Photography by Yuri Krasov

I’ve always known that vacationing in the mountains was for the athletic, physically well-adjusted, and fearless people who don’t mind long hikes, sharp air temperature changes, and heavy backpacks…

Just like the absolute majority of vacationers, I’ve always preferred seaside and leisure to snowy peaks and incessant hiking. However, my recent personal discovery of Tirol region in Austria made me rethink my vacation persuasion.

Our lucky adventure started with the Lufthansa non-stop flight San Francisco- Munich. From there, it was an easy ride with a car-and-driver transportation service, Four Seasons Travel – their office located right at the airport. Soon my husband and I were in Austria; warmly greeted at a charming Hotel Alte Post in a beautiful little town of St. Anton am Arlberg – one of the 12 “Best of the Alps” most traditional Alpine resorts in Europe.

Besides excellent service, based on decades of hospitality culture, Hotel Alte Post boasts a large wellness facility with sauna, steam room, swimming pool, and hot tubs, and a high-class restaurant that serves full breakfast and dinner.
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Through the windows of our spacious, clad in warm pinewood hotel room, I observed an idyllic picture of hilly green pastures with flocks of sheep whose faint bleating and tinkling bells could be heard in the clean mountainous air.

Our first order of business was to get to the top of Valluga (2811m) where from a 360-degree sightseeing platform one could enjoy the view of the Alps in four different countries – Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

State-of-the-art Galzigbahn, constructed in 2006, took us on a fast and breathtaking trip above the clouds. Back in 1937, the Galzig cable car was one of the first gondolas in the region, serving 210 persons an hour. The new contemporary lift is based on the technology of a Ferris wheel, making it possible for the passengers to embark and exit at ground level. The unique glass construction of the gondola station looks like a giant crystal, lit up at night.
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A local museum, dedicated to the history of St. Anton and located in a 1912 “Villa Trier” tells a story of Hannes Schneider – the Arlberg ski pioneer. The father of downhill skiing as we know it began his career as a ski instructor in 1907 and founded the world’s first ski school in winter of 1920-21, teaching the guests of the Hotel Alte Post how to shift their weight, and adjust speed and balance on uneven terrain. In his St. Anton ski school, which still exists today, Schneider trained groups of students according to their individual abilities. He introduced the “Arlberg technique” to the international audiences, and then traveled to Japan with a series of lectures and seminars affirming his motherland’s leading role in the development of winter sports.

He also performed as an actor in a number of highly popular ski movies, like Der Weisse Rausch (The White Thrill) directed by Arnold Fanck and shot in St. Anton in the winter of 1930-31.

In 1938 Schneider was imprisoned by the Nazis for repeatedly speaking up against the Nazi regime and supporting Jewish friends. Thanks to international pressure, he was soon released, and in 1939 immigrated to the USA, where he established a famous ski school in New Hampshire, and died in 1955.
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We boarded a train of the Arlberg railway, inaugurated by the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1884 – a masterpiece of alpine engineering still in an excellent working condition today – and headed to Innsbruck, the capital of Tirol.

In Innsbruck, the mountains come up closer to the city – cold, severe, with snow-covered tops. Here, we ascended to the wind-swept heights of Seegrube (1905 м) and Hafelekar (2300 м) in a funicular and two cable cars, just to get a quick look at the endless mountainous country, and the lush emerald greenery of the city below, traversed by the jade-colored river Inn.

Chilled to the bone from a close encounter with the North Chain mountain range, I indulged in a warm delicious Kasspatzl’n mit Roestzwiebln (cheese spaetzle with roasted onions) at the oldest city restaurant, Weisses Roessl, founded in 1590. This slow-food restaurant serves all the farm-to-table traditional specialties stemming from Austrian, Hungarian, and Bohemian culinary roots.
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After lunch we explored the Old Town and its historical landmarks – Goldener Dachl, a golden roof built for Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) over a balcony from which he liked to observe the knights’ tournaments; St. Anne’s column, commemorating a 1703 Tyrolean victory over Bavarian troops; and a contemporary outdoor artwork of orange banners listing the names of Austria’s courageous citizens who raised their voices against the Nazi regime during WWII.

For a relatively small city of about 125 000 population, Innsbruck has an impressive wealth of museums and other cultural institutions. Kaiserliche Hofburg – the imperial court palace, built as residence of the Tyrolean provincial rulers under Archduke Sigmund the Rich, was then extended by Emperor Maximilian I, and later rebuilt in the Viennese baroque style by Maria Theresa (1717-1780). At the Hofkirche (the court church) there is Emperor Maximilian I’s enormous tomb adorned with marble reliefs and surrounded by 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of the Emperor’s ancestors and heroes of antiquity, with three figures designed by Albrecht Durer.
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An outstanding collection of arms, arts, and wonders of nature was composed at Schloss Ambras by Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595). An extensive Habsburg Portrait Gallery displays masterful depictions of the royal family members from Albrecht III to Franz Joseph I.

Tiroler Landesmuseen contains a series of permanent art exhibitions, and also includes a solid square kilometer of Das Tirol Panorama – a massive and magnificently realistic painting. It’s dedicated to the formation of Tyrolean identity at the battle of Bergisel Hill under a peasant leader Andreas Hofer against the Bavarian and French occupiers during the Tyrolean Was of Independence in 1809.

Late in the evening we settled in our cozy room in a recently renovated Grand Hotel Europa in the city center. A hearty multi-course dinner at the hotel restaurant, Europa Stueberl consisted of regional and seasonal specialties, like beef broth with liver dumpling, boiled beef with spinach and potatoes, and Tyrolean dessert of knoedle (dumplings filled with plum jam).
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Restored and rejuvenated after a good night sleep, we headed for the Swarovski Kristallwelten – a lavish display of all things shiny from the world’s leading manufacturer of cut crystal. Coming from Bohemia in the 1880s, the Swarovski brothers found an ideal place for their sparkling product at the foothills of the Austrian Alps. With a major breakthrough – the invention of the machine to substitute hand-cutting – Daniel Swarovski started a trend that continues to dazzle our stage, screen, and party life for over a century.

