by Karen Rubin,
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine welcomed in the New Year and a new decade as it has since 1984, with a concert devoted to Peace. The people who fill this enormous space, coming in many cases year after year, come for the solace the concert always brings, the re-commitment to a world of tolerance, acceptance, that comes together in peace and good will to resolve conflicts.
The Cathedral Choirs joined forces under the leadership of Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music and one of America’s leading choral conductors. This signature event is one of many comprising the 2019–2020 season of Great Music in a Great Space.
When the first concert for peace was offered, in 1973 at its
sister cathedral in Washington DC, America was at war, an election had been
decided, but Leonard Bernstein inaugurated the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace
in 1984, years after the Vietnam War was concluded, because in the world, there
has never been a time without conflict.
Even though technically, America is not at war, there is war raging in the land. “Americans are our own enemy, one against another,” Reverend Canon Patrick Malloy said. But every culture has the means to bring light out of darkness. “The world is varied and venerable ways, strikes fire, refuses to surrender to the dark.”
This year, the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performed music
ranging from Baroque works of Handel and Bach to contemporary works of artist-in-residence,
organist David Briggs and Lee Hoiby’s poignant setting of ”Last Letter Home.”
This work is based on a letter sent by Jesse Givens, Private First Class, U.S.
Army, who drowned in the Euphrates River on May 1, 2003 in the service of his
country. His letter to his wife Melissa was sent with the directions, “Please,
only read if I don’t come home.”
The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman again led the
audience in “This Little Light of Mine” as the assembled in the sanctuary lit
candles to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.
The night also featured special guest appearances and
performances by Judy Collins, who sang her iconic “Both Sides Now,” and “Amazing
Grace” her voice ringing through this soaring space; saxophonist and artist-in-residence Paul
Winter performed Paul Halley’s “Winter’s Dream”; artist-in-residence Jason Robert Brown, performed
with his wife and daughters, “Sanctuary,” a song which Brown wrote especially
for this concert; and host Harry Smith, the renowned journalist, who has hosted
the Peace concert for some 30 years.
Reflecting on recent events, Smith said, “two-thirds of
millennials don’t know what Auschwitz was; four out of 10 adults don’t know. So
when things happen like what happened last weekend in a suburb of New York, we
With that in mind, the Cathedral Choir offered an addition
to its program, singing “Oseh Shalom”.
“The real news is terrible – also known as fake news. Mass
shootings…Despair of an economy that works really well for a few. Wars
without end, conflicts without resolution. It’s why so many of us show up here
for New Year’s Eve…
“’We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the
change we seek,’ said Barack Obama,” Smith said to applause.
The atmosphere in the Cathedral Church of St. John the
Divine (not to mention the acoustics) is spectacular. You think you have been
plunked down in Europe in a building 1000 years old – this grand Gothic stone
structure with soaring arches 177 feet high. The original design, in the Byzantine Revival and Romanesque Revival
styles, was begun in 1892, but after the opening of the crossing in 1909,
the overall plan was changed to a Gothic Revival design. Actually,
the building was never finished – it is still only two-thirds complete. After a
fire damaged part of the cathedral in 2001, it was renovated and rededicated in
2008. Even without being fully built, it is the fifth largest church in the
world, based on area (121,000 sq. ft.)
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, after-school and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.
The Cathedral is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit stjohndivine.org for more information and a schedule of public programs including concerts, among them the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performing J.S. Bach’s monumental “St. John Passion,” on March 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm.
by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate,
Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin), and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute and can’t wait to come back.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
You get a taste of what to expect in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) as you enter the South Street neighborhood. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, who has lived in the neighborhood since moving there with his wife, Julia, in the late 1960s when it was derelict and blighted, turned trash and broken walls into sparkling mosaic art. Otherwise forbidding narrow alleyways and whole sides of buildings twinkle with the pieces of broken mirrors and glass and humor (you can’t help but smile). But nothing prepares you for the awe you feel when you walk out of the two indoor galleries into the Magic Gardens.
Here is a riot of
handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, international folk art,
recreated into walls, pathways, stairways, layers and levels. There is so much
to explore and discover – not just visually, but emotionally. Woven into the
art are Zagar’s profound, personal sayings, expressions, thoughts, feelings: “I
build this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” “Imagery
which refuses to stabilize.” “The complexity of various problems. Rewind it.”
It’s called Magic Gardens
even though there are no plants, flowers or trees. But you aren’t here long
before you realize how it nonetheless is a living organic thing, where broken
and discarded trash and objects considered valueless or past their useful life,
get new life, purpose, meaning. And value.
The “magic” is how the objects
are re-animated – an expression of creativity, infusion of imagination. ”The
Garden” grows organically, as if living organism.
“It is one man’s vision,
process, style,” Elisabeth Carter (Lis), a Magic Gardens guide, tells me. “He had
assistants. Most of the smaller figurines and sculpture were made by Mexican
folk artists and couple of local artists, especially the Aguilar family. Others
helped make some of the tiles – including First Lady Michelle Obama (there is a
letter that she sent to the Gardens).
“It is still a work in
progress – new pieces are added – plus it is outdoors, so weather (snow/ice) is
factor. We have a full-time preservation team of thee who maintain, repair, and
document new folk art.
“He’s interested in how
things wear, fade, and change over time – things are constantly changing, new
things added – like a breathing animal.
Zagar brings the art
form of mosaic to a whole different dimension. “Zagar is known for mosaics. He uses things
that others think are trash or have no value. He is inspired by the Hindu God
Shiva – the god of destruction and transformation.”
Zagar, who is 80 years
old now, studied art at the Pratt Institute, Lis says, “but painting wasn’t
fulfilling. He Is bipolar; he used mosaics as mental health therapy. Small,
broken pieces of tile people were throwing away, he found satisfying to build
into something positive and beautiful.”
Lis points me to a small
sculpture which is a self-portrait, depicting the artist with three arms.
There must be thousands
and thousands of objects here. You first see what is in front of you as a
whole, but then your eye goes to sections, narrower and narrower, until you
spend time searching and discovering individual objects. And what you see, what you experience would
always be different – with light, time of day, weather affecting the colors and
You have to walk through
at least twice: the first time is very sensory, overload. The second time, you
can focus more. You walk through an alley of art, curved paths, you see things
differently from every angle, every step. Like a Japanese Garden, you cannot see
the whole thing at once, and you don’t know what to expect beyond. It’s a carnival of art, a riot of color, texture, shapes and
subjects that dazzle the eye and the brain and stir the heart.
“Zagar has devoted
himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when
he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the
revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding
colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with
other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous
artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new
highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic
rebirth was coined the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ After the street was saved,
Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public
artworks over the next five decades.
“In 1991, Zagar started
working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He
first mosaicked the buildings on either side of the property, then spent years
sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2004, the
Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to
sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the
destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community
rushed to support the artist. His creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic
Gardens, quickly became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the
intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the
South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further;
excavating tunnels and grottos.”
Gardens opened to the public in 2008, giving visitors the opportunity to
participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences,
workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and more.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open
Wednesday-Monday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Tuesdays. (1020 South Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19147, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org)
I continue my walk to
the Franklin Institute, all the while coming upon the fantastic public art
throughout the city – magnificent murals that decorate buildings, that reflect
and speak to that particular neighborhood and inspire with their beauty and
their message. No doubt a public art movement inspired by Isaiah Zagar.
There is also
Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” of sculptures and art work throughout the
city (an audio tour is available, www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, 215-399-9000).
As you enter Franklin
Institute. beneath a giant moon there is a sensational lighted statue of
America’s first scientist and Philadelphia’s Favorite Founding Father, Ben
Franklin, who inspired the institute’s founding in 1824. During the course of a
few hours, I travel to outer space in search of life; walk through a human
heart; tangle in neurons of the human brain; visit one of the earliest steam
engines; and try to unravel the mystery (to me, anyway) of electricity.
“If you wish to make an
apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” Carl Sagan said,
the quote opening the movie in the Fels Planetarium, one of the first ever
built, that dates from 1933.
Founded in honor of America’s first scientist,
Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier
centers of science education and development in the country. Today, the
Institute continues its dedication to public education and fostering a passion
for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in
ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.
Everything about the Franklin Institute is
designed to engage, immerse, interact.
This is exemplified in the special exhibition on
view through April 12, 2020, the world-premiere exhibition of “The Worst Case
Scenario Survival Experience,”
based on the best-selling survival handbook series. The exhibit
showcases strategies of survival and elements of escape in the form of a
hands-on, minds-on logical series of immersive challenges providing the
essential instructions for surviving unexpected but possible real-life
scenarios with countless moments of excitement and levity throughout.
how to jump from a moving train car, pick a lock, escape from quicksand,
survive an avalanche, and more in the thirteen challenges that fill the
Survival Gymnasium, which offers step by step instructions, expert advice, and
the training to build the worst-case survival skills.
for extreme survival, including counterintuitive uses for everyday items are on
display, plus graphics that share how to identify anxiety and fear within the
body and uncover how stress, physical exhaustion, and disorientation can make
an activity, like surviving, more challenging.
Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The
Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the
Mechanic Arts in 1824. The Franklin
Institute science museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, calling
itself a “Wonderland of Science,” and was one of the first museums in
the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. It
has been expanded over the years to contain more than 400,000 square feet of
exhibit space, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX
Theater – becoming the most
visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a top-five tourist destination
in the City of Philadelphia, and one of the leading science centers in the
The Institute also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium
in the Western Hemisphere. The Institute is home to the Benjamin
Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and
which is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national
memorials in the custody of a private institution.
new 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion which opened in
June 2014, houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled
traveling exhibition gallery, and (an amazing) new permanent exhibit Your Brain, in which
visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses.
Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th
St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu.
Staying at The Roost
East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most
of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the
comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury
amenities of a boutique hotel. All of the apartments feature
full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to
go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is
devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center,
magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a
private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area,
landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;
and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge,
security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and
direct access to a parking garage. They
even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow
Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).
A Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.
entertainer Ben Vereen, honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gold
Coast Arts Center, Long Island, at the opening of its 9th Annual
Gold Coast International Film Festival, Nov. 4, 2019, brings a spiritual message to the arts which
explains why he has been such a strong advocate for arts education, mentor and
“If you would ask, ‘Why
is life so important to you?’ I would say, ‘In the beginning God created.’ It’s
not ‘in the beginning God manufactured’. We are living, walking, talking art pieces
of the One who created us. Our job is not just performing arts, but one aspect
of life itself. Life is an art piece for everybody to see. We’re supposed to
care for each other, love each other, show the wonders of creation – this
building, these seats – didn’t just come here, they came from thought. A thought
and we bring forth that which is manifested.
“Arts have saved people
throughout the centuries. Art has calmed people from war. Art is here to
embrace our lives. We are healed through the arts.”
