Photopost: Baked Big Apple Crisp


My daughter and I visited with my mother in New York this weekend and it was blazing hot. Nevertheless, we spent a lot of time outdoors at Bryant Park, Summer Streets, an Upper West Side street fair, and inevitably at playgrounds in Central Park.  Here are some of my more arty photos from the weekend.

Photopost: Alligator Adventure


One of the highlights of our visit to Myrtle Beach was a day at Alligator Adventure.  The initial impression one my get of a place with this name is a roadside attraction, but Alligator Adventure is actually a small zoo with a large number of animals in spacious enclosures, mostly alligators and crocodiles, but also a good number of reptiles, birds, and some mammals from all over the world.  It helps to visit with an 8-year-old gatorphile and absorb his enthusiasm, but I think it was a fun place to visit and learned a bit about the animals.  Another highlight was the animal demonstrations where we go to touch and hold a small gator, turtle, and a ball python.

Photopost: Myrtle Beach


We took a post-Christmas jaunt with extended family to the warm and swampy Myrtle Beach. I have some more specific posts regarding the trip coming up, but for today I want to share some of my favorite photos, mostly of the 187-foot tall SkyWheel and the fantastically kitschy shop Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #6: Lazy Sunday Hike from Marinzen and Meeting Oetzi


The final day of our honeymoon remembered….


 

While our first room at Hotel zum Wolf had a view of the mountains, the view from our current room was dominated by a close-up view of the church tower. As each bell vigorously called out to demand parishioners attend morning mass, we realize that sleeping-in is not an option. After a breakfast buffet at the hotel, we take a ride on the Marinzen chair lift. The open air rides provides a good view of the open meadows, the fairytale forest, and the skyline of Kastelruth dwindling in the background. Liam is anxious about getting off at the upper terminus, but discovers that chair lifts are lot easier without skis. We stop to write postcards and sip cappuccino at the Marizen-Hutte. Around the hutte is a children’s petting zoo and we look at the cats, goats, pigs, donkeys, and ducks. One Wilhelm-Goat is particularly impressive although uncooperative about posing for pictures.

Hiking through awe-inspiring open meadows.

We walk down the trails that return to Kastelruth. First they pass through thick forests, occasionally opening into small pastures where cow grazes. Liam poses with the cows for a picture and then inadvertently frightens one by getting too close. As we descend we pass by picturesque farmhouses, barns, and vacation homes. The forest ends and the trail crosses open meadows that make one want to spin around singing “the hills are alive.” We rest on a bench and watch as children ride up the trail on ponies, their guides stopping to give them lambs to hold (although we feel they’re far to young to be playing with these animals). At long last our stroll returns us to the city center of Kastelruth, where we have another yummy meal and more beer.

We take the bus back to Bolzano, Liam finding the close air inside the bus, the rapid twists and turns, and vertiginous drops to the right of the bus to be a bit nauseating. In Bolzano, we bail out our extra bags from luggage check and then check ourselves in the Hotel Feichter. We wander across the city to the South Tirol Museum of Archaeology, home of the iceman Oetzi. Susan wisely rents an English audio guide and is nice enough to share it with Liam when he discovers that all the labels are in Italian and German. The museum is a comprehensive collection of archaeological artifacts from the South Tirol region starting on the ground floor in the Neolithic Age and winding up the stairs through prehistoric times, the Roman Era, and into the Middle Ages.

The centerpiece exhibit is the mummified remains of a Copper Age man found by a pair of Alpinists in the mountains along the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. An entire floor of exhibits contain the well-preserved remains of this man’s clothing, tools and weapons with interpretations of how the iceman may have used them. As the two British narrators on the audio guide frequently comment, “We don’t know for sure.” The remains of the iceman – nicknamed Oetzi – are kept in a temperature and light-controlled room that visitors may peek into to see his shrunken, tattooed body. The narrators of the audio guide remind us that Oetzi is a dead human being and this is his final resting place and to treat it with respect – in fact they insist one turns off the audioguide before entering the room. It’s both eerie and amazing to see the 5,000-year-old remains of this human being (although it’s actually less creepy than the scourging of Christ on Calvario).

The museum is well-designed and fascinating, but museum-fatigue and hunger set in and Liam decides we must go. Finding a place to eat in Bolzano on a Sunday evening is not the easiest thing as most restaurants and pubs are closed, so we settle for a sidewalk cafe that serves food that obviously was heated in a microwave. We return to the hotel where Susan curls up with her fantasy book, but after packing his bags for the trip home, Liam gets restless and goes for a walk. After dark there are now numerous cafes and beerhouses open and overflowing with customers but Liam is not linguistically adventurous enough to go in for a drink. So he sits in Piazza Walther, admiring the catalpa trees that remind him of Williamsburg and the illuminated cross on the mountaintop overlooking the city which looks like it is floating in the dark of night. Liam also finds a machine that vends Pez candy and brings some back to Susan as treats from Mt. Pez that he found stuck to his hiking boots.

