Category Archives: Attractions

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: The Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Collection: a docent displays a photo of Henri Matisse sitting in the very room and gazing at his own painting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin, and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute.

Barnes Collection

The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Renoir in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We spare no time once we drop our luggage at The Roost East Market, park the car in the garage, but grab an Uber to race over to The Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Collection is one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modernist paintings, with especially rich holdings in Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled by Dr. Albert C. Barnes between 1912 and 1951, the collection also includes important examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture, American avant-garde painting, and wrought-iron metalwork. In fact, we are told, Dr. Barnes has the greatest collection of Renoir anywhere – 181 of them acquired by Dr. Barnes between 1921 and 1942 that you actually see (as opposed to museums that keep most of their collections in storage). Plus 69 by Paul Cézanne; 59 by Henri Matisse; 46 by Pablo Picasso; 21 by Chaim Soutine; 18 by Henri Rousseau and the list goes on and on, as you walk from gallery to gallery to gallery.

Masterpieces at The Barnes are displayed in rooms that replicate how Dr. Barnes originally displayed his collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The building complex is new, but the gallery rooms re-create the rooms and how Dr. Barnes displayed his art, intentionally juxtaposing masterworks by Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso next to ordinary household objects – a door hinge, a spatula, a yarn spinner; a French medieval sculpture displayed with a Navajo textile; African folk art with Modigliani and Cubists. Dr. Barnes called these dense groupings of objects from different cultures, time periods and media his “ensembles.” He meticulously crafted the ensembles to draw out visual similarities – even the source of inspiration. He meant them as teaching tools, essential to the educational program Dr. Barnes developed in the 1920s.

Dozens of Renoirs are on view at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“He believed you could as likely learn about how to do surgery wandering through a hospital as art wandering through a gallery – you have to be taught how to see, what to look for,” a docent explains. “He wanted people to appreciate how culture influences art.” She adds, “He wasn’t an artist himself.” In fact, she relates, 10 years ago, Central High School (Dr. Barnes grew up in a working class family in Philadelphia), came across his school books. “He got A’s in everything but art.”

A very recognizable Van Gogh, “The Postman,”, on view at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Barnes, you experience these masterworks in the most intimate manner, as if visiting a home (albeit a mansion). We are exceptionally lucky to visit when the museum is not at all crowded (actually we are there until closing) – I even get to have some of the art completely to myself. It is very comfortable to view – many of the rooms (and they seem to go on forever, one after another) are small and there is seating in each one, with guides to the artwork at hand. But you should try to take a docent tour. At one point, the docent pulls up a photo of Henry Matisse, sitting on the very bench and gazing at his own painting in that very room.

Dr. Albert Barnes had a particular way of displaying his extraordinary art collection, replicated at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia: Here George Seurat (“Models”) and Paul Cezanne (“The Card Players”). © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Visiting the Barnes Collection, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In every room, you are astonished to see art that is amazingly familiar – because they are so famous: Georges Seurat’s “Models” (the basis for “Sunday in the Park with George”); Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Postman”; Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players”; Edouard Manet “Laundry”; Pablo Picasso “Acrobat and Young Harlequin”, and a plethora of Renoirs – so many, you get a sugar high. Every gallery takes your breath away, and for that moment, the art, the masterpiece, is yours.

The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Impressionists in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia, has one of the greatest holdings of Impressionists in the world © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then there are the surprises – the art and artists you “meet” for the first time. I fall in love with a Van Gogh country scene I have never seen before.

A Van Gogh country scene, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A Van Gogh, Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a wonderful painting of Dr. Albert Barnes (1872-1951) by Giorgio de Chirico (1926), which makes you wonder more about who he was to have assembled such an astonishing collection. Dr. Barnes was born and raised in working-class Philadelphia, earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and went on to study chemistry in Germany. After starting his own business and making a fortune in pharmaceuticals, he began collecting art.

Portrait of of Dr. Albert Barnes (1872-1951) by Giorgio de Chirico (1926) at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Dr. Barnes believed that art had the power to improve minds and transform lives,” the notes read. “In 1922, he established the Barnes Foundation as a school for learning how to see and appreciate art. He had a gallery built in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, to house his growing collection. He held classes in the gallery so that students could learn directly from the artworks.”

Picasso’s “Acrobat and Young Harlequin”, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Picasso’s “The Ascetic”, at The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In 2012, the collection was moved to Philadelphia, to a building designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architecture. The collection gallery replicates the original gallery building in Merion.

Claude Monet’s “The Studio Boat,” at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19130, 215-278-7000, www.barnesfoundation.org.

From here, we go to a family gathering at the mega-popular Zahav Restaurant (the Uber driver can’t believe we are getting in there since lines are usually around the block), an award-winning restaurant which elevates Israeli cuisine to gourmet status. The small plates menu is designed for diners to sample the variety of cultural influences on Israeli cuisine, from Eastern Europe to North Africa, from Persia to the Mediterranean. “Creamy, nutty hummuses, sizzling skewers of meat grilled over hardwood charcoal, and laffa breadar,  the soul of Zahav, baked to order in a wood-fired Taboon.” (237 Saint James Place, 215-625-8800, zahavrestaurant.com).

My holiday happenings (see: Holiday Happenings Give Visitors to Philadelphia Even More to Enjoy) are bookended by visits to several of Philadelphia’s incomparable sites and attractions. Next:  Independence Hall (you need to get a timed ticket, either walk up for free or in advance online for $1 fee, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehalltickets.htm); a fabulous exhibit devoted to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG) at the National Museum of American Jewish History, located within the Independence Hall  area (thru Jan. 12, at 5th & Market, mnajh.org, 215-923-3811); Philadelphia Magic Gardens (doesn’t need any holiday embellishments, 1020 South St., 215-733-0390, phillymagicgardens.org);and Franklin Institute (222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu), before having to pull myself away from Philadelphia.

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best thing about Christmas is that the festivities that brighten and warm all the days of the holiday season go on from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. And the best part is you don’t have to wait for Christmas week – festivities are happening throughout December. Here are some of our favorite places to revel in the holiday spirit:

Christmas in the Capital

Here are some of the best, can’t-miss ways to experience the holidays in Washington DC::

The National Christmas Tree, one of DC’s iconic holiday traditions, lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories. Each night throughout the holiday season there are musical performances. The display is free to visit and open from 10 am – 10 pm while the National Christmas Tree is lit each day from 4:30-10 pm, from Dec. 5, when the lighting ceremony takes place.

Visit the Smithsonian National Zoo during ZooLights, when the zoo is illuminated with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs,  animated light installations, live music and various animals on display. ZooLights runs Nov. 29 – Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24, 25 & 31).

Enchant Christmas is a light maze, billed as the biggest in the world, that is in DC for the first time at Nationals Park from Nov. 22 – Dec. 29. Throughout the holiday season there are ice skating trails and a large holiday market offering products from more than 60 vendors, including local businesses and international brands. (Use promo code “VISITDC” to get 10% off when you buy tickets.)

Downtown Holiday Market: Located at 8th and F Streets NW, the market holds down the area in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. At night, its bright lights bring Penn Quarter to life, providing a holiday spark to the neighborhood, but you can shop during the day too. (Open daily 12-8 pm, Nov. 22 – Dec. 23).

Georgetown GLOW exhibition of light-art, a stroll through DC’s most historic neighborhood  has proven to be such a hit that it’s now a month-long celebration (Dec. 6 – Jan. 5, 5-10 pm). Afterwards, wander through a winter wonderland at The Washington Harbour, one of the district’s favorite places to ice skate.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: A George Washington-inspired Christmas awaits at the Founding Father’s Mount Vernon estate, Nov. 29 – Dec. 31. Walk through Washington’s home and visit Aladdin the camel, which pays homage to Washington’s 1787 Christmas in which he paid 18 shillings to entertain guests with a camel. See Mount Vernon by candlelight (Nov. 29 & 30, Dec. 6-7, 13-14 and 22) between 5-8 p.m., when you can enjoy a character-guided tour, 18th century dancing and fireside caroling.

The U.S. Botanic Garden gets decked out for this annual exhibit. This year’s display focuses on gardens from Hawaii to Maine, including iconic spots like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Franklin Park Conservatory and Huntsville Botanical Garden. Inside the Conservatory are  the garden’s collection of DC’s iconic landmarks and a showcase of poinsettias. Season’s Greenings is open from Nov. 28 – Jan. 5 (10 am – 5 pm), and stays open until 8 pm, with holiday concerts on select Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

A magnificent tree decks the Great Hall of the Library of Congress‘ Thomas Jefferson Building each December, visited from the First Street SE entrance between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm (the Jefferson Building is closed Sundays and on Christmas). (Check the guide to visiting the largest library in the world so you can properly explore.)

Ice slide at Gaylord’s ICE! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit National Harbor, a shopping, dining and amusement park-like landmark located just 20 minutes south of DC (reached by public transportation). Step inside the Gaylord National Resort for ICE! (Nov. 15 – Dec. 30), an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, a live carving area and a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While at National Harbor, view the tree from atop the Capital Wheel, shop for gifts at the Tanger Outlets and experience weekend events like holiday markets, performances and movie screenings.

Beautiful lights, seasonal food and holiday-themed attractions and characters make up this annual Christmas event at Six Flags America, on weekends and select days from Nov. 23 – Jan. 1.

Located in the Brookland neighborhood, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, dresses up with more than 50 Christmas trees, over 65,000 lights, halls decked with 500-plus poinsettias and two manger scenes. (Free and open to the public daily from 7 am – 6 pm)

The Willard InterContinental Washington offers a holiday tradition throughout December. You can enjoy afternoon tea from 1-4 p.m. in the elegant Peacock Alley every day of the month (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31). There will be seasonal decor, sandwiches, pastries and the beautiful sounds of a harp to accompany you as you sip on festive teas from one of DC’s most historic hotels.

Visit https://washington.org for more details and ideas.

Christmas in Washington DC: The historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel hosts holiday afternoon tea, nightly caroling, and a gingerbread display.

15th Annual Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth, NH

Now in its 15th year, Vintage Christmas, taking place throughout December, transforms Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which National Geographic/Travel described as “possibly the greatest small town in the USA,” into a picture-postcard winter wonderland.

Those who visit Portsmouth during the holiday season discover an intimate streetscape framed by 19th century storefronts, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. The city’s reputation as a “foodies’” haven is upheld by chef-owned restaurants on more than every corner. The thriving craft beer and local music scene banish all suggestions of “staid New England” without losing the charm. And sales tax-free shopping offers delights for every age and taste.

For 2019 Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth includes:

The Music Hall, a historic theater dating from 1878 on Chestnut Street, presents “Annie” from November 27 to December 22, with Sally Struthers reprising her Broadway tour reprisal of Miss Hannigan. Juston McKinney: Last Laugh 2019 on Dec. 27, 28 & 29, looks back at “the year that was” with one of the region’s most “popular stand-up comics. New Year’s Eve Champagne Pops with the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 31.

Strawbery Banke Museum:  40th Annual Candlelight Stroll on December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22, showcases 300+ years of daily life and holiday festivities around the theme “A Tradition for Every Family” in the historic waterfront neighborhood and living history museum of Puddle Dock. Saturdays 5-9 pm. Sundays 4-8 pm. Adult $25; child (5-17) $10, Family (2 adults/2 kids) $60. Children under 5 and Military families, free.

It’s Chanukah at the Shapiro House at Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH’s living history museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond, Strawbery Banke’s seasonal outdoor ice skating rink, open daily 9 am to 9 pm, also hosts costumed Victorian skaters evoking Currier & Ives during each of the December evenings of Candlelight Stroll.

Vintage Christmas Trolley. This free trolley, courtesy of the City of Portsmouth, shuttles visitors on a 15-minute loop throughout the festively decorated downtown, from hotels and parking garages to the key events and shopping areas on weekends,  December 7-22, 1:30-10:30 pm.

For more information, visit VintageChristmasNH.org; Discover Portsmouth, PortsmouthHistory.org, 603-436-8433.

Christmas in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island, the Gilded Age’s favorite summer resort, is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. A sampling of “Christmas in Newport” (now in its 49th year) and winter festivities include:

Holiday Lantern Tours: Hear the history of early American holiday traditions on an evening walk and learn how Newporters did, or did not, observe the holidays. Tours depart from the Museum of Newport History and Shop (Nov. 22 – Dec. 28, Fridays and Saturdays at 4 p.m.)

Christmas in Newport: The Breakers, Vanderbilt’s opulent “summer cottage”, decked out for the holidays.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions: The glitter of gold and the sparkle of silver dazzle as you tour three magnificent mansions decked out in yuletide finery. Music, tours and spectacular decorations highlight celebrations at The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House – each of which will have Gingerbread Mansion replicas on display. Special events include “Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions” and “Santa Sundays.” (Nov. 23 – Jan. 1)

Christmas at Blithewold: Enjoy elaborate holiday decorations around every corner of this historic early 19th century estate in Bristol. (Nov. 29 – Jan. 1)

Holiday Market at Gurney’s: Features a curated selection of travel, lifestyle and fashion finds. (Nov. 29 – Dec. 20, Friday – Sunday).

Dickens Holiday Dinner Train: Immerse yourself in the classic tale of humbuggery, ghosts and redemption with this interactive retelling of “A Christmas Carol” by the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. Experience a dining journey along the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad in a custom-designed theater car featuring special tables for two all facing center stage. (Nov. 30 – Dec. 21, Saturdays)

A Rough Point Holiday: Experience the holiday traditions and winter caretaking practices at Doris Duke’s Rough Point with various rooms of the mansion museum both spruced up for the Christmas holiday and cloaked in their winter coverings. 30-minute guided tours offered throughout the day. (Dec. 7 – 28, Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m)

48th Annual Christmas in Newport Candlelight Tour of Historical Private Homes: Experience the rare opportunity to tour private homes of note in Newport. (No children 10 or under and no high heels. Dec. 28) 

Festive Igloo Pop-Ups at Gurney’s Newport Resort: Features heated multi-sensory igloos overlooking Narragansett Bay, each with its own theme including Santa’s Workshop, Winter Wonderland, Cozy Log Cabin, Roaring 20s, Harry Potter, Tropical Summer, Northern Lights, Astrology and Après Ski, complete with activities and cocktail pairings. Proceeds will go to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Rhode Island. (Nov. 22 – Feb. 29)

Gurney’s Newport Resort Skating Rink: Opens for the season with outdoor skating on the North Lawn overlooking the Newport Harbor Lighthouse, The Point and the Newport Bridge. Open seven days a week. (Nov. 26 – March 1)

Goat Hikes at Simmons Farm: Spend an afternoon on a two-hour hike led by Farmer Karla and her crew of adventurous, fun-loving goats. Each participant gets their own goat to walk on a leash. The afternoon finishes with hot chocolate made with the milk from the farm. (Nov. 24 – Jan. 1)

Meanwhile, “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” an exhibit of colorful glass artwork and objects by the renowned Louis C. Tiffany opens at Rosecliff beginning Sunday, Dec. 8, and continuing through March 1. The exhibition is free to view with paid admission to Rosecliff (548 Bellevue Ave.). For tickets and information, visit newportmansions.org/learn/adult-programs or call (401) 847-1000, ext. 178. Rosecliff is one of the Preservation Society of Newport 11 historic properties, seven of them National Historic Landmarks, collectively spanning more than 250 years of American architectural and social development. (NewportMansions.org)

See more holiday and winter events in Newport and plan a visit at DiscoverNewport.org, 800-326-030, 401-849-8048.

