One of the smartest
choices I make in preparation for a week-long self-guided bike tour from Venice
to Trieste to Istria (Slovenia to Croatia) is to arrive a day earlier. This
gives me the unsurpassed luxury of spending a day wandering around Venice
without a plan or an objective, just to follow whim and whimsy and take in the
incomparable essence of this enchanting city. I am transfixed by Venice – the
colors, the constant motion, the angles, the architecture, how you never know
what you will see around any corner, how getting lost leads to new discovery. I
have that cherished time to really focus on details.
Eric, my son who will be
biking with me, will be arriving the next day, and I have made my way from
Marco Polo International Airport to the Hotel Alexander, on the mainland, in
Mestre by public bus (following the directions provided by FunActive, the tour
company). I drop my bags and have most of the day to explore on my own.
The hotel that has been
selected on the FunActiv tour (self-guided means that they have booked the inns
and laid out the route, provide the rental bikes and support, a ferry the
luggage each day to the next inn) which I booked through Biketours.com, is well
located, just a short walk to a tram that comes frequently (they tell me where
to buy the ticket, at a convenience store) and whisks me in comfort to the
magnificent old city in 15 minutes.
Before I left the hotel,
I had spotted a flyer about a new Leonardo Da Vinci Museum and am delighted
when, serendipitously, I find myself right in front of it, next door to Chiesa
di San Rocco, a church where a concert is underway. I listen for awhile and
then go into the Museum.
What distinguishes the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum is that it is designed as a laboratory for experimentation and curiosity – actually giving you insights into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci by bringing his manuscripts, schematics and drawings to reality. Engineers have recreated large-scale models of Da Vinci’s inventions from his own plans “created through the skillful craftsmanship typical of the Renaissance workshops” which you can touch and maneuver. Essentially, you get to play with DaVinci’s inventions – delighting children of all ages. The museum also exhibits DaVinci’s anatomical studies. A special space is dedicated to his main pictorial works including the Mona Lisa and Annunciation, reproduced using high-resolution backlight technology.(Open daily, Scuola Grand di San Rocco, www.davincimuseum.it).
My motto, “Seize the day” (and waste
no time) serves me well, because my first day is sunny, bringing out the colors
of Venice – along with everyone else. Venice is unbelievably crowded with
tourists– like Times Square but on a much, much bigger scale– and quite warm
and humid. But I don’t mind and I find myself wandering down streets and alleys
in neighborhoods (and they are really neighborhoods, where Venetians live) that
are amazingly uncrowded and quiet.
I periodically take refuge in churches
to get out of the heat and take a bit of a rest and often am pleasantly
surprised to discover art and music.
One of the delights of
Venice is that it is set up like a labyrinth of warrens, alleys, bridges over
canals, so you are constantly surprised by the scenes that come into view as
you walk about.
The most popular is the
famous view from the Rialto Bridge at the center of the city where you
literally have to wait your turn to get a photo.
The narrow alleys all of a sudden
open up into the famous square of San Marco and I come upon the Basilica of San
Marco with its ornate decoration. There is so much to see and do here in the
piazza, which remarkably has retained the same look as depicted in Renaissance
At San Marco, I stand on a bridge
the gondoliers go under to get to the Bridge of Sighs – that famous place in
the Doge Palace where prisoners would be taken to their cramped, damp cells,
across this bridge with the last view of the open sky and their last breath of
fresh air. It’s like rush hour of the gondolas. I admire the skill with which
they deftly turn 90-degree corners and avoid hitting each other or smack into
the pilings. The choreography of their floating dance is amazing – I notice the
oar lock the gondoliers use, shaped in such a way that they get a different
angle to control their stroke.
What really strikes me is that
despite the crowds, how clean Venice’s streets are (though there is graffiti,
more a reflection of political climate) and how fresh. This wasn’t the case
when I last visited, 10 years ago.
I linger in the Piazza San Marco for
a time, and am sitting on marble benches under an archway
at the Doge Palace when I hear thunder. Last time I was here, the city was
flooded – platforms mysteriously would appear on the streets that you had to
walk over to avoid wading in six inches of water – a worrisome warning that
Venice may at some point become submerged altogether with rising sea level.
No one seems particularly bothered
by the thunder, not even the street vendors. I take the tram back to the hotel,
and just before I get there, the thunderstorm starts.
The next morning is raining, but no
matter. I hop the tram again, a five-minute walk from the Hotel Alexander
through the neighborhood for the ride into Venice, and this time, after
crossing over the bridge that provides entrance to the Old City (and apparently
closes at night to those who aren’t living or staying here) go left at the fork
instead of right. I walk over a bridge and see a sign pointing to the Jewish
Ghetto and follow it. I come upon a group of Israeli tourists huddled under a
passageway leading into the Jewish quarter as their guide gives her talk. I
walk ahead and find the synagogue, where Sabbath services are just finishing,
guarded by city soldiers who don’t let me in.
The last time I was in Venice, I
happened upon Chabad gathering for Shabbat dinner and was invited in. The
Chabad are actively repopulating European cities that emptied their Jewish
communities during the Holocaust.
I have a few hours before Eric
arrives and we have our orientation with a FunActive guide for our bike tour. I
make my way to San Marco again, before walking back to the depot to get the
tram back to the hotel, in time for Eric and the guide to arrive.
We spend about an hour with Anthony,
the FunActive guide, actually hurrying him along because we are so anxious to
get back to Venice so Eric can have some time there. Anthony persists: going
over the day-by-day maps, pointing out sights we might look out for, and
alternative routes we can take, and then fits us to the bikes we will be
By the time we get to Venice in the
afternoon, the rain has cleared. We return together to the Jewish Ghetto and
wander from there. I let Eric take the lead so he can have that same delight in
discovering Venice for himself.
It is important to realize that
Venice is a place where people live (signs ask visitors to respect the
residents), and coming in this way, through the Jewish Ghetto, we find many
streets – very quiet streets – that are simply neighborhoods off the beaten
tourist track. Laundry stretched across the canal.
Eric uses his tech prowess (and the
AFAR app) to find a restaurant, which gives a purpose and focus to our
wandering through the streets. We arrive at Al
Portego just in time before all the tables would be reserved for dinner.
After dinner, we walk to San Marco,
which is especially magical at night. I have saved visiting the Doge Palace for
the evening (the Doge Palace and three other museums stay open on Fridays and
Saturdays until 11 pm, last entrance at 10 pm) so that Eric could see it as
well. But Eric is too exhausted after having traveled all day and heads back to
I waltz in at 7:30 pm without
waiting at all – such a contrast to the daytime when the lines are long and
hundreds of people, including massive tour groups, funnel in at once. The
ticket, I learn, is valid at all four museums and good for three months.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take advantage, but the ticket is well worth
Priceless, in fact.
I find myself in these rooms – grand
doesn’t begin to describe it – by myself or with at most five other people. All
of us are breathless. No one speaks. The silence is thrilling.
The art work – monumental pieces by
titans of the Renaissance – fill the massive walls and the entire ceiling. One
room is grander and bigger and more gilded than the next, and at this hour, at
this moment, it feels like all of this is for me and me alone.
Next: A Night Visit to the Doge Palace
(We booked our 8-day self-guided
“Venice-Trieste-Istria” self-guided bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker
which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and
bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors.
Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street , Chattanooga, TN 37405, 423 756-8907, 877 462-2423, www.biketours.com,
If you really want to be freaked out by the KGB Spy Museum that opened just a few months ago in Manhattan, do what I did: come directly from Spyscape, where you learn about the whole business of being a spy, and be in the middle of reading a book like “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West,” by Malcolm Vance.
The KGB Museum would be scarier if it were not laid out somewhat like an antique shop (but aren’t all spy centers sequestered behind something innocuous like a tailor shop?). Row by row, there are some 3500 artifacts, all of them real, many on view publicly for the first time. They date from 1910 until 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union when the KGB was replaced by the FSB. But these mundane objects – a lipstick, an umbrella, a pen – were lethal weapons; a tie pin and belt buckle were cameras; a heart reader could seek out a live person hiding even in a refrigerator. Another important tool? A thermometer to determine if a person were truly dead. And if a master key couldn’t unlock an apartment to install a bug? No matter, a transmitter could be aimed at the window from a huge distance to decipher the sound vibrations and eavesdrop anyway. There is even a letter remover which could take out a letter from its envelope, read its contents and replace it back in the envelope, without leaving a mark.