Vereen tells the
audience which included the young people from Uniondale High School who
performed in their nationally acclaimed choir, Rhythm of the Knight, “Go play
in hospitals. When someone would come to do art, music, singing, the vibration
in building is higher. It’s important we support – we call it the arts- what it
really is is ‘Let’s support life,’” he said to applause.
“The arts. Change the name
to life – arts of life, the teaching part of life, the engineering part of life
is all art.
If we give our children
arts from the beginning, they will be better at school.”
And what do you tell a young
person about pursuing a career in arts? Dilla asked. “Know thyself, study you,
who you are, you are that art you would bring forth. Be conscious of who you
are. It’s okay to take baby steps, eventually you will get you there. Don’t
take rejection as a ‘no’ to your life – your life isn’t over, just a
steppingstone to your higher self. Keep stepping up.
“We need you. Your form
of art may not be on stage, it may be going to government. Your art might not
be an interviewer like Frank Dilella, it might be to head a country and make
the world a better place for everybody. Know thyself and to thine own self be
offered insights into his life in a conversation with Frank DiLella, Emmy Award
winning host of On Stage on Spectrum News NY1.
was honored for his epic performances that have been woven into the fabric of
the nation’s artistic legacy – first coming to worldwide attention as Chicken
George in the ground-breaking television series, Roots for which he won an Emmy nomination in 1977. He won a Tony
Award as well as the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in A Musical in 1973 for Pippin; and starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, Fosse, Hair, Jelly’s
Last Jam, Chicago, I’m Not Rappaport and Wicked; and films including Sweet
Charity and All that Jazz.
recent projects include the TV series Bull
and Magnum PI, FOX’s Star, produced by Lee Daniels, Sneaky Pete with Bryan Cranston, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Time Out of Mind with Richard Gere, and Top Five with Chris Rock. He is
currently working on his new Broadway musical, Reflections, written by Joe Calarco, to be directed by Tony nominee
Josh Bergasse with music by Stephen Schwartz.
is heralded for promoting the talents and careers of young people – through
education and access to the arts – wherever he gives concerts he holds master
classes and in past concerts has provided the opportunity for a talented
newcomer to make their debut on stage with him – and for his humanitarian work
for which he has received numerous awards including Israel’s Cultural and
Humanitarian Award, three NAACP Image Awards, Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian
Award and a Victory Award.
2016, he signed with Americans for the Arts, the largest advocacy group of Arts
in America and has spoken before Congress defending funding for the National
endowment for the Arts.
Vereen spoke of his career and his calling in a conversation with Frank
about how he got started in show business, a boy of modest means from Brooklyn,
he said, “This career chose me.
“This career was handed
to me. In my community in Brooklyn going to the High School of Performing Arts was
like being a prodigal son. It is hard to say when I chose this, because it
chose me. I would never have left Brooklyn except for performing arts school –
–known as the Fame School.
Apparently he got into
trouble, because he was placed in a so-called “three-digit school”.
“I was placed in class with Mr. Hill, the director of theater.
I was with guys named Killer, Shank Diablo. Mr. Hill said he wanted me to do King and I. I went to the Brooklyn
Academy of Music – they had an all-African American company – 100 musicians – and
did King and I. That was it – that
was the bug.
Vereen attended the High
School of Performing Arts from the age of 14 – where he studied dancing with
stellar choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
He was 18 years old when he made his New York
stage debut off-off-Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the
Greenwich Mews Theater. The following year he was in Las Vegas performing in
Bob Fosse’s production of Sweet Charity.
He describes the
audition for Sweet Charity.”Every
dancer was on stage to audition – Bob Fosse was the coolest, he moved so
smooth. He did the combination, smoked cigarettes, the ashes wouldn’t fall. He made
the cut of dancers. Then it was time to sing. I had never seen a Broadway show.”
He had nothing prepared but mimicked another and got the part anyway, going on
to tour with the production from 1967-68.
He made his Broadway
debut in original production of Hair. “It was a groundbreaking show, it made
A real breakthrough was
meeting Sammy Davis Jr. He reflected how important an influence Sammy Davis Jr.
was to him. “Sammy was the first African American that I watched on tv. My
father loved tv. One night Sammy was on the Ed Sullivan show.
Sammy saw Vereen at an
audition. “I had attitude – Sammy Davis Jr saw it. He invited me to have dinner
and hired me for Golden Boy. That’s
where it began. I followed him, wanted to be like him, dress like him, the
coolest cat. He loved everybody. People don’t give Sammy enough credit – he
wasn’t just a song and dance man, but a great humanitarian. He died penniless
because gave all his money to everybody.”
Davis took him on tour
of Golden Boy to London when he was
25. That’s when he discovered he was adopted by James and
Pauline Vereen, when he applied for a passport.
went on to be cast opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the film version of Sweet
Charity, and then as Davis’ understudy in Golden Boy in England.
life changed – and nearly ended – on one fateful day in 1992 when he had three
accidents the same day that put him in an ICU for 42 days when doctors thought
he might never walk again.
don’t remember being hit
by a car. The interesting thing about the spirit which inhabits this body, it
decides to take a break, ‘but I’ll be back’. All I remember – Pamela [Cooper, his
manager] told me this – I was driving and hit a tree, which damaged an artery
in my brain. I was walking home, got a stroke, and was hit by an SUV.
Amazingly, it was somebody I knew – David Foster, who I had met in Canada, a
famous songwriter who wrote for Whitney Huston, Celine Dion, who had said, “We
should get together.’ He could have left
me and I wouldn’t be sitting here today but he stayed; he called 911, cradled
me, waited for paramedics. They flew me to the hospital ICU. They told me I had
a broken my left leg, suffered a stroke on right side, took out my spleen, I
had an apparatus attached to my head, and a trach. The last thing I remember
was getting into my car.”
“[In my mind I am
thinking] what happened, why am I here? I can’t talk. All these things are going
through your mind – this can’t be happening, I have show on Saturday.
“They told me it will be
at least three years if you’ll ever walk again. At that point, I had just met a
wonderful woman, Rev. Doctor Johnnie Coleman in Chicago [known as the “First
Lady of the New Thought Christian Community] who taught metaphysics and would say, ‘Whenever you have something negative coming
at you, learn this mantra, Cancel. That’s only man’s perception. Cancel.”
Meanwhile, he reflected, people crowded the hospital lobby praying for him. “There were letters, boxes of letters come in. Looking at boxes, thinking were bills, but they were from you [the fans].”
“[The doctors were
saying] ‘We think you should think about another occupation.’ So when they sent
in an occupational therapist, I thought they were to get me a new occupation
instead of teaching me fine motor skills. Cancel, Cancel – I couldn’t talk.
“I said to myself if I
can’t walk again, Lord, whatever you want me to do I’ll do… I had to show up – I
couldn’t just lay there and ask God to heal me. I got to show up.”
“The thing about prayer,
how it works – the doctor instinctively knew where to cut- spirit is always
working in our favor. Steven Hawkins became my hero – if you can do that with Steven
Hawkins, here I am.”
At the rehabilitation
center in Kessler, NJ, he recalls, “There was a young man who had been shot
named Michael Jackson, an orderly called Juice because he delivered the juice
but his real name was Glen Miller, a therapist named Jerry Lewis.
“You don’t have the
luxury of a negative thought. But I did what no one thought I could do, get
back on Broadway.”
He was told there would
be a part for him in Jelly’s Last Jam
if he could be ready.
The therapists from
Kessler went to show, and said, “We can do this, and a few months later, I walked
on stage in Jelly’s Last Jam.
“Hear what that story is
really about: the inner spirit is stronger than our physical human
understanding of who we are. The idea, called surrender, take me as I am, I
what he considers the highlight of his career, he reflects back to Roots.
“I heard about a show, Roots. Every African American in the
world wanted to be a part of that. I go back to the same agent who said Pippin
won’t make it and told him ABC was brave enough to put on show, Roots and I wanted
to be a part. ‘Be real,’ he said. ‘They’re looking for actors. You’re song and
dance man. So I went to Chicago –I was introducing Sister Sledge – then went to
Savannah,Georgia. I did a character Bert Williams – African Americans in show
business had to wear blackface and Williams made it art form. I did a tribute
to him. [Roots’ producer] Stan Margulies knocked on my door and said he loved
the show. ‘We’re shooting Roots for ABC, I want you to be my Chicken George.’ I
fired my agent and off to Hollywood I went.”
In being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gold Coast Arts Center, Ben Vereen is in good company. Previous honorees and special guests of the Gold Coast International Film Festival include film industry VIPs Francis Ford Coppola, Hugh Grant, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Baz Luhrmann, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, Ed Burns, Bruce Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Diamond Phillips, Morgan Spurlock, Eli Wallach, Gabriel Byrne, Jacques Pepin, Bill Plympton, Phil Donahue, Phylicia Rashaad, Joan Allen, Jay McInerney and Michael Cuesta, as well as composer Morton Gould, artists James Rosenquist, Oleg Cassini, Edwina SandysandBob Gruen, comedian Susie Essman, Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara, Melissa Errico andSavion Glover, and 4-time Oscar winner for production and costume design Catherine Martin.
The 9th annual Gold Coast International Film
Festival taking place From November 4-13, 2019, presents more than 80
feature-length and short films in venues throughout North Hempstead, Long
Island and an opportunity to
This year’s highlights
include The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan
Pryce; which will be the Festival’s Closing Night Spotlight Film. Other films
of note this year include Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and
Adam Driver, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the winner of the Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard, which won the Grand Jury Prize at
the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
The Festival will also be screening By the Grace of God, the
Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2019
Berlin International Film Festival.
“Films are a unique
art form, bringing together drama, dance, music, art in 90 minutes. It’s one of
the most accessible and affordable art forms. You come together with 200
others, smile, laugh, cry, think, learn, and sometimes be moved to action. How
often do you get to hear from artists and creators how and why they made the
film?” reflected Caroline Sorokoff, the festival director.
Among the narrative
films that will provoke thought and action, “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste”
from executive producer Anthony Bourdain, co-sponsored by Island Harvest, the
first film in a new Gold Coast series spotlighting social issues of concern to
The Gold Coast Arts
Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the
arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. Located on
the North Shore of Long Island, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of
people from toddlers, tweens, teens to totterers throughout the region for 25
years. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which
holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages
and abilities; a free public art gallery; concerts and lectures; film
screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival;
and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities.
These initiatives include artist residencies, after-school programs, school
assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold
Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts Partners in Education program, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. More information can
be found at www.goldcoastarts.org.
For information about
upcoming films in the Festival’s year-round film screening program plus the
latest news on the 2019 Festival visit www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org 516-829-2570.
Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the
Global Scavenger Hunt, a mystery tour that has taken us to 10 countries in 23
Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world
mystery tour, has designed the rules, challenges and scavenges to get us out of
our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world
travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.”
in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one
piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual
Global Scavenger Hunt competition.