Holidays in the Brandywine Valley

Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley is one of the most picturesque and historic places especially during the holiday season From Christmastime exhibits at du Pont family estates to the dancing fountains at Longwood Gardens. Here are highlights:

Christmas lights at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Longwood Christmas at Longwood Gardens, is magical with 500,000 lights gracing 150 trees throughout the outdoor Gardens, a four-acre Conservatory with holiday sing-alongs accompanied by a 10,010 pipe Aeolian organ – the largest organ ever constructed in a residential setting. At the Open Air Theatre, fountains dance day and night to holiday classics. Delight in Longwood’s outdoor train display as it travels past miniature Longwood landmarks illuminated for the holiday season. In the Meadow Garden, stroll through a 140-ft tunnel of light in the winter landscape, and discover a grove of glowing architectural orbs that pulse and change to the rhythm of holiday music.  Grab a hot chocolate and cozy up to one of the many fire pits. ALongwoodChristmasruns November 22, 2019– January 5, 2020 (including Christmas Day). Admission to the Christmas display is by Timed Admission Ticket, with tickets purchased in advance for a specific date and time. (Tickets and reservations at longwoodgardens.org.)

Yuletide at Winterthur: From November 23 through January 5, you can experience one of the Brandywine Valley’s most memorable attractions. Henry du Pont’s mansion is transformed into a magical holiday spectacle, with food, music, exhibits, an exquisite 18-room dollhouse mansion, and an Enchanted Woods children’s garden. Reservations are recommended for the Yuletide exhibits, and the last chance to see Winterthur’s Costuming THE CROWN (showcasing costumes from Netflix’s Emmy winning series) before it closes on January 5.

Nemours Estate: Starting November 17, you can  experience holidays in traditional du Pont style as you tour the 1907 mansion and gardens that Alfred du Pont built for his wife Alicia. See original decorations (including a 19th century German crèche), twinkling lights, and bright colored ornaments.

Holidays at Hagley at Hagley Museum takes you back to 1803 as you visit the du Pont ancestral home Eleutherian Mills, decorated in vintage holiday charm. There’s also a “Christmas Trees Past and Present” exhibit.

Brandywine Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, renowned for its collection from three generations of Wyeth family artists, during the holiday season showcases the region’s most impressive model train display, which includes nearly 2,000 feet of track. Throughout the season, festive trees and crafts, live musical performances, and imaginative “Critter” ornaments made by local volunteers. There’s also a Polar Express Pajama Party, breakfast with the trains, and more special events. (www.brandywinemuseum.org)

Holiday Light Express throughout December you can take a 45-minute ride in 100-year old (heated!) coaches and experience thousands of holiday lights twinkling as you pass decorated homes along the route.

A Christmas Carol: Delaware Theater Company’s adaptation of the Dickens classic has a twist:  performed with just five actors bring Charles Dickens’ beloved characters to life using props, puppets, bold physicality and the imagination of the audience. Opening night is December 7, so make this a cultural must-see on your holiday road trip.

For more information, trip planning help and accommodations, visit www.visitwilmingtonde.com, 800-489-6664.

Visit Christmas City, USA: Bethlehem, PA

Christmas in Bethlehem, PA, America’s “Christmas City.”

Experience the magic of the Christmas City: Bethlehem, in Lehigh Valley, PA boasts one of the top-ranked holiday markets in the world, now celebrating its 27th season. Christkindlmarkt (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22) offers visitors wares from 100 vendors, musical performances, and glass blowing demonstrations.

 Along Main Street, browse the Christmas Huts on Main (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22), a shopping experience inspired by a German Weihnachtsmarkt, complete with charming wooden huts lining the streets offering holiday gifts. Browse the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the country.

Join Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites for a variety of tours including Christmas City Stroll, which takes you on a walking excursion through the city’s National Historic Landmark District. Led by a guide in period dress, this tour will give you a peek into what Moravian life was like in the 1700s.

To get a great view of the famous star atop South Mountain, get tickets for the Bethlehem by Night bus tour. On this tour, participants will learn why the north side of the city dons white lights and the SouthSide dresses up in colored lights. (Reserve in advance.)

One of the most distinctive holiday traditions is the Bethlehem’s Live Advent Calendar. Thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, visitors can join locals in this activity nightly, Dec. 1 – 23, at 5:30 p.m. Crowds gather outside the Goundie House at 501 Main Street. A selected visitor knocks on the door and the group is greeted by representatives from local businesses offering a surprise for all to enjoy. Nightly surprises could include musical performances, a story, or a tasty treat.

As you wander along Main Street, enjoy the music. Trombone choirs stroll the sidewalks playing holiday tunes, a nod to the city’s Moravian heritage.

For a special view of the city’s historic district, take a horse-drawn holiday carriage ride, hosted by the Bethlehem Carriage Company.

A free Christmas City Trolley is offered Fridays-Sundays, Nov. 15 – Dec. 22. The trolley runs every 20-30 minutes, shuttling between the Historic District and the SouthSide Arts District.

More information at discoverlehighvalley.com, info@DiscoverLehighValley.comOpens in New Window
610-882-9200, 800-MEET-HERE.

Victorian Christmas in Cape May

A Victorian Christmas awaits in Cape May, NJ.

Share a special holiday tradition with friends and family on a festive tour of Victorian Cape May during Christmas Candlelight House Tours, presented by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC). Every year since 1974, a large selection of Victorian inns, homes, churches and hotels open their doors and welcome visitors to share the warmth and hospitality of the season during these popular, self-guided, walking tours. You will be welcomed inside with holiday hospitality and cheer. Enjoy Christmas carols by candlelight, strolling musicians along the historic streets of Cape May and beautiful holiday decorations. Walk from site to site, stopping at hospitality centers for warm beverages and holiday treats during your travels. Free heated shuttles make limited stops along some routes. The three Christmas Candlelight House Tours of the 2019 holiday season are held on Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (tickets should be purchased in advance). The festivities begin Friday, Nov. 22 and continue through Jan. 1, 2020. 

For information about MAC’s year-round schedule of tours, festivals, and special events, call 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278, or visit MAC’s Web site at www.capemaymac.org. For information about restaurants, accommodations and shopping, call the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May at 609-884-5508 or visit www.capemaychamber.com. For information about historic accommodations, contact Cape May Historic Accommodations at www.capemaylodging.com.

Next: More Favorite Holiday Places

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Most Wonderful Time of the Year: New York City Sparkles with Holiday Festivities

The most stupendous, eagerly anticipated float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in the Christmas season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, New York City offers unparalleled ways to celebrate the holidays with vibrant performances, tours, lightings, special events taking place from early November into January.

“New York City’s celebratory spirit and excitement are palpable during the annual holiday season. From iconic attractions and events to hidden-gem activities in all five boroughs, there’s an endless roster of memorable programming to enjoy from November to January,” said NYC & Company president and CEO Fred Dixon. NYC & Company, New York City’s official destination marketing organization, is forecasting seven million visitors will visit the City during the 2019–2020 holiday season.

Here are some of the festive events, performances and activities across the boroughs to celebrate the holiday season in New York City.

Annual Celebrations:

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances. Olaf from Frozen makes a return appearance in the 93rd edition of the parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, November 28, Manhattan
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances and more. The 93rd Annual spectacle will feature new balloons including Astronaut Snoopy, Netflix’s Green Eggs and Ham, SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary, Smokey Bear and Yayoi Kusama’s Love Flies Up to the Sky. New floats include Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You!, The Brick-changer by The Lego Group, Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, Rexy in the City by COACH® and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life. The parade begins at 9 am on 77th Street and Central Park West, snakes around Central Park South and heads down Sixth Avenue before concluding at Macy’s Herald Square at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Balloon Inflation, November 27, 1-8 pm: Head up to the American Museum of Natural History on November 27 from 1 to 8 pm to watch the balloon inflation at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue but be prepared for long lines (entrance at 73rd and Columbus.)  

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, December 4, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center has been a tradition for more than eight decades. Lighting up Rockefeller Plaza, the tree lighting ceremony features performances and classic Christmas songs. The tree will arrive on November 9, light up on December 4 and be on view through early to mid-January.  

Rockefeller Center at Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lighting of the Largest Menorah in Brooklyn and Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah:  Manhattan, December 22, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan: Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Grand Army Plazas compete in the race for the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah. The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn has been lit since 1985, and the annual concert to kick off the holiday will be held on December 22.  

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, December 31–January 1, Times Square, Manhattan: Each year, millions of viewers watch the Times Square Ball Drop from New York City and around the globe. The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball sparkles in Times Square for visitors to see all season, but its descent is a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year.  

New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park, December 31–January 1,  Prospect Park, Brooklyn: The Grand Army Plaza’s iconic New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park offer an alternative to the frenzy of Times Square. This spectacular celebration includes live music, followed by a fireworks show at midnight.  

New Year’s Eve in Times Square (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sparkling Light Festivities:

Shine On at Hudson Yards, November 29-January 5. A new tradition being introduced at Manhattan’s newest neighborhood. Kicks off the day after Thanksgiving with full day of live performances featuring award-winning New York musicians, dangers and entertainers, plus Only at Hudson Yards offers. Then, every Tuesday through December 24, music and dance performances throughout Hudson Yards, and Saturdays children’s activities and family events. Immersive Light and Music Shows: the New York premiere of artist Christopher Schardt’s light sculpture Lyra, 5 pm daily at multiple locations throughout Hudson Yards. Visit Wells Fargo Lodge for hot chocolate tastings and 360-degree photo ops, plus interactive Star Stations with gift wrapping. Unlock holiday offers from SAP with shine ON LED bracelet available at Hudson Yards retailers.  

Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo, November 21–January 5, Fordham, the Bronx: Returning for the first time since 2007, the stunning light displays at the Bronx Zoo will cover several acres in a walk-through experience with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom lanterns and animated light shows.  

LuminoCity Festival, November 23-January 5, Randall’s Island Park, Manhattan: Sixteen acres of lights will illuminate themed worlds during this inaugural festival, creating an immersive journey for visitors that includes a castle, skating unicorn and enchanted forest.  

Brookfield Place Light Up Luminaries, December 3-January 4, Battery Park City, Manhattan: This spectacular light installation kicks off December 3 with an evening of free ice skating, snacks and live performances.  

Hello Panda Festival at Citi Field, December 6–January 26, Flushing, Queens: The debut of this international lantern, food and art festival will include 60 global cuisine vendors, arts experiences, live performances and a holiday market.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival, November 20–January 12, Randall Manor, Staten Island: The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for a second year to Staten Island. Sponsored by Empire Outlets and venue partner Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, eight acres will be lit up by more than 50 LED installations, accompanied by live performances of traditional Chinese dance and art.  

Winter Exhibits and Cultural Events:

The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History, November 25–January 12, Upper West Side, Manhattan: This beloved tradition includes a 13-foot tree and 1,000 origami models. The signature Origami Holiday Tree, themed “Oceans of Origami” this season, has been a part of the celebrations for more than 40 years.

New-York Historical Society, (November 1, 2019 – February 23, 2020:  A holiday favorite returns this season, reimagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and illustrator Richard Scarry. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown  showcases artwork and graphics of Scarry’s characters like Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm from publisher Random House Children’s Books alongside more than 300 objects from the Jerni Collection’s antique toy trains, stations, and accessories. Using Busytown stories and characters, dynamic displays explore the workings of the railroad, the services it provides, and the jobs required to keep people and goods moving. Fun, train-related activities for kids of all ages take place through the exhibition’s run―all free with museum admission. These include: Celebrating Richard Scarry and Busytown! (Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15; 1–3 pm); December School Vacation Week (Thursday, December 26 – Wednesday, January 1) (170 Central Park West (77th St), New York, NY 10024, www.nyhistory.org)

Holidays in New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, November 23–January 12, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens: Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science invites visitors to witness the vast collection of gingerbread structures embellished with candy canes, chocolate and frosting.  

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, November 23–January 26, Fordham, the Bronx: Conveniently accessible via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal, head to the New York Botanical Garden to be enchanted by model trains zipping through a display of more than 175 NYC landmarks, each re-created with natural materials.  

Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting Ceremony, November 30, Belmont, the Bronx: Experience Christmas in the Bronx’s Little Italy at the Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting. The annual event features a visit from Santa, cookies and hot chocolate among the twinkling lights.  

Seaport District NYC Celebrations, Seaport District NYC, Manhattan: Festivities in this neighborhood include the Winterland Holiday Tree Lighting on December 2, Menorah Lighting on December 22, a pop-up tree farm, ice skating and a light display at Pier 17.  

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, December 7–8, Riverdale, the Bronx: Create one-of-a-kind holiday decorations by the gorgeous gardens and galleries at Wave Hill during their interactive Holiday Workshop Weekend.  

Historic Richmond Town Candlelight Tours, December 14–21, Staten Island: This Christmas season, experience the tastes and scents of centuries past at Historic Richmond Town. Step back in time while touring the unique New York City which is illuminated by candles and oil lamps.  

11th Annual Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum, December 16, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn: One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday tasting events, the Latke Festival is a charity event that celebrates the best and most creative potato pancakes.  

Melrose Holiday Parranda, December 21, Melrose, the Bronx: The Melrose Holiday Parranda follows in the footsteps of Puerto Rican holiday caroling with a procession based on plena music and holiday songs.
Cheer-Filled Performances:

The Rockettes are sure to perform their iconic Wooden Soldiers routine in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, November 8–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns to Radio City Music Hall, dazzling audiences of all ages with incredible costumes, festive songs and synchronized high kicks.  

Four Renditions of the Holiday Classic A Christmas Carol

An unforgettable Broadway experience, Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre will run November 7-January 5 with a new, enchanting interpretation of this holiday masterpiece.  

For a unique venue, head to the 1832 Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village, as an actor portraying Charles Dickens shares this memorable story November 29–January 4.  

The Players Theatre will bring Charles Dickens’ timeless tale to life in their 11th annual A Christmas Carol the Musical December 1–20 in Greenwich Village.  

A Christmas Carol at Queens Theatre transports the audience to Victorian England to experience Scrooge’s iconic journey December 6–22.  

Three Extraordinary Versions of The Nutcracker:  

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center Plaza brings the classic Christmas Eve tale to life with breathtaking music and choreography November 29–January 5.  

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s The Nutcracker is coming to Flushing Town Hall in Queens on December 4 with a historical puppet cast bound to entertain children and adults alike.  

The Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Theatre transforms familiar characters and scenes to represent the diverse traditions and vibrant culture of Brooklyn on December 14.  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, December 4–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season opens with premieres, new productions and repertory favorites, including the masterpiece Revelations.  

A Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular at the St. George Theatre, December 7, St. George, Staten Island: The famous theatre presents its annual Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular featuring critically-acclaimed performers such as The Vogues, The Crystals and Eddie Holman.  

Holiday Performances at the World Famous Apollo Theater, Harlem, Manhattan: The Apollo Theater, celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2019, hosts holiday events including a Harlem gospel choir performance at Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland on December 14, followed by the Amateur Night Holiday Special. Gospel legends Yolanda Adams and Donald Lawrence headline annual concert Holiday Joy: A Gospel Celebration on December 21. As a grand finale, the annual Kwanzaa Celebration on December 28 features Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and guest performances.

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, (1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St., New York 10025, 212-316-7540,info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org), Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, 7-8:30 pm,: Founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace is a signature Cathedral event with performances by the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra led by Director of Music Kent Tritle. Harry Smith, host; special guests Paul Winter, Jamet Pittman, Jason Robert Brown, and David Briggs. General admission seats are free and open to the public on the night of the show. Reserved seats are available now. 