Residents of Bolzano commute to work by bicycle.

The next morning we take a cab to the Bolzano airport to begin our journey home. We fly a prop-plane to Rome and from there fly to New York and then on to Boston. It is a long day of travel with all three flights crowded and delayed so we arrive home more frazzled than rested. But we have our memories of Italy and our hopes to one day return.

Full photo album from Day #6: Kastelruth and Bolzano.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #5: To Tierser Alpl and Back Down


The fifth day of our honeymoon remembered….


 

We awake to a chilly morning, the shadows and sunrise transforming the appearance of the surrounding mountains, and a dramatic undercast filling the valleys below. In the dining room, we’re among the first to take our seat and felt further shunned as all the German-speakers gather around the other table to chat and eat breakfast. After breakfast we begin our hike along the ridge of the Schlernalm/Altipiano Dello Sciliar. Again the views are quite impressive, the Alpe di Siussi on our left and a more distant valley down the steep slopes on our right. At one particularly dramatic overlook, an elderly couple we recognize from the Schlernhaus offer to take our picture. Susan and the gentleman converse awkwardly in German, while the woman tells her husband several times that we are “Amerikanische“. Finally the man hears his wife and says, fluently, “Well, in that case we should speak English!” After a laugh, Susan apologizes for not being able to speak German well, but that man replies, “That’s okay, we’re Norwegian.” We tell him about our problems communicating at the hutte, but he says reassuringly that it’s not a problem, “as long as you can eat.”

The language divide provides a moment of levity for Liam & Susan as a fellow hiker takes their portrait with a dramatic backdrop.

Past this point the trail winds around a deep gorge where several mountain ranges meet. The views here a particularly fascinating and Liam stops frequently to take photographs. Peaks of limestone tower over us looking like the drip-castles children build on the beach and perhaps are an inspiration for Frank Gehry’s architectural style. While the hike is generally not too strenuous, our untrained lungs find it difficult to breathe in this altitude, and after passing through the gorge a slight uphill grade feels like a deathmarch to Liam. We stop to refuel at Tierser Alpl hutte where Liam perks himself up with an espresso and fills his tummy with polenta, while Susan enjoys the Huttennudeln.

From here begins the descent back into the Alpe di Siussi along a series of maddening switchbacks that zigzag among loose rocks. The descent here is much steeper than our ascent of the previous day and Susan feels like a wimp not climbing up this side, but a smart wimp. Liam points out that she is in fact a luck wimp since she had no idea what the trails would be like. Numerous huffing and puffing Wanderen are coming up the trail and apparently ask us how far to the hutte. Susan is forced frequently to say “Es tut mir lied. Ich spreche nur Englishe.” Liam smiles and nods. Every time we think we’ve neared the end of the descent we turn a corner to find more switchbacks. Eventually we reach the meadow where the trail levels out. Along the trail, a Haflinger stands blocking the way and Susan enjoy a close-up look at the horse until it bares his teeth at her. The trail crosses the meadow where the ground is spongy and springs back after you step on it so that no footprints are left behind.

Susan befriends a Haflinger, one of the stocky little horses specfically bred to be workhorses in the high altitude of the Italian alps.

Our hike comes to an end at the Panorama hotel, where a group of children are intrigued by a paddock filled with little goats (the kids like the kids). There’s a chairlift to Compatsch here, but since there is no staff to let us on we decide to walk down the road. Along the way we notice some rulebreakers hop on the chairlift of their own volition. From Compatsch we take the Seiser Alm Bahn again, this time hearing conversations in three languages among our fellow travelers in the gondola. The shuttle bus is crowded and we have to stand and hold onto our packs as the bus speeds around the bends of the mountain roads. Burgi greets us and apologizes that she cannot put is in a room with a balcony again. The room also lacks a sofa, a dinette table, a hairdryer and a shower curtain. We think that Burgi is trying to tell us something. Liam discovers that his water bottle leaked and wet all his clothing and thus has no clean shirt to wear. While Liam washes clothing in the sink, Susan heroically returns to the sporting goods store and purchase Liam a lovely plaid shirt made of a wicking fabric.