There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. The four teams still in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.
Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show (actually difficult because of the deadline of 4 pm); have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields to pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.
A native New Yorker, this is really
my turf, though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign
place, reminding myself of what is familiar and not having to think twice about
things like language, currency, drinking water from the tap, eating raw
vegetable, the street grid).
fact, that is the genius of the way the Global Scavenger Hunt is designed – we
are supposed to feel off-balance, disoriented because that’s when you focus
most, the experiences are more intense, you are out of your comfort zone and
need to rely on the kindness of strangers, as opposed to the style of travel
where you stay long enough to become familiar, comfortable in a place so it (and
you) no longer feels foreign.
I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way. I have a context in which to appreciate the artifacts, dare I say a personal connection. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art enables you to travel around the world, be transported over millennia, within the confines of its walls.
I first join a docent-led Highlights
Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the
museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten me about aspects of art and culture
with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.
The docent, Alan, begins in the
Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces,
showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no
longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use)
– was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond. Greece. One
finding an object from Greece would be easy, and I hope to find objects from
Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a
massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I
and Jordan (Petra) prove trickier than I expected, but bring me to an
astonishing, landmark exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and
Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on
the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested
between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250) “yet across the
region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and
religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and
other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”
This is a goldmine for my hunt.
Featuring 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United
States, the exhibition follows the great incense and silk routes that connected
cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that
made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring
innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture. It is a
treasure trove for my scavenger hunt.
It is the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display. I recall seeing their counterparts in the newly opened Archaeological Museum at Petra.
The World Between Empires
landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in
the Ancient Middle East (unfortunately it is only on view through June
23, 2019), focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial
exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra
between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle
East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful
empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for
Among the highlights is a Nabataean
religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in
the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a
first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) with imagery that refers to
the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that
are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus.
Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate
religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle
East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with
ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary
issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including
Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.
“The compelling works of art in this
exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to
define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and
political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that
resonate some two millennia later,” stated Max Hollein, Director, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a video that accompanies the exhibit. “Further,
in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent
conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also
engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”
The exhibition evokes a journey
along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that
grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and
used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the
Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I have
just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.
From here, goods traveled west to
the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the
Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra
controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia
and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes
down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined
maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of
empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast
“Across the entire region, diverse
local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from
Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical
period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal
sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined
nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary
portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade.
Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates
illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial
frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform
libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared
during this transformative period.”
From my visits in Athens and Petra,
particularly, I appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental
sustainability and technology (in Petra’s Archaeology Museum, you learn how the
ability to control water supply was key to the city’s development) and the
links to economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture,
and community. (I recall the notes from the National Archaeology Museum in
Athens that made this very point.)
It is rare (if ever) for the
Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the
exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on
archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction
and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and
Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and
raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of
heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”?
How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages
and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?
There is a fascinating, if frantic,
presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the
destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and
Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity.
“It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are
enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying
Happening upon this exhibit made the
travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.
It is a humbling experience, to be
sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today.
How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or
forever. Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to
establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture
and re-write history.
I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.
And now, drumroll please, Chalmers
announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins.
The competition was fierce.”
third place is Order & Chaos, Sal Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes,
doctors from San Francisco.
second place, Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking
and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California “I am in awe of how hard
working, beginning to end – embracing the spirit,” Chalmers says.
the World’s Greatest Travelers of 2019: Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey
Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger
Hunt 12 times, and win it for their 6th time. “You
embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can
follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous,
outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)
We celebrate at a final bon voyage
The Global Scavenger Hunt is the
brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging
understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations
visited, use the program to raise money for the GreatEscape Foundation and
promote voluntourism – one of the scavenges in Yangon, Myanmar is to volunteer
at an orphanage or school; past GSH travelers visited and helped out at Tibetan
refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless
schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka,
Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi.
“The foundation is one of main
reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says at our final meeting before going out
for a celebration dinner. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools
(1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka
& Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in
Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse
training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of
hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly
women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which
have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”
Through the event this and last
year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia
Global Scavenger Hunt Set for April 17-May 9
Chalmers has just set the dates for the 23-day
2020 Global Scavenger Hunt: April 17-May 9, 2020. Entry applications are now
Eager Indiana Jones-types of adventurers and curious travelers wanting to test their travel IQ against other travelers in an extraordinary around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers, can apply at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
The 2020 event will pit savvy international travelers against each other by taking them on A Blind Date with the World, visiting ten secret destinations without any prior preparation, and then have them unravel a constant blitz of highly authentic, participatory and challenging culturally-oriented scavenges along the way, like: meditating with monks, training elephants, taking flamenco lessons, cooking local dishes with local chefs, searching out Lost Cities, cracking sacred temple mysteries, joining in local celebrations, and learning local languages enough to decipher their scavenger hunt clues. Trusting strangers in strange lands will be their focus as they circle the globe for three weeks. Over the past 15 years, the event has touched foot in 85 countries.
The title of The World’s Greatest Travelers and free trip around the world to defend their titles in the 2021 event await the travelers worthy enough to win the 16th edition of the world travel championship.
Event participation is open but limited; the $25,000 per team entry fee includes all international airfare, First Class hotels, 40% of meals, and special event travel gear. All travelers are interviewed for suitability and single travelers are welcome to apply. For additional information visitGlobalScavengerHunt.com, or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc. at 310-281-7809.
I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Seville, Spain. The bus ride from Le Leigne de la Conception in southernmost point of Spain (the closest bus stop to Gibraltar) as I continue on this leg on the Global Scavenger Hunt that began in Marrakesh, Morocco, has been absolutely beautiful, providing glimpses of farms and villages and graceful wind turbines. As the bus turns into the city, the exquisite architecture, the vast green parks, the bike lanes, the atmosphere is just breathtaking. Even the bus station is magnificently decorated.
I have booked Apartements Hom Sevilla through hotels.com, choosing a place that seemed closest to the city center (0.2 miles) and The Cathedral which seemed the major landmark (0.2 miles) that also was within the budget allotted by the Global Scavenger Hunt (under $100 since my teammate, Margo, went directly to Porto from Gibraltar instead). It is a delightful 15 minute walk from the bus station that literally transports me.
It is the late afternoon and the Cathedral
that takes up much of Avenida de la Constitution is bathed in golden light. A
tram moves smoothly, virtually noiselessly down the boulevard; cyclists stream
by, pedestrians meander by. The hotel is right in the midst of this historic
district. The manager, who has been texting me while I was on the bus asking
when I expected to arrive and giving me walking directions, is (thankfully)
still on duty when I arrive. He shows me how to use the espresso coffee maker
in their lounge/lobby (the hotel is self-service after hours) and offers suggestions
on how to get around, gives me a map of the city and suggests places to go to
restaurants that are less touristic, more typical, and where to get the bus to
the airport the next day.
The hotel is absolutely lovely – a modern,
chic boutique apartment hotel. I am beyond delighted and think how clever I am to have chosen this
ideal place. (Apartamentos Hom Sevilla, Calle Fernández y González 13B, Sevilla,
rush out to catch the remaining light and am treated to an amazing, flaming
sunset. I find myself drawn to the historic Torre Del Oro (Tower of Gold), built
in the 13th century (1220-1221) during the reign of the Taifa Kings, a time
when Spain was invaded by the Moors, to prevent attacks from Christians.
Restored in 2005, it apparently got its name because it was covered in lime and
straw mortar which would have given it a golden reflection. Over the centuries,
the tower has been used as a fortress, a chapel, a warehouse, a prison and even
as the Guadalquivir River Company main office. Today it is the Naval Museum and
an iconic symbol of Seville.
wander along the river and across the San Telmo Bridge over the Gualdelquivir, which
I learn is the only navigatable river in Spain and “has played a leading role
in many of the city’s historic moments: sieges, defenses and conquests have
been fought on its waters, and exploits and crossings have been forged from its
I had not realized thatthe first trip to circumnavigate the world originated from Seville: that in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan began his voyage here; crossing the San Telmo bridge, you can see the armillary sphere that commemorates mile zero of that voyage.
in the 16th century was the mercantile center of the western world, and its
river was the main maritime route for Atlantic traffic for more than 200
years…Seville was known as ‘the city where the world’s heart beats’. Its
maritime activity permeated commerce, population, culture, and its own urban
development, making it unique,” the visitor bureau notes (www.visitasevilla.es/en/history/guadalquivir-river).
lights of the city come on, reflected in the cobblestone streets; there are
couples along the river bank enjoying the scene. Seville is one of the most
beautiful cities I have ever seen. It is a dream.
delight in just walking around, taking in the exquisite architecture, the
colors and textures and shapes, the peace of this place. There is such a
wonderful feeling that even a fellow riding his bike is singing.
Unfortunately, under the Global
Scavenger Hunt challenge, I am only here through early afternoon the next day –
having elected to fly out to Porto, rather than take a nine-hour bus ride
through Faro and Lisbon to Porto, in order to arrive by the deadline on Friday,
11:30 am. The deadline is pretty firm because we are taking the 3:55 pm flight
to New York City, our final stop of the 23-day around-the-world mystery tour. (Those
teams that are still in contention are not allowed to fly to Porto; instead,
they have to take bus and/or train, a 9-hour proposition from Seville, with
stops along the way to do scavenges.)
I plan the morning carefully –
getting up extra early to arrange my bags (to avoid paying baggage fees on
Iberia Airlines) – and stroll over to the Parque de
María Luisa – one of the prettiest parks I have ever seen. It is
comparable to Central Park in New York City, the Golden Gate Park in San
Francisco and the Ueno Park in Tokyo, in that in addition to being an urban
oasis, also contains important cultural sites.
Among them is Plaza de España, the most extravagant of the building projects completed
for the 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana (this is reminiscent of Palace of Fine
Arts, built for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific exhibition).
This is a vast brick-and-tile structure features fountains, mini-canals, and a
series of tile pictures depicting historical scenes from each Spanish province
(one of our Global Scavenger Hunt travelers found her family’s province). Archeological
Museum and the Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions. There are row boats and
bikes to rent.
At some point, I find myself
in front of a gate with a sign on the wall that says “Juderia,” which, I later
learn, turns out to have been the old Jewish Quarter (before Spain evicted
Jews, in 1492, known as the Inquisition). It has been converted into a hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia, comprised of a vast
complex of interwoven dwellings, a city within a city, a sprawling maze of 27
houses and two palaces, restored to their 15th century glory,
literally in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Alcázar (https://www.lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com/en/).
Spanish, the family-run hotel is an alluring retreat hidden right in the heart
of the city,” writes Trafalgar, a tour company which features this “accommodation
with a story” in its Seville program.