Holiday Shopping:

Holiday Markets abound, including Bryant Park where you can also ice skate or visit the New York Public Library’s exhibits on novelist JD Salinger and Broadway Producer Harold Prince © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Holiday markets: New York City is full of incredible holiday markets, with must-buy gifts, sweets, drinks and winter activities. This year, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park opened earlier than ever on October 31. Other popular markets include the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Brooklyn Flea and Astoria Market.  

Iconic Holiday Windows: Awe-inspiring window displays at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s Herald Square and the new Nordstrom Women’s Store sparkle, inviting visitors to explore the magic of New York City shopping.  

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Empire Outlets, St. George, Staten Island: New York City’s first-ever outlet destination, Empire Outlets, will ring in the holiday season with a special Black Friday sale and their first annual tree lighting ceremony. Easily accessible by the free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan, the outlets will be adorned with thousands of lights, garland wraps and a 40-foot tree.  

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, December 1-23, Flatiron District, Manhattan: 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer will include free, holiday-themed events showcasing the intersection of shopping, dining and culture in this vibrant neighborhood.

The Shops at Columbus Circle has kicked off its fourth year of Broadway Under the Stars, a five-week series of free public performances taking place this holiday season.Select cast from today’s hottest Broadway musicals will perform against the backdrop of the destination’s famous 12 massive stars. These stars, one of the largest specialty crafted exhibits of illuminated color displays in the world, are suspended from the 100-foot-high ceilings. Performances, lasting 20 minutes,  begin at 5 pm and are free to attend and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required. (Nov. 11, Waitress, Chicago, Oklahoma!andThe Lightening Thief; Nov. 18, Come From Away, Rock of Ages; Nov. 25: Dear Evan Hansen, The Illusionists, Frozen; Dec. 2: Beetlejuice, Tootsie, Mean Girls; Dec. 9: Phantom of the Opera, Wicked). Additional Broadway Under the Stars offerings include specialty cocktails from the Shops at Columbus Circle’s Restaurant and Bar Collection which includes Monday night drink specials like Center Bar’s Pomegranate Smash cocktail ($16). Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for more information and list of events and happenings.  

The Shops at Columbus is particularly festive during the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shop at Your Hotel: Several hotels are home to retail pop-ups this holiday season, partnering with iconic stores to make shopping easier than ever for visitors. ​

Grand Hyatt New York is partnering with Macy’s Herald Square for a pop-up located behind the check-in desk, featuring New York City-themed gifts, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade apparel and novel gift items November 25–January 1.  

Loews Regency New York Hotel and Bloomingdale’s are teaming up to bring a curated selection of holiday gifts to the lobby lounge November 29-December 24, including on-site monogramming of leather gifts by ROYCE New York.

Conrad New York Midtown is launching the first FAO Schwarz Holiday Suite, filled with shoppable toys, stuffed animals and gifts that will be restocked for visitors who book a stay in the suite November 18–January 5. Additionally, all guests during this time period will be able to order gifts on demand to their suite or home address.

For additional holiday celebrations and ideas, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Paul Revere, Mark Twain, Baroness in Exile & a Richard Scarry ‘Holiday Express’ All on View at New-York Historical Society

Paul Revere is most famous for his midnight ride warning people of Massachusetts “the British are coming,” but the exhibit at the New-York Historical Society goes well “Beyond Midnight” to examine this complex and accomplished figure of Revolutionary America © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

You always make fascinating discoveries at the New-York Historical Society, but the nexus of exhibits and experiences that are being showcased through the holidays makes this particularly prime time for a visit: flesh out who Paul Revere was beyond his mythic Midnight Ride; see why Mark Twain, featured on the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal book, “Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress” was our first travel blogger; learn about the Baroness artist in exile who made a visual diary, and, of course, become enchanted at the “Holiday Express,” re-imagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and illustrator Richard Scarry. 

Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere

Paul Revere is most famous for his midnight ride warning people of Massachusetts “the British are coming,” but the larger than life legend is not the focus of this first-ever exhibit now on view at the New-York Historical Society. And while his prowess as a silversmith and artisan is very much displayed, we are surprised to learn about Revere as a printer, an engraver, an entrepreneur and innovator, a savvy businessman, a Mason, a “proto-industrialist” – all of which figured into his role as a patriot.

Most people think of Paul Revere solely as a silversmith, but his work as a printer and an artist was key to his role as a patriot seeking to break with Great Britain. His print of the Boston Massacre was significant to organize public opinion against the British. Paul Revere, The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated on King Street, Boston. Hand colored engraving, 1770. American Antiquarian Society. Gift of Nathaniel Paine.

Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere separates fact from fiction, revealing Revere as a complex, multifaceted figure at the intersection of America’s social, economic, artistic, and political life in Revolutionary War-era Boston as it re-examines his life as an artisan, activist, and entrepreneur. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 objects, most never before exhibited in public, highlights aspects of Revere’s versatile career as an artisan, including engravings, such as his well-known depiction of the Boston Massacre; glimmering silver tea services made for prominent clients; everyday objects such as thimbles, tankards, and teapots; and important public commissions, such as a bronze courthouse bell. There are personal items, as well – most touching is the gold wedding ring Paul Revere made for his second wife, Rachel, in a case below portraits of the two of them, a thin band engraved inside with the words, “Live contented.”

Organized by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and curated by Nan Wolverton and Lauren Hewes, Beyond Midnight debuts at New-York Historical through January 12, 2020, before traveling to the Worcester Art Museum and the Concord Museum in Massachusetts for a two-venue display (February 13 – June 7, 2020) and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (July 4 – October 11, 2020). At New-York Historical, Beyond Midnight is coordinated by Debra Schmidt Bach, New-York Historical’s curator of decorative arts.

“When many of us think of Paul Revere, we instantly think of Longfellow’s lines, ‘One if by land, and two if by sea’, but there is much more to Revere’s story,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “This exhibition looks beyond the myth of Paul Revere to better understand the man as a revolutionary, an artisan, and an entrepreneur, who would go on to become a legend. There is much more to the Revere story than the famous ride. We are proud to partner with the American Antiquarian Society to debut this exhibition in New York.” 

Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, at the press-preview of “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New-York Historical Society partnered with the American Antiquarian Society (of Boston) which holds one of the most encompassing collections of Paul Revere’s documents, largely due to the society being founded by Isaiah Thomas in 1812, an “omnivorous collector,” who was a printer, publisher, patriot, colleague and customer of Paul Revere’s as well as a fellow patriot advocating for a break from Great Britain.

The Antiquarian Society, the oldest national historical society, is a research library and not a museum, so its collection is not publicly exhibited. That’s why this collaboration with the New-York Historical Society is so extraordinary.

A Revolutionary activist, Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a secret group opposed to British colonial policy including taxation that kept track of British troop movements and war ships in the harbor. The exhibition displays Revere’s 1770 engraving of the landing of British forces at Boston’s Long Wharf.

Four versions of Revere’s provocative engraving of the 1770 Boston Massacre are reunited in the “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” exhibition at the New-York Historical Society. The print inflamed anti-British sentiment, and different versions of it were widely disseminated as Patriot propaganda. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Four versions of Revere’s provocative engraving of the 1770 Boston Massacre are also reunited in the exhibition. The engravings capture the moment when British soldiers fired upon a crowd of unruly colonists in front of the Custom House. The print inflamed anti-British sentiment, and different versions of it were widely disseminated as Patriot propaganda.

The only known copy of a broadside that still exists is on display under canvas.

The only known copy of a broadside of Paul Revere’s print of the Boston Massacre that still exists is on display under canvas at the exhibit at the New-York Historical Society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the print that most fascinated me was the one that depicted the first casualty of the American Revolution, a black man, Crispice Attucks, at the center. It was used to advance the cause of abolition before the Civil War.

Paul Revere was a master craftsman specializing in metalwork, including copperplate engravings and fashionable and functional objects made from silver, gold, brass, bronze, and copper. An innovative businessman, Revere expanded his successful silver shop in the years after the war to produce goods that took advantage of new machinery.  His fluted oval teapot, made from machine-rolled sheet silver, became an icon of American Federal silver design.

A Revere tea service that had belonged to John Templeman, the most complete tea service by Revere in existence is part of the “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You see marvelous examples of Revere’s artistry as a silversmith – a skill he learned from his father. There is a Revere tea service that had belonged to John Templeman, on loan from the Minnesota Institute of Art, the most complete tea service by Revere in existence, which he made toward the end of long career that lasted until he was in his 70s.

Among the silver objects on view are two rare wine goblets possibly used as Kiddush cups made by Revere for Moses Michael Hays—his only known Jewish client—as well as grand tea services, teapots, tankards, teaspoons, and toy whistles created in Revere’s shop.

Among the silver objects on view are two rare wine goblets possibly used as Kiddush cups made by Paul Revere for Moses Michael Hays, his only known Jewish client and a fellow Mason © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But Revere, a genius at working with metals, also worked in brass and copper. He produced bells and cannon. Featured in the exhibit is a 1796 cast-bronze courthouse bell made for the Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, Massachusetts (about 100 Revere-created bells are still in existence and one, in Cambridge is still rung). The exhibition also explores how Revere’s trade networks reached well beyond Boston, even aboard ships bound for China. He frequently bought and sold raw and finished copper from New Yorker Harmon Hendricks and supplied copper for Robert Fulton’s famous steamship.

Paul Revere, a genius at working with various metals, also made bells and cannon in a “proto-industrial” setting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn that the silver that Revere and the colonial silversmiths would have used came from South America, from mines run by the Spanish with African slave and Indian labor. “Spanish coin was the currency of colonial America.  Revere would melt old objects and coin for the silver.”

Meticulous account books that are in the collection show that Revere had customers in and around Boston- they are never shown except on microfilm, so it is very special to see these originals. In one, we see where Revere made notations and sketches.

What we learn is that Revere, who had 16 children, would create new businesses, set up new workshops and put a son in charge as he went on to create a new one.  “He had a drive to keep changing technology, but he built on what he learned as a silversmith.”

Revere was a proto-industrialist of the nascent nation; he changed from a workshop model that would employ two to four people, to more of an industrial model, with six to eight people paid wages.

The connection between being an artisan, an entrepreneur and an innovator plays into his role as a patriot.

Re-creation of the obelisk that Sons of Liberty used to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act, reproduced from Paul Revere’s etching © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As you enter the exhibit, you see a nine-foot-tall re-creation of the grand obelisk made for a 1766 Boston Common celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act, the first tax levied on the American colonies by England. Originally made of wood and oiled paper, and decorated with painted scenes, portraits, and text praising King George while also mocking British legislators, the obelisk was illuminated from inside and eventually consumed by flames at the Boston event. Local newspapers of the time described huge event. The only remaining visual evidence is Revere’s 1766 engraving of the design which was used to make the reproduction.

Vial of tea thrown into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Revere was a member of the Sons of Liberty and helped plan and execute the Boston Tea Party in 1773, hurling tea into Boston Harbor. You get to see a vial of tea from the Boston Tea Party that was collected from Dorchester Beach (the water was cold so the bales of tea didn’t dissolve). One of the vials was given to the Antiquarian Society in 1840.

The place where the Sons of Liberty met to discuss their plans for the Tea Party, the Green Dragon Tavern, was also where the Masons met. Revere was a member of this secret society as well. The Masons were humanists, a clique and seen as anti-Christian, inspiring anti-Masonic societies, because all religions, including Jews like Hays, could join.

Isaiah Thomas, a Masonic brother, was a patriot and like many of the merchants saw America as independent of Great Britain, with its own ability to make (manufacture), sell and distribute goods and not rely on Europe. Thomas published a newspaper and hired Revere, who was a printer as well as an artist, to do the book plate and masthead for his newspapers.

Isaiah Thomas, a Masonic brother, was a patriot and like many of the merchants saw America as independent of Great Britain, with its own ability to make (manufacture), sell and distribute goods and not rely on Europe. Thomas published a newspaper and hired Revere, who was a printer as well as an artist, to do the book plate and masthead for his newspapers.

Portraits of Paul Revere and his wife Rachel. The New-York Historical Society exhibit “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere” fleshes out a fuller picture of who the man really was © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Revere was born in America in 1735. His father was a French Huguenot who came as a young man from Bordeaux France, emigrating first to the Isle of Jersey, and then to Boston as a goldsmith. Revere’s father dies young and Paul, having finished his apprenticeship, takes over at 19.

Revere belonged to an economic class called “mechanics,” ranked below merchants, lawyers, and clergymen. But Revere was a savvy networker, and what he lacked in social status, he made up for by cultivating influential connections. Membership in the Sons of Liberty led to commissions from fellow Patriots, but he also welcomed Loyalist clients, setting aside politics for profit. On view are nine elements from a grand, 45-piece beverage service that Revere created in 1773 for prominent Loyalist Dr. William Paine—the largest commission of his career—just two months before the Boston Tea Party.

Isaiah Thomas, like Paul Revere, was a self-made man, a printer who advocated for independence from Great Britain, a friend, colleague and customer of Paul Revere, and was the founder of the American Antiquarian Society, which has the most comprehensive collections of Paul Revere’s documents © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A key associate was Isaiah Thomas who, like Revere, exemplifies an American success story. Thomas was poor but taught himself how to read, write and set type and became one of wealthiest Americans as a printer, employing 150 people. It was the same with Paul Revere and Ben Franklin – they all started from nothing, but became successful – each of them had the ability in America to rise up, each was a printer, and each was a great innovator and thinker. The exhibit makes clear that a big part of Revere’s story is his importance as a printer.

The end of exhibit focuses on the Revere legend and the reality.

Paul Revere died in 1818, at the age of 83 (he worked until his 70s), but his fame endured, initially for his metalwork and then for his patriotism. In the 1830s, Revere’s engravings were rediscovered as Americans explored their Revolutionary past, and his view of the Boston Massacre appeared in children’s history books.

In 1860, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, after visiting the Old North Church and hearing the story about the lanterns, was inspired to write “Paul Revere’s Ride,” romanticizing (and somewhat embellishing) the story of Revere’s journey to Lexington. The poem first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1861 (an original copy of the magazine is on view in the exhibition).

“Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,” Longfellow wrote 85 years after the event, April 18, 1775. It was the eve of another revolution, the Civil War.  Longfellow’s intention was not to promote the idea of revolution but to remind Americans of our common foundation, our roots, our unifying experience.

A revisionist print of Revere’s Boston Massacre focusing on Crispice Attucks, the first casualty of the American Revolution, was used to advance the cause of abolition before the Civil War. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Before the Longfellow poem was published, a new print of the famous Revere print of the Boston massacre was published that put the black man, Crispice Attucks, the first man to die for Revolution, America’s first martyr, in the center.

 “The Civil War started in 1861. Longfellow was an abolitionist and Boston was a hotbed of abolition. He wanted to remind the country of its shared past. That is why he brought Revere back to life, but his life was stripped down to one event,” curator Debra Schmidt Bach explains.

The exhibit is timely now for much the same reason: with such intense partisanship, there is the sense of needing to remind people of our common foundation.

In reality, Revere, who was 40 years old when he undertook his famous ride, was on foot until he crossed the Charles River to Cambridge and then rode a borrowed horse to Lexington. He was also one of three riders and was stopped briefly by British officers and then released when Revere talked his way out of being arrested. A map of the actual ride is on display.