And then there is the “patient chair,”
used in a psychiatric hospital, with scary restraints, that were used for
interrogations under truth serum or other means.
It turns out that those fantastical
gadgets from the James Bond movies, and even the Get Smart spy spoof, were
actually based on the real thing. It seems that there is nothing too absurd in
the spy world.
The KGB story is really scary
though. KGB (КГБ in Cyrillic) stands for “Komitet
Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti,” which can be translated as the Committee for
State Security. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union, and
during the Cold War the KGB was in direct competition with the CIA and other
state security agencies around the world for cultural, economic, and military
The KGB was born in the Russian Revolution – one of the artifacts is the carpet
memorializing Lenin (not his real last name, it turns out) and the beginning of
the Revolution in 1917 – and was initially designed to ferret out
counter-revolutionaries, or enemies of the Communist state.
One of the
world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served
a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of
secret police within it.
You realize how pervasive and
ruthless the KGB was (is), and sense the constant terror that the people must
have lived under, as that term “enemies of the state” was broadened to mean any
one who criticized or opposed the ruling party, the leadership or policies.
There are real doors from jail cells,
and you look through at real video of real prisoners. Those who were placed in solitary
were allowed nothing to wear but their underwear; they could sleep only four
hours, when the bed would be closed up, and fed only bread and water for 5 to
One of the
world’s largest and most sophisticated intelligence operations, the KGB served
a multifaceted role as both a spy agency outside of Soviet Union and a force of
secret police within it.
Some of the best engineering and
scientific minds were employed to devise gadgets and gizmos – miniaturizing cameras,
maximizing surveillance and detection, inventing new ways of transmitting.
undetectable, the agency used its state-of-the-art tools and ruthless methods
to seamlessly monitor the citizens’ lives and keep them in constant fear of
repercussions for any subversive behavior. The investment in the spy technology
had a devastating toll on the country’s economy yet it was deemed the most
effective and necessary way to keep the state isolated from the rest of the
world and keep the Western world out.”
operating in countries all over the world, the KGB had a vast influence on world
affairs, which reached its peak during the Cold War. KGB Spy Museum presents a
never-before-seen collection of items used in the missions of prominent KGB
agents, illuminating the strategies and methods that underlay many of history’s
top-secret espionage operations.
to perusing artifacts and learning about the history of the notorious agency, you
can read and listen to real stories from spies, witnesses and journalists as
well as explore and interact with authentic objects, such as telephone
switchboards (most of the operators who connected the calls and then listened
in on conversations were KGB), encryption machines, an interrogation chair,
designed to extract information from suspects and enemies.
One of the most interesting stories surrounds a wooden Great Seal in one of the cabinets, that was also one of the KGB’s greatest triumphs, that arose out of the famous summit in the Crimea of Stalin, Churchill and FDR. The head of the KGB, Lavrenty Beria, had a replica of the Great Seal made as a gift for Ambassador Averell Harriman, presented most charmingly by cherubic Young Pioneers (like boy scouts) as a “gesture of friendship.” But inside was an ingenious bug that used electromagnetic energy instead of an external power supply. It hung above the Ambassador’s desk in Moscow for seven years before it was exposed in 1952. “The Americans couldn’t figure out how it worked for a year and a half,” my guide, Sergey, says. (The original is in the NSA’s Cryptology Museum in Washington.)
The inventor of the Zlatoust/Receiver
LOSS, Lev Sergeyevich Termen, was a physicist
and a musician, who began his career by developing previously unseen electronic
musical instruments. In 1947 he won the Stalin Prize for Inventions of Listening
One of the objects that is literally
one-of-a-kind, is a record player made expressly for
Stalin; there is also a safe, made by the Bernstein company in Berlin, that
came from KGB HQ, still containing the currency that would have been enough to buy
30 cars. Both indications of the privilege along with the power amassed by the
Communist leadership despite their calls for a equal society.
Among the rarest objects, which are
a point of pride, also seem mundane but were “mechanical masterpieces”:
Tool set КАРОЕД/KAROED (Bark beetle): This is a manual
set of special drills and instruments for drilling very narrow holes less than
0.04 inches without any sound in the tree or plastic. Holes were needed to
listen to secret conversations with a help of secret microphones. These sharp
and pointed drills are specially machined from the very hard metal. The set
includes drill extensions, which can be used to drill holes in 3.3 ft and even
thicker walls or wooden floors. A special hand-held drill holder had a stopper to
drill holes of a certain depth to protect the drill from coming out across the
wall by making only a small, hardly visible hole. A special container collects
shavings in order not to leave any suspicious marks.
very rare: KGB secret drill ИГЛА/IGLA (needle): “It is a unique mechanical
masterpiece – the drill IGLA. This very complicated drill reflects the name
‘needle’, because it drills a very thin hole through the concrete. It drills
with the help of air compressor with abrasive dust to avoid the sound and
vibration. Even the drilling sound was designed by the constructors to simulate
that era washing machine Малютка/Maliutka. The person at home thought that a
neighbor was probably doing the laundry. The Igla drill had a hole through
which the air pressure was inflated according to the manometer readings, and
when the drill approached the outside of concrete wall, the air pressure
dropped in the drill as the air went out and the drill automatically shut off.
The hole was 0.04 inches in size. If the walls were painted or lined with
ceramic tiles, the eye did not even see the hole or dust outside. With this
drill, the abrasive powder and concrete dust were absorbed by air. Agents who
were very patient, slow and responsible were chosen to drill such a hole. In
order to drill a 4 inches concrete wall took about 4 hours, and with the
preparation – the whole day. Agents, through drilled miniature holes, installed
listening or photo devices. After the operation, they applied a hole with the
cement mixture and no suspicious marks were left.”
There’s an old fashioned
phone where you can “dial” a selection of officials. My guide, Sergey, dials
Putin and hands me the phone so I can hear Putin talking (it’s like listening
to the LBJ telephone tapes at the LBJ Presidential Museum in Austin). There are
also actual phones on display from KGB offices that would have features to
disguise the voice at the push of a button.
The two spy experiences – Spyscape and
the KGB Museum – have completely different approaches and perspectives, but they
complement each other so well, especially when visited one after the other.
Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience. KGB is old-school but so relevant today, with the Russian actively hacking elections and using social media to impact US and other elections, policy, and political discourse.
“The KGB Spy
Museum aims to present espionage and intelligence operations in an educational
and interesting way, emphasizing the importance of human intelligence and
setting out a frame of reference for the public to appreciate the great extent
to which spies have always influenced world events. The Museum has a policy of
presenting the history of espionage without political bias, thus offering
visitors a factual and balanced view of the subject. “
The Museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 8
available online or in the museum. You need about 1 ½ hours to visit. Tickets
are adults (18-64)/$25; Children 7-17, seniors, students, $20; a guided visit,
minimum 3 people is $43.99.
Are you Bond or Bourne? Once
you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the
complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through
eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the
realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited
to, I would make a
sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I
found a new calling.
I was expecting a museum, even as
museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape,
one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an
interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes,
about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous
today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex
enterprise that is intelligence.
Spyscape is modern, state of the
art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you
peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and
counterintelligence today from the inside.
don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World
War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the
headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers. Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”
has truly been let out of her box.
There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?
I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer.
I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t
know what is there. I frighten easily.
As you arrive, you are given a
bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your
progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and
quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy
apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.
entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York
City, escorted by a very professional person with a
clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation
(think “Mission Impossible”).
mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in
the pantheon that is the world of espionage.
experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize
what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not
all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same
techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the
end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek
or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence
(most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even
outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.
The layout (Spyscape takes up a
massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with
constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects,
I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.
One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.
get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a
program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a
copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of
Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one
of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You
get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.
After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”
Another that is sure to delight is a
room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing
the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)
All through, the exhibits personalize
the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with
real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all
with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and
executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or
averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.
you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories
about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered.
Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US,
two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have
detected Hansen’s deceit?
I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).
“Gadgets of defiance” describes the
devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous
missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover
identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with
handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and
targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.
I learn about Virginia Hall, an
American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the
US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost
part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler
invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She
made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked
as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans
nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo considered her “the most
dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of
the code scenario.
about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence
(GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet
installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through
the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force
the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official
to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with
altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being
I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet
Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for
M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of
Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to
her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly
swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one
hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was
chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)
We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard,
Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he
used in James Bond. The
new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind
the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin
DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in
Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the
scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.
