Category Archives: Cultural travel

First Look at The Shed, NYC’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center Bent on Using Art for Social Action, Public Good

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The Shed is notable for a design based around flexibility; the new cultural arts center is adjacent to the Highline and The Nest and is the “beating heart” of the new Hudson Yards development on New York City’s West Side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine a structure 120 feet high that can fit 2000 people for a concert, but that can move, expand, shrink or be completely removed to expose an open-air plaza. An “anti-institution” cultural institution to provide a home and nurture the full spectrum of the arts, where emerging artists, local artists, and established artists have parity, and audiences represent the diversity and inclusivity of New York with low-priced ticket holders dispersed throughout the house.

This is The Shed, the newest cultural center to open in a city which prides culture above all, sure to be gain a place among the pantheon of iconic art institutions, along with its leading-edge approach to harnessing the arts as a force for social action and public good, its astonishing architecture, flexible, versatile and adaptable enough to enable artists of today and tomorrow and fulfill their vision to be a platform across multi-disciplines.

It’s “the Swiss army knife” of culture,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, chair of the board, during a press preview prior to the April 5 grand opening, when the principals involved with the genesis of the project spoke of what The Shed, and its mission, meant to the city and society.

Indeed, they noted, in a city of 1200 cultural attractions, The Shed had to be different, beginning with its commitment to commissioning new works, creating a platform – the space and place – for artists across disciplines, engaging audiences across a spectrum of backgrounds and interests, but most significantly, creating a building, that like a “living organism” would keep morphing to accommodate artists’ visions today and decades from now, accommodating the unimaginable ways art and culture might change over time.

Six and a half years ago, after seeing a 60-second animation of what The Shed could be, purpose-built to house various forms of culture and building would move, John Tisch, vice chair of the new institution, told his wife, “The Shed is about future of NYC and we need to be involved.”

“6 ½ years later, here we are discovering the future of NYC and how we as citizens and creators of this institution will discuss culture and humanity, how we all need to be together in the 21st century in NYC.

 “There are many cultural institutions – many are about the past. The Shed is about the future.”

“The dictionary defines ‘shed’ as an opened-ended structure with tools,” said Doctoroff. “We designed The Shed as a platform, uniquely adaptable, to liberate artists to fulfill their dreams.”

More than a dozen years ago, Doctoroff said, The Shed “started as small square on map, a placeholder for To Be Determined cultural institution.

“Mayor Bloomberg said ‘Make it different from anything else in New York City.’ That’s not easy in a town of 1200 cultural institutions. It had to play a role in a new edge of New York City, keeping New York City as leading edge of the cultural world.”

The principals of The Shed, NYC’s newest iconic cultural institution housed in an architectural marvel: Hans Ulrich Obrist, David Rockwell, John Tisch, Dan Doctoroff, Liz Diller and Frank H McCourt, Jr. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, lead architect, and David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, collaborating architect, responded to the mandate for flexibility, a one-of-a-kind structure.

“Just as it was to be designed to be flexible, we wanted it to be of and for our time and inclusive of artists across all disciplines,” Doctoroff said. “We proposed commissions of emerging artists across all art forms – the mission drives our work.

“It is a remarkable public/private investment of $500 million to design and construct building and create original works of art.

“New York City continues to be perfect partner under Mayor DiBlasio. The city provided $75 million and the land.

“We are standing in The McCourt, a spectacular space that can do anything an artist can imagine. It was named for the Board member who gave $45 million.

“Griffin Theater was named for one of most generous philanthropists, Ken Griffin, who gave $25 million.

“Altice USA is the founding fiber network partner – so that The Shed is an accessible arts organization with global reach, the first cultural institution with connectivity partner.

“Above all, Mayor Bloomberg, who had vision to transform West Side and create cultural institution as beating heart. The Shed is housed the Bloomberg Building, named for Mayor Bloomberg.

“It’s been a 14-year journey – kind of crazy, new kind of cultural institution in a completely new building in new part of town, new board, new team, performing miracles every day, producing our own work.

“Great architecture demands great purpose,” Doctoroff said. 

Alex Poots, on stage in The McCourt: “The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alex Poots, the Artistic Director and CEO, said, “I started to imagine the possibilities: a flexible building, built on city land. That was the draw to lure me from England –a  public purpose. It was a no brainer, building on what I had been doing for 15 years. [Poots is also involved with the Manchester Festival and with the Park Avenue Armory.]

“Parity among art forms; the ability to commission art – visual and performing arts. And it would not matter if the artist were emerging, established, or a community artist – we don’t need a false hierarchy.

“The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.

Alongside all the venerable institutions of city, we hope The Shed can add something.

“It’s rare for a place to be open in the day as a museum, and in the evening a performance center.”

Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

First Commissions

Poots introduced the 2019 inaugural season’s first commissions (and the press were able to watch some rehearsals):

Soundtrack of America, a new live production celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on art and popular culture over the past 100 years, conceived by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Steve McQueenand developed with music visionaries and academic experts including Quincy Jones, Maureen Mahon, Dion ‘No I.D.’ Wilson, Tunji Balogun and Greg Philliganes, is a five-night concert series (April 5-14) celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on contemporary culture, with performances by emerging musicians.

The opening commissions at The Shed feature the world premiere of Reich Richter Pärt, an immersive live performance installation from iconic artists Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter, and Arvo Pärt, featuring new works by Richter and a new composition by Reich, performed with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, here in rehearsal, that showcase The Shed’s support for mixing cultural disciplines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reich Richter Pärt, a live performance/exhibition pairing works by master painter Gerhard Richter with a new composition by Steve Reich and an extant composition by Arvo Pärt, performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (April 6-June 2).

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a reinvention of Euripides’ Helen by poet Anne Carson, starring Ben Whishaw and the opera singer, Renée Fleming (April 6-May 19).

Björk’s Cornucopia, the multidisciplinary artist’s most elaborate staged concert to date, directed by Lucrecia Martel (May 6-June 1).

Chen Shi-Zheng discusses “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” a futuristic kung fu musical conceived © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise. a futuristic kung fu musical conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and Kung Fu Panda screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with songs by Sia, choreography by Akram Khan, and production design and costumes by Tim Yip (June 22–July 27);

There are also, expansive exhibitions devoted to extant and newly commissioned work by trailblazing artists Trisha Donnelly and Agnes Denes; and an unprecedented opportunity for New York City-based emerging artists of all disciplines to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s spaces via an Open Call commissioning program.

Beneath the stands and stage in The McCourt is the only permanent art installation, “In Front of Itself,” a large-scale, site-specific work by artist Lawrence Weiner embedded into the plaza. It serves as a walkable outdoor area when the movable shell is nested over the fixed building, or as the base of The McCourt when the shell is extended to the east. The 20,000-sq. ft. work features the phrase, “In front of itself” in 12-foot high letters fabricated with custom paving stones.  

These first commissions, Poots said, “shows the range of The Shed.” The flexibility of the building makes it possible to transform from one show to the next in just two days.

Dan Doctoroff, Alex Poots and Tamara McCaw discuss community outreach and the Open Call © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Art as Social Action

Tamara McCaw, Chief Program Civic Officer, is responsible for fulfilling the mission of The Shed to use art as social action.

“It is my responsibility to serve the community, particularly those under stress or have barriers [to artistic expression]. ]

McCaw oversees the Open Call program, an unprecedented opportunity for 52 New York City-based emerging artists and collectives to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s primary spaces, free to the public (May 30-August 25) and continuing in 2020.

The 52 artists were selected from 930 applications in its first open call. Alex Poots said that The Shed will embark on its next round of emerging talent in 5-6 months.

The Shed has year round social justice residencies, serving 700 students a year

 “We are providing a platform for local and emerging artists – selected by diverse panel and Shed staff (2 are on the panel – to present in principal spaces, plaza, theater.” These performances and exhibits will be free to public.

“It is our civic responsibility to reflect, respond to the diverse communities of NYC – with affordable tickets ($10; free for 18 year olds and under and CUNY students), and reserve 10% of low-income seats that will be distributed throughout house (not the back or nosebleed section)

Addressing how The Shed intends to be responsive to diverse audiences, Doctoroff noted that the building is open – the restaurant, café and lobby. Anyone can come through without a ticket, and every gallery and theater can be separately ticketed. The goal is to make access to exhibits and performers and accessible as possible.

McCaw added, “People from public housing are already are coming because they are of process. We did outreach for open call. There are artists who live in public housing here. When you come with respect, people want to be involved.

“We are creating inventive new work, supporting creative expression, cultural equity and belief in power of art to effect social change.”

Ticket prices are intentionally low. Every gallery show – except Richter – is $10 ticket and free for those under 18. Open call programs are free (18 weeks of programming)

At the end of the first year, he expects that half  the entire audience will be admitted for $10 or free.

The Shed, a not-for-profit arts institution, expects to operate at a loss.

“That means we have to raise money,” Doctoroff said. “But we regard it as investing in society, not as a loss. The less box office, the more generous we are. There are high ticket prices for those who can afford it and low for those who can’t – low cost tickets are equally dispersed through theater, to promote equity.”

The Tisch Skylights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A good source of real money, though, could be in renting out space in The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights and The Tisch Lab  on the top floor, Level 8, where there is a 1,700-square-foot creative lab for local artists, a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 9,500-square-foot flexible, multipurpose space for events.

“The Top floor is engine for that flexible space – dinners, small performances – will be rented year round while operating as not-for-profit art center.”

Frank H. McCourt Jr. reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frank H. McCourt Jr., Shed board member and entrepreneur, reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.

“It is artistic creation but also social innovation. Human creativity for the greater good. My hope for The Shed is that it is home for both art and other intellectual activities. This place, including the institution created to animate it, is a bold, living example of civic action. An idea put into action for greater good.

“It’s not finished, just getting started. This week a milestone. In a world replete with cynicism, The Shed is the opposite.”

An Architectural Marvel

“We started the project 11 years ago – when it was a dotted line on a satellite photo and a question mark. It was the 2008 recession,” reflected Liz Diller, lead architect, who described what it was like to design a building around a mission.

“Arts in New York are siloed – dance, theater, music, visual. That’s not how artists think today, but how will artists think in one or two decades? We can’t know. We started a project without a client, an anti-institution institution, to serve artists of all kinds in a future we could not predict.

“How could architecture not get in the way of that? Art is in flux, so the building had to be able to change on demand, be flexible without defaulting.”

What she and collaborating architect David Rockwell devised is a fixed building with column-free exhibit and performance space, the Bloomberg Building.

Architectural discussion with David Rockwell, Dan Doctoroff and Liz Diller © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s Bloomberg Building—an innovative 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Lead Architect, and Rockwell Group, Collaborating Architect—can physically transform to support artists’ most ambitious ideas. Its eight-level base building includes two levels of gallery space; the versatile Griffin Theater; and The Tisch Skylights, which comprise a rehearsal space, a creative lab for local artists, and a skylit event space.

The McCourt, an iconic space for large-scale performances, installations, and events, is formed when The Shed’s telescoping outer shell is deployed from over the base building and glides along rails onto the adjoining plaza. The McCourt can have theater seating for 1400, or open the glass wall to expose the balcony for 300 seated and have 2000 on the floor.