The company produces zirconia – an artificial diamond with different colors of crystals coming from different metal oxides used in the process, and clear stones with diamond cut. Artists from Salvador Dali to Andy Warhol used Swarovski crystals in their art, and their remarkable artwork is on display today, as well as a number of site-specific exhibitions that change every several months.
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We were in a hurry trying to get to Kufstein – by the Kaiser mountain range, surrounded by meadows, woods, and lakes – in time for the annual cattle drive. Tyrolean cows, which spend all summer in the green mountainous pastures, hardly have any natural enemies, but they might parish in a thunderstorm, or fall down from a steep hillside. When all the cows are safe and sound at the end of the summer season, their homecoming turns into a grandiose celebration in the Tyrolean villages.

We arrived just in time for the festivities. Along the main drag of Kufstein the bands were playing, the shepherds in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats were performing a rhythmical dance with whips, and krapfen pastries were prepared right there, in multiple street stalls.

Soon a herd of well-fed brown-and-white cows appeared at the end of the street. Adorned with headdresses made of flowers and ribbons, like Las Vegas showgirls, the cows proceeded down the street past the cheering and applauding crowd. Long after the last of them returned home to their owners, the people continued to celebrate with song and dance, schnapps and sausages from the local makers.
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We checked in at the new, well-appointed and exceedingly comfortable Hotel Stadt Kufstein, with wonderfully fluffy snow-white beds in spacious nicely decorated rooms; state-of-the-art wellness facility; beautiful restaurant serving buffet breakfast, a chic bar, and above all – excellent service.
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From the large windows of our room we could see the round white tower of Festung Kufstein (Kufstein fortress) – a landmark dating from 1205 – that soars over the neat and clean little town. It contains a museum of the fortress that used to be a military base, an arena of many battles, especially during the war between Bavaria and Tirol, and a prison in the dark times of religious persecutions and “witch” trials. There is also a history museum, and the largest open-air organ in the world, “Heldenorgel,” which can still be heard all over town every day at noon. A lift “Kaiser Maximilian” with a panoramic view takes visitors to the fortress.

Rows of beautiful and well-kempt historical buildings along the main street Roemerhofgasse in the old town center surround a pedestrian zone, studded with souvenir shops and quaint little restaurants.

We had enough time only for two of the Kufstein restaurants, but both were truly remarkable.

A restaurant at the Hotel Andreas Hofer serves seasonal fare, including wild mountain goat (chamoia) and venison during the hunting season. The game is nicely complimented by the traditional vegetables – red cabbage, carrots, and mashed potatoes.

I was blown away by the dessert. Blueberry pancakes Tyrolean style looked dark blue, since they contained more berries than dough, and were simply addictive. After I finished my plate of pancakes, my lips and tongue appeared blue from the abundance of blueberries, but I was in a good company – the majority of the diners at the restaurant were beaming with similar blue-colored smiles.

The oldest restaurant in town, Auracher Loechl, with the “olden days” décor, and very popular with the tourists and locals alike, serves all the Tyrolean specialties, and a remarkable desert, Kaiserschmarrn. The legend has it that once upon a time an imperial chef accidentally cut up a pancake which he was supposed to serve to the Emperor Franz Joseph. He masked his mistake with rum, raisins, and powdered sugar, and since then the dish has acquired notoriety and popularity.
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Our last stop before heading home was at the world-famous Riedel Glass factory in Kufstein. From a second-floor gallery, the visitors can observe a team of skilled glass-blowers in white shirts and sunglasses noiselessly moving in front of the red-hot ovens, transporting bubbles of flaming liquid from one work station to another. They create delicate pieces of glass art – wine glasses that presumably enhance the taste of wines, whimsical decanters, and flower vases – with an ancient mouth-blowing method, and apply time-honored complicated techniques to produce one of a kind handcrafted Riedel glass, cherished throughout the world for its incomparable beauty.

More information at: www.tirol.at, www.stantonamarlberg.com, www.innsbruck.info, www.kufstein.com.

Just 51 miles long and 35 miles wide, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world, yet it has all the ingredients of a large country, from modern euro-city to wooded countryside.

Confusingly Luxembourg is the name of the capital city as well as the country, but more of that later.

Our base for the trip was the picture-perfect village of Vianden, thirty miles from the capital and just six miles from the border with Germany. Its main attraction is a gloriously theatrical medieval castle perched on an outcrop overlooking the town. The castle has been the subject of considerable renovation and is well worth the walk up the steep streets or, in summer, a ride on the chairlift.

A great centre for touring on foot, bicycle, car or coach, it is famous for the nut market, usually held on the second Sunday in October. This celebrates the area’s history of walnut production. At one time, a fifth of all Luxembourg’s walnut trees grew in Vianden`s orchards. Now all kinds of walnut based products are on sale at the market including, walnut milk, walnut confectionary, walnut cheese, walnut bread, walnut sausages and (the very potent) walnut liquors and brandy. Indeed, these are so potent that all leave is cancelled at the nearest hospital and a fleet of ambulances stands at the ready on the edge of the village, which is closed to traffic during the event.

French author Victor Hugo stayed in Vianden on several occasions between 1862 and 1871 and during those times was inspired to record its beauty and setting in poetry and prose. In modern day PR terms, Hugo did a good job of promoting Vianden’s attractions to the outside world.
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Less than an hour’s drive brought us to the capital, Luxembourg City, which evolved from a 10th century fortress on a rocky promontory with steep drops to the river below. We had a guided tour of the sights including the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). Originally a monastery for Franciscan Monks, it was re-modelled in 1838 for its current purpose.
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Another building worth seeing is the Grand Ducal Palace, a modest chateau and official residence of Grand Duke Henri, the reigning monarch. It is guarded by a single soldier, a reflection perhaps that this city is renowned for its safety. It is also a great place for some retail therapy but ladies would do well to forget the heels and wear flat shoes, the cobblestones can be hard to negotiate otherwise.