Longfellow ‘s poem and Grant Wood’s painting Midnight Ride of Paul Revere  enshrined Paul Revere at the heart of the nation’s founding story but his real life was even more consequential © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Works like the Longfellow poem, artist Grant Wood’s 1931 painting Midnight Ride of Paul Revere depicting a dramatic scene of Revere riding past Boston’s Old North Church (also an embellishment) and others enshrined Paul Revere at the heart of the nation’s founding story. By the turn of the 20th century, the tale of Paul Revere and his midnight ride was firmly established in the nation’s psyche as truth, not fiction, and Revere’s contributions as a metalsmith and artisan were overshadowed.

The Revere exhibit, and the people who we are introduced to like Isaiah Thomas, reveals the DNA that propelled the American Revolution: how Americans had become their own culture, their own society, where an individual was not limited by birth, but could rise up. The Stamp Tax and the Tea Tax imposed by Britain clarified the limitations placed on the Americans’ economic development. More than a political revolution, the American Revolution was an economic and social revolution.

In piercing the bubble of the Revere legend, the exhibit exposes an even more interesting and consequential man.

 “Paul Revere” exhibit on view in NY until January 12, 2020 before traveling to the Worcester Art Museum and the Concord Museum in Massachusetts for a two-venue display (February 13 – June 7, 2020) and to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (July 4 – October 11, 2020).  Special programming is offered in conjunction with the exhibit, check the website, www.nyhistory.org.

Mark Twain and the Holy Land

This small alcove within the New-York Historical Society is hallowed ground for a travel writer, consisting of artifacts, leaves from journals, letters, stereotypes, photos that re-create Mark Twain’s journey through the Holy Land in 1867. Twain’s cruise aboard the Quaker City was a first – the first organized tour in American history – and Twain was the first travel writer, sending back dispatches of his impressions that were published in a San Francisco newspaper, two years before his subsequent 1869 book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, one of the best-selling travelogues of all time

Portrait of Mark Twain by Abdullah Brothers, Constantinople, 1867 (Shapell Manuscript Collection).

New-York Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of Innocents Abroad with Mark Twain and the Holy Land, on view through February 2, 2020. This new exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean and his subsequent book through original documents, photographs, artwork, and costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.

Organized by New-York Historical in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, it is curated by Michael Ryan, vice president and director of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, and Cristian Petru Panaite, associate curator of exhibitions.

“Setting sail from New York for a great adventure abroad, Mark Twain captured the feelings and reactions of many Americans exploring beyond their borders, inspiring generations of travelers to document their voyages,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “We are pleased to partner with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation to present the history behind this influential book by Twain, a uniquely American writer whose work helped to define American culture in the postbellum era.”

An edition of “The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress,” by Mark Twain is on view. “During its first 18 months, the book sold over 82,000 copies; by 1879 there were more than 150,000 copies in print. While some early reviews found its irreverence and sarcasm offensive, most reviews were positive, and those positive reviews propelled the book’s sales. Twain’s career as an author was launched.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I delighted in most was an interactive display where you can summon up a specific site Twain visited, like the Holy Sepulchre, and read Twain’s notes and observations, adjacent to a historic photo, that read like today’s travel blogs.

“We spurred up hill after hill, and usually began to stretch our necks minutes before we got to the top-but disappointment always followed – more stupid hills beyond – more unsightly landscape – no Holy City. At last, away in the middle of the day, ancient bite of wall and crumbling arches began to line the way-we toiled up one more hill, and every pilgrim and every sinner swung his hat on high! Jerusalem!”

“Just after noon we entered these narrow, crooked streets, by the ancient and the famed Damascus Gate, and now for several hours I have been trying to comprehend that I am actually in the illustrious old city where Solomon dwelt, where Abraham held converse with the Deity, and where walls still stand that witnessed the spectacle of the Crucifixion.”

“The great feature of the Mosque of Omar is the Prodigious rock in the centre of its rotunda. It was upon this rock that Abraham came so near offering up his son Isaac – this, at least, is authentic – it is very much more to be relied on than most of the traditions, at any rate. On this rock, also, the angel stood and threatened Jerusalem, and David persuaded him to spare the city.”

Mark Twain sent back dispatches from his trip to Europe and the Holy Land which were published in a San Francisco newspaper © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Twain frequently expressed disgust at the way his fellow travelers treated hallowed sites. “Pilgrims have come in with their pockets full of specimens broken from the ruins. I wish this vandalism could be stopped.” But Twain himself carried back items (a list is provided) including marble from the Parthenon in Athens, mummies from Egyptian pyramids, a letter opener made from Abraham’s oak and olive wood from Jerusalem.

Artist in Exile: The Visual Diary of Baroness Hyde de Neuville 

Artist in Exile: The Visual Diary of Baroness Hyde de Neuville introduces visitors to a little-known artist whose work documented the people and scenes of early America. The exhibit, on view November 1, 2019 – January 26, 2020 in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery of the Center for Women’s History, presents 115 watercolors, drawings, and other works by Anne Marguérite Joséphine Henriette Rouillé de Marigny, Baroness Hyde de Neuville (1771–1849). Self-taught and ahead of her time, Neuville’s art celebrates the young country’s history, culture, and diverse population, ranging from Indigenous Americans to political leaders.

Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown 

A holiday favorite returns to the New-York Historical Society this season—reimagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and illustrator Richard Scarry. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown (November 1, 2019 – February 23, 2020) showcases artwork and graphics of Scarry’s characters like Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm from publisher Random House Children’s Books alongside more than 300 objects from the Jerni Collection’s antique toy trains, stations, and accessories. Using Busytown stories and characters, dynamic displays explore the workings of the railroad, the services it provides, and the jobs required to keep people and goods moving. An assortment of kid-friendly activities, story times, and crafts accompany the exhibition throughout its run, welcoming families into the world of classic toys and trains. Richard “Huck” Scarry Jr., the son of Richard Scarry, will make a special appearance on December 14 and 15. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Additional support provided by Random House Children’s Books.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th St), New York, NY 10024, www.nyhistory.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Ancient City of Petra is a Highlight of Global Scavenger Hunt in Jordan

Coming to The Treasury in Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start of Leg 6 of the Global Scavenger Hunt in Amman, Jordan, only four of the original 10 teams competing are still in contention to win, so several of the teams can now join together, use their cell phones for planning and booking, get help from the hotel concierge, and be generally unrestricted by the rules but still enthralled by the challenges of the scavenges.

But for those competing, some of the mandatory challenges pose a difficult puzzle to achieve in terms of logistics and timing. The one that proves problematic requires the team to travel one way to or from Petra along the ancient Kings Highway – the problem is that the Jett Express Bus doesn’t take that route and the rules don’t allow a taxi from outside the city. Hearing how the two top teams surmount the challenge is quite interesting.

We arrive at our five-star hotel, the Amman W, have our meeting and get our booklet with the scavenges, and a bunch of us (no longer competing) pack into a taxi to visit an ancient Roman amphitheater built during the time of Antenios Pius in 138-161 AD. We cross the street to a local restaurant, where we enjoy a meal of rotisserie chicken served with rice, and get a sense of this ancient city.

The artful, chic Amman W Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whereas Abu Dhabi seemed unreal in many respects – a modern invention, manufactured even – Amman, the capital of Jordan, is very real and reflects its age as an early city. Jordan is where one of the largest Neolithic settlements (c. 6500 BC) ever discovered in the Middle East exists; Citadel Hill contains early Bronze Age tombs (3300-1200 BC). By the beginning of the Iron Age, Amman had become the capital of the Ammonites, referred to in the Bible as Rabbath-Ammon (“rabbath” means capital, or “king’s quarters”). We can look out from the high floors of the hotel to the hillsides crammed with houses and imagine what it might have looked like.

The ancient Roman amphitheater built during the time of Antenios Pius in 138-161 AD, in Amman, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All but one team is intent on going to Petra, but have chosen various means to get there. I find myself on the 6:35 a.m. Jett Express Bus with three of the teams, including one that is in second place in the Global Scavenger Hunt, only a point behind the leader. Five others (including my teammate) hired a car and driver (allowed because none of them were competing), and Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of GSH, Pamela and teenage son Luka are traveling separately. Each of us leaves at a different time by a different conveyance. But what a surprise! We all wind up at the same mid-way trading post at the same time. Hugs all around.

Struck for decades by the Frederic Church painting of Petra, and then by hearing a New York Times Travel Show talk about “Petra at Night,” I decide to arrange my own overnight stay so I don’t have to rush back. I learn that the Petra at night is only offered twice weekly and am lucky enough to be there for a Wednesday. I hastily consult hotels.com for a hotel – none available under $200/night. I check booking.com and find a hotel – more of a hostel, really – at a very affordable price, less than a mile from the entrance to Petra. “Only one room left” the site warns. And considering how so many of the hotels were booked, I take the leap and book it within seconds.

The concierge has reserved the seats on the Jett bus for the morning, with the return the next day (only one departure each way/daily), at 5 p.m.

Rose-Red Ancient City of Petra

We travel 240 km south from Amman (120 km north of the Red Sea city of Aqaba – the trip through the countryside is interesting – the vast emptiness, the sand, flocks of animals. Wind turbines!

Wind farm, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Road to Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The bus – which is an hour late in departing because the company has put on a second bus to accommodate all the passengers – arrives at the Petra bus station next door to the entrance to the archeological site at around 11 am.

I use our Jordan Pass (which Chalmers had obtained in advance, providing pre-paid admission to most archaeological sites, including two consecutive days at Petra, along with the visa) for the day’s admission and buy the ticket for Petra at Night ($25).

Musician, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While the others have to move hastily through Petra – in fact, they don’t even get as far as the Treasury (so what is the point of coming at all?), I am able to move as slowly and contemplatively as I want, immersing myself in the scenes and the details, knowing I will return in the evening and the next day.

Walking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am amazed by Petra. That now-iconic view of the Church painting (and Indiana Jones movie) that comes into focus as you walk through the cavern (known as the Siq) with the most beautiful striations and shapes, then the teaser of The Treasury through the opening. It is as wonderful as I had hoped. But the rest of Petra is a complete surprise – I had not realized how vast – an entire city, in fact – how much has been carved out of the rock (the Royal Tombs are not to be believed), and how much was built during the Roman era (The Great Temple where Brown University is doing archaeology and the Colonnade).

Waking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All around are fellows who hawk riding their camel, their horse, their donkey, or take the horse-drawn carriage (at fantastic speed considering the narrow walkway), to or from the entrance – it is a full mile walk from the entrance to The Treasury (an electric cart is available for those who have difficulty walking in addition to horse-carts).

Walking through The Siq, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is hot, but dry and the breeze is surprisingly comfortable. Besides exploring the archaeological structures, Petra turns out to be a hiking place – you can take trails that bring you up to fantastic views. One of the toughest is up to the Monastery – a mile each way up stairs and then back down again (and one of the challenges on the scavenger hunt – in fact, visiting early and doing the hike is worth 500 points).

The iconic view of The Treasury, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I decide to reserve that for the next day.

The city of Petra, aptly known as the Rose-Red City for the luscious color of the rock from which many of the city’s structures were carved, was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, and is today one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites.

The Siq, the main road that leads to the city, starts from the Dam and ends at the Treasury. It is a rock canal 160 meters in length, 3 to 12 meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height. The main part of the Siq is created by natural rock formation and the rest is carved by the Nabataeans.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

If you look carefully, you can see a channel carved from the rock to capture and even filter water – the secret to how Petra was sustained. At the start of the Siq the original Nabataean dams are visible, and these prevented flooding in the Siq and collected water for use.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, through a narrow, curving break in the rock, you get your first teasing glimpse of The Treasury, just as Frederick Edwin Church painted it in 1874.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to the website, www.visitpetra.jo, it is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices (stalls sell the spices).
Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes (and politics), eventually led to the city’s downfall.

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The city was pretty much abandoned by the middle of the 7th century and lost to all except local Bedouins,” according to the website, www.visitpetra.jo. “But in 1812, Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt set out to rediscover Petra. He dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and it began attracting visitors and continues to do so today.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded street and churches” the ruins of which we can explore.”

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I climb the path up to the Royal Tombs and go into cavernous rooms – I can’t tell if it is the rock’s own configuration or whether the surface has actually been painted or carved to expose swirls of different colors and textures, but they are exquisite.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Royal Tombs, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In addition to the magnificent remains of the Nabataean city, human settlement and land use for over 10,000 years can be traced in Petra, where great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features merge,” according to the website.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walking back out through the Siq, you have to keep moving to the side to let pass the horse-drawn carriages which go through at quite a clip.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The park closes at about 6 p.m. and reopens at 8 pm for the 8:30-10:30 night program (it is operated separately and privately from Petra). I still have to get my pack, which I have left with the fellow at the CV Currency Exchange, just before you enter ($5 tip) and get to the hotel, which I had thought was within walking distance (0.7 mile), but turns out to be totally uphill. I take a taxi (negotiating the rate since I don’t have very much local currency).

Soldier reenactors guard the entrance to Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My el cheapo-supremo hotel (more of a hostel than a hotel), The Rose City Hotel, turns out to be exactly that – the nicest part is the name and the front entrance. When I am brought to my room, I think the fellow made a mistake and has brought me to a room under construction (or rather deconstruction) – plaster patches, exposed electrical outlet, rusting shower, cracked bathroom shelf, an “armoire” that is falling apart, only a small bed and a stool (not even a chair), slippers left for the bathroom that are too disgusting to contemplate putting on. Ah, adventure. But overall, clean and no bugs. So this will do for a night, I think, laughing to myself about my room at the five-star, ultra-hip, chic and luxurious W Hotel (which is like living in art, it is so creatively designed) I had left behind in Amman.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I head out just after 8 p.m., walking down the hill into the park again, where I join throngs of people making their way along the mile-long stony path illuminated by nothing more than lanterns and starlight, thinking how dramatic and wonderful. It turns out to be the best part of the evening.

Walking into Petra at Night, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 45 minutes of walking (it is dark in the cavern), I arrive at The Treasury where there are perhaps 1,000 people sitting on carpets. I stuff myself into a place. I am keen to reproduce the photo I had seen of the event, but The Treasury at this point is barely lighted at all. There is some traditional music, then a fellow sings, talks for a few minutes, and then garish neon-colored lights are projected against The Treasury, completely destroying the mood. And then it is over at 9:30 pm (not 10:30 p.m.). People start leaving, and I am totally exhausted, so I leave, too. I hike back up the hill to the hotel getting lost so a fellow very nicely leads me to where I need to go. I fall asleep to the meowing of feral cats just outside the window.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Early Morning Solitude at Petra

My overnight adventure is redeemed the next morning when I am able to return to the archaeological park as early as 6 a.m. The hotel proprietor has packed my breakfast in a baggie in the refrigerator. I take my pack with me and find a nice man at one of the refreshment stalls at the bus station who offers to hold it for me for the day.

When I arrive at Petra, who should I come upon at 6:14 a.m. but the Lawyers Without Borders team! What are the odds! (Literally on the run, so not to lose time, Zoe tells me of their amazing adventure in a tented camp about two hours away where they could get their scavenger points being photographed on a camel, so they were up at 4 a.m. and had to organize a taxi to get here by 6 a.m.). Rainey and Zoe have to literally race through Petra and do the strenuous hike up to the Monastery in order to earn their 500 Global Scavenger Hunt points.