The Plaza: When the movable shell is nested over the base building, the 20,000-square-foot Plaza will be open public space that also can be used for outdoor programming; the eastern façade can serve as a backdrop for projection with lighting and sound support. The Plaza is equipped with a distributed power supply for outdoor functions. Oversize deliveries can be brought by truck up Hudson Yards Boulevard and loaded directly onto The Plaza and into the base building or the shell when deployed. Those doors can be opened while the audience is under cover, for an open-air effect.

“It is the architecture of infrastructure:  all muscle, no fat,” Diller said. “Alex, an inspirational alchemical force, challenged the building to be smarter, more flexible, agile. This is a perpetual work in progress – always getting smarter more agile.

It will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge the artists back.”

“New York is so defined by art and its artists. Art creates community, at its best, and empathy with audiences,” said Architect David Rockwell.

 “What we created is a Swiss Army knife of culture,” said Doctoroff. “A beautiful design with practicality to respond to the notion that we don’t know where art will go, or where artists will be in 200 years.”

Gerhard Richter’s work is on view in The Gallery, a massive column-free space © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s eight-level base building includes two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space; a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided into even more intimate spaces; event and rehearsal space; and a creative lab.

A movable outer shell can double the building’s footprint when deployed over the adjoining plaza to create a 17,000-square-foot light-, sound-, and temperature-controlled space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations, and events for audiences ranging from 1,250 seated to 3,000 standing (when combined with space in the two adjoining galleries of the base building). When space is not needed, the movable shell can nest over the base building, opening up the plaza for outdoor use and programming.

Diller explained how the movable shell travels on a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology commonly found in shipping ports and railway systems. A rack-and-pinion drive moves the shell forward and back on four single-axle and two double axle bogie wheels that measure six feet in diameter; the deployment of the shell takes approximately five minutes.

The exposed steel diagrid frame of the movable shell is clad in translucent pillows of durable and lightweight Teflon-based polymer, called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). With the thermal properties of insulating glass at  1/100th of the weight, the translucent ETFE allows light to pass through and can withstand hurricane-force winds. Measuring almost 70 feet in length in some areas, The Shed’s ETFE panels are some of the largest ever produced.

“Systems were adapted from other things but it is novel in the way we put together,” Diller said, adding that the architecture is “based on industrial crane technology, brought to 21st century” with an emphasis on functionality. But there were no real models among arts institutions.

“It was a constant process of invention, reinvention,” said Doctoroff. “We have 14 blackout shades. We had to rethink the system of shades – particularly when Alex came and knew he wanted concerts. They needed to also provide sound protection. We went to the sailmakers who designed sails for America’s Cup boats to design shade system. Extra performance capability of holding back 108 decibels (loud). The thickness, density had to be able to roll up.”

Form and function: the back wall of McCourt can be removed to open up a balcony © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked why New York needed another cultural institution, Doctoroff retorted, “Why have we been so successful raising money? Because people sense New York does need this. The criteria was that this had to be different from anything else in New York. We went to talk to artists and leaders of cultural institutions around the world to ask what do they not have and need. There were similar themes –the internet era gives artists the capacity of collaborating across distances and disciplines, but also producing work that didn’t fit in traditional institutions. Out of that came idea of flexibility.

“This is different: our mission of inclusivity embedded in value system,” said Doctoroff, said in a small discussion group with journalists.

“We prove it every day. This is personal for me: 36 years ago I imagined a new West Side – saving the Highline [now one of the most popular attractions in NYC, with 8 million visits a year], the subway. I always believed having a cultural heart to the new West Side was critical and would need to change over time to keep New York leading edge in culture. I believe cultural institutions are critical to New York,” said Doctoroff, who is also chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that looks at sustainable solutions to designing urban communities.

“The Shed will never be finished,” said Doctoroff. “The word ‘unfinished’ ends with ‘shed’. It will always be evolving because what we’ve done is created a platform for artists to use as their own. The building enables their vision – they will push, stretch us in ways we can’t imagine, they can’t imagine today. The Shed is an organism that keeps morphing.”

And that’s how Liz Diller expects not to go through post partum blues. “We will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge artists back.”

See also: The Shed, New York’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center, Opens April 5 with Commissioned New Works

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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

Discovering Portorose, Slovenia and Porec, Croatia at End of 8-day Self-Guided BikeTour from Venice

Eric finishing our 8-day self-guided biketour in Porec, Croatia, having traveled 300 miles from Venice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin and Eric Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today’s ride, Stage 5 from Trieste, Italy, is relatively short – a choice of 21 or 40 miles to Portorose in Slovenia. The shorter version involves taking a ferry from Trieste across the bay to Muggia in Slovenia, the “Istria” part of our Venice-Trieste-Istra eight-day self-guided biketour.

We take the longer way, and are thrilled not to miss the seacoast. The route is predominantly on cycle paths through well-known seaside resorts like Koper (Capodistria) and Izola (Isola d’ Istria), to Piran (Pirano) or adjacent Portorož (Portorose), a spa resort on the Slovenian Riviera.

(I contemplate taking the ferry which possibly would have enabled us to spend more time exploring Trieste, or even better, possibly backtracking to the Miramare Castle which we missed by taking the “hinterland” route, but decide to press on.)

Of course, what went down into Trieste must come up. But, after a really steep city street we climb (I walk, Eric breezes up) and following some convoluted directions (the cue sheet warns the turn is easy to miss, so of course I miss it and have to find Eric on the map he has put on my phone, reaching him using HangUp), we get onto a bike trail that has a much more gentle rise more typical of a rail-trail that we don’t mind at all. Soon, we are looking down at wonderfully scenic  views, biking across a biking/pedestrian bridge.

We have these sort of rolling ups-and-downs but nothing too taxing.  (Anthony, the FunActive guide, had mentioned an even longer “hinterland” alternative route which passes along the valley “Rosandra” in the back country, but I’ve learned my lesson and am not going to miss the seacoast.)

Muggia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come to Muggia, a picturesque seacoast village (which is where the ferry from Trieste would come). Muggia is in the Istria region but still part of Italy (though Slovenians are a significant minority and signs are in two languages). It is absolutely stunning to walk around its narrow streets which all lead to a main square where the town hall and church are. We have lunch outdoors in the Piazza Marconi, flanked by the cathedral and town hall.

I had been concerned that the seacoast route would have a lot of traffic, but it turns out there is a dedicated bike lane. It is fantastic. Periodically, we come to these cement piers and promenades that serve as beaches for sunbathers and swimmers.

Cement platforms serve as beach © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We soon cross the border to Slovenia (no actual border control, though, since both nations are part of the European Union), the route continues predominantly on cycle paths through well-known seaside resorts like Koper (Capodistria) and Izola (Isola d’ Istria), to Portorož (Portorose), a spa resort on the Slovenian Riviera.

Crossing the border from Italy to Slovenia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Coming into Portoroz, there is a rather long climb (but what a view of Izola!), but on a bike trail so it is gradual and comfortable to ride, even though it seems at times to be endless. We ride through three tunnels that had been built for the train (fun!), and at the end, find ourselves at the top of a hill looking down into Portoroz, a city that is like San Francisco for its hills. Our hotel, Hotel Tomi, is on one of the hills, so we make our way. (The other two ladies who have been on our same route have been routed to their hotel in Piran, which is a few miles beyond, as we learn when we meet up with them again on the ride.)

View of Isola © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riding through the tunnel into Portorose © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hotel Tomi is a resort in itself, with a stunning pool (open 24 hours!) that has views down to the sea. Our room is enormous and we have a balcony that looks over the town. We rush down to relax in the pool for awhile.

Enjoying the pool at Hotel Tomi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric has found a very special restaurant for dinner (also recommended in the FunActiv guide), RiziBizi The concierge makes a reservation (we’ve learned our lesson about restaurant reservations!).

We walk to the restaurant, and discover a beach resort with fine sand and warm, gentle sea (casinos even) that we can’t understand isn’t as popular with jetsetters as the French Riviera. In fact, there is one classic hotel, the Kempinski Palace, where Sophia Loren used to stay.

Portoroz actually is adjacent to Piran, another exquisite town on the tip of the peninsula, and we walk just up to it.

Portorose is Slovenia’s lovely resort town © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we walk, the sun is setting so picturesquely behind Piran, and we realize this is the first sunset we are seeing. (The other people following the self-guided route go the extra few miles into Piran for their hotel, which I later discover on my next biketour through Slovenia, is absolutely stunning.)

Sun sets behind Piran © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurant RiziBizi, which specializes in truffles, serves one of the sensational meals that you remember forever. The restaurant has a tasting menu (from 50 to 60 E). We opt for a la carte: tuna tartar with zucchini, wasabi-reduced plum; truffle soup, the chef sends over pate, served on sticks in a plant; risotto with Adriatic scampi and truffles (the waiter brings a dish of black truffles to table and shaves them onto the dish); duck breast with wine sauce. All the selections are based on locally sourced produce.  

Adding truffles to risotto at RiziBizi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Truffles which are found here in Istria are an amazing delicacy – they can sell for $95 an ounce, $168 an ounce for white truffles or $2000 a pound). The waiter tells us that an Italian engineer discovered the truffles when building Istria’s first water distribution network (Tuscany has a longer history of truffle hunting).

Truffles at RiziBizi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I can imagine the most devoted foodies getting on planes and coming to Rizi Bizi just for the truffles. And they should. This is a world-class restaurant and the dining experience has been truly memorable, with selections that uniquely reflect the local produce, exquisitely presented.

The restaurant is exemplary in every way – we dine on a patio with a view overlooking the hillsides down to the sea; the service is impeccable.

The piece de resistance: dessert consisting of chocolate mousse with truffles.

(Restaurant RiziBizi, Villanova ulica 10, 6320 Portoroz, www.rizibizi.si).

Slovenia only has about 44 km of seacoast, so these twin towns of Portoroz and Piran are very special.

Stage 6- Portorož/Piran – Poreč (43 miles/70 km)

The Hotel Tomi has one of the nicest breakfast spreads of our trip, as well as one of the prettiest breakfast rooms that opens out to the pool and the view of the town.

It’s our last day of our eight-day Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided bike tour! The guide book warns that this will have the toughest climbs (but they didn’t include the hinterland ride, so we’re not worried).

Heading out of Portorose © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Today’s ride, 43 miles, takes us passed the salt gardens of Secovlje where sea salt is recovered through natural vaporization, and across the border into Croatia (where we do need to present passports at border control). The route, largely uphill (but not bad, after all, we have been toughened up by our hinterland ride), travels through the Croatian part of Istria, the largest peninsula on the Adriatic on the way to Porec, the most important coastal city on the west coast of Istria.

Salt gardens of Secovlje © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the prettiest views (it is even noted with a camera icon on our cue sheets) comes up soon after we set out – a beautiful small harbor set in a cove.

There is a long climb, but it is gradual, which gives us a wonderful view of salt flats.