We dine at a pizzeria, recovering from our hike with a couple of pizzas and lots of weisebier. We write postcards and listen to the church bell ring frantically as it calls worshipers to the vigil Mass. After the sun sets we go on a walk around the Calvario/Kalvarienberg hill where life-size dioramas show the stations of the cross. The scourging of Christ is particularly creepy in the dark. We encounter other walkers including a pair of children out on their own playing with flashlights and some dogwalkers whose vicious hunden bark vigorously at us. Liam worries that we are walking further and further away from Kastelruth on the dark wooded paths, but then we turn a bend and come upon a view of the Kastelruth church tower. Susan claims that she knew the path was circular all along. After another loop around, we head back to our hotel and help ourselves to drinks in the self-serve bar and look through the stacks of German board games. Back in our room, Liam flips the TV channels vainly in search of soccer, fussball, or calcio, but ends up watching the end of Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy humorously dubbed into German. Susan just sits back obsessively reading her George R.R. Martin book until drifting off to sleep.

Full photo album from Day #5: Hiking the Alpe di Siusi and Seiser Alm

Honeymoon + 10: Day #4: The Hike from Compatsch to Mt. Pez


The fourth day of our honeymoon remembered….


 

The sun rise and mist give the mountains a blueish tint in the morning. Susan watches from our hotel balcony as young backpapers pour out of the buses and remembers when European youths carried simpler leather rectangular backpacks. Susan needs a sleepsack to stay in the rifugio so we visit the sporting goods store next to the hotel. Susan is unable to communicate “sleepsack” in fractured German even to the staff member who speaks English, but when Liam mimes sleeping the woman leads us right to the sleepsacks. In the town square next to the church the Friday market is set up where we stock up on apples for the hike. One of the vendors wears a Tirolean hat much to Liam’s delight. At the bakery, Susan says “drei” when she means “zwei” so we end up with three pretzels and three rolls. There are worse things.

We ride a free shuttle bus to the Seiser Alm Bahn, the cable car which will carry us 800 meters higher in elevation to the town of Compatsch in the Alpe de Siusi. Aboard the gondola, a friendly couple from Stuttgart — the first of many middle-age German couples we’d encounter — point out the ruins of a 500-year-old ruins of a castle. They also tell us about the Haflingers, the stocky horses specially bred to perform hard work in alpine meadows. In Compatsch we are greeted by the sight of a Haflinger standing by a cross so still we weren’t sure if it was live or a model. Liam decides it’s a representative of “Haflingers for Christ.”

The Seiser Alm looks forbidding in the distance. Are we sure we’re going to hike up that?

We walk through the town and begin our hike on the wide paths across the meadow of the Alpe di Siussi. The grade is gentle as we amble across the meadow, but the limestone peaks loom ominously in the distance. Along the way we encounter paddocks of Haflingers, grazing cows and sheep, and a barnyard with free-range bunnies. The cowbells and sheep-bells add a gentle tinkling music to the meadow which can be heard clearly even at some distance from the animals. We stop at the Saltnerhutte, a rifugio that only provides refreshments for hikers. We enjoy the strudel and Susan quaffs a mug of fresh milk. Beyond the Saltnerhutte we cross a ravine by way of the Tschapitbrücke , a beautiful and award-winning wood bridge. After the bridge we begin the ascent of the Sciliar (in Italian) or the Schlern (in German). Despite the steepness of the slope, the trail follows gentle switchbacks which are much less exhausting than the vertical ascents of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Around each bend is a beautiful view of the Alpe di Siussi or down into the valley as far away as Kastelruth. Changing light and angles have dramatic affect in altering the view.

More hikers appear to be descending than ascending so we offer many a “Gruss Gott!” all the way to the top. Near the end of the hike, Liam’s ability to say “God’s greeting” in German apparently convinces another hiker that Liam can actually converse in the language. The man says something that could mean “You gauche Americans wear shorts while hiking,” or looking at Liam’s Mets’ cap, “You root for a piss-poor baseball team,” or perhaps he said “The Schlernhaus is around the next bend, good luck!” We soon spotted our night’s lodging known as the Schlernhaus/Rifugio Bolzano, which sits dramatically on the mountainside, its peaked roofs giving it the appearance of a chalet. We check into the hutte and stow our bags in our room and head out again to complete our ascent of the Schlern to its highest point: Mt. Pez. The views from 2562 meters are astounding. We can see the across Alpe di Siussi and out to other mountain ranges for miles around. The tinkling of sheep-bells rises even to this lofty height, but otherwise the peak is soothingly quiet. On a nearby plateau someone arranged rocks in the shape of a hand so it looks as if a giant mountain climber is reaching over the cliff edge. Archaeological remains found on Mt. Pez show that it was a sight of sacrifices in prehistoric times as well as witch hunts in the Middle Ages.

A cross marks the tippy-top of Mt. Pez.