The Global Scavenger Hunt “Lazy Monday” team of Kathryn & Eric of California race to complete the scavenge challenge in Petra. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I could be more leisurely because I am not trying to earn points. Walking through the caverns (some of the most exquisite scenes) is unbelievably peaceful at this hour – I am even the only one at some points. There are no horse-drawn carriages rattling through, none of the hoards of people stopping and posing for selfies. And once inside, there is perfect peace also at The Treasury – the camels perfectly positioned to re-create the 19th century paintings of the scene.

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As soon as you arrive, though, you are swooped upon by a legion of guides. One guide offers to lead me on a trail that would take me to the overview of The Treasury (ranked moderate), but I am not feeling 100 percent and hope I will be able to hike the Monastery Trail if I take it slow.

Nabataean and Roman ruins at Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A word about the guides – they try to convince you that they will take you places you can’t go yourself, which is highly dubious– but though I don’t hire any, what I observe is that they are very knowledgeable, very considerate of their guests (in fact, it is difficult to become a guide – you have to take a test, be accepted, and then trained). The people who provide the camels, the horses, the donkeys (you can ride donkeys up to the Monastery), and the carriages work very hard (the animals work even harder). Later, though, I see guides leading people up the Monastery Trail that spend their time on their cell phone coordinating their next gig.

Souvenir Stand improbably set on the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And all through are the souvenir stands (they actually look pretty good) – and you realize that Petra was a trading center, a stop along the vital caravan routes, and this is very likely what the scene would have looked like even then. And I am sure the experience was the same for the early European tourists 150 years ago, guides, merchants, donkeys, camels and all.

Hiking up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
View from the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk through the park again, this time to hike the Monastery Trail at the other end of the park. I get some scouting information from people coming down and begin the steep ascent up stone steps. It is a very interesting hike not just because of the gorgeous stone contours and colors and the views back down, but because of the market stalls and refreshment stands set up along the way. (You can also take a donkey up, which means that hikers have to keep moving aside for the donkeys). I wish I had my hiking sticks with me (the hike reminds me of the Bright Angel trail up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon) – a fellow from Spain hiking with his mother, offers a hand when I trip (then we take a wrong turn and find ourselves scrambling over boulders, instead of climbing the stairs).

New friends from the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding a donkey up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding donkey up the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Monastery proves to be a highlight – it is actually bigger than The Treasury – one of the largest structures carved out of a rock face (if I have that right). The hike is absolutely worth it and feels so satisfying when you make it to the top. There is a lovely rest stop at the top (as well as stalls improbably situated along the way and a refreshment stand picturesquely set about two-thirds up the trail with a stunning view).

The Monastery, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Refreshment stand on the Monastery Trail, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But back down, I am exhausted and have several hours before the Jett Bus back to Amman (I expect to arrive at the W Hotel after the 8 p.m. deadline for the Global Scavenger Hunt teams but have informed Bill that the bus likely won’t be back until after 9 p.m., and I won’t miss a flight to our next destination, will I?)

Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have my plan: first I linger at the Basin Restaurant at the entrance to the Monastery Trail, a veritable oasis, where I sit outside under trees and have refreshment. I regain some strength and wander some more. At this point, I realize what a phenomenal experience I have had in the early morning when I had Petra to myself when I see coming at me some 2,000 passengers off the MSC ship, another 2,000 off a second MSC ship, and hundreds more off a Celebrity cruise that look like an invading army. Each group is led by a guide holding high a numbered sign (I spot the number 50) for their group.

The new Petra Museum, Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My next plan is to stop into the Petra Guest House, which is located right at the entrance to the park. (This is the hotel I would recommend for those who want to come overnight in order to experience Petra in the early morning – it is very comfortable, pleasant and moderate price).

Some of the artifacts on display at the new Petra Museum, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Petra, Jordan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have left an hour to visit the newly opened Petra Museum, sandwiched between the Visitor Center and the Bus Station (perfect!). It offers an outstanding exhibit (curiously Japan was a major contributor) – with some 250 artifacts and displays that explain extremely well how Petra developed, the Nabateans, how they grew to power first by controlling water through ingenious engineering and the main trade route, the King’s Highway, that linked three kingdoms. Artifacts including art as well as everyday materials going back to the Stone Age are on display; there are excellent videos, graphics, displays that are engaging and informative.

Petra was designated a World Heritage Site on Dec. 6, 1985 and Smithsonian Magazine named Petra one of the 28 places you should visit them before you die.

(More visitor information from Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, www.visitpetra.jo)

I board the Jett Bus (it is the first-class bus geared to foreign tourists) for the three-hour trip back.

More information on visiting Jordan at the Jordan Tourist Board, http://in.visitjordan.com/.

By the time I get back to Amman, I’ve missed the meeting when Bill Chalmers tells us our next stop on our Global Scavenger Hunt and departure time. My teammate texts the answer: Athens.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 5: Discovering Abu Dhabi

View of the Grand Mosque from the Souk at Qaryat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Abu Dhabi is one of those places where the impression you have is either completely wrong or nonexistent. At least for me. Coming here on the Global Scavenger Hunt is yet another instance of proving what travel is all about: seeing, learning, connecting for yourself, and undoing stereotypes and caricatures.

Yes, Abu Dhabi is about conspicuous ostentation. That part of the pre-conception seems validated.

But what I appreciate now is how an entire nation state was built relatively recently out of a chunk of desert. The skyscrapers and structures have grown up here in a matter of decades, not centuries.

Fort Hassan, the oldest structure in Abu Dhabi, is an excellent historical museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My first awareness comes visiting Fort Hassan, the original defensive fort and government building, and later the sheik’s residence built around (it reminds me of the White House, which is both the home of the head of government and government office). Fort Hassan has been restored (not rebuilt) and only opened to the public in December 2018. It provides the history of Abu Dhabi (https://qasralhosn.ae)

Qasr al Hosn, as it is properly called, is the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city’s first permanent structure; the watchtower. Built around the 1790’s, the commanding structure overlooked the coastal trade routes and protected the growing settlement established on the island.

Fort Hassan, the oldest structure in Abu Dhabi, is an excellent historical museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It consists of two major buildings: the Inner Fort (originally constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45). Over the centuries, it has been home to the ruling family, the seat of government, a consultative council and a national archive; it now stands as the nation’s living memorial and the narrator of Abu Dhabi’s history.

Transformed into a museum in 2018 after more than 11 years of intensive conservation and restoration work, Qasr Al Hosn is a national monument that encapsulates the development of Abu Dhabi from a settlement reliant on fishing and pearling in the 18th century, to a modern, global metropolis, with displays of artifacts and archival materials dating back to as far as 6000 BC.

Fort Hassan, recently opened after restoration, tells the history of Abu Dhabi, ringed by modern skyscrapers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You see photos of how the fort/palace looked in 1904, with nothing but desert and a couple of palm trees around it. Today, it is ringed (yet not overwhelmed) by a plethora of skyscrapers, each seeming to rival the next for most creative, most gravity-defying, most odd and artful shape. It is like a gallery of skyscrapers (New York City Museum of Skyscrapers take note: there should be an exhibit) – for both their art and engineering. I note though that as modern as these structures are, they basically pick up and mimic some of the pattern in the old fort. And the building boom just seems to be going on.

And then you consider this: it’s all built on sand (and oil). “In 500 years from now, will these be here?” Bill Chalmers, the organizer of the Global Scavenger Hunt for the past 15 years, remarks. We had just come for Bagan, Myanmar, where the temples have been standing since the 11th century despite earthquakes and world events, and Yangon, where we visited the Schwedagon Pagoda that dates back 2,500 years.

At the Hall of Artisans at Fort Hassan, Abu Dhabi, you can watch people doing traditional handicrafts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also a Hall of Artisans which begins with an excellent video showing how the crafts reflected the materials that were at hand (eventually also obtained through trade) and then you see women demonstrating the various crafts, like weaving. (Indoors, with very comfortable air-conditioning and facilities.)

At the Hall of Artisans at Fort Hassan, Abu Dhabi, you can watch people doing traditional handicrafts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
At the Hall of Artisans at Fort Hassan, Abu Dhabi, you can watch people doing traditional handicrafts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From there, I walk to a “souk” at the World Trade Center that had stalls of some traditional items – wonderful spices for example – but in a modern (air-conditioned comfort!) setting, and directly across the street from a major modern mall promising some 270 different brand shops. Souks are aplenty here.

Visit to a souk, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walk lets me revel in the skyscape. I come upon an intriguing road sign pointing toward the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation.

Visit to a souk, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Falcon Hospital

I find myself dashing to get to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where I had pre-booked the 2 pm tour. I didn’t realize how far it is from downtown – a 35-minute drive. The taxi driver, who I learn was recruited to come work in Abu Dhabi from his home in Ghana along with many other young men, and lives in an apartment building with other migrant workers, has to stop for gas and I worry I will miss the tour altogether.

Prized falcons wait patiently for their appointment at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The visit to the Falcon Hospital is truly a highlight of a visit to Abu Dhabi. It is fascinating to learn how these prized birds are handled. We are taken into the treatment area, surprised to see a couple of dozen hooded falcons, waiting patiently in what is a waiting room for their “appointment”. Their owners drop them off for the day for whatever checkup or healthcare they require; others stay in the falcon hospital (the biggest in Abu Dhabi and one of the biggest in the world), for months during their moulting season, when, as wild falcons, they would otherwise live in the mountains for six months. They are provided the perfect cool temperatures they would have in that habitat, before coming to the desert in spring to hunt, and later to breed.

A doctor anesthetizes a falcon being treated at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get to watch a falcon being anesthesized – they quickly pull off his hood, at which point he digs his claws into the gloved hand holding him, and his face is quickly stuffed into the mask and put to sleep. His claws, which normally would be shaved down in the wild, become dangerously overgrown in captivity; the falcon doctor also shows how they can replace a feather that has become damaged, possibly impeding the bird’s ability to fly or hunt (they can carry prey four times their weight). The feather has to be an exact match, which they match from the collection of feathers from previous moultings. Then we get to hold a falcon. Not surprisingly this is one of the scavenges on the Global Scavenger Hunt (worth 35 points in the contest to be named “World’s Greatest Traveler”).


A falcon being treated at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We learn that the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (ADFH) is the first public institution in the United Arab Emirates providing comprehensive veterinary health care services exclusively for falcons. It was established by the Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and opened in October 1999. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has become the largest falcon hospital in the United Arab Emirates and in the world, caring for 11,000 falcons a year and more than 110,000 patients since its opening.

A falcon being treated at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From being established as a purely veterinary facility, the ADFH has expanded in the fields of education and awareness, training and research. Due to the huge demand the falcon hospital has became a full-fledged specialized avian hospital for all kinds of birds and poultry species in 2006. In 2007, it added services for a wide variety of VIP pets and in 2010 opened an animal shelter. In 2011, it began its own falcon breeding program and breeds Saker falcons for the H.H. The Late Shk Zayed Falcon Release Program.

In 2007, ADFH opened its doors to what has become an award-winning tourism program and has become the most important tourist attraction in Abu Dhabi – for good reason.

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has become one of the most visited attractions in Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a thrilling and unique experience. I meet a woman from Switzerland who is engaged in a four-week internship at the falcon hospital, learning how to handle and care for the falcons – information she will bring back as a high school teacher. She tells me the falcons are very kind and gentle and bond with their owner. The feeling is clearly reciprocal – these prized falcons, which can cost up to $1 million, can fly on an airplane in the first class cabin with their owner (they have to have their own passport to prevent illegal trafficking), have their own seat and their own menu (fresh killed meat).

The Grand Mosque

Next I go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – an experience that is not to be believed. If you thought the Taj Mahal was magnificent, a wonder of the world, the Grand Mosque which was built in 1999 and uses some of the same architectural and decorative design concepts, vastly surpasses it, in architectural scale and in artistic detail. Not to mention the Taj Mahal is basically a mausoleum, while the Grand Mosque is a religious center that can accommodate 7800 worshippers in its main sanctuary, 31,000 in the courtyard and altogether up to 51,000 worshippers for such high holy days as Ramadan. At more than 55,000 sq. meters it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and one of the largest in the world. And every cubic meter of it spectacularly decorated – the courtyard is one of the largest mosaics in the world.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I time the visit to arrive about 4:30 pm in order to be there at dusk and sunset – and go first to what is labeled “the Visitors Happiness Desk” – how could I resist? The two gentlemen who manned the desk (surprisingly who are natives of Abu Dhabi when 88 percent of the population here come from some place else) are extremely well suited to their role – extremely friendly, helpful. As I am asking my questions, who should come down the escalator but my Global Scavenger Hunt teammate (small world!), so we visit together.

Your visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi starts at the Visitors Happiness Desk© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The experience of visiting is surprisingly pleasant, comfortable, welcoming – not austere as I expected (especially after having visited Buddhist temples in Myanmar where even when the stones are hot enough to fry an egg, you have to walk completely barefoot). Women must be fully covered, including hair, but they provide a robe (free). (I look like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.)

Indeed, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque “aims to cultivate interaction between Islam and world cultures… Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations and celebrate cultural diversity by creating a haven that is truly diverse and inspirational in its foundation. The mosque’s architects were British, Italian and Emirati, and drew design inspiration from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt among other Islamic countries, to create this glistening architectural marvel accommodating 40,000 worshippers and visitors at a time. 

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The open-door policy invites tourists and celebrants from all around the world who can witness the spectacular onion-top domes, the reflective pools that engulf the courtyard and the iconic prayer hall, which not only overflows with blissful sunlight, but also houses the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade. Be sure to spot the calligraphy encircling the hollows of the domes, etched with verses from the Quran and painted with gold leaves in An-Naskh lettering.”

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When you arrive at the Visitors Center, which is at some distance from the mosque, you walk underground to where there is an air-conditioned mall, with restaurants and shops, then go through a tunnel like an airport (an electric cart is available for those who can’t walk distances; it kind of reminded me of how Disney moves its visitors into its attractions).

Definitely take the public tour of The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The public tour (an absolute must) is also free, indeed, the admission ticket to the Grand Mosque is free. (Fortunately, Margo manages to get us on the last public tour of the day which had already left, getting the guard to let us slip under a barrier.) Our guide is a delightful young woman who cheerily walks us through and points out the amazing art and details. The mosque is massively large in scale, but looks remarkably delicate.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just as we leave a touch of sunlight breaking through clouds that make the structures even more beautiful, if that were possible. By the time we get outside, the lights have come on (www.szgmc.gov.ae/en/Home ).

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at dusk © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I ask the Happiness guys where to go for the best view of the Grand Mosque after dark, and, instead of the adjacent hotel where I had first been directed, they point us to The Souk at Qaryat (Al Beri), just across the water from the mosque. Sure enough, the view is spectacular.

View of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from the Souk at Qaryat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Global Scavenger Hunt Challenges

We had arrived in Abu Dhabi about midnight local time the night before, after having left our hotel in Myanmar at 5:15 am, flying an hour to Bangkok where we had an eight-hour layover challenge (I only managed to do a water taxi on the canal and explore the Golden Mountain and some buildings and watched preparations for the King’s coronation (I later heard it was for a parade that day). Then flew six hours to Abu Dhabi where we gained 3 hours (that is how we make up the day we lost crossing the International Dateline and why it is so hard to keep track of what day or time it is), so for us, midnight was 3 am. Bill Chalmers, the organizer, ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of the Global Scavenger Hunt tells us this was the most arduous travel day we would have (and the 18 hours travel from Vancouver to Vietnam was the longest airline trip).