Picturesque Novigrad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also sections where we go along the seacoast, through these camping resorts where it seems people stay for a month or two at a time (Europeans have longer vacations than Americans). Amazingly, as I munch on an ice cream bar and watch the people frolic in the water, I meet up with the two ladies who are following our same tour. Makes you realize what a small world it is!

Picturesque Novigrad © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We come through Novigrad, a lovely village that seems to have a sense of humor. The old town center is on a small island (there is actually a barricade) and it has a medieval city wall. There are examples of Byzantine, Franconian, German, Venetian, Neopolitan, Austro-Hungarian and Italian architecture. As we walk into the main square, the small streets that lead off it have a canopy of brightly colored umbrellas. And the town hall is decorated with balloons.

The ride is scenic, mostly along seacoast (and through camping resorts), mostly on bike trails until we leave Novigrad and cross a long bridge. Then it comes to a 90-degree turn up a steep road. Without any momentum, I walk up the first section of the 3 km climb but am proud of myself for biking the rest.

It is a long, long climb but it is on a rail-trail (gravel) so isn’t so bad, and compared to our 4th day riding (in the hinterland), this was a piece of cake.

We follow our guide book to where it recommends we visit Grotta Baredine, a cave about 10 km from Porec, described as “the first speleological object and the first  geomorphological natural monument to be valorized for sightseeing” (www.baredine.com).  We are just in time for the 5 pm English-language tour, which would take hour, but we are concerned about getting into Porec too late, so we move on.

Porec © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was a missed opportunity, I am sure. (One of the advantages of a guided tour is that the guide knows to move the group along to take advantage of such sightseeing experiences).

Eric finds the Aba Restaurant – all the tables outside are already reserved, but we are accommodated in the charming dining room inside.  We enjoy a dish with noodles with meat and truffle oil that delectable.

The Hotel Porec where we stay is very pleasant and well situated, both to wander into the old city and to get to the bus station (literally behind the hotel) in the morning where Eric will catch a bus (booked over flixbus.com) back to Venice airport and I will catch a bus to get to my next biketrip, a guided tour of Slovenia, that starts in Ljubljana.

It’s pouring rain the entire day, and I think to myself how lucky it is that this is not a bike day.

Self-Guided vs. Guided BikeTrips

The self-guided trips seem to pack in more riding in a day (though, obviously, FunActive offered alternatives that would have cut our mileage in half) and less sightseeing. A guide would have made sure we visited the Miramare Castle and got us there in time and organized our ride to have more time in Trieste, and gotten us to the caves in a more timely way to visit and still get into Porec by late afternoon. But self-guided has its own advantages: we stop where we want, linger over lunch, leave when we want, and each day offers our own adventure we share.


Eric meditates while waiting for me to catch up © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Booking through Biketours.com, which offers a fantastic catalog of bike trips (mainly in Europe), enabled me to link up two tours operated by two different companies: this self-guided Venice-Trieste-Istria trip which ended in Porec, Croatia on September 1, operated by FunActive, and an “Emerald Tour” guided bike tour of Slovenia that started in Ljubljana on September 1 operated by a Slovenian operator, Helia. The BikeTours.com agent pointed me to Road2Rio.com to figure out the transfers. Through that site, I found FlixBus.com which I could take to Ljubljana, and Eric could catch a bus that took him directly to Venice International Airport (the tour company also offered a transfer to Venice by ferry) and I could get to my next tour.

The tour company was great about sending travel documents, including a list of hotels and details and directions how to get to the first hotel in Venice (the public transportation system is excellent and inexpensive).

The rental bikes they provided were excellent and provide a mileage counter (to help with navigation), panniers, a handlebar pack with to put the cue sheets. We used the 21-speed hybrid bike; e-bikes are available.

The hotels provided were excellent, each one a delightfully charming inn – most significantly, well located in the Old City, in proximity to the trail and whatever we were supposed to see. Tour documents were excellent as well.

FunActive also provided local telephone numbers for assistance. In each town they listed a bike shop should we have needed it. The cue sheets and trail maps they provided (though a bit confusing until we got the hang of it) included locations for photos, food, sightseeing, and the alternate routes, ferry and train connections as needed, as well as pinpointing where the different hotels were we were staying.

Each morning, we put out our luggage in the lobby which magically appeared when we arrived at our next hotel.

Significantly, the tour was an excellent value, averaging about $125-150 pp per day.

Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37405, 423 756-8907, 877 462-2423, www.biketours.com, info@biketours.com.

See also:

Setting Out on 8-Day Self-Guided #BikeTour from Venice Bound for Croatia

Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

A Night Visit to the Doge Palace, Venice

Discovering Ancient Christian Site of Aquilea, Roman City of Grado and Trieste on Self-Guided Biketour

_____________________________

© 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

Discovering Ancient Christian Site of Aquilea, Roman City of Grado and Trieste on Self-Guided Biketour

Exquisite 12th century frescoes in the crypt in Aquileia, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, dating from 313 AD © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin and Eric Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stage 3 of our eight-day Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided bike tour again offers a choice of a 28-mile ride (if we take a boat) or 55 miles without. Of course we bike.

We stop at the 38.4 km mark at Marano Lagunare, a delightful, picturesque village (which is where we could take the boat).

Stopping for lunch at Marano Lagunare © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The piazza in Marano Lagunare © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marano Lagunare © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We find ourselves in the center piazza and a marvelous restaurant, Trattoria Barcaneta, for lunch. It is so peaceful and quiet and utterly charming and colorful.

As we ride the bike trail, we come upon a set of Roman ruins of a colonnade behind a fence, oddly alongside a road. Then, a tower comes into view, looming above a wall of tall trees. I must investigate, and check the notes the tour operator has provided.

Venice-Trieste-Istria self-guided biketour. Stage 3-Aquileia -Grado (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Roman columns, Aquileia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I realize that this is Aquileia, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.

This proves the highlight of the day: the massive Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta dates from 313 AD, when the Dict of Milan ended religious persecution and the Christian community could legally build a place of public worship. The first church was destroyed and over the centuries has been rebuilt four times, each time using the stones of the earlier buildings. As it stands today, the basilica is in Romanesque-Gothic style, with a 73 meter-high tower. The inside is breathtaking: the entire floor is Roman mosaic from the 4th century, only uncovered in 1909-1912. The 760 sq. meter floor is believed to be the largest Paleo-Christian mosaic of the western world. But more awaits:

Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The entire floor of the basilica at Aquileia is covered with Roman mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I walk down to the Crypt of Frescoes, incredibly beautiful and amazingly rich color. The structure dates back to the 9th century and the frescoes date from the 12th century. 19 scenes tell the history of Hermagora and the origins of Christianity in Aquileia.

The entire floor of the basilica at Aquileia is covered with Roman mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The entire floor of the basilica at Aquileia is covered with Roman mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
You wonder who this woman was, immortalized in mosaic at Aquileia © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Frescoes, Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a lovely complex, and we enjoy some refreshment – ice cream and drinks – at the café and sit under tall trees. It restores us for the rest of the ride. We don’t have that much further to go.

Grado

Biking over the dam into Grado © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The rest of the ride is extremely pleasant, capped with what feels like three miles over a dam, with water on both sides, to get into Grado, another gorgeous seaside beach resort, this one with yachts.

We arrive in time to make it down to the beach by 7 pm (when we discover they don’t charge the 2E fee to use the beach at that hour), and get to swim in the Adriatic before going in search of a dinner place.

Grado is interesting – our hotel is along the beach and is a string of modern hotels that have you thinking a little bit of Miami Beach. Our guidebook says that Grado, known as a golden island, is the only good beach resort on the Upper Adriatic, and has an exceptionally picturesque old town and a fascinating history.

Grado © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, just a couple of blocks away, it’s like a completely different world: we find ourselves in Grado’s Old City, standing over an excavation of Roman ruins of a military camp (fort), a town square with a Basilica della Corte that dates from the 4th century (one of the oldest in Italy), and a delightful pedestrian walkway loaded with shops and restaurants in an old historic section.

Grado © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All the restaurants are booked solid (we haven’t yet learned the trick of phoning in advance for reservations, which would be facilitated by the dining recommendations in our guidebook), but we find a small innovative place that serves tapas-style.

The picturesque fountain along the seaside promenade, Grado © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The town is extremely picturesque and at night the promenade is lighted, there is an interesting fountain with colored lights you walk under like a tunnel, and it is simply delightful to stroll.

Other attractions include the Basilica di Sant’Eufernia which dates from the 6th century and is located in Campo del Patriarchi. The bell tower was built in 1455. There is also a statue of Archangel Michael, the symbol of Grado, on the tower.

Our guidebook also makes note of a boat trip to the island of Anfora, a picturesque fishing village in the heart of the lagoon. Some parts of the lagoon are designated nature preserves, harboring some 260 species of birds.

Here again, we just fall under the spell of this place.

It has been another utterly perfect day.

Stage 4: Aquilea/Grado – Trieste (43 miles/70 km or 25 miles/40 km) + train

Day 5 of our eight-day self-guided Venice-Trieste-Istria bike tour starts off magnificently: the ride from Grado begins with another glorious miles-long ride over a dam (a different one from yesterday) giving stunning views and refreshing breezes. It continues through a landscape of rocky caverns and farmland, along the seacoast, finally coming to a delightful swimming beach (this is why you should carry swimming things). This part of the ride, the first 24 miles, has been fantastic. Then we come into Monfalcone, a busy city of shipyards and cruise ships, where we get lost. And here we make a bad choice for our route to Trieste.

Riding over a dam from Grado en route to Trieste © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The regular (recommended) route would have us riding 43 miles along the coastal road (we are told this isn’t a bike trail but there may be a bike lane) taking in Duino, Sistiana, Miramare, and Barcola. Our FunActive guide Anthony (I recall too late), has described riding along cliffs that you can climb down, passing the castle of Miramare high above the Bay of Grignano, situated in the middle of a park, which is a major attraction (not to mention the castle has a Manet exhibit, which I only learn about after we arrive at our Trieste hotel). Anthony also said how the ride can be reduced to 25 miles by taking a train into Trieste.

Biking Stage 4 from Grado en route to Trieste © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We don’t do either. Instead, we take a “variant” route from Monfalcone into the “hinterland” (the thought of “hinterland” had really excited Eric) that brings us into Slovenia (no border crossing or passport required back and forth to Italy).

A beautiful beach outside of Monfalcone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As it turns out, this adventure adds 17 miles to the 43 of which most of it is up and up and up, on winding roads (at one point, my “can do” attitude fails and I walk the bike up the last quarter-mile to this section’s “top” feeling defeated). There are no charming villages. No beautiful sights or vistas. Even the restaurant that is marked on the map is closed. We ride through what is supposed to be a preserve with trees on both sides, but there are no real views or scenery.

Finally, we come back to the Italy border where there is a tiny rest stop (no bathroom though). I rejuvenate with an ice cream bar, sitting on an air-conditioned porch (I think I am close to heat exhaustion), and recover myself for the final trek into Trieste. Chalk this up to the “physical challenge” part of bike touring that gives you something to boast about forever more. And adventure. After all, it could have been the most fantastic off-the-beaten-track discovery anyone had ever seen.