“At Las Casas de la Juderia, you‘ll tread in the footsteps of
nobility and even royalty. Over the centuries, Christopher Columbus, The Duke
of Bejar and The Count of Villamanrique have all stayed here. In fact, after
returning from America, Columbus’s men all resided in these houses. Perhaps
most compelling of all is the network of subterranean tunnels connecting houses
commissioned by former owner, the Duke of Segorbe. You can wander through these
today; in fact, breakfast is taken in the captivating underground Hall of Mirrors.”
get lost walking to the Real Alcázar,
the major attraction in Seville and for my limited time here, which costs me
dearly. By the time I arrive at 9:38 am (it opens at 9:30 am) there are what
seems 1000 people ahead of me on the line for people (like me) without
pre-purchased tickets, and a guard who only lets in a handful of people every
20 minutes. At first, I don’t understand the sign that says (“Limited access,
4-5 hours wait”) for those without pre-purchased tickets (recommended to
purchase online, they give you a time to come, or visit in the afternoon, https://realAlcázarsevilla.sacatuentrada.es/en)
who go in on a separate line. As it turns out, my wait is 3 ½ hours, but It is
touch-and-go as to whether I would get in with enough time to see the Alcázar
before having to get back to the hotel, pick up my luggage, and get to the bus
to go to the airport.
at 1 pm, just at my absolute deadline, the guard lets me in to the Alcázar and
I take advantage of the senior rate (3E versus 11E, so even the limited time is
well worth it; Mondays offer free admission). I have to be out by 2:30 pm.
you take loads of photos, none can do the Alcázar justice because the beauty is
in the exquisite details of architecture, pattern in the decoration, the
symmetry, the delicacy and grace, the ambiance, how you are constantly
surprised by beautiful images and scale. You look up at magnificent ceilings,
at the gorgeous archways, the passages that lead on and on. I think I have seen
it all in about 45 minutes, only to discover two other palaces and gardens. (A
separate ticket is required to visit the personal apartments still used by the
royal family when they visit Seville).
The Alcázar royal palace complex that was originally developed
as a fort in 913 was built for the Christian king Peter of Castile
by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim fortress, destroyed
after the Christian conquest of Seville and reflects the mix of the different
architectural cultures. The palace is a preeminent example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula and renowned as
one of the most beautiful.
It has been built and rebuilt and modified many times in the
last 1000 years, most spectacularly in the 14th century when King Pedro added
the Palacio de Don Pedro. I wonder how many people waiting with me on the long,
long line have been intrigued to visit because the Alcázar was featured as a
location for the Game of Thrones TV series. The Alcázar has
been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
enter through the Puerta del León (Lion Gate) on
Plaza del Triunfo, to the Patio del León (Lion Patio), which was the garrison
yard of the original Al-Muwarak palace. The Sala de la Justicia (Hall
of Justice), with beautiful Mudéjar plasterwork and an artesonado (ceiling
of interlaced beams with decorative insertions) was built in the 1340s by the
Christian King Alfonso XI. It leads to the Patio del Yeso,
part of the 12th-century Almohad palace reconstructed in the 19th century.
wind through what seems a maze of rooms and courtyards and porticos:
Courtyard was where hunters would meet before hunts with King Pedro. The Casa
de la Contratación (Contracting House) dates from 1503 to control
trade with Spain’s American colonies. The Salón del Almirante (Admiral’s
Hall) houses 19th- and 20th-century paintings showing historical events and people.
The Sala de Audiencias (Chapter House) is notable
for its tapestries.
de Don Pedro, also known as the
Palacio Mudéjar, “is considered Seville’s single most stunning architectural feature.
King Pedro, had an alliance with the Muslim emir of Granada, Mohammed V, who
was responsible for much of the decoration at the Alhambra. When Pedro decided
to build a new palace in the Alcázar in 1364, Mohammed sent many of his top
artisans, who were joined by others from Seville and Toledo. Drawing on the
Islamic traditions of the Almohads and caliphal Córdoba, the result is a
synthesis of Iberian Islamic art.”
de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) is surrounded by
beautiful arches, plasterwork and tiling. A sunken garden was discovered by
archaeologists in 2004 from under a 16th-century marble covering.
most spectacular room in the Palacio is the Salón de Embajadores (Hall
of Ambassadors) which originally was Pedro I’s throne room.
upon the breathtaking formal gardens with pools and fountains. From one,
the Jardín de la Danza (Garden of the Dance), a
passage runs beneath the Salones de Carlos V to the Baños de Doña María
de Padilla (María de Padilla Baths). I find myself in the vaults
beneath the Patio del Crucero with a grotto that replaced the patio’s original
the gardens is the Galeria de Grutesco, a raised gallery
with porticoes fashioned in the 16th century out of an old Islamic-era wall.
There is also a hedge maze that adds to the romance and mystery of the Alcázar.
Alcázar is still a royal palace. In 1995 it hosted the wedding feast of Infanta
Elena, daughter of King Juan Carlos I, after her marriage in Seville’s
cathedral (another magnificent structure to visit which was too crowded for me
to fit into my too brief visit). The Cuarto Real Alto (Upper
Royal Quarters), the rooms used by the Spanish royal family on their visits to
Seville, are open for guided tours (€4.50; half hourly 10am to 1.30pm). Highlights
of the tours include the 14th-century Salón de Audiencias,
still the monarch’s reception room, and Pedro I’s bedroom, with Mudéjar tiles
and plasterwork. Unfortunately, I don’t have
the time to visit myself.
of the time, I walk back to the hotel along the beautiful promenades, get a
coffee gelato as my lunch, and get myself to the bus station for the airport.
arrive in Porto at about 8 pm after changing planes in Madrid (by now I am
second-guessing whether I should have instead taken the nine-hour bus from
Seville to Porto). Coincidentally, I meet up with two other teams from the
Global Scavenger Hunt at the airport who are following the same route.
take an Uber from the Porto airport to the Sheraton Porto Hotel; I hop on the
Metro, amazed at the convenience and speed of the service and low cost (just
about $3 to get into town about 20 minutes from the airport). The hardest
part is figuring which way to walk from the station which happens to be quite
dark, but a kindly person points me in the right direction. It’s about a 15
minute walk to the hotel.
I get up early to hop on the Metro
again for the 12 minute ride to Center City. I just want to absorb the gorgeous
ambiance and color of Porto before having to meet the deadline of 11:30 am for
the Global Scavenger Hunt. We will be taking the 3:55 pm flight to New York
City, our final leg of our 23-day, around-the-world mystery tour, and the
crowning of the World’s Greatest Traveler.
Porto, which I visited much more
extensively years ago (the Lello
Bookshop and Majestic Café which
J.K. Rowling frequented when she was writing the “Harry Potter” books are now
overrun with tourists who queue up and pay admission), is absolutely lovely. I
just want to immerse myself in the ambiance, wandering around the boulevards to
take in the gorgeous “exuberant Baroque style with some Rococo
touches” of the buildings, the colorful tiles facades.
I wander to the port where the
Port wineries are located (popular for tours and tastings) and a cable car,
walk across the bridge, before getting back to meet the group.
Visitor information is available from Porto & Northern Portugal
Tourism Association, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.portocvb.com, www.visitportoandnorth.travel.
The results for this most difficult leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt (our “final exam” as world travelers), that took us to four countries (Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal) in just five days:
In third place having completed 92
scavenges, 5 bonuses and amassing 5310 points, Order & Chaos (the doctors
from San Francisco).
In second place with 102
scavenges (that’s 20 a day), 7 bonuses and accumulating 5680 points, Lazy
We’re off to New York City, the last leg of the Global Scavenger
Hunt, when we will learn who will be crowned the 2019 “World’s Greatest
The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has
been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape
Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
Dates have just been set for the 16th annual
edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt, April 17-May 9, 2020, Applications
for the around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The
World’s Greatest Travelers are now being accepted at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
It is clear why Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of the Global
Scavenger Hunt, inserted Gibraltar on the “final exam” in which we need to get
ourselves from Marrakesh to Fez to Gibraltar to Seville to Porto in five days –
it is a challenge to figure the logistics and prove ourselves as world
travelers, let alone chalk up points by fulfilling the scavenges.
Some of the rules are relaxed for this, the most arduous of travel
legs (a par 6) of the 23-day around-the-world mystery tour – the top 4 teams in
contention for “World’s Best Traveler” are allowed to team up together but only
for one country; can rent a car but only once and in one country (not
cross-borders); can use their cell phone for information and GPS. We are given
an allowance to purchase transportation and to book the three hotel nights we
will be on our own (there are extra scavenger points for booking an AirBnB and
for the cheapest hotel night).
We are out of the Riad
el Yacout in Fez, Morocco, at 9 am to catch the 10 am train to Tangier, where
we will get a ferry to Algeciras, Spain, and from there get to Gibraltar,
though we haven’t quite figured out that part yet. As it turns out, there are
three teams (six of us), following this same itinerary (not a coincidence –
since none of us are in contention any longer, we are allowed to share
information and travel together).
This day, the third in the Par 6 challenge, is all about travel.
Again, the train through Morocco is comfortable, fast, and provides a wonderful
view of the country.
But it seems unnecessarily difficult to figure out which of
Tangier’s ports to go to for which ferry. There are four different ferry lines,
but two different ports. The group overrules me and decides to taxi 45 minutes
to the Tangier MED port – a major cargo shipping port – instead of going to the
Tangier Ville port just a few minutes taxi ride from the train station, where
the ferry would have taken us to Tarifa (about 50 minutes away from Gibraltar,
compared to 20 minutes from Algeciras).
The taxi ride along the coast is gorgeous – reggae music is playing as we speed
along coastal road to new port (this is a popular beach destination, after
all). But the port is less suited to passengers than cargo. The
immigration process takes forever. What we believe to be the 5 pm ferry leaves
at 6 pm ferry (the way they handle or rather don’t handle the baggage is a
riot). The hour-long sail is a pleasant enough followed by a literal riot to
recover our luggage from the POD everyone has stuffed it in. Because of the
hour time difference, we arrive at 8 pm.
Then we have to figure how to get from Algeciras (Spain) to Gibraltar (an overseas territory of Great Britain), which, we discover, means the taxis can’t cross the border.
A bus to Gibraltar border is a 15 minute walk and would leave at
9:30 pm so we decide to take the taxi, where, the driver tells us, we can walk
across and get another taxi or a bus to The Rock Hotel. Sounds good, right? The
cab drops us, we exit Spain (having just entered at the ferry terminal), and
enter Gibraltar (darn, no passport stamp! You have to go to the tourist
office!), but no taxi, no bus. We start walking about 1 ½ miles to the hotel –
across an actual airport runway as it turns out.
We have arrived so late, though, the small town (the whole country
only has 36,000 residents) is shuttered for the night. Eventually, when we get
to the heart of the village, we find one cab and two of us continue walking to
The walk is absolutely charming – and also culture shock – having
come from Fez, Morocco in the morning, put a toe into Spain, and now plunked
down into this patch of Great Britain. There are red telephone boxes, Bobbies,
English pubs. It almost looks like a movie set, and in fact, is not much bigger
– or Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg.