We have had a full day in Abu Dhabi to do our scavenges. Tonight’s scavenger hunt deadline is 10 pm, when we will learn where our next destination will be on the 23-day day mystery tour. Only five of the original nine teams are still in contention to win the title, “World’s Best Traveler” (and free trip to defend the title next year).

The scavenges are designed to give us travel experiences that take us out of our comfort zone, bring us closer to people and immerse us in cultures. In Abu Dhabi, one of the experiences that would earn 100 points is to be invited for dinner with a family in their home. “It is always a good thing to be invited for dinner with a family in their home. If you are, and you do – please do bring something nice for them, be patient and be gracious. Of course, we want proof.”

Another is to “hold an informal majlis with actual locals (people actually from UAE and not at any hotel) over an Arabica coffee; talk about a few things like the future of Abu Dhabi, oil, tourism, arranged marriages, Western values, etc.” That would earn 35 points.

View of the Presidential Palace at night, from the roof of the St. Regis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other possibilities: ride “the world’s fastest rollercoaster” (75 points – Paula and Tom, the SLO Folks and returning champions, did that and said it felt like 4G force); walk the Emirates Palace from end to end and have a “golden cappuccino” (they literally put gold flakes in the cappuccino, this is Abu Dhabi after all) for 35 points; take in the grandeur of the Presidential Palace, only recently opened to the public, and visit Qasr Al Watan, a building within the compound dubbed “’Palace of the Nation” (complete with huge white domes, lush gardens and dramatic chandeliers, the new landmark is intended to give visitors a stronger understanding of the UAE’s governing traditions and values. There is also a spectacular nightly show.)  (50 points).

Many of the scavenges (including mandatory ones) have to do with local food, because foods and food preparations are so connected to heritage, culture and environment and bring people together. One of the scavenges here is to assemble three flavors of camel milk from a grocery store and do a blind taste test (35 points).

Unfortunately, an attraction we all wanted to visit, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was closed. The museum, which opened in November 2017, is a collaboration with the famous Louvre of Paris, France, and intended to be a “universal museum in the Arab World,” focusing on “what unites us: the stories of human creativity that transcend individual cultures or civilizations, times or places.”

The pioneering cultural project combines “the UAE’s bold vision of cultural progression and openness with France’s expertise in the world of art and museums.” The museum was expected to exhibit Leonard Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, considered the most expensive painting in the world (purchased for $450 million at auction in November 2017, believed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sulman), but delayed the exhibition. (www.louvreabudhabi.ae)

A lasting impression that I will carry away from this brief visit to Abu Dhabi is that its theme this year is “Year of Tolerance” which also goes to what we have experienced here: attractions and programs intended to promote understanding of Islamic history, heritage and culture.

Our accommodation in Abu Dhabi is the five-star St. Regis (just about all the accommodations arranged for the Global Scavenger Hunt are five-star), which serves the most extravagant breakfast. Purposefully, our ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer, Bill Chalmers, has arranged it so we will have two, lavish breakfasts here, much to our collective delight.

Grand lobby of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel has a stunning rooftop pool and bar (what a view!) and is connected by a tunnel under the busy boulevard to the beach on the Persian Gulf.

We gather together at 10 pm in the lavish lobby of the St. Regis, excitedly trade stories about our travel adventures during the day. Inevitably, I am jealous of the things I didn’t do, couldn’t fit in to do – like visiting the Fish Market, the Iranian Souk, the Presidential Palace! (can’t believe I missed that), built for the tidy sum of $5 billion (open til 7 pm, then a lightshow at 7:30 pm).

And then we learn where we are going next: Jordan!

More information on visiting Abu Dhabi at https://visitabudhabi.ae/en/.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 3: Back in Yangon, Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is Myanmar’s most sacred and impressive Buddhist site. Dating back almost 2500 years, the pagoda enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics; its dome is gilded with 60 tons of gold, and the top has an orb with 4531 diamonds. It is breathtaking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another perfect day in Myanmar – our fourth and final day on Leg 3 of the Global Scavenger Hunt, in which we set out from Yangon to travel about the country, making a triangle that takes me to Bagan and Inle Lake and back to Yangon to fulfill the Par 5 challenge on this a 23-day around-the-world mystery tour.

The 45-minute taxi ride from the delightful, five-star Sanctum Inle Resort on Inle Lake is wonderful – I catch people driving oxcarts and donkey carts and people riding the backs of trucks, villages and pagodas. But I have some trepidation about Heho Airport because of the snafu in booking my ticket, resolved long-distance by text to my son in New York to phone the online booking agent, as I bounced around on the overnight bus from Bagan to Inle Lake. But I arrive, am checked in to Golden Airlines without incident, and relax during the 45-minute flight back to Yangon.

The morning flight gives me time to explore Yangon which I didn’t have when we first arrived on Leg 3 of the Global Scavenger Hunt from Vietnam, and were given our challenges, to travel around Myanmar and return to the Sule Sangri-la Hotel by the 6 pm deadline.

Leaving the airport, I attempt to take the public bus back into downtown, but after two buses pass me by, I take a taxi instead.

Riding back, I review a brochure I picked up at the airport which mentions a synagogue in Yangon – in fact, the last synagogue in Myanmar. So I resolve to find it.

It turns out it is only a 15-minute walk from our hotel, the Sule Sangri-la, bringing me through various bustling market streets and shopping districts. The Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue itself is set on a busy market street where there are chickens and fish for sale – the chickens clucking, the fish squirming to get out of their container (I see one jump out of its container), the rich scent of spices, and every other manner of item you can imagine.

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Yangon, Myanmar’s last synaoguge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the time I arrive at Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, it is 1:40 pm – which proves extremely lucky because it closes to visits at 2 pm (open daily except Sunday). Inside, it is a lovely synagogue in the Sephardic style, built in 1896. At one point, the Jewish community in Yangon numbered 2500 before the mass migration of WWII; today, there are only 5 families (about 30 people). The Samuels, one of the last remaining Jewish families, has maintained the synagogue for generations, a plaque notes.

One of the bustling street markets in Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the bustling street markets in Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street market in Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street market in Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perhaps not surprising, a short distance from the synagogue is Bogyoke Aung San Market, which since 1926 has been the city’s major marketplace. I am surprised to see all the sellers of jade and jewelry (which is what the market is known for), as well as traditional longyi, and just about anything else you can think of. I come upon a seller of interesting post cards, and find the post office on the third level (one of my traditions of travel is to send home postcards, which not only have stamps, but mark the date and give some visual and personal notes). Also, I have been impressed by the absolute lack of political messaging in the streets, but here in the market is one art seller who has images of Myanmar’s most famous leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Wondering about the name, I later learn that Bogyoke Aung San market is named for her father, Bogyoke (General) Aung San.

Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon’s major marketplace since 1926, is named for Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Bogyoke (General) Aung San © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon, Myanmar’s major marketplace since 1926 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A likeness of Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi for sale at Bogyoke Aung San Market, Yangon’s major marketplace since 1926, named for her father, Bogyoke (General) Aung San © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shwedagon Pagoda

I walk back to the hotel, just a few blocks away, to refresh (it is 104 degrees), in order to prepare for a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, which I have been saving for the late afternoon (one of the mandatory scavenges of the Global Scavenger Hunt is to visit at dawn or dusk), so that I will be there at dusk (but back at the hotel by the 6 pm deadline for the scavenges), but nothing could have prepared me for the experience of seeing it.

Just as I am about to leave, my teammate, Margo, who had traveled to Mandalay when I went on to Inle Lake, walks in. She relates that after a snafu with her airline ticket, she had to hire a taxi to drive her back to Yangon (ironic because I couldn’t get the airline to cancel my ticket when I changed my plan to go to Inle Lake instead, but such mishaps turn into marvelous adventures). We go off together to Shwedagon Pagoda, which is located west of the Royal Lake, on the vast, 114 -acre Singuttara Hill.

Margo cleverly hires a guide to show us around this vast, vast complex and it is fascinating: this was the first pagoda in the world, he tells us.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is Myanmar’s most sacred and impressive Buddhist site. Dating back almost 2500 years, the pagoda enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics; its dome is gilded with 60 tons of gold, and the top has an orb with 4531 diamonds. It is breathtaking.  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, the Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred and impressive Buddhist site. Dating back almost 2500 years, the pagoda enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. It is breathtaking.

Workman restore the gold to the Shwedagon Pagoda’s dome © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

The Shwedagon Pagoda stands 326 feet high, its dome covered in 60 tons of gold (we watch  workmen on scaffolding replacing some of the gold plates). At the very top, too small to be appreciated from where we stand at the base, is an orb, 22 inches high and 11-inches wide, encrusted with 4531 diamonds, the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond. The base is surrounded by 64 small pagodas with four larger ones in the center of each side. There also are four sphinxes, one at each corner, with six leogryphs (a lion-like creature). Projecting beyond the base of the Pagoda. are Tazaungs (shrines) in which are images of the Buddha and where offerings are made.

There are also figures of elephants crouching and men kneeling and pedestals for offerings all around the base. In front of the 72 shrines surrounding the base of the Pagoda, there are images of lions, serpents, ogres, yogis, spirits, or Wathundari. Among the most dazzling art is a Jade Buddha. There are also mystical and mysterious places, like the well where Buddha’s sacred hair was washed and Buddha’s foot print.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

Representing the highest achievements of Myanmar’s sculpture, architecture and art, there are hundreds of colorful temples, stupas and statues spanning nearly 2500 years. It is known as Shwedagon, “the Sanctuary of the Four,” because it contains relics of four Buddhas who had attained Enlightenment.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

We move among the bustling activity of devotees and monks washing the statues, offering flowers, worshiping, and meditating. 

Most interesting is coming upon a procession of families celebrating the induction of two young boys into the monastery.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com 

(The Sule Pagoda which I visited the evening we arrived in Yangon – was it just four days ago? – was also magnificent, but Shwedagon is on a different scale of magnificent.)

(See more information on visiting Schwedagon Pagoda, www.shwedagonpagoda.com).  

You could easily spend hours here, but we must dash back in a taxi to get back to the Global Scavenger Hunt group, arriving a few minutes past the 6 pm deadline (we aren’t competing to win the challenge to be the “World’s Best Travelers,” so we did not have to turn in our scorecards documenting our scavenges, though, in fact, we have been doing as many as we can.

At a hosted dinner at a Japanese restaurant, all of us trade our stories of adventure and exploration from Yangon and some combination of Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. One of the scavenges invited the teams to take part in a volunteering opportunity and Lawyers Without Borders, the team from Houston, volunteered at a Youth Development monastery in Yangon.  “The monks take in, house, feed and educate orphans from far-flung and remote villages around the country,” Zoe Littlepage writes on her blog (http://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com). “My favorite part was eating lunch with the kids. They sing their prayers before they can start eating.. magical.” (Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth, of Houston, are on their 12th Global Scavenger Hunt, and are five-time champions, and their law firm helps support the philanthropic works of the Global Scavenger Hunt Foundation.)

We return to the hotel to get our four-hour notice and learn where our 23-day “Blind Date with the World” mystery tour continues next: an eight-hour layover challenge in Bangkok and then on to Abu Dhabi – essentially having breakfast in Myanmar, lunch in Thailand and dinner (or nightcap?) in the United Arab Emirates.

We are out the door at 5:15 am (the hotel sends us off with breakfast boxes), to get to the airport.

It is worth noting that in addition to having a unique alphabet and language, Myanmar (formerly Burma) asserts its identity by keeping its clocks half-hour different from its timezone.

I realize that time is really fluid – not really stable or fixed ordering our day, a concept rather than an invention. We lost a full day crossing the timezone during that first flight of more than 14 hours, and have been picking up an hour or so here as we go.

Global Scavenger Hunt teams Lawyers Without Borders (from Houston) and Order & Chaos (doctors from California) do their peer review at the airport © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the end of this Par 5, Leg 3 dash through Myanmar, SLO Folks, a team from central California who are the returning champions from last year’s Global Scavenger Hunt, earned the second most points with 37 scavenges in Yangon, Bagan and the point rich area of Inle Lake for 2,055 points; and Lawyers Without Border, a team from Houston on their 12th Hunt (they have won it five times) had the most, completing 52 scavenges in Yangon, Bagan & Inle Lake earning 2,745 points.

More Myanmar travel information is at http://myanmartravelinformation.com/top-destinations/yangon.html.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 3 in Myanmar Continues: Bagan, City of Temples, Newly Named UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bagan, Myanmar, city of temples (there are 2,000) has just been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Having set out from Yangon, Myanmar on our Par 5 Challenge on the Global Scavenger Hunt, a 23-day around-the-world mystery tour in which we solve scavenges to amass points in order to win the title, “World’s Best Travelers,” we arrive at Bagan airport.  

Moments after arriving at the Bagan airport in Myanmar (and paying the mandatory ticket to the archaeological zone, 15,000 Kyat, or $12), we see why Bagan was only this July was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site: known as the city of Temples, Bagan has more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas within 16 square miles, its ancient ruins rival Angkor Wat in Cambodia, though in Cambodia, the prevailing colors seem grey and green, while here, they are the red, orange and beige of sandstone. Temples here are as common as skyscrapers in Manhattan, dotting the plain.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The profusion of temples is astonishing. The stunning architecture and the fact that they are centuries old is mind-boggling. On top of that, you realize they have survived earthquakes as recent as 2016 when nearly 200 temples were damaged by a 6.8 magnitude quake.

Considering that Myanmar was shut off from the world for 60 years, only reopening since 2011, Bagan is still relatively unknown and draws fewer tourists than so many of the world’s great archeological sites that are endangered by their very popularity. In Bagan, you have the feeling of discovery and authenticity. Here, local worshippers vastly outnumber Western visitors and you can be immersed in the rituals.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are so many temples, some are just out in overgrowth that makes you think of fairy tales with the castle buried by a forest. Some of the most breathtakingly beautiful architecture comes immediately as we set out. We stop the taxi to explore.

Luen, the taxi driver who takess us from the airport, is a delightful man who speaks English very well, and immediately expresses appreciation for us coming to visit his country. On our way to the hotel, he stops where we ask to take pictures. We decide to hire him to take us around and make an appointment for him to come back at a certain time. (Had we been competing for points and to win the crown, we wouldn’t be allowed to hire a taxi for a whole day or use the driver as a guide).

The hotel, Aye Yar River View Resort in Old Bagan, inside the city walls, which I booked on hotels.com, is absolutely lovely – walking distance to several of the places I want to visit (such as the Archaeological Museum) and some of the temples, with an absolutely lovely pool (so welcome in the heat that exceeds 100 degrees), and open-air restaurant.

But instead of racing out to start on the scavenges as other teams have done (some racing from the airport to Mount Popa, an hour’s drive away), I find myself losing a frustrating couple of hours trying to switch my travel arrangements from Mandalay to Inle Lake. Making the reservation on the overnight bus (first class!) to Inle Lake turns out to be easy on the JJ Bus website, www.jjexpress.net); booking the hotel which I select from the list Bill Chalmers, the Global Scavenger Hunt organizer and ringmaster, has provided, on hotels.com is a cinch, but the flight to get back to Yangon on Saturday in time for the 6 pm deadline in is the real problem. Because of the national holiday, I can’t get through to the airline itself, not even the hotel manager who does her best, in order to change my booking on Golden Airlines from Mandalay. I can’t even book a new flight. But finally, I make the booking through an on-line agency.