We make the final climbs and then find ourselves, indeed, at a scenic overlook (actually somebody’s driveway) with a sensational view of Trieste. But after taking our victory-photos, we realize that now we have to bike down this narrow, busy road with its hair turns that (seemingly) goes on for miles.

Finally, our climbs through the hinterland are rewarded with a scenic overlook of Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We feel like we are coming down a corkscrew and finally are deposited into the traffic and hubbub of a bustling major city.

Trieste is like culture shock after our time in the tranquil countryside. But we see regal, if drab and aging, buildings, evidence of an important city.

Somehow, Eric finds the way to our hotel, located on the fringe of the historic Old City (I clock the day at 54 miles of which I estimate 12 miles are uphill). We quickly drop our things and go out to explore while there is still light. It’s a short walk to the main square.

Trieste’s architecture evokes Vienna rather than Venice © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

All at once, I am transported: the architecture evokes Vienna rather than Venice – majestic buildings in neoclassic style. Indeed, Trieste (as much of Slovenia just across the border), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was once the Empire’s most important Mediterranean port, and interestingly, with the European Union, has again become a major gateway into Europe, rivaling Koper, Slovenia’s major port, for commerce.

Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The city puts out an outstanding tourist map, giving background to its history and guide to important sites like the Museum of History and Art and Lapidary Gardens, the Castle Museum and Lapidarium, the Victory Lighthouse (built 1922 honoring sailors lost in World War I), the Opicina Tramway built in 1902 linking city centre with the plateau. It offers tours to Roman Trieste and literary tours.

And as I discover (too late to take advantage): Jewish Trieste: Risiera di San Sabba, created inside an old rice husking factory, was the only extermination camp in Italy and declared a national monument in 1965; Via del Monte, a Jewish community with a cemetery used for 400 years, a Jewish Temple, and a Jewish Community Museum, the newer Jewish Cemetery, a synagogue which dates from 1912, and some other sites.

Unfortunately, we have arrived in early evening, and are only able to explore what we can by foot in the old city, to get a flavor of the city.

Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here too, Eric puts out his radar (app) and finds Osteria de Scorpon for dinner (the risotto with black ink is excellent). This area reflects its heritage as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and goulash is a regional specialty.

Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trieste © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(We booked our 8-day self-guided “Venice-Trieste-Istria” self-guided bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street, Chattanooga, TN 37405, 423 756-8907, 877 462-2423, www.biketours.com, info@biketours.com)

See also:

Setting Out on 8-Day Self-Guided #BikeTour from Venice Bound for Croatia

Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

A Night Visit to the Doge Palace, Venice

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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

A Night Visit to the Doge Palace IN Venice

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most popular attractions in Venice and dominating the most popular square, San Marco, the Doge Palace is unbelievably crowded with tourists during the day who can stand on line for a long time and then struggle inside for views of the fantastic art. But on my recent trip, I discovered that the Doge Palace and three other museums stay open on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm (last entrance at 10 pm) and the ticket is valid at all four of the museums and valid for three months.  The experience of visiting the Doge Palace at night is incomparable.

I waltz in at 7:30 pm without waiting at all and find myself in these rooms – grand doesn’t begin to describe them – by myself or with at most a handful of other people. All of us are breathless. No one speaks. The silence is thrilling.

The art work – monumental pieces by titans of the Renaissance – fill the massive walls and the entire ceiling. One room is grander and bigger and more gilded than the next, and at this hour, at this moment, it feels like all of this is for me and me alone.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the extraordinary magnificence of the artwork throughout the Doge Palace, I realize from the notes I read afterward that the palace harbors a fascinating history of government of this early republic, which for two centuries dominated trade between Europe and Asia. Venice’s powerful influence extended from the city at the western edge of the old Byzantine Empire, to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

I go through the rooms taking in the visual sights, overwhelmed, really by the art – the majestic paintings in gilded frames that completely cover the walls and ceiling, the architectural details. The rooms are fairly dark and I don’t take the time or struggle to read the notes that are provided. Later, when I review the notes provided, I better appreciate the historical significance, where the art and the architecture were representations of the structure of government and the rulers, comparable to the Capitol Building, Supreme Court and White House, combined, though hundreds of years older.

For two centuries, the Venetian Republic dominated trade between Europe and Asia, its influence extending from the city at the western edge of the Byzantine Empire to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The palace dates back to before the 10th century but, after a fire, was rebuilt by Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178), a great reformer who also changed the layout of St. Mark’s Square. The palace had to be expanded several times “to accommodate political changes and the increase in number of people who had the right to participate in the legislative assembly meetings” (an intriguing phrase). The Chamber of the Great Council (just one room in this palace) accommodated 1,200 to 2,000 noblemen. The thought is mind-boggling.

After another huge fire in 1577 destroyed many of the masterpieces, reconstruction was undertaken immediately to restore it to its original appearance, which was completed by 1579-80.

Until then, the Doge’s Palace housed not only the Doge’s apartments, the seat of the government and the city’s courtrooms, but also a jail. It was only in the second half of the 16th century that Antonio da Ponte ordered the construction of new prisons, built by Antonio Contin around 1600, which were linked to the Doge’s Palace by the Bridge of Sighs, built in 1614. Relocating the prisons left the old space on the ground floor of the palace free, which led to the creation of the courtyard.

Looking through the Bridge of Sighs, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The famous Bridge of Sighs dates from the Romantic period, its name supposedly referring to the sighs of prisoners who, passing from the courtroom to the cell in which they would serve their sentence, took a last look at freedom as they glimpsed the lagoon and San Giorgio through the filigree openings.

Crossing over the Bridge of Sighs is one of the most thrilling aspects of the visit, especially at night, with the golden lights reflected on blue-black water. You peer through the openings, just as these prisoners would have. It is somewhat surreal to look down at the bridge from which you saw the Bridge of Sighs hours before, and imagine what prisoners must have thought as they had their last glimpse of that glorious scene. And then going into the prison itself, surreal considering it was mere steps away from the grandeur of the palace.

Inspecting the prison cells, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there is still so much more to see – it seems that the palace just goes on and on.

The Chamber of the Great Council, restructured in the 14th century, was decorated with a fresco by Guariento and later with works by the most famous artists of the period, including Gentile da Fabriano, Pisanello, Alvise Vivarini, Carpaccio, Bellini, Pordenone and Titian. At 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, this is not only the largest and most majestic chamber in the Doge’s Palace, but also one of the largest rooms in Europe.

The Great Council was the most important political body in the Republic. An ancient institution, the Council was made up of all the male members over 25 years old of patrician Venetian families, irrespective of their individual status, merits or wealth. “This was why, in spite of the restrictions in its powers that the Senate introduced over the centuries, the Great Council continued to be seen as bastion of republican equality. The Council had the right to call to account all the other authorities and bodies of the State when it seemed that their powers were getting excessive and needed to be trimmed. The 1,200 to 2,000 noblemen who sat in the Council always considered themselves guardians of the laws that were the basis of all the other authorities within the State.”

This room was also where the first steps in the election of a new Doge would take place. These voting procedures were extremely long and complex in order to frustrate any attempts of cheating. Every Sunday, when the bells of St. Mark’s rang, the Council members would gather in the hall with the Doge presiding at the center of the podium and his counselors occupying double rows of seats that ran the entire length of the room.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The walls are decorated with works by Paolo Caliari (known as Paolo Veronese), Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, and Palma il Giovane. depicting Venetian history, particularly the city’s relations with the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire; the ceiling is decorated with the Virtues and examples of Venetian heroism, with an allegorical glorification of the Republic in the center. Facing each other in groups of six, the 12 wall paintings depict acts of valor or scenes of war that had occurred during the city’s history. A frieze with portraits of the first 76 doges (the portraits of the others are in the Sala dello Scrutinio) runs just under the ceiling. Though commissioned from Jacopo Tintoretto, most of these paintings are the work of his son, Domenico. Each Doge holds a scroll bearing a reference to his most important achievements, while Doge Marin Faliero, who attempted a coup d’état in 1355, is represented simply by a black cloth – a traitor to the Republic, he was not only condemned to death but also to damnatio memoriae, the total eradication of his memory and name.

Along the wall behind the Doge’s throne is one of the longest canvas paintings in the world, the Paradiso, which Jacopo Tintoretto and workshop produced between 1588 and 1592 to replace the Guariento fresco that had been damaged in the fire.

The Council Chamber was where two separate and independent organs of power, the Savi and the Signoria, would meet. The Savi was divided into three sections concerned with foreign policy, mainland Italy and maritime issues. The Signoria was made up of the three Heads of the Councils of Forty and members of the Minor Council, composed of the Doge and six councilors, one for each district of the city of Venice. The Council was organized and coordinated the work of the Senate, reading dispatches from ambassadors and city governors, receiving foreign delegations and promoting other political and legislative activity.

The Sala dei Pregadi housed the Senate, one of the oldest public institutions in Venice.  Established in the 13th century, it evolved over time until by the 16th century it was the body mainly responsible for overseeing political and financial affairs in manufacturing, trade and foreign policy. In effect, it served as a sub-committee of the Great Council and its members were generally drawn from the wealthiest Venetian families.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chamber of the Council of Ten is named for the council that was set up after a conspiracy in 1310, when Bajamonte Tiepolo and other noblemen tried to overthrow the government. “Initially meant as a provisional body to try those conspirators, the Council of Ten is one of many examples of Venetian institutions that were intended to be temporary but which became permanent.” Its authority covered all sectors of public life, a power that gave rise to its reputation as a ruthless, all-seeing tribunal at the service of the ruling oligarchy, a court whose sentences were handed down rapidly after secret hearings. The assembly was made up of ten members chosen from the Senate and elected by the Great Council. These ten sat with the Doge and his six counselors, which accounts for the 17 semicircular outlines that you can still see in the chamber.

The Compass Room was used for the administration of justice. It was named for the large wooden compass with a statue of Justice, that stands in one corner and hides the entrance to the rooms of the three Heads of the Council of Ten and the State Inquisitors. Those summoned by these powerful magistrates waited here to be called; the magnificent decor was intended to reinforce the solemnity of the Republic’s legal machinery.

So much of the exquisite decoration we see, which dates from the 16th century, was commissioned from Veronese. Completed in 1554, the works he produced are all intended to exalt the “good government” of the Venetian Republic; the central panel, with St. Mark descending to crown the three Theological Virtues, is a copy of the original, now in the Louvre.

The Chamber of Censors was an office which was established in 1517 to address “the cultural and political upheavals that are associated with Humanism.” The State Censors “were more like moral consultants than judges, with their main task being the repression of electoral fraud and the protection of the State’s public institutions.” The walls display Domenico Tintoretto’s portraits of these magistrates.

The Chamber of the State Advocacies: This State Advocacy department dates from the 12th century, when Venice was organized as a commune. The three members, the Avogadori, safeguarded the principle of legality, making sure that laws were applied correctly. Though they never enjoyed the status and power of the Doge and the Council of Ten, the Avogadori remained one of the most prestigious authorities in Venice right up to the fall of the Republic. They were also responsible for preserving the integrity of the city’s patrician class, verifying the legitimacy of marriages and births inscribed in the Golden Book.