Luxembourg is well known as a world banking centre and home to the European Court of Justice. This part of the city is built across a bridge on another plateau and full of modern glass and concrete edifices. It was interesting to take a look but there is so much more this country has to offer.

The Moselle river forms a natural 25 mile natural boundary between Luxembourg and Germany and we hopped over to the ancient town of Trier, arguably Germany’s oldest city and dating back to the first century BC. It contains many fascinating buildings from its Roman past, perhaps none more spectacular than the ‘Porta Nigra’ or black gate, which was built around 200 AD.
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The banks of the Moselle contain many vineyards, the main product of which is Riesling, for which Luxembourg is famous. Some of this wine is turned into a smooth sparkling wine called Cremant, using the ‘methode champenoise’. We visited a vineyard, saw the wines being produced and were offered generous samples. The locals are very hospitable. It was a good job we were on a coach trip!

Just when you think this little country has run out of surprises, up pops another. On our way back from the vineyards we drove through an area called Little Switzerland. No, it doesn’t have any mountains, just some rocky outcrops, woodland and a much photographed waterfall.
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It’s a great place to enjoy the fresh air while crunching along the woodland trails, or for the more adventurous, hiking or mountain biking. The Perekop rock is almost 130 ft high, overhangs the road and daredevils can take the staircase carved out of a narrow crevice in the rock to its summit. Watch out if you are driving!
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For such a small country, Luxembourg really does pack in a wide variety of attractions and scenery and, despite being bordered by the much larger France, Germany and Belgium, it is proud of its individuality. The country’s motto is, ‘Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sin’ (‘We want to remain what we are’). A strong motto for a small land, but then the Grand Duchy is very much its own country.

For more information, visit www.luxembourg.com

We try to escape Texas heat in the summer by heading north in our RV. Because we have a friend who works there, we were fortunate enough to have a tour of the KOA International Headquarters in Billings, Montana, where KOA was started. The amazing foresight of the ones in charge, who secure land for more new KOA’s each year, and the standard of excellence for each campground that sports the familiar yellow and red tent-like KOA logo, assures tired campers of the best facilities possible and the friendliest staff. There are many perks for KOA Members including quick check-in, points for free stays, and a few times each year offers of a complimentary extra night or special events. Our summer included stays at some KOA’s we would like to recommend:
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In the cool, welcoming Black Hills of South Dakota you’ll find this wonderful Custer/Mt.Rushmore KOA Kampground with good gravel roads, wide, clean sites beneath ponderosa pines for any size rig, which dot this cool land. Even in mid-July when mid-day heat rises to around 90 degrees, the nights are delightful around 60 degrees. You’ll find many of the adorable and comfortable KOA Cabins, which are so popular, and pristine, well-groomed tent sites. Of course the camping store can supply almost any need you have, and coffee is hot and fresh all day. The swimming pool is cool and inviting in the hot hours of the day, but the wonderful giant jumping pillow, for a small daily fee, is the most popular. There are always children laughing and smiling in delight as they enjoy this great exercise, making adults want to join them. The rules for safety are good. If you are not into cooking, the friendly KOA hosts will make you a great chuck wagon breakfast.

This KOA is out of the tourist traffic on Hwy 16 west, three miles out of the town of Custer. Do not mistake the big sign in town, which is for another Mt. Rushmore KOA, but call the office (605)673-4304 for good directions. Make your reservations early for peak summer months, as this is a very popular KOA, and centrally located to all the many points of interest of the area. We enjoyed Custer State Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Needles Highway Drive for the unusual rock formations, Iron Mountain Highway for the scenery and herd of buffalo, Crazy Horse Monument, National Museum of Wood Carving, Mt. Rushmore National Park, Wind Cave National Park and the wonderful touristy shopping and restaurants in Custer City, Hill City, and Keystone, all very nearby. If you want to leave the driving to others, you can make your Golden Circle Tours reservations right at the KOA desk and await your pick-up at the office.
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Butte, Montana, KOA we found to be a wonderful Kampground right beside the excellent Visitor Center, just off of Hwy I- 90. Of course, as with all KOA’s we found friendly hosts, clean, flat sites. As soon as we hooked up everything Bill turned on our tow car only to discover our battery was totally dead. When I called the KOA office they sent two men and a battery jumper immediately and in less than ten minutes our problem was solved! So no worries for us weary travelers after a long day on the road. KOA is great! Internet here was easy and free, but there was no cable TV because there are eight stations which are excellent with only antennae. We found excellent, clean laundry facilities for some needed washing.
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With Butte Visitor Center right next door, we walked over to catch the red city tour bus, which is well worth the nominal price. We had no idea Butte is such an interesting city. Our tour guide is a teacher who told us about everything from the mining operations, to the varied and unique architecture which ranged over 140 years, to the brothels and saloons and speak-easies from yesteryear. We enjoyed exercise on the nature walking path right behind our campground. The lovely native plants and flowers were plenteous and the blacktop path went for miles beside a little creek. Someone reported a moose in the water on another part of the path. When we drove our car far enough to see her there were several rangers in consternation of how to relocate her safely out of town! Butte Montana KOA should be near the top of your travel list! (Phone: 406 782 8080)
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Polson/Flathead Lake Montana KOA and Motor Coach Resort is quite something! This place is where we discovered a new concept for the camping company. The regular campsites were perfectly kept and an excellent place for RV’s, tents, fifth-wheels, and campers of all types. The cabins are typical KOA cozy, or you may rent the Deluxe Cabin with a fireplace, a kitchenette, air conditioning, and a barbeque grill and Jacuzzi hot tub on your private deck! You look out at the beautiful Mission Mountains and the big Flathead Lake, a great place to fish. You are quite near Kalispell and Whitefish and about a two hour drive to Glacier National Park.