Shwe-gu-gyi  Hpaya Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While the others are having lunch, I only have to stroll out the front gate of the hotel to come upon temples and archaeological sites. I wander over to the Shwe-gu-gyi  Hpaya (temple), which the sign (in English) notes was built by King Alaungsithu in 1141. The temple is built on a high platform, topped by a sikhara, or curvilinear square-based dome and has a projected porch, or vestibule.. A stone inscription describes the merit of King Bayinnaung in 1551.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also in this immediate vicinity, walking distance from the hotel are: Mahabodhia Pagoda (1215 AD); Shwe Hti Saung Pagoda (11th C), Saw Hlawhan Pagoda (598 AD), and the Lacquerware Museum.

I take note of a tourism school and a sign that says, “Warmly Welcome & Take Care of Tourists.”

Finally, we set out with our taxi driver, San Luen, to visit some of the notable temples (there are 2,000 in Bagan) – we only have a day. It’s 108 degrees (116 with heat index).  We set out initially following some of the scavenges which steer us to prime places and experiences.

Dhammayangyi Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our first stop is Dhammayangyi Temple, one of the most massive structures in Bagan and one of the most popular for visitors. It was built by King Narathu (1167-70), who was also known as Kalagya Min, the ‘king killed by Indians’. Luen drives us to a side entrance so we will have a shorter distance to walk over the extremely hot ground in bare feet (not even socks are allowed in Bagan). Here in this holy city, strict rules mean we can’t even wear slippers or socks into the temples, but have to walk over intensely hot sand and stone, baking in the 108 degree heat.

Dhammayangyi Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Luen calls it “the Temple of the Evil King. I later learn that Narathu ascended the Bagan throne by murdering his father, the king, and built this temple as penance. “It is said that Narathu oversaw the construction himself and that masons were executed if a needle could be pushed between bricks they had laid. But he never completed the construction because he was assassinated before the completion.” Apparently he was assassinated in this very temple in revenge by the father of an Indian princess who Narathu had executed because he was displeased by her performance of Hindu rituals.

I guess thanks to Narathu, the interlocking, mortarless brickwork at Dhammayangyi, is said to rank as the finest in Bagan.

Side-by-side images of Gautama and Maltreya, at Dhammayangyi Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We wander about what feels like a labyrinth of narrow hallways to discover the art inside. The interior floor plan has two ambulatories. Almost all the innermost passage, though, was filled with brick rubble centuries ago. Three of the four Buddha sanctums also were filled with bricks. What we see in the remaining western shrine features two original side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future Buddhas – they are magnificent.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming out of the temple, we come upon some of the most wonderful pastoral scenes of women leading a herd of goats, temples in the background.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A short distance away is another temple, Sulamani Phaya, “The Ruby of Bagan”, which dates from 1183 AD. Considered the most frequently visited temple in Bagan, the Sulamani was built by King Narapatisihu, who found a small ruby on the ground on the Bagan Plains and built a temple in its place. A description notes, “The word Sulamani means ‘small ruby’ and is a fitting name for this sand-orange and elegant ‘crowning jewel’.The temple is surrounded by a high wall; its layers of terraces and spires give the structure a mystical fairytale appearance. Inside, intricately carved stucco embellishments adorn the doors and windows.”

Sulamani Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sulamani Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive passed the Ananda Temple, known as the “Westminster Abbey of Burma” for its elegant and symmetrical design, intending to return to visit. The golden spire on top can be seen from miles across the Bagan Plain and is lit up at night by spotlights, creating an impressive beacon in the sky. The temple is known for its four gold-leaf Buddha statues, each standing an impressive 30 feet tall. Built in 1090 AD, Ananda Temple is one of the largest and best-preserved temples in Bagan and is still very important to local people. The temple was damaged in the earthquake of 1975, but has been fully restored and is well maintained. In 1990, on the occasion of the 900th anniversary of its construction, the temple spires were gilded.

Ananda Temple, Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also recommended:

Shwesandaw Pagoda is considered one of the most impressive temples in Bagan. Standing 328 feet high, it is visible from a great distance. You can climb to the top for a wonderful view of the plain. It also is an excellent place for interacting with locals as they come to worship. One of the first to be built with what has become a classical golden bell shape, Shwesandaw became the model for Myanmar’s pagodas. The pagoda has survived invasions and natural disasters but has undergone renovations.  

Thatbyinnyu Temple is distinctive because it is one of the earliest two-story Buddhist temples and, unlike many other temples in Myanmar, is not symmetrical. At over 120 feet tall, Thatbyinnyu towers above nearby monuments. The area around it is picturesque and offers a panoramic view of Bagan.

Gubyaukgyi Temple is known for having the oldest original paintings in Bagan. According to notes, “The interior walls and ceilings of the temple are covered with ancient murals that tell stories from the previous lives of Buddha. The murals have been well-preserved because the temple is lit with natural lighting from large perforated stone walls. Each mural is paired with a caption written in old Mon. These captions are the earliest examples of Old Mon in Myanmar making it an important site for the study of the ancient language. No photography is allowed inside the temple, in order to preserve the murals for future generations.”

The refreshing pool at the Aye Yar River View Resort in Old Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The heat (114 degrees with the heat index) has gotten to Margo who wants to go back to the hotel. After a swim in the gorgeous pool at the hotel, I set out again with Luen at 4 pm to take me to a nearby village known for crafting the lovely lacquerware. I wander around – seeing the crude living conditions (they don’t have running water but they have electricity), and am invited in to watch people as they craft. At the entrance to the village, there is a large retail shop and workshop of master artisans.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I’m on my way back from the village, about 5 pm, when I see a message on my phone from the online booking agent that the airline booking from Inle to Yangon did not go through – I basically would be stranded. The booking app gives me a California 24/7 help number to call.

That interferes with my plan to see the sun set and watch the golden light take over the dramatic landscape.

The setting of the temples on the Bagan Plain make for expansive views – one of the reasons you should look for opportunities to get to a height, preferably at sunrise, or late afternoon toward sunset, when the light and the colors are most dramatic.

For this reason, one of the popular ways to see Bagan is taking a hot-air balloon ride is an incomparable experience to see the thousands of temples scattered across the Plains of Bagan, Balloon tours normally begin at 6:30 am, just a few minutes after sunrise. They offer a bird’s-eye view of the monuments in the misty orange morning light. The picturesque spectacle of the temples at sunrise from red balloons above, has become iconic for travelers in Myanmar. Hot-air balloon flights in Bagan normally cost around $330 per person and are seasonal (from October to March; book in advance).

Another is to drive about 1 ½ hours outside of Bagan to Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, climb to the top and see down at the whole plain laid out in front and visit the sacred Popa Taungkalat monastery at the top. Several of our group did that, literally racing by taxi from the airport so not to lose valuable time for our all-too-brief stop here on our Global Scavenger Hunt.

There are also river cruises, an archaeological museum, crafts like cotton weaving and lacquerware, oil processing, palm sugar production. Almost none of it am I able to take advantage of because I have abbreviated my time here and frankly, my experience in Bagan proves a lesson in the frustration of poor planning, but a learning experience, none the less.

Many of the scavenges bring us to these important sites, but also to experiences. Among the mandatory experiences in Bagan is to try toddy juice or Black Bamboo; finding the “Rosetta stone of Myanmar” in the Bagan Archaeological Museum, where you learn the interesting origin of Burmese distinctive alphabet of circles and curleycues; rent a horse cart for half a day to compete 3 scavenges.

Even though Bagan is surprisingly compact and it doesn’t take long to travel from one incredible sight to another, seeing Bagan properly would require planning and sufficient time. I don’t have either but I chalk up my visit to a preview for a future visit. You should spend at least two or three days here.

Back at the Aye Yar River View Resort, the manager again tries heroically and fruitlessly to reach the airline directly but says the office has already closed. (I highly recommend the Aye Yar River View Resort, located Near Bu Pagoda, Old Bagan, Nyaung-U, MM).

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I meet up with Paula and Tom, the SLO Folks team from California who were last year’s Global Scavenger Hunt champions, who are also going to Inle Lake on the overnight bus and we go together to one of the two restaurants listed in the scavenger hunt (more points!). The first is closed; the second is a lot of fun. (Many of the scavenges involve food.)

Luen, the taxi driver, picks us up to go to the bus station.

Bagan, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As I ride on the night-bus to Inle, at 10 pm, bouncing and rolling on the roads that quickly turn into mountain passes, I text my son in New York to call the airline in California. The texts go back and forth. “There’s no ticket, no seat.” “We got you a seat, yay!” “No seat, he made a mistake. Drat.” “A seat, yay!” (On the same flight as I originally booked! Yay!).

The adventure continues as I bounce along the overnight bus on twisting, winding roads through the hills and darkness to Inle Lake.

The Joyous Journey Express (JJExpress) bus is actually geared for foreign tourists – first class modern buses with comfortable reclining seats, providing passengers with a blanket, bottle of water and snack, even some variation of a TV monitor which I couldn’t figure out (but no onboard bathroom – the driver stops when necessary). In busy season, they even do a pick-up at your hotel. (www.jjexpress.net)

For planning information visit Myanmar Tourism Organization, www.myanmar.travel, info.mtm@tourismmyanmar.com.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 3: Myanmar, the Golden Land, Comes from Darkness into Light

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is only a two-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), Myanmar, the third leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt, a 23-day around-the-world mystery tour. We arrive at our five-star hotel, the Sule Shangri-la, around noon. We will have our meeting at 2:30 pm when we will get our booklets, spelling out the challenges we will face in the Golden Land.

After 60 years closed to the world, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was only reopened to the outside world in 2011, so I am most intrigued to see it for myself. The country has also received horrible press over the persecution of the Rohingya people, which raises controversy for Bill Chalmers, who meticulously organizes the Global Scavenger Hunt. But it encapsulates his philosophy, bordering on religion, that appreciates travel as a way of forging understanding, bringing people together and yes, fostering progress and change.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout this Global Scavenger Hunt, “A Blind Date With the World” – where we don’t know where we are going next until we are told when to go to the airport or get ourselves there, and along the way, complete scavenges and challenges – we are encouraged, even forced, to “rely on the kindness of strangers,” to interact with local people even when we can’t understand each other’s language. (Towards this end, using cell phones or computers to research, access maps or GPS is not allowed.)

Though it is a conceit to think we can parachute into places and understand the nuances of complex issues, travel is about seeing for yourself, but also gaining an understanding of one another, disabusing stereotypes or caricatures, and most significantly, not seeing others as “other”, which works both ways.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In very real ways, travelers are ambassadors, no less than diplomats. Isolating people is not how change happens – that only hardens views and makes people susceptible to fear-mongering and all the bad things that have happened throughout human history as a result. “See for yourself,” Chalmers tells us.

Chalmers offers this to ponder: The point of a travel boycott is to force a government to reform their ways (corruption, human rights, democracy and such) is based on the concept that tourism income mostly goes into the hands of government, not the people, so enables their power and policy. But others believe that tourism is not only economically helpful to locals, giving them the means to improve their living conditions, but vital to pro-democracy, humanitarian movements because of the two-way flow of information.

On balance, Chalmers tells us, “I don’t like the idea of a boycott. Travelers are serving as ambassadors, doing fact-finding.  This country is emerging from decades of isolation – there are problems, humanitarian problems on a large scale. It is a troubled country with great suffering.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Bear witness for yourself. Enjoy the rich culture, the people, play journalist, bea  reporter, have conversations, learn and gain perspective. Parachuting in can’t give you full expertise. All acquire more accurate idea, local perception. Talk with locals, see for yourself.

“The issue with not coming is you paint a broad picture about everyone. When we travel, a lot of people disagree with our government but don’t take it out against us as individuals. We practice diplomacy of engagement. Not coming won’t change minds but possibly, coming can help change minds.” I contemplate that point: imagine if the people we meet as we go around the world held us personally responsible for caging migrant children and keeping parents separated in conditions that wouldn’t meet the Geneva Conventions requirements for POWs.

“Myanmar is breathtakingly beautiful,” Bill tells us. “Say yes to things. There are extraordinary sights.” But he isn’t naïve. Anticipating the problems, frustrations we will have, he gives us a list of to-do’s and don’ts (buy food and water before getting on a train, ferry or bus; Myanmar roads are among the most dangerous;  have a safe word between teammates that is code for “danger.” Travel, he says, is about “conquering fears, heat, holidays.” Indeed, the fact it is Myanmar’s New Year’s Day and many services are closed becomes a major issue for me.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is also about teamwork, and one of the rules is that you can’t separate from your teammate (Chalmers actually feels very guilty about the possible friction the competition can foment in couples). So, though we are not officially competing for points, I go along with my teammate, Margo, who wants to travel to Mandalay instead of Inle Lake, which I become extremely excited to see after hearing about this enchanting place, after visiting the temple city of Bagan.

We learn that the Myanmar leg is designated a Par 5 (very tough, the highest is Par 6). The challenge we are given is to spend the next two nights on our own, that we have to go to two of the three cities (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake), but can only take two flights (necessitating ground transportation between two cities of the triangle) and have to be back to The Sule Shangri-la in Yangon by 6 pm on Saturday. Chalmers spends much of the time spelling out the special rules for this leg of the contest, the winner of which is designated “World’s Greatest Traveler”.

“Today the real travel test will begin. Our teams collective travel savvy and travel IQ will be tested here in Myanmar… in this daunting, breathtaking, frustrating, exhilarating haunting, sacred, dynamic, traditional, thrilling, rapidly changing (and I could go on and on) destination! It will be an interesting four days. Have fun and be safe folks,” Chalmers writes on the Global Scavenger Hunt blog.

We spend the next 3 1//2 hours organizing where and how we will travel to Bagan, Mandalay and back to Yangon. Under the rules of the contest, we are not allowed to use our own computers or phones to book flights or hotels, or even the hotel concierge, but have to go out and find a travel agent. That proves problematic because of the holiday, but Kim says that a fellow on the street has told her where there is a travel agency. Sure enough, he is waiting for us on the street (internal warning light goes off) to walk us down dinghy alleys to the agency which looks and smells like a hovel.  Another team is already there, handing over a wad of cash, since the agency isn’t accepting a credit card (ostensibly because of the holiday). I get nervous and suggest we leave, and make the bookings on our own (since we are not competing, we can use our computers). But this proves an interesting experience.

Sule Pagoda

By the time we finish, I only have time to walk down a modern boulevard to the Sule Pagoda, which sits at the center of the city as well as the city’s political and economic life.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to legend, the stupa was built even before the more famous Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of the Buddha, which would make it more than 2,600 years old. The Sule Pagoda served as a rallying point in both the 1988 uprisings and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s the last day of the New Year celebration and place is packed with people bringing offerings, lighting candles and spilling water at their Weekday shrine. It is dusk when I arrive, and I watch the moon rise and the sky deepen in color to azure blue, the brilliant gold of the pagoda a blazing contrast. A guide immediately comes up to me to offer to take me around and checks his book to see exactly what day of the week I was born, so I know which is my shrine (Thursday is my shrine; the mouse is my animal); he shows me a photo of President Obama striking one of the bells during his visit here.

Guide, Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Photo of President Obama at Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On the way back, I walk across a bridge that spans the boulevard for a sensational photo of the pagoda.

Sule Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have yet to see the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. Fortunately, I will have more time to explore Yangon when we return on Saturday.

We are up at 4 am to leave at 5 am for the airport for a 7 am flight to Bagan on Golden Airlines. The hotel has very kindly packed a to-go breakfast. It turns out several of us are going on the same flight to Bagan.