We return the hutte for supper, and at the family-style tables we join a German couple. They are friendly at first, but as more German-speakers arrive we begin to feel a bit shunned. The food is good and filling, and nothing is more satisfying than a glass of weisebier after a day’s hike. The hutte-master offers a German Scrabble game — the “Z” is worth a mere 3 points, while vowels with umlauts are worth 8 points each — but we are too tired to play. We head off to our room to crawl into bed. As a bedtime story, Liam shares the Legend of Mt. Pez. On moonlit nights at the stroke of midnight, the peak of Mt. Pez creaks open, and from the yawning chasm out shoots large pieces of candy. For a moment Susan is fooled into believing this to be an actual legend, but only for a moment.

Full photo album from Day # 4: Hiking the Alpe di Siusi and Seiser Alm.

 

Honeymoon + 10: Day #3: From Basilica Di San Marco to the Dolomites


The third day of our honeymoon remembered….


 

 

 

Over breakfast we determine that pricey Venice has emptied our wallets, so Liam sets off in search of an ATM so we have enough Euros to pay our hotel bill. Right in front of Hotel Riva the same fashion models are posing for another photo shoot. The whole crew come into the hotel for cofee and pastries, but the models refuse to eat anything. More tart succo di frutti and cherry preserve on rolls for us!

Liam evades a bronze horse trampling.

Liam in his wisdom made online reservations to visit Basilica di San Marco, yet when arrive at the church there is no indication of where tourists with reservations can enter. There’s a long line of tourists waiting by one door and a long line of tour groups waiting by the other door. This causes Liam to have a hairee-gazairee. We end up standing in the tour group line until the guides for a Japanese group tell us that all we need to do is cut to the head of the line and go right in. So we do. The basilica is crowded with people pushing and ignoring the no photography signs, but when we can sneak off into an uncrowded spot we admire the basilica’s beauty. After years of settling, the marble flooring rolls like the sea. The walls use many marbles of different colors — pink, green, grey, white — like a Neopolitan ice cream. Up in the galleries we can view the glimmering mosaics up close. Finally we step out on on the loggia to stand beneath the bronze horses and enjoy a wide view of Piazza di San Marco. Despite this, crowd fatigue has us feeling cranky and anxious.

We retrieve our bags from the hotel and then take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the train station. After puzzling over the self-service ticket machines we eat an adequate lunch and then board our train. Despite having reserved seats, we find a group of pouty, young German women occupying our compartment. They don’t have reserved seats and try using “We are so exhausted!” as an excuse, but we’re still forced to evict them. Our train rolls northward while we nap, read, write and look out the window. Susan is delighted when two gentleman in our compartment get off at Verona. The train heads into a long dark tunnel and when it reemerges we are in a land out of Grimm’s Fairy tales – towering mountains shrouded in mist. Yet even among the mountains it appears that every spare patch of ground is filled with grapevines. We arrive in Bolzano and on the platform Liam tries to buy a snack from a vending machine but it eats his money. Susan goes into the adjacent newsstand and buys an apricot-jam croissant which they share on the train platform. It is the most romantic moment of the honeymoon.

After checking extra luggage at the train station and struggling to find the bus station, our journey continues to Kastelruth. A few miles out of Bolzano our bus leaves the autostrada and starts up a narrow, windy road. Soon the autostrada is just a thin ribbon of black in the valley below, but our bus keeps climbing up, up, up through verdant mountain passes. Then we turn a bend and for the first time see craggy limestone peaks towering still higher above us. Liam contemplates hiking these mountains: “We’re going to die!” We’re seperated on the crowded bus and the friendly woman seated next to Susan tries to let her know where to get off for Kastelruth, but Susan can’t understand. Several rows back, Liam is powerless to reassure Susan that we are riding all the way to the last stop. That stop is conveniently located right next to our hotel, so we head up the stairs where the hotelier (who we learn later is named Burgi) greets is by name. Susan is amazed but Liam figures we’re the only guests who haven’t checked in yet.

Susan admires the view from the balcony of our room at Hotel zum Wolf in Kastelruth.

Hotel zum Wolf is very modern with rusticated decoration and is neat as a pin. We’re amazed that our bargain hotel room is large and cozy with a balcony looking out over the Dolomites. Susan decides she does not want to leave Hotel zum Wolf. Ever. At the desk we extend our stay another night after our planned hike and Burgi reccomends a restaurant for dinner. Our meal at Ausserzoll restaurant may be the gustatory highlight of our honeymoon. Liam eats rocket waffles with gorgonzola mousse and spinach ravioli, while Susan savors champagne soup and frogfish. We wash it down with the local brew and afterwards the waitress treats us to grappa as a digestif. We head off to sleep feeling warm and happy.

Full photo album from Day # 3: Venice — Kastelruth

Honeymoon + 10: Day #2: Venice Walks


The second day of our honeymoon remembered….


Rooftops of Venice in the shadow of the Campanille.