But walking in the quiet of the night through this place evokes in
my mind an image of Brigadoon, a town from long ago that emerges from the mist.
Our hotel, The Rock (which another team found and
I booked through hotels.com),
is majestically set on the foothill of Gibraltar’s
famous rock with panoramic vistas of the Bay, the Straits of Gibraltar and the
Spanish mainland. It’s quite elegant – formal even, which I suspect is
casual by British standards – and well situated, just opposite the Botanical
Gardens, a very short walk to the main street. In fact, The Rock Hotel is a
Gibraltar landmark, the oldest luxury hotel here, built in 1932. Its most
recent refurbishment enhanced its colonial
heritage and art deco style with contemporary comforts of a first-class hotel –
it even has a pool. I can attest to the hotel’s elegant and sophisticated
ambiance and warm, personalized service. Ours, along with each of the other 94
guestrooms and suites, has a gorgeous view.
The hotel is filled with history. A Wall of Fame displays the
royalty, world leaders, artists and TV, and film stars who have stayed here,
most notably, Sir Winston Churchill, Errol Flynn, Alec Guinness, and Sean
Connery as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they married in Gibraltar.
The Hotel has a fine
dining restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine – which was really handy since
we all arrived very late when every other restaurant in Gibraltar, it seems,
had closed. I find the rest of our Global Scavenger Hunt teams in the lounge,
enjoying the hotel’s signature cocktail (what else?) Gin on the Rock. There is
nothing more quintessentially British than Afternoon Tea and The Rock Hotel
offers this tradition daily.
I only have until early afternoon here to explore Gibraltar before
having to push on to Seville, and then on to Porto, Portugal, to finish this
leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt.
Early in the morning, I set out on an easy walk, through the
Botanical Gardens, to the cable car that takes me to The Top of the Rock. I
purchase a combination ticket (34E; senior rate is 25E) that gives me the ride
up and entrance to the Nature Reserve as well as most of the
key attractions that are all located along the road and trails from the top,
hiking down to the village (the hike takes about 1 ½-2 hours, plus time to
visit the key attractions; I give myself about 3 hours).
The cable car ride takes 6 minutes and immediately brings me to one of the highlights of Gibraltar: its Barbary Macaques (tailless monkeys). (I soon realize why the hotel concierge told me to wear my backpack in the front, watch for pickpockets and guard my passport.) They are there greeting tourists, even jump on people’s heads, and display antics (in fact, I don’t find any in the “Ape’s Den” which is supposed to be their habitat).
The Barbary Macaques were said to have come to Gibraltar through a subterranean passage under the Straits of Gibraltar that supposedly linked the Rock of Gibraltar to Africa.
The Top of the Rock, it turns out, is an entire preserve with a
series of Gibraltar’s major attractions, and its entire, dramatic history
spread on along its roads and walking paths.
There is evidence of humans on Gibraltar going back 2000 years,
and Gibraltar has been visited by mariners since the 9th century
BC. The Muslim invasion of Europe started in the Bay of Gibraltar in 711;
Gibraltar was under Moorish rule for over 700 years until Christians briefly
took it over for 24 years in the early 14th century. Christians
recaptured Gibraltar in 1462, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella secured The
Rock for Spain in 1501. Gibraltar was ceded to Britain as a consequence of the
War of Spanish Secession (1701-14); the Treaty of Utrecht formalized Gibraltar
as Britain’s territory. But that did not end the bloody conflicts by Spain to
retake The Rock.
According to Visit Gibraltar (www.visitgibraltar.gi), “In 1779 Spain and France began the longest and bloodiest
siege in Gibraltar’s history, ‘The Great Siege, 1779-1783’. In 1782 work began
on the famous ‘Great Siege Tunnels’. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought close
to the Rock in 1805.
“The 19th century was
Gibraltar’s heyday, as a staging port on the vital route to India. Another
series of tunnels were completed during the Second World War. Gibraltar became
home to the Royal Navy’s ‘Force H’ and the focal point from where Eisenhower
controlled the North Africa landings in 1942. During the Franco era, Spain
attempted to revive her claim for the reversion of the Rock to Spanish
sovereignty, which culminated in the closure of the border for 13 years in
All of this history
unfolds as you walk from the Top of the Rock, along its roads and paths
spiraling down to Casement Square, once a site of public executions and today
the hub of activity.
There is a whole chain of things to see and in the course of two hours I explore: St. Michael’s Cave (way too touristic for my taste, it was developed in the 1950s – there is a plaque noting the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the caves in 1954- and used as a great theater since the 1960s, but the Lower St. Michael’s Cave offers a much more intense experience, I later learn), Great Siege Tunnels that dates from 1779-83 to defend against the Spanish), World War II tunnels (I peek inside but I don’t have time for the 45 minute tour of what amounted to an underground city that could accommodate 16,000 with enough food to last 16 months; there was also an underground telephone exchange, a power generating station, water distillation plant, hospital, baker, ammunition magazines and vehicle maintenance workshop; separate admission is 8E; it is recommended to pre-book tours at email@example.com).
There are also various military batteries, Gibraltar A City Under Siege Exhibition (set in one of the first buildings constructed by the British in Gibraltar, there are re-creations of scenes from 1726 as well as graffiti by bored soldiers from then) and a Moorish Castle, first built in 1160 (you climb into the tower of Homage that dates from 1333 when Abu’l Hassan recaptured Gibraltar form the Spanish).
I don’t have time to really explore the Lower St.
Michael’s Cave. I learn that while the upper section of St Michael’s Cave has been known
for over 2000 years and used for various purposes such as
a hospital during World War II, it was only in 1942 that Lower St
Michael’s Cave was accidently discovered. The cavern is notable for the size of
the main chambers, the profusion and variety of calcite formations and a lake
of crystal clear water, nearly forty yards long, estimated to hold 45,000
gallons. There are organized tours into Lower St Michael’s Cave that normally
last around three hours, but because there is some scrambling and minor
climbing with ropes involved, duration times may vary. The cave is totally in
its original natural state (although it is fully lit).
You can also climb the Skywalk, 340 meters directly above sea level,
where you are treated to 360-degree views spanning three countries and two
continents. Skywalk links to other sites within the Gibraltar Nature Reserve,
Upper Rock including the thrilling Windsor Suspension Bridge and the famous
Apes’ Den via a series of walking trails. Built on the foundations of an
existing WWII base structure, the Skywalk is designed to withstand wind speeds
of over 150km/hour and can carry the weight of 5 Asian elephants, or 340
people, standing on it at the same time (visitor numbers will be limited to 50
at any one time). The floor and balustrade panels are made up of 4 layers of
laminated glass (with a total thickness of around 4.2cm). Laid out
side-by-side, the 42 glass panels would cover more than 750m², roughly the equivalent
of 4 tennis courts. The walkway is 2.5m wide and projects a maximum of 6.7m
from the main structural support point. 70m of rock anchors and 30,000kg of
steel secure the Skywalk to the Rock.
There’s a lot I don’t have time to get to which is interesting
because before I arrived, I had thought I could just breeze through: The
Military Heritage Centre in Princess Caroline’s Battery. I am really upset that
I do not have time to explore UNESCO Gorham’s Cave Complex which
contains evidence of Neanderthal and early modern humans. There is also a Gibraltar
Macaque Experience, the only opportunity in Europe to spend time with
a habituated troop of free-living monkeys, in a natural setting, away from
other tourists. (Blands Travel, travel@blandstravel, www.blandstravel.com)
I take the road down but there are also many nature trails that
meander through the extent of the Reserve. These combine the Nature
Reserve’s natural beauty and stunning views with some sites of historic
interest that are much less visited. There are themed routes: History Buff,
Monkey Trail, Nature Lover, Thrill Seeker. Notable trails include Mediterranean
Steps, Inglis Way, Royal Anglian Way and Douglas Path.
I make my way to the
charming historic district. It’s May Day and I come upon a labor rally in John
MacIntosh Square. I can easily imagine the same speeches (Privatization.
Nonconsultation. Unfair Distribution.) being made in New York City.
I am also surprised to learn of Gibraltar’s sizeable Jewish
community. On The Rock, you can take a trail to Jew’s Gate which
leads to the Jewish cemetery tucked away behind trees that was in use up
until 1848; it offers “a fascinating piece of history that reflects the
important role the Jewish people have played in molding Gibraltar’s history”).
I find four synagogues, including the Great Synagogue on Engineer Lane, one of
the oldest on the Iberian Peninsula, dating back to 1724, and Flemish Synagogue.
Here in the town
there is Casemates Square, Gibraltar Crystal Glass Factory, an American War
Memorial, the Gibraltar Museum, Irish Town, Trafalgar Cemetery (where soldiers
who died at the Battle of Trafalgar are buried), King’s Chapel and King’s Bastion
can be visited (I don’t have time).
I linger over lunch
outside a pub, watching the world go by despite really chilly winds.
My brief time here
has been really enchanting.
I’ve never walked an
entire country (okay, territory) in a single day, before. Or for that matter,
literally strolled through centuries of history in such a compact space.
I make my way back to
The Rock Hotel to pick up my things, hastily write out postcards I purchased in
town, which the kindly hotel staff mail for me.
The hotel, which has
provided me with the information for the bus as well as a time schedule, calls
a taxi which takes me to the Gibraltar border (still no one to stamp my
passport and the tourist office is closed for May Day!). You have to allocate
extra time for the taxi in case an airplane is landing on the air strip.
I walk the few blocks from the Gibraltar border to the bus station
across the border in Spain in La Línea de la Concepción. (My difficulty in arranging
travel from Gibraltar to Seville was not realizing that you couldn’t travel
directly from Gibraltar to Seville and I didn’t know the name of the city to
get the bus. It is an exceptionally pleasant bus ride through southern Spain
into Seville, enjoying the lush landscape, the magnificent farms, and the
hilltops dotted with wind turbines.
Still Seville and Porto to go before finishing this leg of the
Global Scavenger Hunt.
The Global Scavenger
Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years
by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
Dates have just been set
for the 16th annual edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt,
April 17-May 9, 2020, Applications for the around-the-world travel adventure
competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers are now being
accepted at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
sun has yet to rise as we settle ourselves in the first-class compartment of
the train from Marrakesh to Fez on our mad-dash on the Global Scavenger Hunt
that will bring us through Morocco to Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal for the
most difficult leg of the 23-day around-the-world mystery tour. The train pulls
out of the modern train station exactly on time. The 6 ½-hour journey flies by
as we roll through Morocco’s countryside and villages – farms and rolling hills
on both sides.
compartment seats six people very comfortably. During the course of the trip,
people come and go and we engage in very pleasant conversations. A stop or two
away from Fez, two fellows come in to the compartment the conversation that
ends with the one fellow saying he knows a guide for us to hire to take us
through the Medina – the massive gated city of thousands of alleyways which we
have been strongly advised to explore with a guide. Sure enough, by the time we
get off the train, the guide has arrived. And there is a taxi as well.
