has to offer, from big modern cities to wide open plains, forests and mountains. One thing all the places had in common, however, was the warmth and friendliness of Canadians themselves who, from the assistant in a local Subway to the staff at the smart city hotels, were genuinely pleased to see us, happy to help and keen to hear about our experiences in their great country. We had walked many miles along trails, sometimes steep and rocky, along canals and through cities; we had enjoyed great exercise, fresh air and making new friends with our fellow hikers. Truly a trip to remember.
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For more information on this and other walking holidays around the world, go to www.hfholidays.co.uk, email info@hfholidays.co.uk or contact their US partners Fugazi Travel Agency Inc, email info@fugazitravel.com tel: (415) 393 1588.