The adjacent Motor Coach Resort was beautiful with wide, level gravel sites in tiers down the grassy hillside. Each concrete site has excellent permanent patio furniture and beautiful flowers and stone borders, wide grassy areas. On many nights there is special entertainment, sometimes sponsored by KOA and sometimes sponsored by the many people who have the large rigs as their second home and often stay for several months here and even own their own site, enjoying the facilities and friendships, and leaving their RV’s in good care when they go away for long periods of time. This is an excellent facility also for those who live fulltime in their class A motor coach and want to stop in places for long periods of time. We arrived just in time for the evening Luau with exotic drinks for happy hour and an excellent barbeque meal with all the trimmings. Rain was threatening, but the festivities were under a large white tent with tables and chairs and comic entertainment for the many enjoying the fun. This is a great concept for KOA and we will certainly look for more of their Motor Coach Resorts, even if we have only a short time to stay. ( 1 888 883 2151)
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A stay in the resort area of Cancun, Mexico is always a treat, but to get further away from the world, a 30 minute boat ride over to the Island of Cozumel is mandatory. Outside of the docking terminal hubbub, things are a bit more tropical and relaxed. There are still upscale hotel accommodations, gourmet meals and azure clear water, but the Island mentality can also happily wash over you.

I stayed at the Hotel B, where written in the zero infinity pool were the words, “Just Be.” It is a fitting philosophy for any vacation. This does not mean that you should just vegetate at your hotel pool or ocean side beach, but to let Cozumel’s attractions infuse your stay. I found the —- a pleasant semi open air motel-like hotel with a staff trying their best to accommodate its guests. Hotel B is a mini resort or boutique, in that the real estate area is small but packed with areas for sunning, dining, swimming in their pool or in a small and exotic ocean side lagoon.
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There’s plenty of history on Cozumel of the early Mayan culture, the influx of Spanish conquers and even tales of Pirates who used the island as their retreat. In your visit to the Mayan archeological site of San Gervasio, you are stepping back into history by visiting the remaining ruins of a civilization. The stone structures are not as complete or as inspiring as better known Mayan sites, but still you can come away with an appreciation of the past civilizations of Cozumel. Some of the temples may have held worship for the goddess Ixchel, whose name is a combination of the Mayan words, female and white faced. You will need to drive there or take a guided tour – both recommended.
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With a car you can circle the island and stop at your own scenic attractions, such as the eco beach park of Punta Sur, with natural mangroves, the Colombia lagoon, the Celarain Lighthouse and its museum. The famous Mayan ruin El Caracol is said to be an ancient lighthouse, too. Or a privately owned beach bar/café, and a beer in a hammock may fit your mood perfectly. The crashing surf and artistically gathered drift wood accentuates Cozumel’s off the beat track nature.
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For a more commercial venue, the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park, offers, food and beverage service from your acquired beach chair beneath a thatch shade, while observing holiday families with an ocean backdrop. Or for more the active visitor, you may rent scuba or snorkeling gear, take a Mayan steam bath, called a temazcal session. And if time permits you might swim with dolphins or pick up traditional Mayan and Mexican souvenirs or relax in one of the three restaurants. Deep sea sport fishing is also available in Cozumel.
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For an island away from the island, a real treat is an excursion to the private, Passion Island, with its acres of white sand beach and symmetrical placed palm trees. It’s 25 minutes by boat from downtown, or as I was, picked up at your Hotel ocean side, for a day of all inclusive and simple luxury. Passion Island is the perfect place to find your place in the sun or shade or private romantic spot, with food and unlimited beverage service.
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For additional dining options I can recommend the Kondessa Cozumel Restaurant, the historic Hacienda Mission Restaurant, and the Occidental Grand Cozumel grill, at the upscale and expansive Occidental Grand Resort. With the all many activities Cozumel has to offer, you might forget to “JUST BE.”

Before you go check out:

www.kondesacozumel.com www.missioncoz.com www.cozumelparks.com

www.CozumelToday.com www.hotelbcozumel.com www.isla-pasion.com

Photography by Yuri Krasov

The name of Mount Shasta presumably comes from a Russian word “schastie” which means “happiness.” One early morning my husband and I stuffed our car trunk with everything from swimsuits to parkas, and headed up north to the snow-covered 14,179-foot peak towering over Shasta Cascade in the far north of California.

We couldn’t make it to Mt. Shasta because of the grey soot in the air that was spreading from wild fires in Oregon. Instead, we decided to concentrate on nearby Lake Shasta and the many wonders that surround it.
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Our first stop at Redding – the central city of the Shasta Cascade region – was for lunch at a new restaurant View 202 with incomparable views of the Sacramento River. Executive Chef Sean Gafner works with local farmers to create elaborate menus using a wide variety of their produce.

Starting with a Summer Mule cocktail, made with Russian Standard vodka and house-made lemon sorbet, and served in a chilled copper mug, we realized that we were at the right place.

Lobster Lettuce Cups were prepared with summer squash, heirloom tomato, avocado and basil.

Grilled Steelhead, sustainably caught in Columbia River, was served with rice and Brussels sprouts from neighboring farms.

Since it was over 90 degrees outside, I was especially impressed with a frozen dessert Café Liegeios made with double chocolate ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream, coffee ice cream, espresso granite, whipped cream, and crispy espresso meringue bits. No wonder View 202 has been voted the “Best of the North State” in six different categories.
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After lunch, we explored the city. Right in the middle of it there is a 300-acre Turtle Bay Exploration Park with a museum, a zoo, an aquarium, arboretum, botanical gardens, and a year-round aviary, where visitors can walk through Parrot Playhouse and have exotically colored and constantly chatting parrots land on their heads and shoulders.
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The most famous part of the Park is Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River built by a Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

In order to protect the spawning grounds of the Chinook salmon underneath, the 710-foot-long bridge is fully suspended, without any footings in the water, and its walking surface is made of translucent glass, beautifully lit at night. With a 21-story high pylon that supports the entire construction, and thanks to its exact north-south orientation, the bridge serves as the world’s tallest working sundial.

Making a short trip to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area we started to fully appreciate hot midday air and the abundance of sunshine. At the popular Brandy Creek Beach we found a place to relax in the shade and take a dip in the cool clear water coming from the snow caps of the Cascade Range.