At another section, you go through a
dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by
giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all
area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance
programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, the
journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old
school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).
This is where you see the message
blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is
the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting
and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.
One of the last stations is actually
the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists,
profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s
nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized
what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.
We learn that Stuxnet is now open
source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to
shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give
instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.
And now, I am really to go into my “debrief –
encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which
comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all
those who don’t measure up as real spies).
But it isn’t done flippantly or
tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists
and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty
authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):
“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and
ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us
to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”
My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out
to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.
Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive
profile to my email and a
Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated
your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top
psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope
the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to
further develop your Spy Skills.”
The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent
manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and
an insider view from General David Petreus.
In the real life example, I am given the bio of
the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero)
and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his
handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover
material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on
Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.
(This makes me think of important omissions in
Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran
nuclear program until Plame’s
identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and
subsequently made public as
retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false
information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to
disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used
as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost
counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to
short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign
and the 2016 election).
Spyscape will excite and thrill as
it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will
encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better
And like skiing, it is an experience
that adults and older children will relish doing together.
There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”
I think I’m being groomed. I’m
From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in
Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the
experience of each one separately.
is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing
pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You
need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with
spy-related merch. Open Monday-Friday,
10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39;
child 3-12 $32).
This spring, the New-York Historical
Society presents Hudson Rising, a unique exhibition that explores
200 years of ecological change and environmental activism along “the most
interesting river in America” through artifacts, media, and celebrated Hudson
River School paintings.
On view March 1 – August 4, Hudson
Rising reflects on how human activity has impacted the river and, in
turn, how the river environment has shaped industrial development, commerce,
tourism, and environmental awareness. The exhibition also explores how experts
in various fields are currently creating ways to restore and re-engineer areas
of the river in response to climate change.
Indeed, we tend to think of the environmental movement as
originating with Yellowstone and the national parks, but it is fascinating to
realize that the beginning of environmental activism – and the techniques –
began here. Citizens rallied to oppose the construction of a Con Ed plant on
Storm King Mountain; one of the new organizations, Scenic Hudson, sued; the
case, in 1965 set a precedent beyond the Hudson, establishing that citizens
have standing to sue on behalf of conservation, even when they do not have a
direct economic interest, that beauty
and history also merit protection – the forerunner of the Environmental
Protection Act. Later, a “viewshed,” modeled on the concept of a watershed, in
connection with landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church’s Olana, also warranted
The Hudson River raised consciousness of the importance of
environmental protection. the exhibit opens with paintings from Thomas Cole,
the founder of the Hudson River School art movement (America’s first
native-grown art movement), who worried even then about the encroachment of
development. His paintings depict an idyllic landscape, but also the
destruction of the forest to lumbering.
Much more than a body of water, the Hudson
and its surroundings have been the home for humans and hundreds of species of
fish, birds, and plants; offered an escape for city-dwellers; and witnessed
battles over the uses of the river valley and its resources. For over 200
years, writers and artists have captured the river in paintings, drawings,
literature, and photographs, and surveyors and scientists have mapped and
measured its every parcel.
has always encapsulated the tension between development and conservation. But
it was more than about aesthetics, and the need for urbanites to be able to
seek respite in the countryside: an early environmental scientist realized that
logging in the Adirondacks, which was discovered to be the source of the
Hudson, was jeopardizing the watershed supplying New York City.
Scientists at the same time discovered the critical link between
forests and the health of rivers. They realized the Adirondack forest supported
the Hudson River and aquatic animals. That begins the movement to save the
Adirondacks, including the forests. Ultimately, it leads to New York State’s
“Forever Wild” amendment to the state constitution, in 1894.
“This path-breaking exhibition explores
ideas about the environment that developed in the context of the Hudson,
examining how we became aware, as New Yorkers and as Americans, of the role
that humans played in the river’s ecological degradation,” said Dr. Louise
Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “The exhibit also looks at
the strategies we devised to address it. Spanning the entire industrial
era, Hudson Rising presents a compelling account of how the
Hudson has been an incubator for our ideas about the environment and our
relationships to the natural world for two centuries-plus.”
Indeed, we learn that Theodore Roosevelt,
before creating the first national park as president, innovated environmental
protection as Governor of New York State, working with New Jersey, to protect
the Palisades as a “park for the people” (hugely popular with immigrants who
crammed into cities, the park had 2 million visitors in 1920, many who came by
a free ferry); similarly Franklin Roosevelt, when he was New York State
governor, created what would become the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps
when he was president.
Curated by Marci Reaven, New-York Historical’s vice president of history exhibitions, and Jeanne Haffner, associate curator, Hudson Rising begins with a prelude featuring artist Thomas Cole’s panoramic five-part Course of Empire series (1834-36), a treasure of New-York Historical’s collection that depicts the transformation of a pristine landscape into a thriving city, then its dramatic decline, and the fall of civilization.
Cole railed against “human hubris” and the exploitation of nature. “The ranges of the ax are daily and increasing,” Cole said. “Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” he wrote in his “Essay on American Scenery” (1836). Cole’s poetic questioning of the social costs of what was seen in his time as progress, serves as a prelude to the exhibition narrative, which begins with the industrial age and continues into the present day. The Hudson River, we learn, was the incubator for the environmental movement.
The exhibition is organized chronologically
and geographically into five sections that highlight significant places and
events in the environmental history of the river: Journeys Upriver:
The 1800s, The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s, The Palisades: 1890s-1950s, The Hudson
Highlands: 1960s-1980s, and A Rising Tide: Today.
The exhibit is designed to meander, like the river itself, and uses actual artifacts – there is even the smell of freshly cut wood from the Adirondacks – that bring you, as much as possible to the Hudson: bricks from Haberstraw; rocks from the Palisades; iron from Cold Spring Foundry across from West Point; wood from Catskills; hemlock (used for tanning), even a fish tank with striped bath (blue eels will be added later). “The layout is a metaphor for the river,” said Ken Nintzel, the designer.
There are historical maps – one of the most impressive is a panorama map from 1847 that stretches the length of a wall, that tourists would use, “one of the great maps of American history”- photos, paintings, news clips that trace the battle to reclaim the Hudson from industrial pollution. A map from 1890s shows how the Hudson was “redesigned” to make it more navigable for shipping, changing the way the river ran, but in the process, did away with the shallows that hosted aquatic life and mitigated flooding. Another map documents how plentiful oysters used to be – New York city used to be the primary exporter of oysters and clams – until sewage in the Hudson killed off the oysters.
The painting by Thomas Cole of the Catskill Mountain House reminds
that American tourism began here in the Hudson – today, you can hike up to
where the hotel used to be and gaze out over the Hudson.
exhibits surround you, and there are various interactive elements.
Journeys Upriver: The 1800s starts with a steamboat journey up the Hudson River from
the New York City harbor to Albany, inspired by one of the great tourist guides
of Hudson River history, the Panorama of the Hudson (1847).
The detailed rendering of the river landscape led steamboat and armchair
travelers from New York City to the last navigable point of the river near
Troy, pointing out natural wonders, Hudson Valley industries, notable
individuals, and Revolutionary War sites along the way. Also on view are
paintings, industrial objects, and an important Army Corps of Engineers map
that shows how the Corps engineered the river to be a more navigable and
predictable shipping channel. Hudson River School art on display include Robert
Havell Jr.’s View of Hudson River from near Sing Sing, New York (ca.
1850) and George Henry Boughton’s Hudson River Valley from Fort
Putnam, West Point (1855), both depicting tourists enjoying the
The Adirondacks: 1870s-1890s examines the creation of Adirondack Park, established
to save the source of the river and combat deforestation in order to protect
the viability of the entire Hudson watershed. Advocates for the area included
surveyor Verplanck Colvin, who mapped the area’s peaks and lakes as
superintendent of the State Adirondack Survey and identified the source of the
river at Lake Tear of the Clouds, and Seneca Ray Stoddard, a photographer whose
images of deforestation made a case for forest conservation. On view in this
section is one of Asher B. Durand’s majestic depictions of the Adirondack wilderness, Adirondack
Mountains, New York (ca. 1870).