The “Scrigno” Room. The Venetian nobility as a caste came into existence because of the “closure” of admissions to the Great Council in 1297; but it was only in the 16th century that formal restrictions that protected the status of that aristocracy were introduced: marriages between nobles and commoners were forbidden so greater controls were set up to check the validity of aristocratic titles. Golden and Silver books registered all those families that not only had the requisites of “civilization” and “honor”, but could also show that they were of ancient Venetian origin. The Golden and Silver Books were kept in a chest inside a cupboard that also contained all the documents proving the legitimacy of claims. The 18th century cupboard we see today extends around three sides of a wall niche; lacquered in white with gilded decorations.

The Armourny, Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Armoury houses an important historical collection of weapons and armaments. The core of the collection is 14th century, dating from the time when the Armoury was under the control of the Council of Ten and stocked with weapons that would be readily available for the Palace’s guards. The collection was partially dispersed after the fall of the Republic, but still contains some 2000 exhibits, including 15th and 16th century suits of armor, swords, halberds, quivers and crossbows. Many are inscribed or painted monogram CX – for “Council of Ten” – which also appears on the door jambs, evidence of the Council’s might. The Turkish implements – weapons, standards and ships’ lanterns – that are displayed were taken from the enemy during battle. The collection also displays 16th and 17th century firearms; implements of torture; a chastity belt; and a series of small but lethal weapons that were prohibited by law.

Doge Palace, Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Doge’s Palace was the heart of the political life and public administration of the Venetian Republic, so after the fall of the Republic in 1797, its role inevitably changed. Venice first fell under French rule, then Austrian, and ultimately, in 1866, became part of a united Italy.

Up until the end of the 19th century, the Palazzo Ducale was occupied by various administrative offices and housed important cultural institutions such as the Biblioteca Marciana (from 1811 to 1904). But by then, the structure was showing signs of decay. The Italian government set aside sizeable sums for an extensive restoration. Public offices were relocated with the exception of the State Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, which is still housed in the building (now called Superintendence of the Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice and its Lagoon). In 1923, the Italian state which owns the building, appointed the City Council to manage it as a public museum. In 1996, the Doge’s Palace became part of the Civic Museums of Venice network.

San Marco Square, Venice, at night (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


ST. MARK’S SQUARE MUSEUMS TICKET A single ticket valid for the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana.  This ticket is valid for 3 months and grants one single admission to the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary. (20E for regular ticket; 13 E for children 6-14, students 15-25, seniors over 65 and holders of International Student Identity Card) (http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/the-museum/doges-palace/the-palace/)

MUSEUM PASS The Museum Pass the cumulative ticket for the permanent collection of the Musei Civici of Venice currently open and for those connected (Palazzo Fortuny and Clock Tower not included).  This ticket is valid for 6 months and grants one single admission to each museum. The Museum Pass grants entrance to: The St Mark’s Square museums
: – Doge’s Palace – combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, plus other civic museums of Venice: Ca’ Rezzonico – Museum of 18th-Century Venice; Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo; Carlo Goldoni’s House; Ca’ Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art + Oriental Art Museum; Glass Museum – Murano; Lace Museum – Burano; Natural History Museum. (24E or 18 E), www.visitmuve.it.

Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander back through the narrow alleys of the old city, stopping to listen to a musician fill a plaza with his music, to the tram that takes me back to the Hotel Alexander in Mestre. Tomorrow, Eric and I will start our eight-day self-guided bike tour that will take us about 300 miles to Trieste, Slovenia and Croatia.

(We booked our 8-day self-guided “Venice-Trieste-Istria” bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street , Chattanooga, TN 37405,  423-756-8907, 877-462-2423, www.biketours.com,info@biketours.com).

See also: Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

_____________________________

© 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

Following Whim and Whimsy in Venice

Wandering through Venice’s neighborhoods © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the smartest choices I make in preparation for a week-long self-guided bike tour from Venice to Trieste to Istria (Slovenia to Croatia) is to arrive a day earlier. This gives me the unsurpassed luxury of spending a day wandering around Venice without a plan or an objective, just to follow whim and whimsy and take in the incomparable essence of this enchanting city. I am transfixed by Venice – the colors, the constant motion, the angles, the architecture, how you never know what you will see around any corner, how getting lost leads to new discovery. I have that cherished time to really focus on details.

Eric, my son who will be biking with me, will be arriving the next day, and I have made my way from Marco Polo International Airport to the Hotel Alexander, on the mainland, in Mestre by public bus (following the directions provided by FunActive, the tour company). I drop my bags and have most of the day to explore on my own.

The hotel that has been selected on the FunActiv tour (self-guided means that they have booked the inns and laid out the route, provide the rental bikes and support, a ferry the luggage each day to the next inn) which I booked through Biketours.com, is well located, just a short walk to a tram that comes frequently (they tell me where to buy the ticket, at a convenience store) and whisks me in comfort to the magnificent old city in 15 minutes.

Before I left the hotel, I had spotted a flyer about a new Leonardo Da Vinci Museum and am delighted when, serendipitously, I find myself right in front of it, next door to Chiesa di San Rocco, a church where a concert is underway. I listen for awhile and then go into the Museum.

Trying out one of Leonardo DaVinci’s inventions at the new Leonardo DaVinci Museum in Venice © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What distinguishes the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum is that it is designed as a laboratory for experimentation and curiosity – actually giving you insights into the mind of Leonardo da Vinci by bringing his manuscripts, schematics and drawings to reality. Engineers have recreated large-scale models of Da Vinci’s inventions from his own plans “created through the skillful craftsmanship typical of the Renaissance workshops” which you can touch and maneuver.  Essentially, you get to play with DaVinci’s inventions – delighting children of all ages. The museum also exhibits DaVinci’s anatomical studies. A special space is dedicated to his main pictorial works including the Mona Lisa and Annunciation, reproduced using high-resolution backlight technology.(Open daily, Scuola Grand di San Rocco, www.davincimuseum.it).

My motto, “Seize the day” (and waste no time) serves me well, because my first day is sunny, bringing out the colors of Venice – along with everyone else. Venice is unbelievably crowded with tourists– like Times Square but on a much, much bigger scale– and quite warm and humid. But I don’t mind and I find myself wandering down streets and alleys in neighborhoods (and they are really neighborhoods, where Venetians live) that are amazingly uncrowded and quiet.

Concert underway in a church provides respite for body and soul © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I periodically take refuge in churches to get out of the heat and take a bit of a rest and often am pleasantly surprised to discover art and music.

One of the delights of Venice is that it is set up like a labyrinth of warrens, alleys, bridges over canals, so you are constantly surprised by the scenes that come into view as you walk about.

Venice (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The most popular is the famous view from the Rialto Bridge at the center of the city where you literally have to wait your turn to get a photo.

The narrow alleys all of a sudden open up into the famous square of San Marco and I come upon the Basilica of San Marco with its ornate decoration. There is so much to see and do here in the piazza, which remarkably has retained the same look as depicted in Renaissance paintings.

Rush hour for gondoliers © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At San Marco, I stand on a bridge the gondoliers go under to get to the Bridge of Sighs – that famous place in the Doge Palace where prisoners would be taken to their cramped, damp cells, across this bridge with the last view of the open sky and their last breath of fresh air. It’s like rush hour of the gondolas. I admire the skill with which they deftly turn 90-degree corners and avoid hitting each other or smack into the pilings. The choreography of their floating dance is amazing – I notice the oar lock the gondoliers use, shaped in such a way that they get a different angle to control their stroke.

Bridge of Sighs, Doge Palace © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What really strikes me is that despite the crowds, how clean Venice’s streets are (though there is graffiti, more a reflection of political climate) and how fresh. This wasn’t the case when I last visited, 10 years ago.

I linger in the Piazza San Marco for a time, and am sitting on marble benches under an archway at the Doge Palace when I hear thunder. Last time I was here, the city was flooded – platforms mysteriously would appear on the streets that you had to walk over to avoid wading in six inches of water – a worrisome warning that Venice may at some point become submerged altogether with rising sea level.


Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

No one seems particularly bothered by the thunder, not even the street vendors. I take the tram back to the hotel, and just before I get there, the thunderstorm starts.

The next morning is raining, but no matter. I hop the tram again, a five-minute walk from the Hotel Alexander through the neighborhood for the ride into Venice, and this time, after crossing over the bridge that provides entrance to the Old City (and apparently closes at night to those who aren’t living or staying here) go left at the fork instead of right. I walk over a bridge and see a sign pointing to the Jewish Ghetto and follow it. I come upon a group of Israeli tourists huddled under a passageway leading into the Jewish quarter as their guide gives her talk. I walk ahead and find the synagogue, where Sabbath services are just finishing, guarded by city soldiers who don’t let me in.

The last time I was in Venice, I happened upon Chabad gathering for Shabbat dinner and was invited in. The Chabad are actively repopulating European cities that emptied their Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

Gondolier, Venice © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have a few hours before Eric arrives and we have our orientation with a FunActive guide for our bike tour. I make my way to San Marco again, before walking back to the depot to get the tram back to the hotel, in time for Eric and the guide to arrive.

We spend about an hour with Anthony, the FunActive guide, actually hurrying him along because we are so anxious to get back to Venice so Eric can have some time there. Anthony persists: going over the day-by-day maps, pointing out sights we might look out for, and alternative routes we can take, and then fits us to the bikes we will be taking.

Entrance to the synagogue. Venice’s Jewish Ghetto is being repopulated © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By the time we get to Venice in the afternoon, the rain has cleared. We return together to the Jewish Ghetto and wander from there. I let Eric take the lead so he can have that same delight in discovering Venice for himself.

It is important to realize that Venice is a place where people live (signs ask visitors to respect the residents), and coming in this way, through the Jewish Ghetto, we find many streets – very quiet streets – that are simply neighborhoods off the beaten tourist track. Laundry stretched across the canal.

Dining at Al Portego © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eric uses his tech prowess (and the AFAR app) to find a restaurant, which gives a purpose and focus to our wandering through the streets. We arrive at Al Portego just in time before all the tables would be reserved for dinner.

After dinner, we walk to San Marco, which is especially magical at night. I have saved visiting the Doge Palace for the evening (the Doge Palace and three other museums stay open on Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm, last entrance at 10 pm) so that Eric could see it as well. But Eric is too exhausted after having traveled all day and heads back to the hotel.

Doge Palace at night © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I waltz in at 7:30 pm without waiting at all – such a contrast to the daytime when the lines are long and hundreds of people, including massive tour groups, funnel in at once. The ticket, I learn, is valid at all four museums and good for three months. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take advantage, but the ticket is well worth it.

Priceless, in fact.

I find myself in these rooms – grand doesn’t begin to describe it – by myself or with at most five other people. All of us are breathless. No one speaks. The silence is thrilling.