We tried to make a dinner reservation at Jack’s Grill – Redding’s landmark steakhouse in operation since 1938, but the exceedingly popular place didn’t accept reservations. Opened during the Great Depression by World War I aviator Jack Young, the restaurant, co-owned by Don Conley since the late 1970s, continues to serve the same hearty fair that used to feed miners and construction workers after a 16-hour workday, and maintains the same level of pricing (on a contemporary scale). People line up to get inside the legendary eatery, and no one minds waiting for a table at the bar where bartender and co-owner Mike Woodrum is mixing drinks with a speed and dedication of a true virtuoso.
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By sunset, we were heading to Shasta Lake Properties overlooking Lake Shasta, owned and operated by Ken Tellstrom – formerly a world champion in wakeboarding. The owner, and his fiancée Ashley were on the premises while we were settling down for the night in Dream View Vacation Home with floor-to-ceiling windows, two spacious bedrooms, living rooms, and terraces on two levels.

They took us on a tour to a larger vacation home of Shasta Lake Properties, called Lodge View – a spacious wooden house, decorated with hunting trophies and suitable for 8 to 10 people. (To view these homes visit their website, www.shastalakeproperties.com).
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After a relaxing evening watching sunset over the Lake, and then a sky, filled with bright stars of Milky Way, we had the most quiet country night, and woke up to a symphony of birds.

I made a quick meal of bread and cold cuts that looked positively chick in a glass-walled breakfast nook of the cottage flooded by the morning sunlight.
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We drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and entered through the north gate to enjoy the mirrored surface of Manzanita Lake and pick up maps and brochures at the park Visitor Center.

From there, we started moving along the scenic drive lined with massive granite boulders, back in 1915 ejected from the Lessen Peak volcano three miles away. At the park’s largest hydrothermal basin, Bumpass Hell, we walked over bubbling mudpots, boiling springs, and hissing stem vents emitting strong sulphuric smell.
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Our up-close and personal encounter with the magical world of not-so-dormant volcanoes ended up peacefully at Drakesbad Guest Ranch located within the park.

The wooden cabins of this mountain valley retreat, famous since 1900, are equipped with rustic furniture, basic utilities, and kerosene lamps – there’s no electricity inside. A stay includes three meals a day at a rather nice restaurant on the premises with excellent service. Another major draw of the compound is a swimming pool fed by hot springs, which allows for a delightful nighttime swim under a starry sky.
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First thing next morning we were boarding a shuttle boat for a ride toward North Gray Rocks on the east shore of Lake Shasta. Here lies another natural wonder of the area – Lake Shasta Caverns.

Up on a hillside with stunning views of the lake below, our expert guide Dave Mundt, led our group inside the 250-million-year-old cave adorned with glowing stalactites and stalagmites. He pointed his flashlight to “curtains,” “chandeliers,” “sheep,” and even a “royal couple on thrones” shaped out of lime stone and calcite by wind and water.
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Our next stop was at McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park, home to the 129-foot Burney Falls formed by underground springs coming to the surface from a water reservoir hidden in porous volcanic basalt. Flowing at 100 million gallons a day all year round, the spectacular waterfall emits brilliant mist of shiny droplets, and is framed with lush greenery on all sides, blue skies above, and rough boulders underneath.

After a full day spent with Mother Nature, we were back to Redding checking in at Best Western Plus Hilltop Inn for a comfortable stay with included breakfast and a swimming pool.

Happy with our adventures, but tired and hungry, we had a big dinner at the Cattlemen’s Restaurant that adheres to “Cattlemen’s Code” – feel and flavor of the Old West, aged and hand-cut beef, and old-fashioned Western hospitality.

More information about Redding-Shasta Cascade region and everything it has to offer can be found at:

www.ShastaCascade.com, Virtual Visitors Guide: http://issuu.com/scwa/docs/visitors_guide_2014

http://view202redding.com/, http://www.turtlebay.org/, http://www.nps.gov/whis/index.htm,

http://shastalakeproperties.com/our-properties/dream-view/, www.nps.gov/lavo, drakesbad@calparksco.com, http://lakeshastacaverns.com/, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=455,

www.TheHilltopInn.com, www.cattlemens.com/red.htm.

What do William Wordsworth, William Yeats and Jemima Puddle-Duck have in common? Well, they all lived in and around the fairy-tale villages of England’s Lake District, but only one of them actually is a fairy tale. And possibly the most famous of the three — at least among the under-10 set. Ms. Puddle-Duck, along with her good friends and neighbors, Peter Rabbit, Samuel Whiskers and Pickles among many others, were brought to life by Beatrix Potter, another famous resident of the Lake District — and the one most responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the area since her death in 1943 when she donated 14 properties to the National Trust thereby preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park.

Okay, is there anyone who actually made it through childhood without at least a cursory introduction to Peter rabbit, Flopsy and Mopsy and that mean old farmer McGregor? Well, this is where they lived until Beatrix caught them and immortalized them forever in little 5” by 4”-sized books.

Her books sold more than any other children’s stories ever although I suspect Pat the Bunny, Peter’s more tactile cousin, has since given him a run for his money…

So first, something about that Lake District which Beatrix Potter so loved. The countryside is so tantalizingly green the color needs a new more enchanting name.

Quintessentially English replete with requisite sheep, rolling hedgerows, low slung stone walls criss-crossing the landscape into checkerboard squares, slate-roofed stone houses, and hot pink, orange-gold and deep purple explosions of color so vibrant as to rival the most brightly lit of neon Nikes so popular today. And by contrast, in the middle of the district, craggy mountainous regions lend an even more dramatic flair. And, oh yes, then there are the lakes — 16 of them; ergo, the District’s name.
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A world so clichely picturesque, with OMG moments at every turn, which serves to explain the many artists who flocked here to replicate its beauty on canvas. An entire expanse of visual wonderment extending for miles in every direction that makes scenic overlook signs ridiculously redundant. All of which is a walker’s wonderland with public footpaths as plentiful on every country road as Starbucks are on every street corner in the U.S. No wonder Beatrix Potter fell in love.