This morning in clearer light, having become entranced by the description of Inle Lake, a villages built on stilts and only accessible by boat, and hearing one team discuss the overnight bus they will take from Bagan to Inle Lake, I decide to go on my own to Inle Lake instead of to Mandalay. But that depends on whether I can get seat on all-night bus, a hotel in Inle Lake and a flight from Inle Lake on Saturday morning to be back in time for the 6 pm meeting/deadline.

I plan on seeing more of Yangon when I return.

More travel information is at http://myanmartravelinformation.com/top-destinations/yangon.html.

For planning information visit Myanmar Tourism Organization, www.myanmar.travel, info.mtm@tourismmyanmar.com.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

Two of the Global Scavenger Hunt teams, Lawyers Without Borders from Houston, and Lazy Mondays, doctors from California, do their peer review while waiting in the airport for the flight to the next leg of the 23-day, around-the-world mystery tour to determine “World’s Best Travelers.” (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt, Leg 2: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Traditions Survive in Modern City, as Does Reckoning with Past

Much of the visit to Cu Chi Tunnels is interactive; a girl gets to feel what it is like to hide underground © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Saigon is the second leg of nine during a 23-day, around-the-world Global Scavenger Hunt, “A Blind Date with the World,” where we don’t know where we are going until we are given 4-hour notice. Under the Global Scavenger Hunt rules, you are not allowed to use a phone or computer for information or reservations, hire a private guide, or even use a taxi for more than 2 scavenges at a time, since the object is to force you to interact with locals. Though we were not officially competing for “World’s Best Travelers,” my teammate, Margo (who I only met on this trip) and I basically followed the rules in Vancouver and during our first day in Vietnam, but we had to deviate on the second day.

It is shortly before 4 pm in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, by the time we have received our book of scavenges from Bill Chalmers, the Global Scavenger Hunt ringmaster (as he likes to be called), who has ranked Vietnam a “Par 3” in difficulty (on a scale of 1-6), strategized what scavenges we will undertake, and after a swim in the hotel’s pool (so hot even the pool was like a bathtub), we head out of the Majestic Hotel, a five-star historic property, toward Ben Thank Market, one of the scavenges on the list.

Built in 1870 by the French who colonized Vietnam for 100 years, it is where then and now, you can find locals and tourists alike, with row after row after row chock-a-block full of almost everything imaginable. (Be prepared to bargain aggressively; the shopkeepers are even more aggressive). I come away with a few things I can’t bear to pass up, when Margo realizes a second scavenge we can accomplish: tasting three separate fruits (there is heavy emphasis on “experience” scavenges that involve food, and Vietnam, Bill says, is one of the great food places in the world).

At bustling Ben Thank Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we see and taste fruits we had never seen before © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We find a fruit stand and sure enough, there are fruits I have never seen before, including one, called dragon fruit, which looks like it was divined by JK Rowling for Harry Potter; the others we sample: rambutan, mangosteen, longan. We are standing around these ladies, asking them to cut open the various fruits so we can sample them to complete the scavenge, taking the photos we need to document.

Dragon fruit, at Ben Thank Market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, seems like it was invented by JK Rowling for Hogwarts, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the other scavenges on the list here in the market: to find a cobra in jar of alcohol; the tackiest souvenir in market; and a wet market (which befuddles most of us and turns out to be the meat market which is hosed down).

We ask locals for directions to our next stop: the Water Puppet Show of Vietnam at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater. It seems walkable but we get lost along the way (technically we can’t use the GPS on the phone, but we aren’t competing – we still get lost) and are simply amazed at the rush and crush of mopeds (mainly) and cars in this city of 9 million where there are an estimated 7 million scooters, and the range of what people carry on them without a second thought. I literally stand in a traffic island to get the full view.

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
There are an estimated 7 million scooters in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Traffic, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are also amazed we are able to function having departed Vancouver, Canada, for Vietnam at 2 am for a 14-hour flight to Taipei, followed by an hour lag time before a 3-hour connection to Saigon. Time has become a very fluid, meta thing.

But we forge on (the secret to avoiding being taken down by jet lag is to stay up until bedtime). This is also on the scavenger list and as it turns out, we meet several other teams from our group.

Scene from Water Puppet Theater, a marvelous display of traditional Vietnamese culture at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The performance proves fabulous and unexpected – the puppets actually emerge out of water; water is their platform. There is musical accompaniment on traditional instruments and the musicians also become the characters and narrators and sing. This is quite an outstanding cultural performance – the artistry and imaginativeness of the puppets (who swim, fish, plant rice which then grows, race boats, dance, catch frogs and do all sorts of things with incredible choreographed precision, is incredible.

The puppeteers of the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater take their bow, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These seem to be folk stories, and the music is traditional. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand Vietnamese. It confounds me how they do such precise choreography from the water (the puppeteers are behind a gauze curtain; controlling with bubble wands horizontally). The artistry is magnificent and the experience an utter delight. (Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, 558 Ngyuyen Thi Minh Kahi Street, Dist.1, HCMC, www.goldendragonwaterpuppet.com).

View from Saigon Skydeck atop the Bitesco Financial Tower © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From there, we take a taxi to hit another scavenge, going to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitesco Financial Tower, which affords beautiful scenes of Saigon. From here, all you see is a very modern city. Many of the buildings below are decorated in colored lights. This is an example of modern Saigon that is rising. (Skydeck senior rate $5; some places have senor rates, others don’t, so ask)

View from the Majestic Hotel’s rooftop bar, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back at the Hotel Majestic, we go up to the 8th floor M Club, a delightful rooftop bar, where there is a band playing. The open-air views of the Saigon River and the skyline are just magnificent. Margo orders a “Majestic 1925” which is Bourbon, infused orange, sweet vermouth, Campari, orange bitter, orange zest, and smoked – the whole process done on a table brought to us, as a crowd gathers to watch the mixocologist light a torch to generate the smoke. Quite a scene.

Preparing the Majestic 1925 cocktail at the Majestic Hotel’s rooftop bar, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Day 2 in Vietnam: Confronting the Horrors of War

Whereas my first afternoon and evening in Ho Chi Minh City was devoted to seeing the city as it is today – albeit dotted with centuries old buildings, markets and heritage – the second day is a somber, soul-searching journey back in time. Indeed, as I wander around the city, you don’t see any obvious scars of the Vietnam War.

One of the signature sights of a visit to Ho Chi Minh City is the Cu Chi Tunnels. My teammate Margo has already been there and doesn’t want to return, but I feel duty-bound to see it for myself.  I wake up early and go down to the hotel concierge to see if I can get on the 7:30 am half-day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels.

The concierge calls the tour company and says there is room on the bus and that they pick up right at the hotel. I am off. (545,000 Dong, about $25, www.saigontourist.net, www.e-travelvietnam.com)

As we travel outside through the city, the guide points out sights and gives us a history of Vietnam, going back to the Chinese who came in the 1600s, the French who came later, the Vietnam War and the aftermath,  while hardly disguising resentment of the North Vietnamese who have flooded into the city since the war. Ho Chi Minh City has grown from a city of 2 million to 9 million today, with 7 million scooters (here, instead of Uber car, you summon a Grab scooter).

City Hall, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, shows French colonial influence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s an opportunity to see more of the city and soon we are in the countryside, traveling through small villages and farms where we see cemeteries, markets, houses, a few animals, rubber plantations. We see new agricultural techniques being used on farms and pass an agricultural research center. It is about an hour’s drive. 

A demonstration of rice paper making at Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which the Viet Cong used to launch guerrilla warfare against the Americans during the Vietnam War. The site has over 120 km of underground tunnels with trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, armory, hospitals, and command centers, and were used going back to 1948 against the French, and later against the Americans.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The visit is profound, and though the script is written by the victors, is appropriate to represent the side that wanted to push out colonists (though in retrospect, I realized that there was no real mention of the fact that the South Vietnamese leadership didn’t want the Communist North Korean leadership to take over, either – nothing is simple, especially not in the world of geopolitics).

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You have to appreciate the commitment and courage and sacrifice of the Viet Cong in living the way they did – creating a virtually self-sufficient underground community, planting booby traps for the Americans, repurposing unexploded bombs into weapons and old tires into sandals, cooking only at night and channeling the smoke to come up in a different place (where it would look like morning steam, so not to give away the location of the tunnels).

We get to climb into a tunnel, and can go 20, 40, 60, 80 up to 160 meters, seeing just how tiny they were – you have to crouch all the way through and sometimes even crawl. It is hot, uncomfortable, you feel claustrophobic and it is a bit terrifying.

Our tour guide leads us through – he is incredibly kind and considerate. He gives special attention to the children who are visiting – grabs them when they want to go down into a tunnel where he fears there could be scorpions (he shows us carcasses), snakes or rats.

There is also a shooting range where you can shoot an AK 47 or M16 (extra charge), but the constant sound of gunfire gives you some sense of what the people were living through. There was a hospital, a sewing area where they would make uniforms, there is a trap door to escape. We see where they would have made sandals from old tires. We watch a woman demonstrate making rice paper; another at a sewing machine where she would be making uniforms, a rifle hung close by on the wall.

All of these things which we see above ground are recreated from what they would have looked like underground.

There were also constant bombings – B-52s could fly from the base in just two minutes time.

Scene from documentary film at Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We get a sense of that in documentary-style films that are presented at the end. The film uses grainy black-and-white imagery with a narration that spoke of the commitment to save the Fatherland from US aggression, which basically depicts much of what we have visited in the tunnels, but as these places were used during the war. I must say that as gruesome as the film is, the only “propaganda” element is that it does not discuss the civil war between North and South Vietnam, only that the war was perpetrated by the Imperialist United States.

Scene from documentary film at Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the scenes show women and girls as soldiers. “They took unexploded bombs and turned them into their own weapons; they took from the Americans the new guns but never stopped using traditional weapons – the traps devised to hunt animals were used against the American enemy… Every person can be a hero. They had to live in poverty but wouldn’t retreat. A rifle in one hand, a plow in the other. Attacked in the morning, they farmed at night so they had enough food to win the war. The Americans wanted to turn Cu Chi into a dead zone, but they lived underground.”

But what we see in the film looks exactly like what was put on view here. We see people climbing through tunnels to the sound of gunfire.

“Male and female enrolled to kill enemy..Cu Chi guerrillas would rather die and become hero for killing Americans… never afraid of hardship to kill Americans. In hardship, they came together.”

Believe it or not, they actually make the experience as pleasant and as comfortable as possible, which somehow masks the terror of the place. Children smile and laugh as they get to descend through the camouflaged openings in the ground.

We leave the tunnels after spending about two hours here.

On the way back, the guide asks if we would like to make a detour to visit a factory, created by the government to employ people who were handicapped because of coming upon unexploded ordinance, or who had birth defects as a result of the chemical weapons used against the Vietnamese. Originally the factory, 27-7 HCMC.Co.Ltd, produced cigarettes, but today, Handicapped Handicrafts produce really beautiful handicrafts – mainly lacquered and inlaid items.

Working in Handicapped Handicrafts, a government-sponsored factory that employs people with disabilities Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A visit to Handicapped Handicrafts, a government-sponsored factory that employs people with disabilities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After returning to Saigon, I go off to continue my theme – visiting the buildings that the French built, starting with the magnificent Post Office (where I wind up spending close to an hour choosing from a stunning array of post cards, buying stamps and writing the cards, the sweat streaming down my face and stinging my eyes so that a nice lady hands me a tissue). Then onto the Reunification Palace (which I thought was open until 5 but closed entrance at 4), so I go on to the War Remnants Museum.

Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Picking up kids from school, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Street artist, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have trouble following the map, so when I ask directions of a young man, he leads me through back alleys to the entrance of the museum, which I visit until it closes at 6 pm, because there is so much to see and take in.

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You should begin on the third level, which provides the “historic truths” (actually the background) for the Vietnam War, which more or less accurately presents the facts. On this level is a most fascinating exhibit that presents the work of the multinational brigade of war correspondents and photographers, along with a display of the dozens who were killed in the war.

Display of war correspondents killed covering Vietnam War, at War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The photos are presented in an extraordinary way: showing the photo, then providing notes about the background, the context of the image, and the photographer. Here too, the language (which was probably produced by the news organizations that put on the exhibit), was accurate. Among them is the famous, Pulitzer-prize winning photo of “Napalm Girl” where, for the first time, I notice the soldiers walking along as this young girl is coming down the road in terror, their demeanor in such jarring contrast to these fleeing Vietnamese. The photos then and now are chilling, but today, they properly evoke shame and wonder why there has never been accountability for war crimes.

The impact of Agent Orange in graphic detail at War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It only gets worse on the second level, where the atrocities committed during war are provided in the sense of artifacts, and details that could have, should have properly been used at war crimes trials. But none took place. Another exhibit documents the effects of Agent Orange.

The first floor, which should be visited last, addresses the Hanoi Hilton, the place where American prisoners of war, including Senator John McCain, were kept. Here, though, is where it can be said the propaganda offensive takes place – there are photos showing a female nurse bandaging an American’s head wounds, the caption noting how she had put down her gun in order to care for him. This exhibit brings things up to date, with the visits of President Clinton in 1994; in another section, it notes that Clinton’s visit brought the end of economic sanctions, and with the country’s shift to market economy, produced revitalization, as measured by the boom in mopeds.

But on the bottom floor, they show photos of Obama’s visit and most recently of Trump in Vietnam.

This floor also has an exhibit devoted to the peace movement in the US and around the world, with some famous incidents, such as the shooting of the Kent State four. There is a photo of John Kerry, who went on to be a Senator, Secretary of State and candidate for president,  testifying to Congress in his military uniform,  on the necessity of immediate and unilateral. “how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The photo that had such impact on focusing American public opinion against the Vietnam War, on display at War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A special exhibition, “Finding Memories” attempts to recreate the struggle of the people of Hanoi and Haiphong to overcome the pain and loss of war. “It helps those who haven’t experienced wars to learn more through remarkable and humane wartime stories, especially the stories about American pilots in the ‘Hilton-HaNoi’. Finding Memories is an opportunity for Vietnamese people to develop greater pride for their victory – a 20th century miracle; for American pilots to recall a serene period of their lives; as well as for each and every visitor to understand the severe destruction and painfully grim nature of war, in order to call for all people to work together and dedicate our efforts to build a world of peace and love.”

A poster in the Peace Movement exhibit at War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Outside are displays of captured American plane, tanks, and other items.

I look around for an American who might have served in Vietnam to get an impression, but did not find anyone, and saw a few Vietnamese (most of the visitors were Americans or Europeans), but only one or two who might have been alive during that time and wondered what they thought. Clearly the conclusion of the displays was in favor of reconciliation when just as easily, and using a heavier-handed propagandist language, could have stoked hatred. The exhibit is careful not to paint all Americans and not even all American soldiers as monsters but one photo caption is particularly telling: it shows an American hauling off an ethnic minority, noting “American troops sent to the battlefield by conscription knew nothing about Vietnam, thought the Cambodia people of ethnic minorities were living near Cambodia were collaborators for the enemy.”

I leave feeling that the experience is close to what you feel visiting a Holocaust Museum. And it is pain and remorse that is deserved.

City Hall, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We meet at 8:30 pm to hand in our score sheets and share stories – one team got up at 5 am in order to get to the floating market; a team was able to get on the street market food tour, where they take you around by scooter (they only take 8 and it was closed out); another took a cooking class.

We get our notice of where we are going next:  be up at 6 am for 7 am bus to airport for 9:35 flight…. to Myanmar!

More information on travel to Vietnam at www.vietnam.travel.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

See also:

Cities, Mountains, Boat and Beach: Letters Home from Honeymoon in Vietnam & Cambodia

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