The Palisades: 1890s-1950s traces the protection of the forests and cliffs of
the Palisades to maintain the health of the river and preserve a place for
beauty and nature. In the late 1800s, the Palisades cliffs were being blasted
to bits by road builders who prized their rock. Citizen activists, such as the
New Jersey chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the American
Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, fought back and helped create
Palisades Park in 1909. Residents of New York and New Jersey thronged to the
park, arriving by foot, ferry, train, and car, with over two million people
visiting in 1920 alone, most of them from Manhattan. The exhibition features a
selection of tourist brochures from that era, including one with a trio of
women posed on the cliff edge, above the river.
The Hudson Highlands: 1960s-1980s explores how activism along the river helped spark
the modern American environmental movement. By the early 1960s, untreated
sewage and industrial pollutants were poisoning the river. Increasing numbers
of power plants were also rising along the Hudson, whose operations were
killing millions of fish, and whose monumental structures were intruding upon
the most treasured vistas. When Con Edison announced plans to build a plant on
Storm King Mountain, citizen activists fought back and prevented its
construction. By the 1980s, citizens could legally intervene to stop
development that put treasured natural resources at risk. On view is an
aquarium featuring striped bass and other fish native to the Hudson River,
which now thrive due to activists’ efforts to save them. Displays of
artifacts, images, and media from the environmental campaigns of the era
include a 1983 photograph featuring John Cronin, river patroller for the Hudson
River Fisherman’s Association (now called Riverkeeper) on his first day on the
job, confronting an Exxon tanker discharging polluted water into the river.
The final section, A Rising
Tide: Today, discusses the process of reimagining and reclaiming the
Hudson River in the 21st century, as experts in many fields explore ways to
restore and re-engineer areas of the river in response to climate change. The
exhibition showcases innovative projects addressing these concerns, such as a
system of “living breakwaters,” reef-like structures designed to restore
diverse aquatic habitats, lessen wave impacts, and restore the shoreline,
implemented by the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery and landscape architecture
“We hope Hudson Rising will inspire visitors to
see the river differently, and how movements like environmental activism get
born,” Dr. Mirrer said.
“It’s not a new story, but this is the first exhibit that presents
such a comprehensive look at the Hudson River as an incubator of the
As part of New-York Historical’s What the
History programs, a suite of interactive talks, history classes, art-making
workshops, and social evenings for a young professional audience illuminates
the environmental history of New York, the lasting impact of the Hudson River
School painters on the American imagination, and how contemporary design and
ideas are engaging with the threats climate change pose to the city.
Visiting families can enjoy a special guide
featuring suggested exhibition highlights to view as a family, discussion
questions, and gallery-based activities. During the April School Vacation Week
(April 19-28), Museum’s family programs explore environmental activism,
including art making using recycled materials in Museum galleries. On the
weekends (April 20-21 and April 27-28) visiting families can interact with
Living Historians portraying famous and unsung activists of American history.
On April 16, architectural historian Barry
Lewis discusses how the Victorians “greened” their homes and cities, bringing
nature into city greenbelts and private home design. On May 22, Douglas
Brinkley, New-York Historical’s presidential historian, explores how presidents
like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt championed the protection
of the nation’s natural treasures and established a sprawling network of state
parks and scenic roadways, respectively. On June 9, author Leslie Day leads a
tour along the Hudson River exploring its rich geological and human history and
its diverse ecosystems.
exhibit is particularly timely: years of exploitation and pollution have
resulted in the entire Hudson River, from the Battery to Hudson Falls, some 200
miles, designated a superfund site by EPA. Mandated clean-up by industrial
polluters including General Electric, have significantly improved conditions.
But the Trump Administration’s EPA is moving to issue a Certificate of
Completion which would end GE’s responsibility for cleaning up the Superfund
site, despite the state’s research that shows high levels of PCBs remaining in
Cuomo issued a statement ahead of Administrator Wheeler’s visit to New York:
“In New York, we
are leading the fight to protect our environment with the most ambitious
environmental agenda in the nation. Administrator Wheeler, while you are in New
York, I urge you to visit the Hudson River, one of this country’s natural
treasures that is also one of the most pressing Superfund sites in the country.
New York has fought to restore this vital resource but the ball is now in the
EPA’s court. The EPA can either do the right thing and continue to hold GE
accountable for continued clean up, or they can side with big polluters and let
GE off the hook for its responsibility to clean up PCBs in the river.
“We refused to allow PCB
contamination to continue to jeopardize the health and safety of our
communities for generations to come. We hope and expect that the EPA will join
us in ensuring the full completion of the cleanup.”
I suggested Wheeler visit “Hudson Rising”.
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical’s mission is to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.
for Yourself: Hike the Hudson River School Art Trail
Walk in the footsteps of the Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher B. Durand, Jasper
Cropsey, Sanford Gifford and other pioneering American landscape artists,
literally walking into their paintings, and appreciating their work in an
entirely new way.
See what inspired Thomas Cole, his art and his passion to save the Hudson Valley environment, when you visit his home and art studio. Visit Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Olana, walk the gorgeous trails and see the very first protected “viewshed” (Olana State Historic Site, 5720 State Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.) Hike the trails that take you up to where the Catskill Mountain House would have stood, to Sunset Rock, to Kaaterskill Falls, North-South Lake, just as the Hudson River School painters did, often with markers that show the paintings that were created from that very same vantage point.
“The Hudson River School painters
believed art to be an agent of moral and spiritual transformation. In
large-scale canvases of dramatic vistas with atmospheric lighting, they sought
to capture a sense of the divine, envisioning the pristine American landscape
as a new Garden of Eden. Their work created not only an American art genre
but also a deeper appreciation for the nation’s natural wonders, laying the
groundwork for the environmental conservation movement and National Park
We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.
T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator opens Monday,
March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit
will likely go on tour.
Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.
more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to
be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest
and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing
discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early
evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the
tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.
and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular,
are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout
our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural
History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of
Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the
Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the
latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the
researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story
of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”
Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.
fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of
paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their
importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other
animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice
president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever
rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T.
rex with patches of feathers—the
definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes
reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old
juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine
what T. rex may have sounded like by
blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection
of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to
life; and a life-sized
animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous
environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of
fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur,
with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to
learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology
and behavior of T. rex.
rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined
the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s
Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of
scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of
tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to
modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur,
Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In
addition to Dilong, many of the
species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent
research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.
“In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge
increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the
availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these
charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day
we’d be able to look at the shape of T.
rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to
determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical
modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”
T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.
the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size
models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that
lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest
on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms
that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first
tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator
Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis,
a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare
glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and
the later giants.
The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.
How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.
“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.
of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying
dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology
and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as
crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.
latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before,
suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of
evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.
So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”
Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.
exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.
We see a life-size
model of a four-year-old T. rex,
which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have
weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any
other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth
and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex
had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and
bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of
encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown
giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43
feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved
dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil
found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus,
has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small
vertebrates and insects, while the cast
of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull
indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and
jaws to eat large animals.
All tyrannosaurs were built to kill,
but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size,
sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the
competition. New research shows that a T.
rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of
three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.
We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on
deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle
of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale
reproduction of the T. rex fossil
skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a
different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat
jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and
interacted with prey and its own kind.
Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.
We learn about the fierceness of two
other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in
Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus
and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in
different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.
Keen Senses of Sight, Smell
We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most
up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate
representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful
hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for
this predator’s prey to avoid detection.
casts indicate that T. rex had
excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any
land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other
dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.
can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as
brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the
brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized
brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use
CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast
scientists created from it for study.
By comparing the areas of the
brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’
closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined
that the T. rex brain had similar
regions. For instance, T. rex had an
unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good
sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would
likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors
can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur
that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly
identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so
sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling
without harming it. Fossils of T. rex
show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense
Technology has allowed scientists
to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators,
but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to
study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a“roar mixer” enables visitors
to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary
large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar
that accompanies an animated T. rex.
And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience.
the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible
especially for young people who will be enthralled.
At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”
Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality
Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries
in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big
data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce
hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable
universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a
radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to
visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is
virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video
footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and
part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T.
rex: Skeleton Crew, its first
interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in
collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute
experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.
reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are
suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science
visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast,
too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this
technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible
realms of nature.”
“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”
The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.
A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.
American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s
preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum
encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center
for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for
temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York
State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president,
and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.
The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.
Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
Everywhere on Alta’s
2,600 skiable acres feels like we’re in a snow globe. What used to be a
treeless mining town is now home to what we found to be one of the country’s
most fairytale-esque, European-feeling, lovable ski mountains in the US. This
weekend, our annual adventure takes our bicoastal group of millennials to the
glacier-carved Colli known as “Little Cottonwood”, roughly an hour from Salt
Lake City and home to Alta and Snowbird, two adjacent and amazingly
complementary ski mountains. We are excited to experience Alta, a mountain that
we expect will be both challenging and accessible to our group of varied skier
We are lucky to be taken around the slopes our first morning by Alta’s Andria Huskinson and Sarah McMath. Andria, who is also a veteran racer, has been skiing Alta for over 20 years and is still discovering new lines down the mountain. She and Sarah are the perfect duo to show us the ropes and give us a taste of that #AltaMagic that we heard about — a combination of Goldilocks snow (not too hard, not too soft, just the right density and feel!), sun-beamed vistas of encircling mountain faces, enchanting runs with tons of skiable chutes and side areas, and general good energy vibes from Alta’s loyal skier community (and Alta is one of the few mountains left that are skiers-only).
One of the most enjoyable parts of the morning is meandering through the trees and around the occasional mountain home (grandfathered on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest land) as we wrap down Cabin Hill, a run that we will attempt to revisit several times today and tomorrow, though we occasionally miss the entrance points. This run entails a relaxing, yet fun video-game like experience of skiing with wide spaces between trees and fast terrain that is not too steep.
While most of our group
is busy exploring with Andria and Sarah, the most “rusty intermediate” in our
group, Maya, breaks away and has the chance to take a 2-hour private
lesson. They start off on some easy greens so the instructor has the
opportunity to see what she’s working with, while offering some simple pointers
as they ski. They continue to harder and more challenging trails. While some
lessons can be bagged down with frequent stops and wordy instruction, Maya
really appreciates that they spend the bulk of their time skiing with
occasional pointers as she goes. It isn’t until they ride the chairlift that
more detailed instruction is offered, as well as some other pleasant and
enjoyable “get-to-know-you” conversation. As the half-day lesson comes to a
close, Maya rejoins the rest of the gang with a renewed confidence and comfort for
tackling all that Alta has to offer.
True to the congenial
Alta way, there is also a new “Lady Shred,” a supportive lady-based ski group
begun by Sarah and Andria in an effort to bring more woman power to the mountain
in a sport that’s typically 11:1 male to female. The group is open to anyone
who wants to join Saturdays at 1 pm and is promoted on their instagram
@altahighgirls and #altaladyshred.
From there, we generally stay together while a few of us veer off into the various “choose-your-own-adventure” virgin-snow-covered side paths through the trees here and there. It’s a perfect Bluebird Day with about a foot of fresh new snow just this week, taking the mountain to a cumulative 397.5 inches already this season. As Ski Utah’s Adam Fehr points out, “high elevation, dry air, the primarily north-facing aspect, and lake-effect snowfall makes for the perfect combination”.
We venture to
Catherine’s Area along the perimeter of Supreme, the part of the mountain with
views that Sarah mentioned earlier in the day made her fall in love with Alta.
The hike up to Catherine’s is flanked by panoramic vistas. (Riding the Alta
lifts is similarly picturesque.) There is a real backcountry feel to the
mountain, though you don’t have to spend an entire morning trekking (just a bit
here and there, if you want to). “If you see it, you can ski it!” Andria says.
Our gourmet sit-down
lunch at Rustler Lodge introduces us to such mouth-watering dishes as the
Rustler Game Burger (half-pound blend of elk, bison and waygu), the Halibut
Fish Tacos, the Thai Chicken Salad, and an incredible cup of white bean chili
(making us wish we ordered a bowl). Our gloves and hats are warming by the wood
fire in the middle of the restaurant, and the ambiance is somewhere between
that of a rustic ski lodge, a modern New American restaurant, and an Ivy League
dining hall (particularly if you get the large table that commands its own
little alcove along the windows, for a more private party feel). We can see
Eagle’s Nest from our window-side table, which gives us mixed feelings about
indulging in such a relaxed lunch. We of course skip dessert, briefly take in
the beautiful lodge, and head back out to the slopes.
More snow begins to fall in the afternoon and we lose some of the blue skies, but the strategy of gradually moving across the mountain, starting the day at Supreme and making our way East to Collins by the end of the day, seems to give us the best conditions at every point in the day. A three-minute cut across the High Traverse, with a few sidesteps “up and over” to the other side, takes us to the sheltered and snow-swamped Gunsight. This turns out to be the perfect last run of the day, the sun gleaming through and the afternoon light glittering on the very steep entrance slot. There is an intense initial drop, and then the run eases slightly and empties into “the gulley” toward the bottom. Finally, we can either take a green run home to the Transfer Tow, or cut through the trees to the left for a final bout of mogul-ey glades. The latter enables us to truly earn the après at The “Sitz” (the iconic Sitzmark Club).
The vibe at Alta just feels
different. People come to Alta, fall in love with it, and then don’t go
anywhere else. There is a staggeringly high rate of return among guests.
One place you’ll most certainly feel the warm community is at Alta’s après-ski
bars, especially the cozy Sitzmark Club at Alta Lodge, where we walk in and,
consumed by the aroma, instantly crave a hot whiskey cider, along with their
complementary homemade hummus with chips. The place is filled with skier
friends who seem like they’ve known each other since childhood, and some of
them do. As we sit talking to Andria and the team, she points out some of the
Alta all-stars. “That’s the guy who was basically the grandfather of ski
We hang for the après ski and then the après après ski, enjoying the atmosphere, good conversation, and additional mountain trivia (e.g. Alta is one of the oldest ski mountains in the country!). Nearby, the Alta Peruvian Lodge is slightly bigger, and similarly packed to the brim with warm people. If The Peruvian’s free-reign tapas run out by the time you arrive, be sure to ask for a basket of popcorn or nuts with your cold beer. Both bars are intimate rooms with that old lodge feel and Alta memorabilia adorning the walls. There are no C-list garage bands or brand sponsorships—the sound and energy comes from old and new friends enjoying each other after their awesome day of skiing.
Despite being a
world-renowned ski destination (sorry, no snowboarders or “other snow-sliding
equipment” allowed), Alta feels very accessible. The lines really only pick up
on weekends, but even then, move surprisingly fast. We spend much of our second
day going down moderate to intense trails. Alta marks all expert terrain with a
single black diamond, despite the varying levels of steepness and intensity of
their diamond runs. Although Alta has a reputation as a challenging mountain,
we meet many families with kids just trying on skis for their first time. The
ski school at Alta is world-renowned for training all levels of skiers.
Like the mountain, which
can be graded with varying levels of challenge and adventure, the cuisine and
lodging options on the mountain are similarly varied.
Our second day, we enjoy
a cozy lunch at the Collins Grill, a European-style bistro grill right by the
Collins and Wildcat lifts and nestled within Watson Shelter. We feast on
decadent delights like bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, crab cakes, rabbit stew
and lamb skewers. This hearty mountain-fare tastes all the more satisfying for
two reasons. First, we’re wearing the restaurant-supplied slippers instead of
our ski boots. And second, we learn that all of the ingredients in the
beautifully prepared food we’re eating is sourced locally and sustainably
We learn from Maura
Olivos, Alta’s Sustainability Coordinator, Ecologist and founder of the
mountain’s Environmental Center, that locally sourced food isn’t the only
environmentally conscious action Alta takes. Whether it’s planting trees,
conducting research, educating the community or reporting their environmental
impact, Alta has been at the forefront of conservation and sustainability for
over 80 years (though the Environmental Center was officially formed in 2008).
It’s the antithesis of a man-made ski resort with premeditated and manicured
trails. Instead, Alta celebrates and even improves the national forest that it
leases and calls home. “You
ski it as the mountain was meant to be skied,” says instructor Bob who’s been
teaching there for 13 years.
While the fire, espresso
shots and discussion of all the ways we can be better stewards of our planet is
delightfully pleasant, the clouds clear and the mountain calls.
We make our way to
Sunnyside to say hello to the resident porcupine, and then head up the
Sugarloaf lift to hit one of the longest blue runs at Alta – The Devil’s Elbow.
From there, we follow the sun and head east to Ballroom and Mambo. Ballroom is
a huge highlight, offering expansive and high-up intermediate powder bowl
skiing, while Mambo is a fun and fast groomer at the top of Collins that
funnels into the Wildcat base area.
We enjoy every second at
Alta and pack in every last run until the lifts close.