I saw so many rabbits scampering about as we hiked the countryside, I felt this was an open invitation — as it must have been for Beatrix — to follow them further into their world, even if that turned out to be a very commercial but wonderfully inventive, creative, interactive enterprise appropriately nicknamed The World of Peter Rabbit. But more on that later.

And splattered throughout the countryside are hilly historic towns with cobblestone streets and hidden alleyways that now sport shops, pubs and curbside cafes, with such lyrical names as Branthwaite Brow, All Hollows and Beast Bank Lane. And a lot more stone, this time on buildings, many from the 16th-18th centuries, evoking memories of Renaissance–era maidens and merchants plying their trade, oblivious to the KFC establishment right across the street.

But there is nothing modern about a visit to Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s home for 38 years and the site of many of her creations’ adventures. Many homes reflect the personalities of their owners — and sometimes even their pets. But rarely is a home so filled with the immediacy of its owner’s creations as is Hill Top, first purchased in 1905, that they appear so alive as to permeate not only the house but the surrounding village and countryside, all of which became additional characters in what were soon to become a series of beloved children’s books. And once you enter the grounds and garden of Hill Top, with all its original furnishings, you are transported back to the world as it was until the day she died. Except for the occasional young visitor who has been known to ask the guides, “So is she Harry Potter’s granny?”
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Pick up “A Tale of Samuel Whiskers” lying about as you walk in and follow the book’s tale as you see the holes where the mice lived that threatened Tom Kitten! You can accompany Pigland Bland as he wanders thru the village and seek to protect Jemima Puddle-Duck’s egg as it lays hidden in the rhubarb patch. You can almost hear the Two Bad Mice discussing the ham and cheese that don’t seem quite edible because they are, of course, from Beatrix’s doll house which is right in front of you in the parlor.
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And not only her stories — but her life. Her desks contain letters she wrote, often illustrated with little cartoons and drawings; the first edition of Peter Rabbit, which started simply as a story written in letter form in September 1893 to cheer up a sick son of her former governess, is available for viewing.

The whole house becomes alive through the illustrations in her stories – or is it that the illustrations become alive because they re-create the reality of her home? The parlor contains a table with some partially eaten biscuits and some correspondence Beatrix was evidently in the process of completing — clearly she is expected to return at any moment…

So much of the house, the grounds and the village reflected in the books remain unchanged, you can relive the delightful tales of your youth in a way no perfunctory read in your own living room can provide.

And indeed every area shop seemingly sells some version of Peter Rabbit. memorabilia. Emblematic of how much he invades the neighborhood, when my husband and I stopped at a local pub for some requisite fish and chips, he asked about the soup of the day. When told by the bartender that it was carrot, he quipped: How appropriate. No doubt Peter Rabbit’s favorite…”
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And remember the rabbits cavorting in the countryside? Well, here’s where their namesake really comes alive. In the downtown section of Bowness-on-Windermere there stands a very different testimonial to the creations of Beatrix Potter. More commercial perhaps but no less intriguing. The World of Beatrix Potter Attractions, unconnected with the National Trust preservation of Hill Top, offers an animated version of all 23 of Potter’s tales brought to life in an indoor re-creation of the Lake District countryside she loved and her lovable characters inhabited complete with sights, sounds and smells.

I mean how thrilling is it to find that Jemima Puddle-Duck was a real duck that lived at Hill Top whose efforts to hatch her own eggs, thwarted by a conniving fox nearby, were protected by Kep the collie, Beatrix’s favorite sheepdog. You can’t get more real life than that — and we’re talking cartoon characters!

Throughout the attraction are life-size dioramas of scenes from her books, sometimes comprising an entire forest, that it’s hard to imagine that they were once only illustrations in a book the size of 4X5 inches. The whole exhibit replicates a stroll through Beatrix Potter’s home and garden.
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Each exhibit entreats the viewer to press a “Find out more” button which provides an explanation of what inspired Beatrix to write that particular story and how she developed those particular characters. Each larger-than-life display lifts the characters from the page to inhabit your consciousness in a way few fairy-tales — or for that matter, adult literary protagonists — ever will. There is so much background information about each character — and there are dozens — that it is almost impossible to absorb it all unless you are a very devoted Beatrix Potter aficionado. It’s a journey through a lifetime of literature.

Adele Wilson from Scotland, with nary a kid in tow was so obviously enthralled by the exhibits that I couldn’t resist asking why. “My granny used to read these books to me at night, and seeing these presentations brings it all back to life. I had forgotten how much I had loved all those stories.” She isn’t alone.

For more information, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hill-top and http://www.peterrabbit.com/en/beatrix_potter/lake_district/the_world_of_beatrix_potter_attraction.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Even before Kā‘anapali Beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui was named America’s Best Beach by glossy magazines and social networks alike, I knew it. I had a deeply felt persuasion which required no further justification than what met the eye: a three miles long golden sand beach, kissed by the gently splashing turquoise waves, framed with palm trees, fragrant plumerias, and flowering shrubs, and split in the middle by the notorious Pu‘u Keka‘a (Black Rock).

The westernmost point on Maui, the Black Rock is a place for a nightly sunset cliff diving ceremony in honor of a legendary chief, and also a beginner-friendly snorkeling spot teeming with colorful tropical fish right by the shore.

In addition to providing endless opportunities for swimming, surfboarding, pedal boarding, diving and boating, the beach serves as a starting point for all kinds of cruises and water excursions, and is only steps away from the big hotels, luxury condominiums, farm-to-table restaurants, shopping centers, and watersport equipment rentals.

All of the above constitutes Kā‘anapali Beach Resort – a place of eternal sunshine, dreamlike natural beauty, and comfortable vacations.