We make our way to the Riad el Yacout, a guesthouse, where we are greeted by Hadisha, a young woman who is the daughter of the owner, recently returned after spending eight years studying in Madrid, China and the United States. I can easily imagine her running a huge hotel chain at some point.
The riad (which is a traditional two-story house where the rooms are built around a courtyard) is absolutely enchanting. The riad was once the home of Professor Laharchi who taught philosophy at the famous Al Qaraouvine university. Built in 1347, the house passed generation to generation until 2000 when her father bought it.
spent five years restoring it as a 33-room guesthouse (it is actually three
houses that have been linked, with a pool; and there are plans to build a third
floor and add a rooftop pool). The mosaics, decoration, furnishings are
exquisite – all the rooms set around the most magnificent interior courtyard.
The design, facing inward, is meant to maximize family interactions. The riad
has already attracted important people – two years after opening, in 2007, Bono
stayed for six weeks; Queen Noor of Jordan also stayed here (Riad El Yacout, 9
Derb Guebbas, Batha, Medina, Fez).
strongly advises us against using the guy from the train and instead hiring an
approved guide and driver from the tourism office. We only have the afternoon
and evening here to see Fez, and even Bill Chalmers, our Global Scavenger Hunt
leader, has told us to hire a guide to go through the Medina – the largest,
with some 11,000 alleyways with no addresses.
price seems fair and we only have the afternoon, and it proves a great way to
see Fez in such a brief time.
It is interesting that two other GSH teams who are also staying at the Riad and come after us (they went on a balloon ride in Marrakesh, one of the scavenges before catching the train to Fez), happened to meet and hire the same guide we were introduced to by the guy on the train (turns out the second guy on the train was his son, who I spot while walking in the Medina – what are the chances? Actually it is less coincide and more a scam – the fellows get on the train a stop or two before Fez, find a seat in the first-class compartment and begin the grift. If you are keeping count, altogether four of our Global Scavenger Hunt teams all had either met the guide (us), or used the guide or the son. And everybody was satisfied.
though we realize that only four teams out of the original 10 have a chance of
winning the Global Scavenger Hunt and the title, “Worlds Best Travelers,” we
still pursue the challenges, albeit at a more relaxed, less frenzied pace,
because they basically bring us to the places we would or should visit, places
or experiences we never would have thought of, and give us a much more
immersive, interesting and connected experience.
Fez el-Jdid, the Jewish Quarter
teammate, Margo, and I set out with our guide, Hamid, the fellow sent from the
tourist office (having told the fellow from the train we made other plans). At
our first stop, at the golden doors to the palace (and this is before he makes
the connection between “New York,” and likely Jewish person)– he relates how Jews made refugees when expelled from Spain and
Portugal in 1492 were invited by the sultan to settle in Fez in order to
develop the city, and settle the nomadic Berbers. The sultan gave them land
adjacent to the palace and promised protection. To show appreciation, the
Jewish community created ornate brass doors for the palace with the Star of
David surrounded by the Islamic star.
Our guide takes us first to Fez el-Jdid (the
“new part of the city”, which is still a few hundred years old) to visit
the Jewish Quarter, the Mellah..
Mellah of Fez dates back to 1438, the oldest Jewish Quarter in Morocco, though
very few Jewish people live here today, most having moved to Casablanca, France
or Israel; there are some 80 Jews left in Fez, but live in the new city, Ville
tells us that this community continued even into World War II, when the Sultan
gave Jews citizenship and protected them from the Nazis. Indeed, Morocco’s
Jewish population peaked in the 1940s but since the 1950s and 1960s, following
the establishment of Israel, shrank to fewer than 5,000 today.
leads us through winding narrow alleyways to the Ibn Danan synagogue. The synagogue was restored in 1998-99 with the
help of UNESCO, American Jews and American Express). From the top floor, you
can see the Jewish cemetery.
is al Fassiyine Synagogue, which a
plaque notes, “belongs to the Jews (Beldiyine)
Toshabirg, native Jews who lived in Fez before the arrival of the Megorashimns,
the expelled Jews from Spain in 1492. The building, covering 170 sq meters was
built in the 17th century. It includes a small entrance hall which
leads to a prayer hall housing some furnished rooms on the mezzanine level. It
has been used successively as a workshop for carpets and then a gym. Despite
these different uses and the degradation of its state, it still keeps its
The synagogue was restored in 2010-2011 through
the efforts of Simon Levy, former general secretary of the Judeo-Moroccan
Heritage Foundation, the Jewish community of Fez, Jacques Toledano Foundation
and the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Germany.
The reopening on February 13, 2013, was presided over by
Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane inaugurated the reopening
of the historic synagogue in which he conveyed the wish of Morocco’s King
Muhammad VI that all the country’s synagogues be refurbished and serve as
centers for cultural dialogue.
tells me that an adviser to the King and the ex-minister of Tourism were both
The tourism minister had a lot to do with putting Morocco on the map as an international tourist destination. The king, who studied at Harvard, in 2000 set a goal of 10 million tourists. “Morocco has no oil or gold. It had no highway or airport and didn’t exist except for hashish,” Hamid says. “The king opened Morocco to foreign companies, giving them five years duty-free. They were drawn by a peaceful country, a gateway to Africa. Foreign investors rebuilt the road to Marrakesh, turning it into an international city for the wealthy, like Europe.” Fez also seems to be benefiting – there is lots of restoration and new construction, at Riad el Yacout where we are staying.
we weave through the alleyways, he shows us the indentation on the doorposts of
houses where a mezuzah would have been placed, now the home of Muslims (what
Jews remain in Fez live in the new city, Ville Nouvelle).
Zellige, Traditional Tile Making
we have a driver, we also visit a traditional tile factory, set on a hilltop
overlooking the Medina.
Fez was the Moroccan birthplace of the beautiful tile work known as zellige. Introduced to the area by Moors fleeing Andalusia, tiles were initially chiseled into small pieces to create mosaic-like geometric patterns. The decorative and highly skilled tile work had become especially popular by the 14th century.
go through various workshops and watch the various artisans as they chisel the
pieces and set them into their patterns that we see in the stunning buildings
of the Medina and the riad where we are staying. The colors come from natural
material – mint for green, indigo for blue, saffron for yellow.
tiles are different, Hamid explains. “Every other city uses terracotta; Fez has
volcanic clay). They use olive pits as well as old furniture to fire up the
kilns that heat the tiles.
Fez is Morocco’s third largest city, with a population of
1,275,000 – half of them in the Medina. It was under the French from 1912-1956.
It was Morocco’s capital for 300 years
before the French moved the capital to Rabat, on the ocean. The most remarkable part of the scene from
the hilltop is how every roof of this ancient place has a satellite dish –
Hamid says they were given for free by Al Jazeera. “Even a Bedouin tent in the
desert will have a satellite dish.”
Fez el-Bali, the Medina
The driver drops us at one of the many gates into Fez el-Bali, the Medina (which means walled city) and we follow a route that takes us through the Medina. It is described as the world’s largest car-free urban space – 11,000 alleyways and no addresses – and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1983). The Medina is the oldest walled city, dating from 900 AD, and the largest in the Arab world. We find ourselves walking through 1,200 years and losing all sense of time or place – except when jarred back to the 21st century by the motorcycles coming through. It is one of the holiest places for Islam (Jerusalem and Mecca being the other two). There are some 272 mosques.
He points out how the homes are simple on the outside, with
heavy doors (to keep out pirates); they are two-stories high, but very, very
tall. The buildings are designed so if pirates came, they could pour hot water
down. Hamid warns that an outsider can only go into the Medina during the day.
“It’s not safe in the evening, not even for us.” Hamid says he was born in the
Medina and lived here for 35 years, but moved to the New City to send his
children to school. “Here, they first teach crafts; if they have more than 10
or 11 kids, they may send them to school.”
He tries to explain that women – the mother of the house – is
the family’s bank; that the artifacts like carpets and ceramics are its
financial security, “like diamonds and gold. If the family needs something, they
sell something.”; a mule was like a Mercedes.”A carpet to sell is like an ATM;
a wife who is an artist is like insurance.” He explains that the people of the
Medina have no health care, no insurance and pay no taxes. “It’s like the 8th
century.. If a wife doesn’t save money, the family is in trouble. Once a year,
they will show off it they have a real wife at the Ramadan holiday. The mother
chooses a wife for her son; a daughter goes off to live with the husband’s
family. “A mother who has 8 sons is like a Queen, insurance guaranteed. If a
family has no sons, they will adopt a nephew as a son. That system from the 9th
century is still in practice in the Medina.”
Garbage is still collected by donkey; the sewage system is
Roman. The French introduced a water system and electricity – up until then,
they used candles and oil lamps. Homes still don’t have refrigerator.
An important stop is al Qaraquiyine (Karaouine) mosque, university and library, founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman who had fled her homeland of Tunesia. The madrasa became one of the leading spiritual and educational centers of the Muslim world. It was incorporated into Morocco’s modern state university system in 1963. It is considered the oldest existing, continually operating institution of higher education in the world. Hamid tells us that the university spans 5 hectares.
I later learn that in addition to being Muslim, prospective students of the Qarawiyyin are required to have memorized the Qur’an, medieval Islamic texts and Maliki law, and have a very good command of Classical Arabic. And while most assume the university is open only to men, women have been admitted into the university since the 1940s.
libraries contain important documents dating from c. 780 A.D. including the
Al-Muwatta of Malik written on gazelle parchment. The libraries may soon be
open to the public.
Fez was founded in 789 A.D. by Moulay Idriss II, the son of the
founder of modern Morocco, according to Journey Beyond Travel. It wasn’t until
817-18 A.D., when around 800 refugee families from Cordoba in Spain settled in
Fez, followed a few years later by over 2,000 families from Tunisia, that Fez
really began to grow. Apparently, settlements fought each other for over 300
years, until the arrival of the Almoravid empire in 1070 A.D. installed
The city took form under Almoravid rule when the walls which still form the outline of today’s Fez El-Bali were erected. By 1170 A.D., Fez was the largest city in the world with a population of 200,000. Fez was an important trading hub, serving Africa and Europe, the gold route from Timbuktu, and because of its tanneries with a reputation for making leather shields.
When the Merenids took control of Morocco in 1250 A.D., they
made Fez their capital. This is when Fez el-Jdid, the “new” city where the
Jewish Quarter is, was built with wider streets, gardens, and administrative
centers. This is also when Fez became established as a cultural and
intellectual hub and the “Fassi” style, a mix of Andalusian and Almohad
traditions, began. One of the best examples of this architecture is the Medersa Bou Inania with its green-tiled
We see the beautiful tile work of the mausoleum of Zaouia Moulay Idris, built in the Alawi architectural style, beginning in 1717 while Moulay Ismail was alive and finished in 1824. It is an important pilgrimage site, and one of the many sites that are closed to non-Muslims.
the course of the afternoon, we visit various craftsmen and artisans including
embroiderers, carpet makers and weavers.