The art work – monumental pieces by titans of the Renaissance – fill the massive walls and the entire ceiling. One room is grander and bigger and more gilded than the next, and at this hour, at this moment, it feels like all of this is for me and me alone.

Next: A Night Visit to the Doge Palace

(We booked our 8-day self-guided “Venice-Trieste-Istria” self-guided bike tour through BikeTours.com, a broker which has an excellent catalog of well-priced guided and self-guided bike and bike/boat trips, mostly in Europe, and has very attentive counselors. Biketours.com, 1222 Tremont Street , Chattanooga, TN 37405,  423 756-8907, 877 462-2423, www.biketours.com, info@biketours.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

New Orleans: ‘It’s Not All About The Jazz,’ Guest at Destination Wedding in NOLA Discovers

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin

Photos by Laurie Millman and Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym — NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!

We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.

Prior to travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking. 

For sightseeing around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.”  This bus follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods. With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)

Walking tours abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events, pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled through the beautifully groomed parks.

NOLA Electric Streetcar Trolley Stop © Laurie Millman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For an historic mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per person.  However, a word of warning: the trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least 15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.

Band entertains on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.

Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we soon experienced this first hand) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom.  A Brass band leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds.  The newly married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.

Celebrating a wedding with a Second Line parade © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate led their wedding guests on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.

French Quarter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars, restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food, as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.

Musicians in the Spotted Cat © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a  large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.

Maison on Frenchman Street © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo (like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food (mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).

Cafe Du Monde server line with trays of beignets and drinks © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts through “Day Passes.”

The scene at Café Negril © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our attraction recommendations are:

Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide.  Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.

In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo.  The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student;  $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).

The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12).  (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org 

Experience gourmet bug food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
At the Aquarium, see Greta the Great White Shark sculpture from plastics reclaimed from oceans
© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:

The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.

While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets.   Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters

To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site:  $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket).  You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.

We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.

A giant mealworm becomes food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.

The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!

To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and  one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.

To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site:  $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).

If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).

The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)

New Orleans turned 300 during 2019.

Here are more highlights of a visit to New Orleans:

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans. New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2019 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Horsedrawn carriage passes by the Oldest Tavern in US, reputed to have been built between 1722 and 1732, in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Voodoo shop in the French Quarter © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The French-style wrought iron that decorates buildings in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
French Quarter, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A walk through the Bywater, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Beads strewn from Mardi Gras past, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Walk over the Rusty Rainbow Bridge to Crescent Park Trail from the Bywater, along the water, to the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rusty Rainbow Bridge: Besides music, art and food, New Orleans is about poetry and romance which is why it is so perfect for a destination wedding © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, 800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.

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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

Parade through Chinatown, NYC Welcomes in Year of Pig, Showcases Chinese Heritage

20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragons and dancers paraded through New York City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.

US Senator Charles Schumer at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America great.”  

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio and other officials at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others add to the multicultural mosaic.

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio at 20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.

“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019

And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.

Here are highlights:

Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
Celebration of Chinese Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, NYC 2019
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
20th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2019 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA) offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the characteristics that make this holiday unique.”

Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather, tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org. (Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).

For more information, visit www.chinatown-online.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

4 Days in Morocco: Desert Adventure from Marrakesh to the Sahara

Sandboarding from the mountain-like dune in the Sahara © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda

Travel Features Syndicate,  goingplacesfarandnear.com

Everything about a trip from Marrakesh to the Sahara is epic. We didn’t know if we would drive ourselves or hire a tour, so from finding the right desert guide, then traveling the 8+ hours through roads filled with switchbacks and harrowing drivers, to the climactic landscape of red-hot sand dunes reaching literally as far as your eyes could follow, this was an adventure we could never have anticipated.

There are several ways to do this trip. You can book a trip online through Tripadvisor, Getyourguide, Viator, or any of the other aggregator sites with real reviews. The average price we found was around $250/person. Or, you can wait until you arrive in the country and try to haggle a better deal through your riad/guesthouse, or any of the endless storefronts advertising excursions to the desert.

With four days or more, you will be able to experience more of the desert landscape and not feel quite as rushed. Since we knew we wanted to spend a night in Aït Benhaddou, we made our own way there by bus and had our riad host arrange our desert excursion from that point.

Our main advice is to budget at least 4 days. Anything less and you won’t really experience the heart of the Moroccan Sahara. All standard 3-day desert tours offer the same basic itinerary:

Day 1: Leave Marrakech early AM, arrive in Aït Benhaddou in time for lunch, quick tour of the Kasbah then back on the bus, pass through Ourzazate for a brief visit, then overnight at a hotel or riad in Dades Valley. Day 2: Full day drive to Merzouga, stopping in the old town of Tinghir (a guided tour will probably take you to a berber carpet showroom). Arrive in Merzouga just before sunset, Berber guides will escort you on camels into the desert sand dunes, have dinner in the camp, sleep overnight in a tent or on a wool blanket on the sand. Day 3: Leave just before dawn to return to Merzouga where you’ll meet your driver for the 9 hour ride back to Marrakech. Some trips will give you a little more time in the morning to experience the dunes in the daylight for an extra fee. Absolutely do this if you have the offer.

Tzikinitza: On the harrowing drive through the switchbacks of the Tizi n’Tichka Mountain pass in the High Atlas Mountains, en route from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is what we did, what we learned, and tips that we wished we’d had before we went…

Day 1 – Aït Benhaddou

This fortified ancient village, currently home to only five families, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the set of Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and other epic dramas. We took the CTM bus from Marrakesh to the village of Wade Melah, where the host of our riad met us to drive us to the old town of Aït Benhaddou. No one knows exactly how old the town is, but they estimate that it dates back at least 500 years, and looks much older. It was once a hub of Jewish and Berber people who lived harmoniously in the town. In fact, if you stay in the Riad Dar El Haja, you will be staying in the former home of the old village’s Rabbi and his family, which we were told is one of only two guesthouses in the Kasbah. Today this riad features several well-appointed rooms with comfortable beds, ensuite bathrooms with hot water, 2 terraces to enjoy dinner or breakfast al fresco, and an original natural cave that makes a magical setting for a tagine dinner cooked on premise (breakfast is included in the stay, 3-course dinner was about 13 Euros/person).

Ait Ben Haddou at dawn, looking just as it did over a dozen centuries ago. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ait Ben Haddou has been the set of Game of Thrones, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Getting There:

Luxury: In Marrakesh you can find several private taxis or tour companies that will take you directly to Aït Benhaddou. We were quoted prices between 1500-4000 MAD (1000 MAD equals $104), haggling mandatory.

Breakfast served on the rooftop of Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Budget: Take the CMT bus from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate (100 MAD), then a taxi to Aït Benhaddou (~90 MAD). Or you can try to convince your bus driver to drop you off in Wade Melah as we did, to meet someone from your riad willing to pick you up.

Adventure: Rent a car in Marrakesh. You can drop the car off in Ouarzazate if you decide to join a tour to the desert, or go rogue and try it all on your own. The road from Marrakesh to ABH is insane with about 2 hours of tight switchbacks as you pass the Tizi n’Tichka, but if you’re a (very) comfortable stick driver it seemed like it would be a lot of fun to drive, IN THE DAYLIGHT. The roads between Tinghir and Merzouga are more harrowing and we were happy we opted for the tour.

Our tips:

  • Stay the night: Most tour buses arrive at the Kasbah around noon and leave around 3 or 4, so spending the night before means you have the old town virtually to yourselves in the morning, and you can see the Kasbah before the stalls open for the day.
  • Break up the drive to the desert: Make Aït Benhaddou a one-night stop on a longer desert tour to break up your first or last day of the 8+ hour drive (more on this below).      
  • Catch the sunrise: Most tourists seemed to hike to the top of the Kasbah for the sunrise. For an even wilder 360-degree view, walk out of the Kasbah toward the big hill at the base of the east part of the town (right next to the famous filming spot of Gladiator and Game of Thrones), and watch the sunrise to the east with a movie-perfect view of the Kasbah to your west.
  • Lunch away from the main bus pick-up area: Most people meeting their tour groups seemed to be directed to the main large hotel/restaurant complex, which all had long waits and apparently mediocre food. We had an excellent lunch of lamb and prune tagine and Merguez sausage at Riad Maktoub, just down the road. This is also a highly-rated riad, if you decide to stay across the river from the Kasbah.

Day 2

Rashid, our riad host, referred us to a 3-day small group tour with Nature Dream, that we were able to join in Aït Benhaddou (they had started in Marrakesh at 7am that same morning, arrived at noon for lunch and had 2 hours to tour the Kasbah before getting back on the bus). We joined 4 other young travelers in an old van and drove to Boumalne Dades, an area of dramatic mountains and breathtaking views at every turn.

Our Tips:

  • If you do go with a tour, ask ahead of time about your accommodations. Once we entered Boumalne Dades we saw many cool-looking riads with incredible views. The one arranged by our tour company was not one of these, although it ended up being all we needed for a quick night’s sleep with the typical chicken and vegetable tagine dinner.
  • If you drive here on your own, make sure you arrive before sunset because the views are really worth seeing in sunlight.

Day 3

Our private dinner cave in Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We left our riad at 8 am and drove to Tinghir, where we met a lovely guide named Rachid. He showed us around the Kasbah and informed us about its history as a Jewish and Berber community until 1948 when the Jewish people left for Israel or larger Moroccan cities. Now the Kasbah is mostly abandoned, inhabited by nomads helped by those in the village who give them jobs in the farms and share their food. There are now only about 15 families living in the Kasbah, with close to 1 million people occupying the greater city of Tinghir.

Pouring “Berber whiskey” (honey mint tea), a Moroccan ritual for welcoming guests© Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While in the Kasbah we were taken to a home of several families that specialized in Berber rugs. We were given the classic “Berber Whiskey” (mint tea), and learned about traditional rug-making, from the way the wool is cleaned and spun, to the pigments used to tint it, and the meanings beyond different typical Berber rug designs.

Rachid then took us to Todra Gorge, and then to a nice lunch spot nearby. We would recommend contacting Rachid even if you do not do a tour, as he was one of the sweeter, more gentle people we encountered in our 3 days, and his English is excellent (Spanish is even better). He lives in the greater village of Tinghir and often takes groups hiking and climbing in Todra Gorge, and if you have a few days he’ll take you to visit the nomadic families living deeper in the caves.  (Rachid Haddi: +212629460239 whatsapp).

Our tip:

  • The range for rugs in each of the small villages we visited fluctuated from 6000MAD (1000 MAD equals $104) down to 2000MAD for a 4 x 6 ft rug. The general rule of thumb seemed to be to suggest at most 1/3 of the first asking price, and walk away until they meet you close to your price.

Day 3 Continued:

After lunch we left Rachid and continued to Merzouga. We had learned from Rachid that wet season is August to October, and we definitely experienced this first hand during this part of the drive. There are 3 roads to Tinghir. We took the most direct route in the middle, which passes through many small towns on little maintained roads. Because of recent storms, many roads were completely flooded and may have been unpassable in standard cars. Even with a driver from the Sahara with 20+ years experience driving tour groups, we were still worried we wouldn’t make it several times and on one occasion our driver was harassed by a swarm of 20+ teenage boys trying to get 50 MAD for them to push his car across the road with the motor off. We saw a rental car with foreigners turn around at this point and I guess attempt a different way. We don’t have experience with the north and south routes, but by the look of the map they seemed like bigger roads if slightly less direct.