In the early morning, Susan watches from our hotel window as a man and his dog pilot a work boat down the canal. After a tasty breakfast at our hotel, we follow walks around Venice from our Rick Steves’ guidebook. We start in Piazza di San Marco – home to Basilica di San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile. We ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile where we can see the red-clay rooftops of Venice and clear views across the lagoon. After strolling the waterfront and seeing the famous Bridge of Sighs, we head off in dense web of alleyways toward the Rialto. En route we visit the 10th century Church of San Moise with its Baroque 17th century facade. Our guidebook tells us that during World War II the Nazis had there local headquarters next door to this church named for one of the great patriarchs of Judaism (the irony of this occurred to Liam two days later while hiking the Seiser Alm). Further along our meandering brings us to Scala Contarini del Bovolo where we climb the spiral stair to the top. We are greeted by a slim, friendly gatto wearing a jewel-encrusted collar. The view here is more intimate than the Campanile, with views of tiny Venetian backyards and clotheslines.

Liam peaks out of the bovolo (“snail shell” in the Venetian dialect).

After a stop for a cappuccino, we emerge onto the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge where we are reacquainted with the throngs of tourists. We cross the bridge and enter the arcades of the Rialto Market (Erberia) where vegetables, cheese, fish, leather handbags, and tourist junk is sold. Susan is delighted by a UPS delivery boat and piles of pallets on the quayside. For lunch, Susan eats a plate full of tiny squid and Liam cannelloni in a dark, atmospheric pub along the shopping street called the Ruga. We follow lunch with another helping of gelato. Continuing our walk, we visit the Church of San Polo, its small stone nave decorated with art by Tintoretto, Veronese, and the Tiepolos. Like New Orleans, Venice is always ready for Carnival and mask shops are frequent along the tourist paths. We stop in Tragicomica and try on some masks, but don’t buy. Our next stop is the Frari Church, a larger medieval/early Renaissance building containing both paintings and the tomb of Liam’s favorite artist Titian. Next door is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — home to a fraternal organization that performed charitable works for plague victims — and is richly decorated with religious art by Tintoretto. We enjoyed interpreting the religious themes in the dozens of giant canvases on the walls and carrying large mirrors to study the murals on the ceiling.

After all that walking and art, it was time to rest with pizza and beer at a cafe by the Academia Bridge. It was delightfully refreshing until the wind picked up and we got too cold. We ducked back into the alleyways zigzagging our way toward La Salute Church. Along the way we stopped at a gallery selling intriguing works of art by an artist named Tobia Rava. We continued are walk into a covered alley that felt like a dark tunnel. We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves amidst twig-thin fashion models in a photoshoot. We are certain the photographer said, “Yes! Gauche Americans are exactly what this picture needs to make the cover of Elle!” We returned to our hotel to rest and wash up for supper at Osteria de Carla. The fact that all the other diners speak English and clutch Rick Steves’ guidebooks embarrasses Susan but the food is tasty enough to bury Liam’s shame.

We conclude the evening with a gondola ride. Susan chats up the gondolier:

“Have you gone under all 460 bridges in Venice?”.

“Si, most of them!” He shows as Marco Polo’s house and the City Hall as we sail along tiny canals as well as a brief float on the Grand Canal. In the darkness, we can peep in windows, look at the stars, and listen to the gondolier greet doormen and waiters as we pass. The motion-sensor doors on the fancier hotels slide open as we glide by. Venice looks just right from the water.

We eat more gelato before returning to Hotel Riva for the night.

Susan waits for the gondolier to return to begin a tour of Venice’s canals by night.

Full photo album from Day #2: Venice.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #1: Arriving in Venice


My wife Susan & I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.  Looking at the website with all our wedding and honeymoon photographs, I discovered that I’d written a travelogue of our honeymoon in Venice and the Dolomites which I’d forgotten about.  In a sense, it was my first blog post; my blog before I had a blog.  A lot has changed since that time (as all the dead links can attest).  Ten years ago I was still using a 35-mm film camera and apparently brought very grainy film on the trip, so the pictures look like their from another era.  Still, it’s a fun time full of fond memories.

I thought it would be fun over the next six days to republish the travelogue and some of the best photographs in blog format. Happy Anniversary, Susan!


Rio di San Giulliano flows by Hotel Riva carrying gondolas and work boats.