As an instructor who’s
been teaching at Alta for over 13 years explains to us as we head up the lift
for our last run, “At Alta, you ski as the mountain was meant to be skied”.
Indeed, we felt a
certain sort-of spiritual connection to Alta. We will most certainly be back
After a whirlwind destination wedding in New Orleans and a relaxing mini-moon in St. Lucia, we took a few weeks to recover at home, and then embarked on a 3-week adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia. After researching some 30 different destinations, we chose this combination for a number of reasons: the landscapes (according to Google image search) are varied and breathtaking; the climate is still warm in December, but not swelteringly hot; the food is supposed to be unbelievable; we can do some sightseeing and also indulge in some down-time (Bai Tu Long Bay cruise in Vietnam and island-hopping in Cambodia); we heard the people are incredibly kind and traveling around the country independently is fairly easy even with the language barrier; and we would be able to live well and splurge when we wanted to without breaking our budget (as opposed to Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Maldives and other honeymoon hot-spots).
Our honeymoon to Vietnam and Cambodia proved to be all of the above AND MORE. The following are from emails we wrote home to our families, with names added afterwards for reference…
Subject: Update from Vietnam!
Sorry to not have
written earlier! We’ve been having an incredible time in Vietnam. Seriously
every place so far has been a highlight, it’s pretty unreal. We’ve taken about
2000 photos each already so we’re starting an album of some highlights.
We started with 2 days in Hanoi walking around the old streets and eating some amazing food, and egg coffee, which is surprisingly delicious. Our first night we went with Hanoi Street Food Tours to sample some of the awesome street foods we wouldn’t have otherwise known to order.
The second night we took a $1 Grab, (the Vietnamese Uber that costs $1 to go almost anywhere) to Chim Sao, this non-touristy restaurant out of the city center, and had an incredible dinner of traditional specialties like water buffalo, mountain sausage, banana flower salad, baby mussels, and rice wine. Food here is out of this world—very different from American Vietnamese and we are constantly surprised by the dishes.
We had a great
experience with Hanoi La Castela, the hotel we ended up in after we
decided to leave our not so clean Airbnb. The staff at the hotel was incredibly
friendly and helpful and their breakfasts were huge and delicious. They set up
a car & driver for us to go to Ninh Binh, the gorgeous region
about 3 hours west of Hanoi in the countryside. Lots of beautiful karsts (those
tall mountain things jutting up from the land that you see in all the photos of
Ha Long Bay). We stayed in a beautiful secluded homestay, Ham Rong, where
the only sounds we could hear were the animals and insects around. We arrived
just in time to hike the 500 steps of the mountain-top above Mua Caves and
catch the sunset over an incredible panorama of Tam Coc and
The next 2 days we
rented scooters from our homestay and had an amazing time riding around the
countryside. Don’t worry, Dave was sure to drive very slowly and carefully, and
it was all country back roads so very safe. We took a little boat ride through
the karsts and caves in nearby Trang An, wandered through the back
roads of the little villages, and visited some very cool temples built into the
sides of mountains, like Bich Dong Pagoda. We also visited Bai
Dinh, apparently the largest temple in all of Southeast Asia with a giant
gold Buddha in one of the main halls–the whole complex was pretty ostentatious
and absurd, and very cool to see, especially all lit up at night.
Our homestay arranged for a private car to take us to Pu Luong, where we stayed for 2 nights and absolutely need to return. It’s a phenomenally gorgeous nature reserve with self-sustaining villages that was totally unknown to foreigners before about a year or so ago. Some people have caught on and now some of the villages have started making homestays for visitors, but it’s still very rare to see any other white people outside of the homestay. There’s no tourism infrastructure (yet) aside from these few clusters of homestays so it feels like a very special peak into authentic traditional Vietnamese village culture.
Most of the time you’re just surrounded by spectacular landscapes of terraced rice fields and mountains with scattered people tilling soil, herding water buffalo, cutting bamboo, harvesting rice, etc.
Throughout the national park there are amazing little villages with everyone out working together, and everyone was so sweet to us when they’d realize we were foreigners. Anytime we’d go through a village all the little kids would very cutely run out to say “Hello! Hello! Hello!” until we passed.
We stayed at Pu
Luong Treehouse, the first night in an actual treehouse with the most
gorgeous view, then upgraded the second night to a bungalow at the same
place (same view) with private bathroom and a bigger space which was really
gorgeous and probably one of the coolest places we’ve ever stayed. The host,
Zoom, is from Hanoi, went to school in Alaska, has traveled the world, and has
amazing taste so the whole little retreat she’s created is designed into the
landscape with beautiful details everywhere. Basically everything is made of
bamboo or branches, all the linens made herself with traditional textiles and
weavings from Pu Luong. The chef she hired from the village is also incredible
so we’ve been eating VERY well (several course meals 3 times/day).
We’re currently in a car
back to Hanoi with Zoom (who’s 8 months pregnant and had to return home for a
few days) and two great Australian girls who were also staying at the homestay.
All 7 of us staying there got pretty close over the past 3 days, which seemed
to be a function of the sweet energy Zoom’s created at the homestay, and I
guess the type of people this very random, very peaceful province attracts, as
it takes a good amount of research to get there. We’re sad to leave, but so
excited for each next part of the trip!
Spending tonight in
Hanoi and leaving tomorrow morning for Bai Tu Long Bay (Ha
Long Bay’s apparently less touristy, equally beautiful sister). We’ll be on
Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend for 3 days, 2 nights.
We’re currently on a small prop plane from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville to catch a boat to Koh Ta Kiev, a tiny island off the southern coast of Cambodia. We had an amazing (but too short) 2 days in Siem Reap exploring the Angkor Wat complex. We hired a private guide/driver (Senghuat Boun) on the recommendation of a couple we met on our cruise in Bai Tu Long Bay, and he was amazing.
We saw all the main temples plus a few smaller “off the beaten path” ones, including Ta Nei in the jungle, a small temple that hasn’t yet been restored and is amazing to see how it’s been reclaimed by nature. When we were there this afternoon it was just us, the temple guard, and her 2 ridiculously cute children who played guitar with Dave (he has his guitarlele with him) and drew with me. It was a really sweet way to end the temple circuit.
Afterwards we had our driver drop us off at a restaurant we found last night but was closed then, and our lunch there today was actually one of the best meals either of us have ever had (Pou Kitchen & Cafe). In NYC it would have a 6-month waitlist. Four incredibly inventive dishes plus dessert and fancy iced coffee came to $22.
Before Siem Reap, the cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay was awesome. Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend is a 4-star ship with amazing food (and a ton of it), and makes an extremely relaxing experience on the bay.
We sailed to Bai Tu Long Bay, which is supposed to be less touristy and cleaner than Ha Long Bay, and we barely saw another boat on the water except for when we docked to sleep, since boats are only allowed to dock overnight in one specific spot). It was actually a luxury 45-person cruise ship, but only 14 people were on board so it was very sweet and intimate, and the perfect amount of people for the short day tours (kayaking, visiting a fishing village, learning about oyster harvesting). I loved spending the afternoons drawing and reading Adam’s book and Dave got to play a lot of guitar.
After a quick overnight in Hanoi the night we returned from the cruise, we went to Hoi An, about an hour flight south of Hanoi. There was torrential downpour from the time we arrived until 2 days later (completely forgot this is rainy season in the south). But it gave us a night in to chill at our beautiful hotel (Ocean Breeze Villa) in An Bang, the sleepy beach town just out of the city where we were somehow able to order delivery from Morning Glory, one of the city’s best restaurants.
We took another $1 Grab into the city and got an incredible 2-hour massage and scrub at 5 Senses Spa during the heaviest rains of the 2nd day ($26 for a 90 min massage!).
The rest of the time we mostly spent shopping and eating, since this is the town known for their great tailors, which are all indoors. From one shop we went into the first day, Thông Phi Tailors, Dave got a nice black suit, chinos, and 3 dress shirts, and I got 2 linen jumpsuits and a pair of linen trousers, all made to order with a few rounds of alterations so everything fits perfectly. The last day Dave started talking to a shop person at a different Tailor (Bai Diep)while he was waiting for me next door and he ended up getting 4 more shirts and an awesome patterned blazer for me all tailored and altered in just 3 hours!