The sun was setting as we set out on our 7 km  camel trek through the Sahara to our desert camp, much of it in the dark © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Finally around sunset we arrived at a riad in Merzouga, where we waited for our camels with about 30 other travelers who had been dropped off from similar tours. About half hour later, all of us were escorted on camels through the dunes of Merzouga to our camp in the middle of it all. We were surprised to be on the camels for an hour and a half (7 km)! Once at the camp we were assigned beds in 4 or 5 person tents, and had the expected chicken tagine dinner. The camp itself was very bare-bones, with no sheets or pillowcases, just one wool blanket on top of a mattress and another for warmth in the night. We found the tents to be quite stuffy at night, and sleeping under the stars was in all ways the better alternative. The stars at night were spectacular. The air was crisp and cool, but not freezing, and if not for the scratchy wool blankets, it would have been a pretty magical night’s sleep.

Trekking by camel through the Sahara to our desert camp © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Desert camps:

            Luxury: We were quoted prices for a private driver for just the 2 of us, “stopping anywhere we wanted to”, with 3 days and 2 nights (1 in the desert), with luxury accommodations for 4000MAD/person (1000 MAD equals $104). We got this driver down to 3000 MAD for more budget accommodations and private driver. Luxury accommodations seemed to have beautiful glamping-style beds with sheets in large private tents.

            Standard: Just about every 3 day/2 night tour seems to spend one night at a hotel or riad in the Dades Valley (Boumalne Dades), stop on day 2 at Todra Gorge followed by a sunset camel ride out to the desert, camp overnight, and drive 8hr 30min back to Marrakech on day 3, leaving the camp just after sunrise. These tours all include 2 night accommodations and breakfast and dinner, with lunch spots determined by the driver and paid individually by the travelers. Standard tours ranged from 1250 – 2500 MAD/person.

            Budget: Since we joined a tour in Aït Benhaddou, we paid 900 MAD/person in a 6-person van and budget accommodations. Right as we arrived at the camp, our camp hosts told us we had the option to ride the camels back to Merzouga at 4:30am (before sunrise!), or be driven in their SUV over the dunes after sunset for 10 Euro/person. Of course opt for the latter or else you’ll miss the most spectacular time in the dunes. Or better yet, opt for a tour that has the van-ride back their default and doesn’t try to charge you for it.

Our desert camp in the Erg Chebbi Dunes of the Sahara Desert © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tips:

  • BYO Sheets: If you do go on a standard tour, this is a MUST: bring a cocoon travel sheet or sleep-sack. We were really jealous of our tour friends who had heard this tip before-hand and enjoyed a full night’s sleep.
  • Don’t bring food unless it’s sealed in an air-tight container. We saw a mouse in our tent earlier in the evening and woke up to see the plastic bag of our trail mix nibbled into, and one of our thin linen sweaters destroyed (still can’t imagine what was appetizing about that!).
  • Head-wrap: Bring a thin scarf for the night and morning as it can get quite chilly and is nice to wrap around your head if sleeping out under the stars (you can pick this up for 30-40 MAD at every single stop along the way, or at any stall in any medina. Beware that the really cheap ones will bleed and stain your other clothes in the laundry). It also looks cool wrapped as a turban as you’re riding your camel.
  • Sandboarding: If you’re comfortable on a snowboard and want the exercise (and amazing photos), rent a snowboard from Merzouga town before heading into the desert. Our camp hosts rented one to Dave for 200 MAD and brought it out in their truck while we rode the camels. Of course there are no ski lifts so you’ll have to trek up the highest dune with it yourself in order to get the best ride down.

Day 4

Watching the sun rise over Algeria from a sand dune ridge in the Sahara © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After catching the sunrise over Algeria and sandboarding a bit, we took the SUVs back to the riad where we were given the classic breakfast of Moroccan pancakes and bread with jams and honey, and had a chance to wash up in their WCs before the long haul back to Marrakesh. They don’t supply towels, but if you bring your own you can even have a shower. The last day is a full driving day, stopping every 2-3 hours for our driver to have a coffee and take a quick break. As with most of the stops we had lunch at a random place on the route where other drivers brought their tours. Expect about 100 MAD/person for an app, entree, and dessert at each of the lunch spots (a la carte is not offered, but can be an option if you ask nicely).

View of our desert camp from atop a dune ridge © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We arrived back in Marrakesh around 8:30pm, just enough time to settle at the riad where we had a relaxing dinner, and a much needed shower.

Our lodging tips:

  • Riad Al Nour: In the Marrakesh medina, Youssef and Younes will take great care of you while staying at their riad. They know the best street food spots and will even run out to pick something up for you if you want a relaxing dinner in their courtyard after your long trip back from the desert. The riad is gorgeous, beds are big and comfortable, showers are hot, and AC works! Book directly with the riad to avoid booking fees.
  • Riad Dar El Haja: One of the few riads in Aït Benhaddou, enjoy a hot shower, big comfortable bed, great food, and epic location, on the actual set of Game of Thrones!
Our host at Riad Ait Ali in Dades Valley © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


On the harrowing drive through the switchbacks of the Tizi n’Tichka Mountain pass in the High Atlas Mountains, en route from Marrakech to Ait Ben Haddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Breakfast served on the rooftop of Riad Dar El Haia, once a rabbi’s home, in the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A village on the way from Ait Benhaddou to Ourzazate © Laini Miranda/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Trekking by camel through the Sahara to our desert camp © Dave E. Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nighttime in the Sahara © Dave E. Leiberman/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

Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine Ushers in New Year with Inspirational Concert for Peace

The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my favorite ways to bid adieu to the year and begin anew is the annual Concert for Peace at the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, now in its 34th year. This is a signature New Year’s Eve event that was founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music. It is an event that rings in the new year with inspiration and resolve.

Led by Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, this year’s concert featured soloist Sidney Outlaw joining the choir for Robert Convery’s powerful setting of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a dream during the 50th anniversary year of King’s assassination and the 20th anniversary of his composition.

Cathedral choir and orchestra conductor Kent Tritle with baritone Sidney Outlaw and composer Robert Convery after performing “I have a dream” honoring Martin Luther King Jr. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The choir performed make peace by David Lang and presented the New York premiere of Wayne Oquin’s Alleluia. Jason Robert Brown performed his stirring composition, “Singing You Home” with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan, a newly written spiritual performed with Spanish and English lyrics expressly for the separated migrant families.


Jason Robert Brown, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed “Singing You Home,” which he wrote for the separated migrant families with vocalists Kate Baldwin and Ashley Perez Flanagan © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Winter performed on soprano sax his composition, “Sun Singer, written with Paul Hatley.


Paul Winter on soprano sax performs “Sun Singer which he composed with Paul Halley © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The concert also included music by included William Boyce’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat;  Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A Major, J.S. Bach’s Dona nobis pacem from his Mass in B minor.

The Cathedral Choir’s Jamet Pittman leads the audience in This little light of mine © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman led the audience inThis little light of mine as the entire congregation lit candles and basked in the glow to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Here are more highlights:

The Cassidy Family from Toronto © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to  Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.

Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, leads the Cathedral Orchestra at the New Years Eve Peace Concert ©  Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is a stunning venue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The traditional candlelighting that is so inspirational concludes the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine as people sing, “This Little Light of Mine.” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cassidy Family from Toronto at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.

There are concerts by the Cathedral Choir and other artists and events throughout the year. Check the website for details.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), New York 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.orgwww.stjohndivine.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

Caribbean Destinations: Best Way to Help Rebuild is Simply to Come, Enjoy

rcl-liberty-072307-sanjuan 095e2 (c) Karen Rubin
Puerto Rico’s Castillo San Felipe del Morro (also known as “El Morro”), perhaps the most iconic fortification built by the Spanish in the Americas, covers a 140 foot-high promontory at the entrance to the Bay of San Juan. This fortress, a US National Historic Site, consists of 6 levels facing the Atlantic Ocean, all of which were designed to create a devastating artillery fire over enemy ships. By the time of its completion around 1790, it had the reputation of being unconquerable and was the most feared of all the Spanish colonial fortifications. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com 

For those of us anguished over the destruction of Puerto Rico, Dominica, Anguilla and other Caribbean islands badly battered by category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, the best way to help is to come down, visit, spend money at the refurbished resorts and hotels and help revitalize the critical tourism industry that so many islanders depend on.

And for those who may feel pangs of guilt luxuriating on the beach and in lavish hotels and want to do more to help rebuild, there are ways to volunteer some of your time working on local projects.

The Wyndham Grand Rio, located literally next door to Puerto Rico’s El Yunque Rainforest, which reopened January, has an arrangement with the rainforest and can shuttle guests who want to help out on projects such as clearing debris. The resort, which has its own generated, is located one hour from the airport in an area that has been fully restored.

Puerto Rico’s tourism website, SeePuertoRico.com, can link you to “meaningful travel” such as through Para la Natural, a local service organization.

“You see the resilience of the island,” said Sara Green Hill, who represents the Wyndham Grand Rio and visited in January. “The service is actually better because people are so happy to have visitors…The island looks good.”

rcl-liberty-072307-sanjuan 117e2 (c) Karen Rubin-dancers
Serendipity: coming upon a dance festival during a visit to El Morro, the National Historic Site in San Juan, Puerto Rico © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dominica Launches ReDiscover Dominica Promotion

On Dominica, so many individual travelers wanted to help after the island was badly hit by Hurricane Maria, that the tourist office set up a “voluntourism” tab on its website, DominicaUpdates.com.

“Voluntourism – or ‘travel with a purpose’-  didn’t start with the hurricanes, and there are some tour operators that run such programs,” said Colin Piper, Discover Dominica. “ But after the hurricane, the tourist office realized it had to fast track these programs, develop an infrastructure to support them.

“Now we realize we need to be more involved. Where people stay, how transported, safety and insurance – a total package. Some want to be part of program, others just want to spend a day as a volunteer, so they can call the tourist board to set up. We hope to grow and expand these programs.”

Meanwhile, Dominica, which calls itself “The Nature Island of the Caribbean,” has launched “ReDiscover Dominica,” using discounts on accommodations and on-island activities to attract nature lovers, “meaningful” travelers, adventure seekers, wellness enthusiasts, educational travelers and leisure travelers to visit.

ReDiscover Dominica eatures one free night on a minimum four-night stay at nine participating hotels. To qualify for the free night, bookings must be made by July 31, 2018 using the promo code DOM2018 and travel between July and December 15, 2018.  Adult visitors age 18 and over will also receive up to US$100 in coupon vouchers redeemable at 15 participating vendors and hotelsActivities include dining, car rentals, horseback riding, island tours, underwater experiences, spa services and duty-free shopping. Visitors are encouraged to book through tour operators within their geographic location or book directly with participating hotels on the campaign website.