After a pleasant flight with Alaska Airlines that included mai tai cocktails and Aloha greetings, my husband and I picked up our red Ford Focus at Budget Rent-A-Car, thinking we would be driving around a lot. Turned out, everything we wished for was right there at the Kā‘anapali Beach, even a free ride from one place to another on a vintage Kā‘anapali Trolley.
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Our rental condominium in Kā‘anapali Alii, a luxurious beachfront complex managed by Classic Resorts, Ltd., had a spacious living room which opened to a private lanai overlooking the ocean; a full kitchen with a marble counter/breakfast bar; a cool and quiet master bedroom, a spare bedroom, and a little laundry room in addition to two bathrooms and a mirrored hallway.

Founded in 1984, the “condo-hotel” Kā‘anapali Alii has 264 units in four buildings grouped around a cluster of nicely designed swimming pools, manicured lawns, and alleyways, lined with palm trees and flower beds. In a front desk facility there is always a live person on duty 24/7, answering all kinds of requests, as well as valet service, in addition to many other services that make staying here so utterly care-free.

All units at the condo-hotel have owners who come to vacation here sometimes, and rent them out for the rest of year. Each unit has to adhere to high hospitality standards; however, the individual unit’s décor is up to an owner’s taste.

In “our” condo, the walls were adorned with tasteful pieces of local craft, paintings, and art photography depicting the flora and fauna of Hawai’i.

One invaluable service offered by the condo-hotel is home delivery of grocery packages. Soon after we’ve settled in our wonderful vacation rental and checked out all the large screen TV sets in every room, and all the various and numerous gourmet cooking utensils inside kitchen cabinets, a doorbell announced the arrival of our breakfast package (eggs, milk, butter, yogurt, English muffins, coffee, cereal) and our grilling package (fresh tuna filet, zucchini, corn on the cob, plus green salad, lemon, salt and pepper).

In time for sunset, we were outside, meeting and greeting other condominium guests at the oceanfront Sunset Grilling area with industrial BBQ grills and tables and chairs under a large tent.
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Kā‘anapali Alii is the only place that offers a grilling service provided by a professional grill master – one of the staff employees. The service eliminates any possibility of accidents from those who don’t know how to operate the grill as well as unnecessary waiting, and allows people to spend time just relaxing by the ocean and chatting away while their fish, chicken or pork is being masterfully grilled and even seasoned to perfection.

Needless to say, with grocery delivery, full kitchen, and Sunset Grilling, families save a bunch on eating out, and tend to return to this place for at least a week year after year.
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For romantic couples who prefer to eat out and spend their leisure afternoons among the lush gardens, pools and waterfalls, and to attend a lu’au or a nightly torch-lighting ceremony, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa offers a desired retreat.

Serene and stunningly beautiful 12-acre resort with 731 rooms and 28 suites is filled with exquisite antique artwork and exotic wildlife. A flock of pink flamingoes and a family of giant colorful koi reside in a pool by a waterfall, practically in the open lobby they share with the resident parrots.

Palm groves, green lawns and cascading waterfalls frame the five pools of the aquatic playground. Recognized as one of the Top Ten Amazing Pools worldwide by TripAdvisor, the 87,000 square-foot pool area includes an adult-only pool deck, a Jacuzzi, two water slides, a swim-through grotto and a hidden whirlpool.

A white wedding gazebo is located on the top of a slight hill in front of the lobby, amid tropical greenery and ever-blossoming flowers.

In-room features designed to provide blissful comforts include restful Westin’s Heavenly Bed, Heavenly Bath with oversized shower heads, in-room high speed Internet access, and pet-friendly program.
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At the newly-refreshed Aloha Pavilion a lavish presentation of Wailele Polynesian Luau attracts about 500 guests every night. An excellent musical revue with a popular MC features songs, dances, and elaborate costumes of the indigenous peoples of Hawai’i, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and New Zealand. The show closes with a grand finale of an incredibly beautiful fire dance, unique to the island of Maui.

The show is accompanied by a multi-course dinner of Hawaiian specialties – kalua pork, taro-leaf wrapped chicken, lomi-lomi salmon, purple sweet potato, various sides and salads, and tropical cocktails and desserts.
Kā‘anapali Beach Resort includes 12 hotels and luxury condominiums, 31 restaurant, 7 spas, 4 lu’au presentations, and dozens of stores and shops in 5 shopping malls – Fairway Shops at Kā‘anapali; Whalers Village Shopping Center; Shops at Westin Maui; The Shops at the Hyatt; Royal Trading Co.

More information at: www.kaanapaliresort.com, www.classicresorts.com, www.westinkaanapali.com.
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I recently visited Kansas City, the “Paris of the Plains”; geographic center of the U.S. The city successfully combines American traditions with extreme modernity.

A LEADER Chauffeur Services driver picked me up from the airport, and took me to Hotel Sorella, located on the Missouri side of KC in Country Club Plaza, an upscale shopping and dining hotspot. The Plaza was developed in 1922, based on the architecture of Seville, including Spanish-style buildings and grand fountains. Sorella impresses with old-fashioned hospitality and understated contemporary luxury.
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I got a first dose of “extreme” when trying the goods at Original Juan Specialty Foods; the Midwest’s largest bottling company, on the Kansas side. Original Juan has been creating sauces, salsas, rubs, snacks and dips for wholesale, retail, and private label customers since 1997. The factory I toured churns out 1,300 products covering 13 sub-brands, and supplies many of KC’s top establishments.

The company’s accolades include several Sofi Awards, one of the highest honors in the specialty food industry. Their hottest sauce – and the hottest sauce known – The Source, measured at 7.1 million Scoville Units. The sampling session started a few steps lower, at Pain 100%, made from habanero pepper. The tiny portion had a kick that subsided 10 minutes later. Being a novice, I only felt heat; a chile pepper enthusiast would appreciate complex flavors.

Next was Da’ Bomb Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce, containing the world’s hottest pepper. Taking a hit off a toothpick tip, my throat burned up, and I threw in the towel. Two steps above that was The Source, which I imagine makes the others seem tame – especially because one has to sign a waiver before trying or buying it.