One of these is the Widows Coop, where women weave carpets and scarves. Hamid explains that women who are divorced or widowed have little opportunity to remarry, and in the past, had few opportunities to earn a living besides prostitution. The Widows Coop gives these women a means for self-sufficiency. “Ladies with golden fingers.”
The final stop is the Chouwara tannery which has absolutely exquisite leather items for sale, and a fantastic view from its roof down to the vats of dyes. We learn that they use lime, salt and pigeon droppings to make the ammonia to tan the leather; the skins soak for a week, then are put into a wheel and turned every day for two weeks, then bleached for a week, then washed for three hours, then put into a vat to dye.
The shop is exquisite (even after getting this glimpse of how the sausage is made) – I have never felt such soft leather. Margo, who protested shopping, falls under the spell of a jacket, but it needs some tailoring. They take measurements and promise to deliver the jacket that evening. Sure enough, a completely custom jacket is delivered to the riad. It is stunning.
Leaving, we drive alongside the walls of the Medina and pass by the famous Bab Boujeloud known as the “Blue Gate”.
I reflect on this guided tour, I am disappointed because as can be expected, we
spent most of our concentrated time at the tile factory, the weavers, the
carpet makers and the tannery – all designed to have us spend money, but did
not get to properly see the Blue Gate, which I “grab” as we are driving or
Medersa Bou Inania, two of the Medina’s most important sites. I have trouble
reconstructing what we saw.)
at Riad el Yacout, we meet up with the other two teams and discover that all of
us have followed pretty much the same itinerary.
We have a fantastic dinner at the riad – chicken tagine and chicken couscous – the food and the atmosphere sheer perfection. (Rian el Yacout, 9 Derb Goebbas Batha, Fes Medina 30200, Morocco, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.riadelyacoutFes.com).
still have to get from Morocco to Gibraltar to Seville to Porto by Friday on
this most challenging, Par 6 leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt, our “final exam.”
have been unable to figure it out online. It turns out we need to take a ferry
to the Spanish city of Algeciras, and then get a
cab to the border of Gibraltar (my mistake was trying to input Tangier to
Gibraltar). But there are two ferries and two different ports. Which one?
The other two Global Scavenger Hunt teams who are staying in the riad (they were the ones who found it) seem very sure of knowing which train to take and say they will figure out which ferry when we get to Tangier, so, after a fantastic breakfast set out early for us, at 8 am, served in the gorgeous courtyard, we pile into cabs for the $1.50 ride to the train station.
purchase ticket for the 10 am (first class) train to Tangier Ville. The 4 ½
hour trip is very pleasant, rolling passed lovely
landscape, farms, towns and villages, stopping perhaps six times to pick up
passengers. A cart of refreshments comes by (tea costs something like 6 cents).
Bill Chalmers, the “ringmaster” and
CEO (Chief Experience Officer) of the Global Scavenger Hunt, launches us our
biggest, most ambitious and difficult leg of the 23-day, around-the-world
mystery tour: a Par 6, in which our challenge is to get from Marrakesh through
four countries – Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal with scavenges in each
to win points – in five days, meeting at 11:30 am in Porto, Portugal, when we
will fly out to New York, our final destination and the final and decisive leg
of the competition to be crowned “World’s Best Traveler”.
for your final exam, when all the skills you have learned come together while
your situational awareness is peaking and the Travel IQ ready for action,”
Chalmers tells us as we gather together in the lobby of the Savoy Le Grand in
Marrakesh, Morocco. “The Big multi-country adventure of the Par 6 North
Africa/Iberian Peninsula leg.
are over 150 scavenges with 19 Bonuses, 3 Team Challenges and a whole lotta
good eating; six exciting days of buses, trains, ferries, camels, trams, bikes
and funiculars; four diverse country stops over 1,400 km (870 miles) lay
between here in Marrakesh and there in Porto. Oh yea, did I mention May Day!?”
are handled $300 to cover their best-guess transportation costs and told we are
required to secure our own lodgings for three nights (we are given an allowance
of $200 per team per night) “all depending on your risk/reward course of
action. We will see you Friday at 11:30AM in the lobby of our Porto, Portugal
hotel. Good luck to everyone, be safe, be smart.”
Chalmers allows these rule changes for this climatic leg:
1) Teaming up allowed, but only in Morocco!
2) Car rentals allowed, but only once, and only within one single country where
the rental must be both picked-up & returned.
3) Use of smartphones allowed.
4) Airbnb & Uber allowed.
are some 150 scavenges in this leg (a challenge is to figure which ones to do
for points and logistics), including mandatory ones like #51 (“Within the
bowels of Fes el-Bali, visit the Baab Bou Jeloud gate”). It is also mandatory
to complete at least one scavenge in all four primary countries: Morocco,
Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal. Other mandatory challenges have to do with
eating, since food is such a window to culture and tradition, and also brings
are scavenges that earn bonuses. In Morocco: either camp out in the desert one
night or stay in traditional riad; venture to the Atlas mountains to visit
Berber villages, Ait Souka/Kasbah Dutoubkal, or Aghmat/Oureka; visit the blue
city of Chefchaouen; visit Volubilis to see something old & Roman; visit
nearby sacred village Moulay Idriss.
We have arrived at Savoy Le Grand – a massive modern resort-style hotel with multiple pools, sandwiched between a major modern mall and a casino, about a half-mile from the gate to Marrakesh’s Old City – at midnight local time, about 2 am for us having come from Athens. Bill recognizes the need for a break so essentially gives us the morning off, so we can meet at 11:30 am in the lobby to launch us on the challenge he has termed “our final exam.”
The hotel is a bit garish (it makes me think of the Concord in the Catskills) but actually quite nice. Still, Bill actually apologizes that he couldn’t get us into something more “authentic”. Because of the wedding between British actor Idris Elba and model Sabrina Dhowre (former Miss Vancouver), they had to research over 50 properties before they could get us into Savoy Le Grand Hotel for two nights.
My teammate, Margo, and I are not
competing so have the advantage of being able to get advice from the concierge and
use hotels.com to book hotels in the places we want to overnight. Even so, it
takes from noon to about 5:30 pm to work out an outline for how we will cover
the distance – set up the first train ticket from Marrakesh to Fez (we give the
concierge the money to buy the ticket) and book hotels in Fez and Gibraltar
(another team has gotten names for a traditional riad in Fez and a hotel in
Gibraltar which three teams decide to book).
Margo decides to spend an extra day
in Porto, Portugal, but I set my sights on Seville, and organize a hotel there
and a flight from Seville to Porto (which wouldn’t be allowed if I were
competing), so we will travel together from Marrakesh to Fez to Gibraltar and
then travel independently until Porto (if we were competing, we would have to
do everything as a team).
By 5:30 pm, I still haven’t figured
out how to get from Fez to Gibraltar and Gibraltar to Seville, but I am
frustrated and angry not actually seeing Marrakesh, and drop everything so we
go into the Old City. The other two teams which are following much the same
itinerary are content to just wing it once we get to Fez.
Right at the gate to the old city is the famous, five-star La Mamounia Palace hotel – a hotel since 1923, but with a history that extends back to the 12th century. Its magnificent gardens were a wedding gift to Prince Al Mamoun in the 18th century.
Margo and I walk to the famous Koutoubia Grand Mosque that so dominates the city (It turns out that everything we do could earn scavenge points). The largest mosque in Marrakesh, the Koutoubia is not only its spiritual center but an architectural trend-setter. that was adopted in buildings in Spain (Giralda of Seville) and Rabat (Hassan Tower), which were built in the same period.
The mosque is ornamented with curved windows, a band of ceramic inlay, pointed merlons, and decorative arches; it has a large plaza with gardens, and is floodlit at night. The minaret tower, standing 253 feet high, has a spire and orbs. The mosque was completed under the reign of the Berber Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184 to 1199).
Founded in 1062, Marrakesh was once the capital of a vast trading empire that stretched from Toledo to Senegal. You get a sense of this at Marrakesh’s main square, Jemaa el Fna, which I learn, was once a medieval trading square where public executions took place (why it is called the Assembly of the Dead).
As soon as we enter the massive square, there is a cacophony of sounds, a blur of motion and color. And activity – snake charmers, acrobats, henna artists, musicians, Berbers (who demand money for photo even if you only look at them), merchants hawking every kind of item – snake-oil salesman selling men’s fertility.
are scores of “restaurants” – stalls, really, with long tables under canvas
like picnics, with their representatives with numbered signs identifying their
location, recruiting new customers – when one sits down, they serenade in
souks radiate off the square with tiny alleyways.
Before it gets too dark, we make our way through the souks to find the Mellah, the Jewish Quarter and the synagogue (which happens also to be one of the scavenges).
We weave through the maze – asking people who point us in a direction (just as we are supposed to do under the Global Scavenger Hunt) – a kindly fellow leaves his stall to lead us down narrow alleyway to Laazama Synagogue, which is still a functioning synagogue but also serves as the city’s Jewish Museum.
After Jews were expelled from Spain by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1492, Rabbi Yitzhag Daloya came to Marrakesh. He became president of the court and head of the “deportee” community in Marrakesh and founded the “Tzlat Laazama,” Synagogue of Deportees”, shortly after his arrival.
But the Moroccan Jewish community is much older than the Spanish Inquisition– dating back to King Solomon and the Roman period. Marrakesh was founded in 1062 by Joseph Ibn Tasifin, ruler of the Halmorabidim, who allowed Jewish settlement in the city. The Jewish community was “renewed” in 1269, headed by Rabbi Yahuda Jian, originally from southern Spain. The Atlas Jews remained the majority of the community even after the Jews from Spain and Portugal settled in Marrakesh.
situation changed in the 16th century when Marrakesh became a major
center for Marranos (secret Jews) who wished to practice Judaism openly.
Spanish and Portuguese Marrakesh Jews lived in their own neighborhoods until
all local Jews, some 35,000, were collected by order of the King, in 1557, and
resettled in the Mellah (a walled community). In the 19th century,
the population increased in the Mellah after refugees from the Atlas Mountains
arrived, becoming the largest Jewish community in Morocco. At one time, there
were 40 synagogues here.
synagogue is beautifully decorated with tile, a courtyard ringed with study
rooms, a music room, living quarters. There is a video about history of Jewish
community in Marrakesh. The photos on the walls are interesting – the faces of
the Moroccan Jews are indistinguishable from the Arab Moroccans.