For more information on Dominica, contact Discover Dominica Authority at 767 448 2045. Or, visit Dominica’s official website :www.DiscoverDominica.com, see Dominica’s updates on the tourism sector post Hurricane Maria: www.dominicaupdate.com, follow Dominica on Twitter and Facebook and take a look at our videos on YouTube

Villa Viewfort, Anguilla

The timing of a hurricane of historic proportions couldn’t have been worse for Villa Viewfort, a 200-year old family estate that was opened for guests as a luxurious mansion experience (complete with butler service) only two years ago, on Anguilla, an island that is not normally hit by hurricanes. But the eye of Irma hit the island directly, amazingly not doing substantial damage to the historic home, but with winds of 185 mph, gusting to 215 mph, hitting with such force that marble pillars were shattered, steel rods were bent.

After being closed for six months, the estate reopened (“rebirth”) to guests in May.

“It allowed us to build an extra suite, redo the bathrooms and floors.”

ViewFort Estate is where Anguilla’s heritage and modern luxury meld to offer discerning travelers the comforts of home at the Island’s most elegant and historic setting – and the only of its kind – on the beautiful and sought-after destination of Anguilla. It delivers an unmatched ‘at home’ feeling for its guests while providing a window into the best of Anguillian culture and hospitality.

Anguilla is a place where celebrities like Justin Bieber come to get away from prying eyes.

The Gumbs family who owns the estate also owns one of the island’s most popular beaches, Little Bay, as well as a nature reserve, and in addition to curating authentic cultural experiences at the villa and on the island, also can curate voluntourism experiences to help repair the severe damage that Irma inflicted on the island.

Framed by rock walls of a previous generation positioned on the highest point of Anguilla (214 ft.), the Villa owes its authenticity to a beautifully preserved 200-year old structure that has remained in the family, one of the last remaining examples of artisanal work of 19th century Anguilla. The Villa and its 9 characteristically-appointed Suites capture 360-degree panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Anguilla’s neighboring islands and cays. Combined with the feeling and essence of casual elegance the Villa exudes, it was purposefully designed to be unpretentious and deliver a warmth and serenity that comes from the easy-going lifestyle that is signature to the island. “We call this Pure Anguilla, something no other resort, villa or hotel can authentically convey.”

Anguilla-Viewfort Pool2
On Anguilla, the luxurious Villa Viewfort’s infinity pool is where guests enjoy impressive sunsets and 360-degree panoramic views (photo courtesy of Villa Viewfort)

The Villa’s infinity pool spills out into two oversized Jacuzzis surrounded by miles of ocean frontage, where under swaying coconut fronds guests enjoy impressive sunsets and star-filled, moon-lit skies. Main House Suites provide the graceful appointments expected of a 5-star property and living spaces inclusive of a commercial-sized kitchen, library, indoor dining and living room, much like the comfortable luxury of an elegant home. The Villa Suites, separated by green lawns on the estate’s lower level, also have premium appointments but separate sleeping quarters areas for private dining, lounging and outdoor terraces with ocean views.

Classically-trained butlers and staff are available 24/7 to ensure guests enjoy a fully tailored Pure Anguilla experience at every turn.

It is the ideal setting for family vacations, weddings and holidays.

ViewFort Estate offers a “trinity” of attractions: it encompasses 80 acres of the Gumb family’s Katouche Forest, with caves, hiking trails, wetlands and two secluded beaches – Katouche Bay and Little Bay. Katouche, which offers an educational and fun guided hiking and caving/spelunking tour experience, has earned its fame with one of its found artifacts now on display at The Smithsonian.

Little Bay beach, which is hugged by the serene beauty of the protected cliffs, is internationally recognized for its blue crystal waters and powdery sands and outstanding snorkeling, swimming and water-sports.

A signature of Villa Viewfort is the opportunity to enjoy curated experiences. “As the Estate’s native owners and proprietors, the goal is to always bring forth an authentic Pure Anguilla feeling with carefully curated experiences that bring our island’s culture to life.  Ensuring every guest is immersed in the natural beauty, rich culture and proud heritage of this remarkable island is a strong motivator for what brings our guests back over and over again.”

These might include:

       Prepare private Culinary Experiences with Anguilla’s top, Michelin-star, classically trained Chef;

       Handle event planning and entertainment for on-property weddings, parties, celebrations or events;

       Charter a private “hop on/hop off” swim and sand boating tour around the island, complete with crew, music and signature cocktails;

       Host a private Chef’s cooking class in the Villa’s gourmet kitchen with the island’s top Chef(s);

       Organize off-property island activities, ranging from kite surfing to tiger boating to historical tours with a museum visit to shopping island wide to golfing to a culinary “food crawl”;

       Arrange on-property spa services and yoga; and,

       Equip and prepare guests for privately guided Hiking and Caving tours at the Villa’s nearby Katouche Estate, Anguilla’s Rainforest with the Villa’s seasoned local expert.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma’s devastation, Mrs. Gumbs-Connor also founded and runs the Pure Anguilla Foundation, dedicated to advancing education, sports, health, justice and conflict resolution, relieving poverty. One of its first projects is “Return to Happiness,” in partnership with UNICEF, to help alleviate the trauma of the hurricanes to children of the island.

For more information or to make a reservation at ViewFort Estate, contact INFO@viewfortanguilla.com or call 264 497 8713. To learn more about ViewFort Estate’s trinity of offerings, or to learn more about or donate to the Pure Anguilla Foundation, visit www.viewfortanguilla.com

Cayman Islands Offers ‘Worry-Free Hurricane Guarantee’ for Getaways this Season

The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism has introduced a “Worry Free Hurricane Guarantee,” a promise by on-island partners to cover any cancellations made prior to arrival and compensation if vacation time is cut short due to inclement weather during a Cayman Islands getaway.

The Worry Free Guarantee includes a full refund of accommodation fees at participating hotels, condos and villas island-wide, with a maximum one-night penalty at most for cancellations made up to 48 hours prior to check-in as soon as a hurricane watch is issued by authorities. Additionally, many properties on-island are offering a free replacement stay throughout the summer months, allowing guests to rebook for the same duration as the initially-booked stay, regardless of how many days were affected by a hurricane or storm.

An array of hotels, condominiums and villas across Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are participating in the Worry Free Hurricane Guarantee. This program is available only through participating hotels and resorts. For a list of properties and their respective policies, go to www.visitcaymanislands.com/en-us/about-cayman/weather/hurricane-guarantee. For detailed property guarantees, please visit the individual property web sites or contact them directly.

Martinique To Host First International Foiling Event 

Martinique will host what is expected to be  the world’s signature international foiling event,and comes in advance of when it becomes an Olympic sport. Organized by the Martinique Tourism Authority (MTA), the Martinique Flying Regatta will take place from November 17 to 24, 2018.

The bay of Fort-de-France is an ideal location to run a race showcasing these hydro-foil sailboats that represent the technological future of competitive sailing. Inducted into the prestigious club of “The Most Beautiful Bays in the World,” the Fort-de-France Bay is vast and protected 28 square miles (72km2) of maritime space, affording speedsters perfect conditions of  the bay’s steady, moderate winds and smooth seas and the island’s low 80s temperatures.

To date, about 40 participants have been registered in this seven series race (or foil types), representing most of today’s hydro-sailing boats. Foil types include the very fun and high-tech Kitefoil and Windfoil—that may soon be seen at the Olympics—the one-man Onefly and the celebrated Moth; the race will also feature bigger crafts like the Flying Phantom, the Easy to Fly and the American favorite, GC32.

The competition will include demonstrations and racing events in the Fort-de-France Bay; residents and guests will enjoy what promises to be a spectacular show. The program will also include races from the bay towards the farther shores of Trois-Ilets, Anse Mitan or Anses d’Arlet.

The event is expected to help showcase Martinique as a sailor’s haven with 350 km of coastline, cliffs and mangroves, a water temp averaging 28 degrees and steady tradewinds year round.

Airlines providing direct service to Martinique include Norwegian Air, American Airlines and Air France.

Packages will be available with lodging and event access tickets.

For more information visit the new website www.martinique-regatta.com

Registration is open until October 17th, 2018 www.martinique-regatta.com/index.php/en/register/ 

American Airlines operates nonstop from Miami to Martinique year-round, increasing from one flight weekly up to six times weekly in high season.

Norwegian Air is increasing US winter seasonal routes to Martinique:  Fort Lauderdale to Martinique service will resume on October 31 with four flights weekly (increased from three flights weekly last year); New York-JFK to Martinique service will resume on October 28, 2018, with six flights, two flights more than the previous season.

‘The Rhythm Never Stops’

CaribbeanTravel_20180607_35e2 (c) Karen Rubin-Dinosio DAguilar
Frank Comito, CEO and Director General, of Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association; Johnson JohnRose, CTO communications specialist; Dinosio D’Aguilar, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and Bahamas Minister of Tourism; Hugh Riley, Secretary General of CTO announce The Rhythm Never Stops” campaign © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Caribbean tourism interests are optimistic that strong consumer demand for a Caribbean travel experience and increased tourism investments in hotels and airport improvements bode well for the future of tourism, which is exceeding 2018 expectations despite the fact that some hotels in six of the Caribbean’s 32 major destinations are still in rebuilding mode following last year’s hurricanes.

“A growing number of travelers are understanding that the Caribbean is a vast region comprising many diverse destinations all rich in natural beauty but each distinct in its history, music, culture, food and welcoming hospitality,” said Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA). “Just like a winter blizzard may affect the northeastern United States while people are sunbathing on Miami Beach, a weather incident in one part of the Caribbean does not affect the overwhelming majority of the Caribbean.”

That includes the summer season, which is when hurricanes are most frequent.

“Over the years, we have done number of things in the region to even out seasonality – gone are the days when seasonality curves. There are festivals and events inserted into non-winter to give extra value. Weather events are a fact of life.

“The thing about a hurricane is that it doesn’t surprise you – there is advance notification – people can adjust plans and we can also.”

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) are launching a regional tourism marketing campaign themed, “The Rhythm Never Stops” – a theme that is adaptable for each individual destination to define “rhythm,” to express the spirit, energy and resilience of destinations, while offering a nod to fostering year-round travel and evening out seasonality. The campaign, initially funded with $400,000,  is being supported by private sector partners including Mastercard, Marriott and some airlines, with more partners being sought.

“But we are going to use ‘The Rhythm Never Stops’ in lots different ways so it will have all kinds of meaning to it,” Dinosio D’Aguilar, chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said at a media briefing in June.”In the Bahamas, the rhythm never stops, in Jamaica the rhythm never stops, in Martinique and in Grenada. And in each of the countries will have its own interpretation of its story and its rhythm and its never-stopness.

“Each country will have own story about its rhythm. The campaign is intended to benefit the entire region- that we are open for business – though affected countries coming back at different rates. We can’t always wait for everything dotted before people come back. The first priority is to protect safety, but how many times do you see a ‘Pardon us while we renovate’ sign? The islands are in various stages (of rebuilding) but the rest of the Caribbean is vibrant.”

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