Most of that last day
was finally sunny so we were able to see the beautiful colored walls (mostly
rich yellow) and multi-colored lanterns emblematic of the city without all the
rain. You can look up #hoian on instagram to get a sense. The city is
wild–it’s one of the oldest looking towns because the whole ancient quarter is
a registered historic site so they can’t do anything to alter its appearance,
though the entirety of this old town is catered to tourists, with shops selling
clothes, leather, tailored goods, and other stuff in just about every
storefront. It was great for a rainy 2 1/2 days.
So now we’re off to 5
days/nights on an island to do nothing but read and veg. We’re most likely
spending 2 nights in Koh Ta Kiev, the small island with no
electricity, so we’ll be out of touch for at least a few days. If we love it
there we’ll stay longer. If we decide we want a hot shower or fans we’ll head
to Koh Rong Samloen, another beautiful small island that’s slightly
more developed with Bungalows with real walls, showers, and AC. We’ll be in
touch when we’re back in wifi zone! Can’t wait to catch up with you all!!
Hi guys! Just wanted to let you know where we landed… We’re at Lazy Beach in Koh Rong Sanloem, Cambodia until we head to the airport. We have a perfect pretty large bungalow with a beautiful view of the water and the beach is quiet and awesome.
In total contrast to construction-hell Sihanoukville and even Koh Rong Samloen’s Saracen Bay that’s beginning to be pretty built up, all that’s built on this side of the island are about 15 bungalows stretching along the shore and one open-air restaurant where we’re able to order all our meals from an extensive menu of both Western and Cambodian specialities (the owners are from the UK, the kitchen crew is mostly Cambodian). Everything is wonderful. We feel very lucky to be here. No WiFi on this part of the island, but Dave’s phone seems to get sporadic service so text him if you need us. Otherwise we’ll be back in touch on the 18th when we land in JFK!
Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!
We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.
travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as
long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the
other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were
never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t
have to deal with the nightmare of parking.
around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour
Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.” This bus
follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods.
With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about
the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various
stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)
abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events,
pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic
Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the
French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out
themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled
through the beautifully groomed parks.
For an historic
mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St.
Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world.
All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in
the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A
standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per
person. However, a word of warning: the
trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least
15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.
NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and
outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying
alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on
street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from
past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city
streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast
and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.
Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.
For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start
of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom. A Brass band
leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception
venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is
usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds. The newly
married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or
parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second
line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all
dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.
Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.
in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a
mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars,
restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman
Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food,
as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We
enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our
favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.
We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.
Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major
attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the
US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood,
often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo
(like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop
that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in
front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers
traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw
oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams
Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house
where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food
(mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a
setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the
feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).
NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is
a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak
with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours
and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts
through “Day Passes.”
Our attraction recommendations are:
Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide. Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.
In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student; $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).
The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12). (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org
The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities
which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:
The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.
While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets. Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters
To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site: $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket). You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.
We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.
The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.
The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!
To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.
To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).
If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).
The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)
New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.
Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:
New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130,800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.
The New York Times Travel Show, which takes place each year at the Javits Center in New York City, is the largest consumer travel show in North America. Essentially, in the course of an afternoon, you can travel around the world on a single floor and 1000 steps.
The three-day showcase features global cuisine tastings, cultural performances, travel book signings, one-on-one conversations with travel experts, travel seminars and special discounts and offers from 600 exhibitors.
Here are some highlights
from our “tour” around the floor at this year’s show:
Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine
The world’s largest
radiation catastrophe at a nuclear power plant took place at the now infamous Chernobyl,
in the Ukraine. An area the size of a small state was abandoned. Today, it is a
tourist attraction, visited on daytrips and multi-day trips.
I meet Katoryna
Aslamova, the chief guide for Chernobyl Tours, who
has been leading tours there for years, and asserts that visiting is absolutely
Though people love to post selfies
of a Geiger counter beeping when it hits 0.3, she notes that the level of
radiation during the course of a full day tour is equivalent to what you
experience on an hour-long airplane flight (she says that the flight from
Ukraine to London showed 2.82; to NY 3.91); 160 times less than a chest x-ray;
3600 times less than a whole body CT scan. It is even safe for pregnant women.
The only ones not allowed are people under the age of 18, mainly because they
cannot be legally prosecuted if they break rules, take out any of the rocks or
disturb the soil (that could unleash damaging material).
(You can order a personal dosimeter “it
will make your experience more enjoyable and memorable by making the radiation
level visible and show your exact radiation dose at the end of the trip.)
“It is so easy to set up the mood, the perception
that visiting Chernobyl is risky. There are some hot spots on the ground– the size
of a coin or tennis ball and the closer you come to it, the higher the
radiation. But it can’t influence health because it would need long term
exposure. Even if you measure a hot spot in the radiation zone, no place is high
enough to risk health. The only place that would be dangerous would be inside
unit, which is covered (double-sealed).
What could be risky
hypothetically is the radioactive dust
(that give off alpha rays) that is still in ground have particles –“ if you would dig it up or ingest it, that
would cause dangerous exposure – so it is prohibited to dig or plant there.”
There is no restriction
for pregnant woman if not prohibited to fly.
To take the tour, you
are picked up in Kiev, capital of Ukraine, at 8 am for the 1 ½ hour bus ride.
Over the course of a full day (the bus returns about 8-9 pm), you visit several
The first stop is the
village of Zalissya, which was the biggest in the area. “We are trying to tell not
only about the accident but how people lived.”
Next the town of Chernobyl,
which is 18 km from the powerplant (and not the ghost city that is so
frequently pictured). People still occupy Chernobyl – scientists and foresters –
who live there for 15 days a month in dormitory. “It is a unique place for
research.” Visitors who do the overnight tours stay in hotels in Chernobyl.
There also are “self-resettlers”
here and in other villages in the contamination zone – people who were
evacuated after the accident “but sneaked back into the houses in the zone.
They were homesick or had no place else to go.”
The accident took place
in 1986, and many believe it contributed to the collapse of Soviet Union. “People
stopped trusting government and the economy collapsed.”
She notes, “Nobody knows
how many affected by Chernobyl explosion – the Soviet government tried to hide.”
The tour visits Radar
Duga-1, a secret Soviet base known as Chernobyl 2 –which would have launched
nuclear weapons. It is the only remaining antenna.
This reminds me of a
documentary, “The Man who Saved the World,” about
a Russian Lt. Colonel, Stanislav E. Petrov, who on September 26, 1983,
despite radar showing the United States had launched nuclear missiles against
Russia, refused to give the order to launch Russia’s missiles, literally saving the world from nuclear holocaust (for which he was
disgraced and lost everything). No one knew of him for 25 years, but she knows of
him. “He was a hero but not appreciated.” In that moment, I had such a sense of
connection with this young woman from the Ukraine through our mutual knowledge and
appreciation of Petrov.
The tour continues on to
Kopachi Village which was buried under ground because there was too much
radiation, but there are still some buildings (that’s where the famous photo of
a kindergarten is from). You come up to the side of the power plant – 300
meters from the accident (but still, she says, 4x lower radiation than on an airplane.”
Then the Red Forest,
famous because it was consumed by the cloud. “We don’t go inside, but measure
Then on to the famous
ghost city of Prypat. This is not just where people lived – it had a population
of 50,000 – but was a model city of the
Soviet Union. The average age was 26 – every third person was a child. They were
employees of plant. It was supposed to be model of the great Soviet life, if Communism
would have worked.”
Chernobyl was biggest
nuclear accident ever, but what does the whole world know? That there was an
explosion, people died, it can’t be inhabited. But it is also a story of
victory – of the mitigated areas.
All of this in one day,
but there are multi-day tours, as well.
Every year 30% more
people come on the tour (which is offered year round). Last year 70,000 people
came (there are at least five tour companies, of which Chernobyl Tour is the
largest.) Most take the one-day tour $89 – includes insurance, transfer, guard,
permissions (can book day before, but it costs more).
There are also tours
inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and other limited access facilities;
airplane and helicopter tours over the Chernobyl Zone and Ukraine; military
tours to the shooting ranges, rides on armored vehicles and visits to a nuclear
missile base; underground tours in the drainage systems, subway, tunnels and
caves, and sightseeing tours in Ukraine.
Travel from the US to
Cuba is expected to rebound in 2019 after declining in 2018 after Trump renewed
restrictions on travel and issued a State Department warning. That didn’t deter
visits from Canada, Europe and Russia, and visits to the island nation
increased. Cruise arrivals continued to increase in 2018, and were expected to
exceed 850,000, with 70% of the cruisegoers coming from the US. Travel
companies continue to offer tours that meet the Trump requirements, and all
forms of “purposeful” travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain in place
(heritage, family, journalists).