A cool-down at Glace Artisan Ice Cream followed, a shop developed by KC-based chef and chocolatier Christopher Elbow. I had a combo of the unique Farmer Bob’s Sweet Corn and Elbow Dark Chocolate. The Sweet Corn flavor’s taste mimicked a smashed ear of corn, and blended well with the dense chocolate.
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I got back the comfy feeling at Hotel Sorella’s restaurant, Rosso, which puts an adventurously modern take on Italian fare. My appetizer of pig ear salad and bricks of polenta fries next to grilled octopus displayed Rosso’s philosophy well.

The next day, I visited the Quixotic School of Performing Arts, the practice space of the Quixotic group of aerial acrobats and contortionists. The troupe performs across the country and at KC’s Fringe Festival, using projection mapping, costumes and stage design to enhance the show. The School hosts various workshops for kids and adults, and I got to test my limits too. Warm up stretches guided by aerial artist Liv had me bending every possible way. I then observed silk rope climbing, plus a few hanging stunts. Liv also snuck me into a dressing room where the aesthetic detail used in each show was evidenced by the variety of masks and made in-house costumes.
Next, I crossed the street to a venue where Quixotic performed on its opening day, The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Opened in September 2011, the Kauffman sprung from the imagination of architect Moshe Safdie when he drew a concept of it on a napkin while dining at the nearby American restaurant. Safdie envisioned a home for all types of performing arts, and the Center now hosts KC’s top ensembles. A metal shell frames either side of a multi-floor, glass-enclosed lobby and reception area. The glass is held up by tension rods. On a building tour, venue representative Larry Jacob said, “Safdie saw musicality in everything he built here – the shells are like a kettle of a drum and rods are like strings of a violin.”

Two theaters sit at Kaufmann. Helzberg Hall is tuned for musicians, and the stage extends into one-third of the auditorium, allowing many attendees to get a view near the artist. The Muriel Kauffman Theater, based on European opera houses, accommodates KC’s opera and a ballet company, musicals, plays, and dance groups. Past talents include Placido Domingo, Willie Nelson, and Green Day’s “American Idiot” musical – a diverse mix that shows Kauffman Center’s flexibility. I was also got up close with Helzberg’s 5,548-pipe Casavant Organ, custom built for the Hall and able to produce 102 different sounds at 61 notes per sound. Billions of sound combos are possible, and walking through the organ’s workings shows how the smallest and largest parts function together.

For lunch, I stepped into Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, one of KC’s best purveyors of the city’s signature slightly sweet, tangy and spicy style. The old train freight house was an ideal setting to try the famous Crown Prime Rib; meaty, tender and charred perfectly. That, along with burnt ends, (a KC original) satisfied my craving. I also got to tour the kitchen, where the cycle of smoking and cooking in huge pits made me appreciate barbecue technique.
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Extreme art was also on the agenda. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art displayed a recently-unearthed and polished 16th century Jain shrine. Four badminton birdies on the lawn, the feathers representing the area’s Native American culture, and a triangular glass labyrinth that I almost flawlessly navigated were nice surprises.

That evening, I had a prohibition-era bar experience at Manifesto Speakeasy. Coming in through a secret door in the back and walking into the dark, small space was worth having a drink at Ryan Maybee’s establishment – Imbibe Magazine’s 2013 Bartender of the Year. Dinner at Michael Smith’s Extra Virgin was a fitting second round of unique classiness. The James Beard winner twists tapas from items like duck tongue tacos and calf heart pâté. The new Power & Light district had a dearth of leisure options, but getting my KC jazz on at Green Lady Lounge seemed most appropriate.
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A Kansas whirlwind capped my trip: speeding down Schlitterbahn Waterpark’s Verruckt – the world’s tallest waterslide; reaching 165 m.p.h. riding in a NASCAR at Kansas Speedway; catching a MLS soccer match at green energy-packed Sporting park, and staying at whimsically themed-room Chateau Avalon. KC: extremes await! More information at: www.visitkc.com.
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If you are near the DFW Airport you MUST take a couple of hours to visit Vetro Art Glass Studio in Grapevine at 701 South Main St (817 251 1668). This is an intriguing experience. You can sit in the gallery anytime and watch the amazing glass blowers at work producing many varied shapes and colors of beautiful blown glass. The owner and principle artist is David Gappa, who is gentle natured and so welcoming to all his guest and customers.
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David studied architecture in art school until he discovered glass blowing and it became his passion and focus. Spencer studied for a while the Chihuly glass studio in Washington. I noticed they wear sunglasses while working and I wished for mine because the “glory hole” where you heat your glob of glass is over 2,000 degrees and dangerous for naked eyes to look into. After a glass art piece is finished it goes into the annealer for cooling slowly. You can collect your piece in a couple of days, or they will ship it to you.
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If you want to make an article yourself, you must make a reservation in advance. Just before holidays they have special glass blowing events for guests to make gifts for their love ones. Last year they made glass flowers for Mother’s Day and beer steins for Father’s Day. And of course, Christmas ornaments are always a favorite. David and his assistant, Spencer Crouch, will help you. It is so much fun and you will be so proud of the items you make for years to come.
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We loved purchasing glass gifts and jewelry also in Vetro shop where we found something beautiful for nearly everyone.
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Vetro is across the street from Grapevine Visitor Center and Galleries, where you will enjoy more wonderful art works and displays, which change frequently. We found the Smithsonian Exhibit showing how US mail has gotten to war zone troops throughout history. The second gallery had exquisite porcelain eggs when we were there. The friendly staff will help you plan your activities in this terrific town. At noon and 6 p.m. cross the street to watch the cowboy shootout in the glockenspiel in the Visitor Center Tower as the clock strikes.
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This is one of only a few glockenspiels in the United States and the only one that has a scripted story played over a loud speaker, fun for a real Texas tale about the train nearby. You will love the Grapevine Vintage Railroad which offers themed train rides for a couple of hours or more. The real Thomas engine was arriving at the depot when we were there, and children were so excited. At Christmas you can ride with Santa. On most days you can ride to Fort Worth Stockyard and back.