We flew overnight aboard Alitalia, our cabin served by handsome bald flight attendants, one who said to Liam “Look at my face!” and apologized for the plane not having vegetarian meals, but did a good job filling Liam up with salad and cheese. During a layover at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport we sipped cappuccino alongside nattily-dressed Italian businessmen and Susan napped. Arriving at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, we rode the Alilaguna water bus into the city. Liam got acquainted with the lagoon when a wave of briny water splashed through the window soaking his shirt. We disembarked at Piazza di San Marco, pushing through its crowds of tourists and pigeons to get to our lodging at Hotel Riva. Once checked in, Susan napped and Liam strolled blindly through Venice’s alleys ending up in Campo Santa Maria Formosa where he kicked a soccer ball back to a local youth. Reunited at the hotel, we headed out for supper at Antica Sacrestia. Following a tasty meal, we search for gelato and happily consume a cone of limone while listening to the orchestras on Piazza San Marco. We dance in the now depopulated square until accosted by flower sellers.

Susan and Basilica di San Marco are romantic by night.

Full photo album from Day #1: Venice.

Photopost: Stratton Mountain Gondola


On our final day in Vermont, we visited the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain.  My wife hiked down, while I took the kids on five round trips up and down the mountain trying to ride in as many cars as possible.

Photopost: Molly Stark State Park


On our second day in Vermont, we visited Molly Stark State Park and hiked to the fire tower at the top of Mount Olga.  Beyond the fire tower we discovered the ruins of Hogback Mountain Ski Area lifts which were abandoned in 1986, but look like they’re even older and eerily overgrown.  Nature always wins.

I’ve also include some arty photos from our dinner at Newfane Cafe and Creamery.

 

 

Photopost: The Barnyard at Retreat Farm


After several days of playing tourist in our home town, we spent a long weekend with family in Brattleboro, VT. The kids and I enjoyed a visit to The Barnyard at Retreat Farm where there were no barriers between guests and animals and we fed oxen and goats, held chicks and captured chickens, and scratched pigs’ backs. We spent most of the day there with the kids asking to go back immediately.

Photopost: Colonial Virginia


Some of my favorite photos from our recent trip to Virginia are below.  See the complete photo album on my website.

View of Duke of Gloucester Street from the Capitol Building.

For Spring Break, my son Peter and I traveled to Virginia to visit my mother and play tourist at Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestowne, and Go-Karts Plus.  It was  three-day trip but it felt like we saw and learned a lot.  Now, I once lived in Williamsburg.  I attended the College of William & Mary, worked on an archaeological site as part of a field school, studied 18th-century furniture at the art museums, and then was an employee of Colonial Williamsburg for four years during my senior year of college and the years immediately afterwards.  So, these places are familiar to me.  But this was the first time I’d visited as just a plain old tourist in close to 25 years, and the first time I visited as a parent, sharing my enthusiasm for history with my son.

We actually visited few of the sites I actually worked at in my time as a historical interpreter as Peter was drawn more to the historic trades (which, ironically, I rarely had time to visit when I actually worked there).  For a place rooted in history, a lot has changed at Colonial Williamsburg.  The Charlton Coffehouse was reconstructed in recent years and we enjoyed the unexpected treat of a free serving of hot chocolate of an 18th-century recipe.  There’s also a daily event called Revolution in the Streets where the last block of Duke of Gloucester street is open only to paying guests and character interpreters perform a drama right in the middle of the crowd.  The story we witnessed was about a slave couple deciding to “jump the broom” to marry before the man was taken away to Richmond (for some reason I never learned).  We were among the witnesses to the jumping the broom ceremony which involved everyone participating in song and dance.  It is kind of cheesy and probably not 100% authentic, but I think it gets across the point of what daily life and choices were faced by ordinary people of the past.  I liked it better than the military reviews and speeches by great men that are more typical of living history performance.

A frisbee-catching dog on Palace Green.

 

Tulips blossom in the garden behind the Governor’s Palace.

 

“Fire!”

 

A team of oxen prepare to plow another row in the field.

 

Jumping the Broom (broom not in the picture).

 

Related Post: Jamestown 2007 – America’s 400th Anniversary

Something Cool: Visited States Map Generator


The Visited States Maps Generator at the Defocus Blog allows you to create a map of US states (and Canadian provinces if you chose) that you’ve visited, color-coded by the amount of time and commitment you’ve given to each place.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

Here’s my map:

vsm-5dbdf88bbe40d5edf09237c8f10aedcb

I made the decision not to include states where I only changed planes at the airport (for me that would be Minnesota and Texas).  I also think that there should be a distinctive color for  states one has lived in compared to states that one has just visited a lot.  The states I’ve resided in are New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts.  I’ve also included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in the green category because I’ve traveled to those states frequently (the first two primarily due to family living there).

What does your map look like?  Go to http://www.defocus.net/visitedstates/ and find out.

Photopost: New York City


Ch-ch-ch-ch-cheerio!
A tugboat chugs under Brooklyn Bridge

I spent the first week of September with my 5 y.o. son Peter and my mother (later joined by my wife and daughter for the last weekend). Three generations of family explored the City which has rich family history.  My mother grew up in the Bronx and I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs and now we got to share a lot of our favorite places with Peter.  But there were also new discoveries.  Through Airbnb, we stayed in an apartment in Inwood, the neighborhood at the very northern tip of Manhattan.  Inwood is vibrant and friendly with a great park and easy connections to the rest of the city on the 1 and A trains.