Independent travel by
individuals, families and friends is largely unchanged but now falls under the
rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People
to People.” But Americans are cautioned not to stay or use facilities that
support the regime; staying homes (Air BnB), is okay. “Keep your receipts for
five years,” a woman who traveled independently through Cuba in 2017 tells me.
“I used Air BnB, stayed
with beautiful families, visited schools, brought school supplies,” Shay Pantone of NY, who traveled to Cuba in 2017, tells me,
adding “You need to speak Spanish if you are going to travel independently.”
Despite the Trump
Administration’s branding Cuba with a Level 2 travel advisory (“Exercise
Increased Caution”), the same status as 57 other countries including 12 in the
Americas and 7 in western Europe, Cuba is judged by most as one of the safest
destinations in the region with less crime and disease.
How to go? The Fund for
Reconciliation and Development (www.ffrd.org),
a group that has been advocating for opening travel and overturning sanctions
against Cuba for years, advises:
Book nonstop to Havana
on Jet Blue from JFK or on United from Newark; American, Delta and southwest
have connecting flights. American or Jet Blue flies from Miami or Ft.
Lauderdale to Santa Clara, Holguin, Varadero, Carnaguey and Santiago (from May
Select “Support for the
Cuban People” as the appropriate license category from the airline menu.
Use Air BnB or Trip
Advisor to reserve a room or apartment (casa
particular) from a private owner.
East in private restaurant
Buy handicrafts, art and
clothing from self-employed craftspeople and creators (cuento propistos).
If you need a guide,
hire privately (preferably in advance)
As much as possible, use
private taxis (also available between cities)
“Whatever you do, wherever
you go, be intentional and responsible that your goal is ‘a full time schedule
of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people.. and that result in
meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.’ (The judgment of what
qualifies is yours.)”
activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week.
Keep a journal or list
of your ‘meaningful interactions’ for five years.
If you are on a cruise,
exercise your right to explore independently or with a local guide.
Current US government
for independent travelers: tinyurl.com/Cubabasics
Fund for Reconciliation
and Development is offering a fam trip May 3-10 to explore Santiago and
Guantanamo; and for Carnival, July 20-28.
Fund For Reconciliation and Development, 917-859-9027,
director @ffrd.org, www.ffrd.org.
Safaris with Social Benefit
Zulu Nyala promotes animal conservation in its six-day, six night safari
packages using four-star lodges, in its own safari park the family has had for
35 years. “The owner was out with his family and stopped to look at a giraffe,
saw a for-sale sign, and bought 15,000 acres.” The park accommodates up to 300
guests in three lodges (50-units, 56 suites, 48 safari tents). The
all-inclusive program is hosted by a game ranger and offers two activities a
day (walking or driving). (www.zulunyala.com).
The organization also
offers the opportunity for organizations to use the $6,000 safaris as a charity
fundraiser – for example, starting the auction at $2500 for two for a six-night
stay, where the organization keeps 50 percent and gives the safari company 50%.
“There’s no money or risk on the part of the organization; we’ve been doing it for 15 years, and supported hundreds of American organizations.” (Contact Debbie Bosman, African Safari Donations, 800-595-5810, www.safarisforcharity.com, email@example.com).
Off Season Adventures: The idea here is to safari in Tanzania and Zanzibar off-season, when there are fewer people, it is less expensive, while also supporting local communities. The company reserve 5% of clients’ total package cost to invest in the communities and wildlife through a 501(c)(3) public charity Second Look Worldwide. “These community and environmental investments are tangible projects which our clients can see during their trip. All projects are determined by the communities and dependent on their most direct needs, however, we are focusing on projects that support water management solutions. Our goal is to become a sustainable, net-positive travel company by replacing and building up all resources used by our clients during their tours.”
company’s first community initiative, the Kakoi Water Project , is a project
that will provide a year-round source of water to the village of Kakoi and its
surrounding communities, which include three other villages, two schools, and a
dispensary. “By supporting these local communities that border Tarangire
National Park in Tanzania, we contribute to their well-being and encourage them
to make an extra effort to protect animals in the area.” The tours include an excursion to the Kakoi
Water Project. Visitors get to visit a
relative of theirs – go into hut, gather honey, seeds, roots, experience how
The tour company also offsets all
carbon emissions through a partnership with Carbon Tanzania, which conserves
huge tracks of forested land in Tanzania, a more productive way of offsetting
carbon. “To date, we have offset 83.84
metric tons of CO2 and protected 69 trees by helping Carbon Tanzania preserve
35,000ha of forest in the Yaeda Valley, an area that the Hadzabe tribe have
called home for thousands of years. This way of offsetting not only has a
positive environmental impact, but also has a positive impact on the local
population of the Hadzabe.”
has the power to transform not only the traveler, but also our world. This
belief forms the foundation of our business. We have a deep commitment to
protecting and preserving the destinations we visit, and building a better
world through sustainable travel.
believe in integrating sustainability into all components of our business. We
are committed to providing experiences that have a positive impact on the
environment, community, and economy of each destination visited. We work
closely with our local partners to ensure that travelers are respectfully
visiting in a way that showcases authentic experiences.”
Tours by Locals has now grown to a network of 3100 independent-contractor
guides. The company facilitates the trend toward independent, “authentic,” experiential
travel. The company marked a milestone: 10 years and 1 million travelers. You can
find a guide for Vietnam ($50 US for 8 hours private, with car; less if walking
or cycling city). The most northerly guide in the registry now is in Svalbord,
Norway (where the Svalbard Global Seed
Vault is located); the newest is inMogadishu, Somalia (the guide comes with
security); and there is an uptick in requests for guides in Cuba.
Israel for Foodies
I found it intriguing
that Israel was the sponsor of the Taste of Travel section for the second year.
Israel, after all, is not top-of-mind for cuisine.
“Israel has wonderfully diverse gastronomic. We have James Beard Award-winning chefs,” Chad Martin, Northeast Region Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.israel.travel), says. “Israel is 70 years old- we now have fourth and fifth generation Israelis. Israel is a pot that hasn’t melted – In Israel, you might have four grandparents from different ends of the earth: Argentina, Morocco, Russia, East Asia – all Jewish and intermarrying. They borrow the best recipes from every grandparent, the spices mix together
What is Israeli food? “Israeli
food is a mix of 70 cultures. The combination of cultures and innovation
together – Israel, after all, is the Innovation Nation with the most
start-ups.- it has a culture of creativity and that manifests in the food. We
invented the cherry tomato. We’ve made numerous innovations in agriculture – we
made the desert bloom, and there, things grow sweeter.
“The Israeli food scene
is based around fresh ingredients. We are the size of New Jersey but have our
Culinary experience is
just one of the ways Israel is reaching out beyond the most traditional sources
of visitors- Jewish Heritage and Christian Pilgrimage. For the first time,
Israel surpassed 1 million visitors from the North America, posting 42% growth
over a two-year period. People are coming for food and wine experiences, meetings
and incentives, even adventure and outdoors travel – mountain biking in the
Negev where the country’s first Six Senses resort is opening and a new airport
is opening in Eilat. Hikers can travel Trail Israel – it takes a month – and kayak
in the grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, a geologic formation on the border between Israel and
Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea coast in the Western Galilee.
“40% of our visitors are returnees, but not just for heritage, but because they realize that can’t really ‘do Israel’ in one trip. The ‘sophisticated travel’ segment has skyrocketed.”
New York Times Travel Show, now in its 16th year, is the largest and
longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, hosting 10,000
travel professionals during a Travel Industry Conference, and some 22,000
travelers at Consumer Seminars, Meet The Experts Pavilion and an interactive
Exhibition with more than 600 exhibitors representing travel to all seven
continents, positioned within 16 pavilions (including Adventure, Africa, Asia,
Australia/South Pacific, Canada, Caribbean, Cruise, Europe, Family, Global,
Latin America, L.G.B.T.Q., Mexico, River Cruise, Travel Products, and U.S.A.
Pavilions). In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provides
educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals and
couples and seniors.
Dragons and dancers paraded through New York
City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city
with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.
The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.
his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer
applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America
With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000,
Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower
Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in
neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little
Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos
among others add to the multicultural mosaic.
The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.
“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration
in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”
And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.
Here are highlights:
The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA)
offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about
holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the
neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the
characteristics that make this holiday unique.”
Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with
personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather,
tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For
information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org.
(Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).