Sssssssssalute.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge
  • Day 1 – We visited the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, ate lunch at a deli in Brooklyn Heights, played on the spectacular playground on Brooklyn Bridge Parks’s Pier 6, and then sailed up the East River on a ferry to Midtown.
  • Day 2 – Went to the the Bronx Zoo.  We stayed all day.
  • Day 3 – Walked along the Hudson River to visit the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge.  Read the book and attracted a crowd of toddlers. Spent the rest of the day at Central Park where we: ate ice cream, ate hot dogs, played on the swings, took a nap, played catch, rode the carousel, and sailed a model boat on the Conservatory Water (Peter got very good at controlling the wind powered boat).
  • Day 4 – Visited the USS Intrepid Sea/Air/Space Museum, the highlight of which was getting up close and personal with the space shuttle Enterprise.
  • Day 5 – Ate brunch at Kitchenette Uptown in Morningside Heights, took Peter to Yankee Stadium to see the Red Sox play the Yankees (Red Sox won), and ate supper at the wonderful dog-themed pub Fred’s.
Ahoy, captain!
Sailing a model boat on the Conservatory Water.

I’ve made a web album of my favorite photos from the trip, in addition to the ones featured in this post.

Take the A Train!
The view out the back of the A train.

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Photopost: Washington, D.C.


My son & I spent the Columbus Day Weekend in Washington, D.C.  Some of my favorite photos from the weekend are below, the rest are here.

The original Wright Brothers’ Flyer at the National Air & Space Museum
Pigeons on a lampost.
Asian elephant.
Sea Lion demonstration.
Monumental departure.

Salem


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Susan, Peter & I took a daytrip by commuter rail to Salem a week ago Sunday.  It was a fun adventure, especially for our three-year old train fanatic who looked out the window and narrated our journey all the from North Station to Salem.

Our first stop was lunch at Reds Sandwich Shop where the friendly waitresses (and customers) doted on Peter and the plates were full of tasty food.   Next stop was the Peabody Essex Museum.    After getting admonished by a guard for standing too close to the maritime art we went to the family-friendly, hands-on Art & Nature gallery.  Here there was the art of optical illusions, toys, puzzles, books, and a build your own bird station among other treats.  I was able to explore some of the other galleries and was impressed by the mix of American and Asian fine arts and decorative pieces, deliberately overlapping to show the cross-pollination of cultures in Salem’s history.  Particularly impressive was the FreePort [No. 001] exhibit in the East India Marine Hall where a staid gallery of ship’s models and figureheads is transformed by animations projected on all surfaces.  The video below should give the essence of the experience but one really needs to walk into the room for the full effect.

The PEM is an impressive museum and there was a lot more to see – including a special exhibit of Dutch art – but we were all pretty tired by then.  As a special treat for good behavior in the museum I took Peter to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company, reputedly America’s oldest candy story.  Peter picked out a package of gummy fish and we ate them on the wharf overlooking historic houses and ships.  Salem is a charming town and has a quite to bit to offer especially if you can avoid the cheezy witchcraft exploitation industry.

We had a light supper and then caught a double-decker commuter train back to Boston which made it double exciting.

Earlier journeys in-and-around Boston:

Amsterdam: There and Back Again


Sunday morning we woke up pretty early.  Peter slept all the way through the night.  I think we finally adjusted to the European time zone.  Must be time to go home again.

After packing up our stuff and straightening the apartment as best we could, there was still an hour until the bike rental shop opened.  I wanted to get out and see Amsterdam one last time and I knew Peter would enjoy another bike ride, so we went out while Susan took a nap.  It was quite a joy to be out in the city when everything was still and quiet.  We also were actually able to ride the bike fast.

So fast we were at Centraal Station within minutes.  Only the sanitation workers were out with street sweepers and hoses and even garbage trucks (the strike must be over).  I decided to pedal off to a more residential area and promptly got lost.  I knew where I was since all the signs said Westerpark but couldn’t figure out how to get back to the Centrum.  Finally I followed a bus heading back to Centraal Station.  Safely back on Prinsengracht, a group of tourists from Italy stopped me for directions to the Begijnhof which was actually quite a distance from where we were.

Peter & I rejoined Susan and we returned our bikes to Mac Bikes and then had breakfast at a neighboring bagel shop.  Then we went back to the apartment and brought all our stuff out on the stoop and flagged down the Stop/Go Bus to Centraal Station.  While I paid the fare, Peter rather hilariously climbed on the bus and found himself a seat in the back row.  He enjoyed the ride too, pointing out sites we passed and singing “Stop and go, stop and go; on to school — take it slow!”

We took the train to Schiphol Airport, flew to Keflavik Airport in Iceland, and after a delay onwards to home.

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Last Day in Amsterdam


A sunny Saturday in Amsterdam – our last full day in the city – and Amsterdam teems with humanity.  There are tourist by the bus, train, and bike load but there are also a great number of rowdy stag parties roaming the streets.  There are hen parties too although they seem more likely to hire a boat and sail along the canals playing dance music.  I did see a boat full of women and a boat full of men pass in front of our apartment.  When they met they all hooted and hollered at one another.  Then the men’s boat turned around and chased the women’s boat.  A few minutes later I saw the men’s boat sail by again on their orginal course.

Since we enjoyed bicycling so much on Thursday (especially Peter) we hired bikes again.  It was much busier at Mac Bikes today but since we knew how to manage the bike locks already we were out of there pretty quickly.  Today we rode to the east side of the city.  Along the Amstel River, Susan spotted a canalside cafe and so we stopped for a mid-morning snack at Cafe de Jaren.  We enjoyed the views and coffee and Peter covered himself in honey.

We pedaled on past the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Garden) and Susan suggested we go in which was another brilliant idea.  Much of our botanical sightseeing was lead by a peripatetic toddler.  Peter insisted on wearing his bike helmet and enjoyed playing in the stream in the greenhouse and picking up gravel from the paths in the gardens.  We saw many cool things including the world’s oldest potted plant and colorful butterflies.

A visit to Amsterdam must include seeing an old windmill, so we rode on to De Gooyer Windmill.  It dates to 1725 and is the closest windmill to the Amsterdam city center.  It’s also adjacent to a brewpub I wanted to have lunch at, but sadly the brewpub was closed.  There was a nice cafe beneath the windmill where we ate lunch instead.  We rode back to the apartment for nap time passing old wharves of the Dutch East India Company that have been converted to residences.  Peter also requested another playground stop.

While Peter and Susan napped, I paid a visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic).  This is a 17th-century canal house with the top three floors converted into a Catholic church used from the 1660’s to 1880’s when Catholicism was officially illegal in Amsterdam.  The lower floors are an interesting look into the life of an Amsterdam merchant family.  The church itself is undergoing restoration but the history geek in me enjoys seeing floorboards lifted up and layers of paint peeled away.  While in the area I walked around the Oude Kerk dating to 1306 and Sint Nicolaaskerk which replaced Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder in the 1880’s when Catholic worship was legal again. I also saw “Little Venice” which is the only place in Amsterdam where the water goes right up to the houses like in Venice.

Rejoining Susan & Peter we went for a lazy bike ride and stopped at two different playgrounds for Peter to play on.  Then we ate dinner at a charming little pizzeria called Il Boccalino.  Back home, Susan cleaned up while Peter and I sat on the bench watching boats and passersby.  A pleasant way to end our last day.

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A Tragic Artist and the Artists’ Quarter


Friday got off to a slow start after a rough night’s sleep.  By Peter’s request we visited his favorite playground so he could ride the teeter-totter and play in the sandbox.  Then we went to the Van Gogh Museum.  Apparently everyone else in the Netherlands and some surrounding countries decided to visit as well.  It was hard to see much of the art as people stood six deep at the popular works.  It got all to overwhelming for Peter so he and Susan went to the museum cafe and I continued on my own.  My tall genes helped me peer over to see Vincent’s great works.

Susan had her turn with the art and I took Peter out to the Museumplein where he asked to walk barefoot in the grass (such an artiste).  On the way home we watched some more baby coots.  Peter watched a video while I made sandwiches and then Susan came home and we all took a long nap.

Post-nap we took a stroll through De Pijp.  This neighborhood was built in the late 1800’s an was originally a red light district but today is Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter, home to students, artists, and immigrants from places like Suriname, Morocco, and Syria. De Pijp means “the Pipe” possibly because of the long narrow streets.  The tour started by the former Heineken Brewery.  The building is still there for administrative offices and a tourist attraction called The Heineken Experience.  For 15 euros we took a pass.  Heineken is a bad beer and I’ve been to St. James Gate which is much more interesting.

Along the walk we saw the former homes of artists and cabaret stars, houses built a acute angles called “slices of cake,” and returned to the Albert Cuyp street market which was rather noisily being cleaned up for the day. The tour ended and the lovely patch of green called Sepharti Park.  Peter discovered two playgrounds along the walk – one on a street corner and one in the park.  The park was also home to a wide range of birds splashing about in the man-made stream.

We returned home and Susan made a lovely supper and then to bed for a much-needed rest.

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