Jews have also left the country – the Moroccan Jewish Diaspora counts more than
1 million members in four corners of the world, “a diaspora that continues to
cultivate ties to their homeland, Morocco.” Indeed, we come upon a woman with
her sister-in-law and mother who left Marrakesh first for Casablanca and now
lives in Paris; her brother is still a member of the synagogue’s leadership –
she shows us his chair. Her grandfather is buried in the nearby Jewish
From the synagogue, we walk to the Jewish cemetery, Beth Mo’ed Le’kol Chai, which should have been closed, but the guard lets us in.
in 1537, the cemetery spans 52 hectares and is the largest Jewish burial site
in Morocco, with some 20,000 tombs including tombs of 60 “saints” and devotees
who taught Torah to the communities of Marrakesh and throughout Morocco.
arrangement of the graves is “unique” to the city of Marrakesh. There is a
children’s section, where 7000 children who died of Typhus are buried; a
separate men’s section and a woman’s section while around the perimeter are
graves of the pious, the judges and scholars of the city who are believed to
provide protection for all those buried.
hails a taxi to head back to the hotel, and I walk back to the main square
through the markets (the tricky part is less about getting lost than avoiding
the scooters that speed through the narrow alleyways), and get the real flavor
of this exotic place and dusk turns to darkness and the neon-colored lights
Here you can see a huge variety of Moroccan craftsmen and
tradesmen, organized by profession, under a roof of reeds, hawking leather
goods, fabrics, kettles, pottery. The Dyers’ Souk, has colorful skeins of wool
hanging out to dry on its walls, while the Blacksmiths’ Souk (souk Haddadine)
displays a wide variety of metalwork.
Back in the bustling Jemaa el Fnasquare, I see a crowd of men gathered around one fellow with a lizard, selling a miracle cure. When I ask a fellow what it is about, he grins and I get the idea. No different than the snake-oil salesmen of old.
dinner time, neon lights have come on, and I go to the section of the
square where there are dozens of outdoor
restaurants. Guys wave a placard with their stall number which are their ID and
do a sales pitch (“Remember #1, Remember 35”, “Air-Conditioned!” they say with
a grin). Then when you stop, fellows come by and sing to draw in customers. It
is all very good natured. I find a stall to have dinner – seated on a bench
with others who have come here from around the world and local neighborhoods.
should be noted that Marrakesh has bike share, bike lanes, pedestrian
crossings, is clean, with lots of police and auxiliary, striking new buildings,
and the people are very helpful and hospitable.
Marrakesh, a thousand-year old city,has just been designated African Capital of Culture 2020, a a showcase of today’s urban Africa, highlighting the diversity of African culture.
next day we are up at 4:30 am, breakfast is delivered at 5 am, and we take a
five-minute cab ride to a gorgeous train station, to catch the 6 am train, riding in a first-class
compartment for a wonderful 6 ½ hour trip to Fez.
The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
is a relatively easy Par 2 on the Global Scavenger Hunt, now midway through the
23-day around-the-world mystery tour. We have just 30 hours here, but our visit
will largely be shaped by the celebration of the Greek Orthodox Easter (we seem
to be hitting all the destinations on a religious holiday). We arrive on the
Greek Orthodox Good Friday and one of the challenges is to experience the
distinctive celebration. It’s hard to miss. Every church has a similar ritual.
I walk down from the Grand Hyatt Hotel where we have arrived in the midday, to
the Plaka, stopping to reflect on Hadrian’s Arch before I take the narrow
street that leads me to the 11th century Byzantine church, where
devotees are coming.
is particularly interesting, since so far on the Global Scavenger Hunt we have
been immersed in Buddhist culture, then Islamic. Athens is Christian, but it is
also the birthplace of democracy and Western Civilization, as it is known, and
the entranceway to Europe.
I feel very at ease, very comfortable here – partly because this is my third time in Athens and I have spent a relatively lot of time here, but also because it is, well, European, modern, hip, artful – even with its ongoing economic and political problems (though it seems to me the economy has much improved since my last visit).
I am waiting and watching, another of our GSH teams, Transformed
Travel Goddesses (aptly named in Athens), comes up the street and we watch
together. It turns out to be quite a long wait. I had been told
that at 7 pm, the priest comes out and the faithful ring the church. The
service is underway at 7 pm that we can hear from outside; the crowds really
thicken but it isn’t until 9 pm that the priest comes out, leading a
procession. People light candles and follow the procession of the cross and funerary
flowers through the streets.
join the crowd as they wind their way through the narrow streets below the
Acropolis, and when we turn to a different direction, we meet the procession
again. All the streets are flooded with similar processions – candles moving
like ripples of water through the narrow streets. People jam the outdoor
restaurants as well. We visit another small Byzantine church where the frescoes
are absolutely stunning.
next day, I immerse myself in Athens (some of the scavenges lead teams out to
the Peloponnese and the Theater of Epidaurus which I visited on a boat/bike
tour some years ago, and to accomplish them in the brief timeframe, rent a
car).I just want to soak in Athens. I have a list of four major places to
visit, starting with the Acropolis, then the historic Agora, the flea market at
Monasteraki (originally the Jewish quarter), and the National Archeological
walk from the Grand Hyatt to the Acropolis. I don’t have the luxury this time
of organizing my visit for the end of the day when the sunlight is golden and
the crowds are less, so fold myself into the crush of people, satisfied that so
many appreciate history and heritage.
can see the historic Agora from the Acropolis that commands Athens’ hilltop,
and I walk down the stone promenade.
historic Agora is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites and museums
anywhere and tremendously exciting to “discover” as you walk through the paths
lined with colonnades, statues, and come upon the ruins. Here you see the ruins
of what is in essence the “downtown” and Main Street of ancient Athens. The Agora was the political center for Athens, and because it was a
gathering place, also became a commercial center. Courts were held (though
capital crimes were tried outside its boundary, so the blood on a murderers’
hands not pollute the public space).
are the important institutions including what might be called the first
“parliament,” the Bouleuterion, where those
participating in the Assembly of the Five Hundred sat. I actually find
it more intriguing and interesting to explore than the Acropolis. Here in this
one site, is the essence of the Greek Republic that birthed democracy.
Walk down the boulevard lined with statues of Giants (in Greek tradition, Titans were first, then the Giants, then the Olympian gods), to a headless torso of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who respected and admired Athenian culture and enhanced it with his Library and other institutions, but threw Christians to the lions (and wasn’t so great for Jews, either).
The homage Athenians paid to him is indicated
by the decoration on his breastplate depicting the goddess Athena standing on a
wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. But
the headless statue was contemptuously thrown into the sewage ditch by early
Christians (who also defiled the Parthenon and most of the statues denoting
devotion to paganism), and only discovered in the sewer when they excavated. The
Hadrian Statue stands near the Bouleuterion, or Council House, where the 500
representatives of the 10 tribes met, would have been – in essence, the first
House of Parliament.
Above, on a hillside, is the beautiful Temple
of Hephaistos (5th C BC) but just to the side is believed to have been a
synagogue, serving a Jewish community that had existed in Athens at least since
3rd C BC and possibly as early as 6th C BC. This is based on finding etched
marble – in essence, a sign for the synagogue, which comes from the Greek words
“synagein,” which means “to bring together” and the same root word as
“agora” which means “a place of assembly.” (I learned this on my
previous trip, during a Context walking tour, which then led me to The Jewish Museum of Greece, where you
learn about Europe’s oldest Jewish settlement, 39 Nikis St., 105 57 Athens,
Greece, email@example.com, www.jewishmuseum.gr).
You should allocate at least an hour or two at the Ancient Agora in order to have
time to visit a superb museum, housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, a
2nd C BC building that was restored in1952-56 by the American School of
Classical Studies to exhibit the artifacts collected at the site.
Artifacts on display show how citizens (a
minimum of 6000 were necessary) could vote to “ostracize” a politician
accused of corruption. You also see the lottery system used to pick jurors
(they paid 1/3 drachma to buy a strip in which to write their names, and if
selected, would receive a drachma pay), and the devices used to record their
verdict. There is an intriguing collection of small cups that were used by
prisoners sentenced to death to take hemlock, considered a more merciful end; one
of these cups could well have been used by Socrates, who was sentenced to death
for teaching the heresy of denying 12 gods at a time when paganism was the
official religion (he supported the idea of a single spirit, which makes me
think he might have been influenced by the Jewish community that was already
established in Athens).
tickets are available that provide access to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum,
Ancient Angora and several other important sites.)
walk through the flea market at Monasteraki, which, interestingly like the
market next to the synagogue in Yangon, Myanmar, was originally Athens’ Jewish
Quarter, and through neighborhoods and shopping districts to reach the National
Archaeological Museum. The museum (which closes early at 4 pm because of Easter
Saturday, forcing me to rush through) has the most magnificent collection of
gold from Mycenae; statues, bronzes. I also come upon a special exhibit
examining the concept of “Beauty.”
You see the Golden Mask of King Agamemnon, excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at
Mycenae in 1876 (which I learned from my last visit’s tour with a docent is
actually centuries older than Agamemnon’s reign, but they keep the name for
“marketing” purposes), and spectacular gold ornaments and funeral
objects that suggest a belief in an afterlife.
There are two of only five full-scale bronzes
left in the world: one, a national symbol of a standing god (Zeus or Poseidon,
it isn’t clear because the tool he would have held, a lightning bolt or a
trident, has been lost) was saved because the boat sank that was carrying it to
Rome to be melted down for weapons, and was found in 1926 by fisherman; the
other is a magnificent bronze statue, 1000 years old, of an African boy on a
racing horse made during the time of Alexander the Great, when the expansion of
Greek’s empire brought exotic themes into the art, that was saved by being
shipwrecked – it is so graceful, so elegant, so charged with energy, it looks
like it could run away.
There is also a vase with the first sentence
(or rather, the oldest known sentence) written in Greek language: “Now I belong
to the man who is the best dancer.” (I think to myself, what pressure on a
person to write the first sentence to go down in history! Or, for that matter,
the inventor of the “space” between words, which had not existed in
stay in the museum until they literally kick me out, fascinated to read the
descriptions, which I find enlightening and surprisingly current, with lessons
for today in the interplay between trade, migration, innovation, science and
social and political movements:
“In the 6th C BC, the Greeks dominated the
Mediterranean and the Black Sea….The impressive dispersion of the Greeks and
the founding of new Greek colonies and trading posts were the result of long
processes of migration…
nature of the economy underwent a radical change as a result of the growth of
trade. A new class of citizens emerged who were conscious of liberty and its
potential and now demanded the right to play an active role in the running of
public affairs. The 6th C BC saw the consolidation, after major
social upheavals and political changes, of the distinct personality of the
Greek city-state. Intense social disturbances set most of the cities on the
road to democratic constitutions, making an important stop along the way at the
institution of the tyranny.
liberty that was characteristic of the Greek way of life and which governed
their thinking finds eloquent expression in their artistic creations…Works of
art and artists moved freely along the trade routes. The wealth and power of
the city-states were expressed in the erection of monumental, lavishly adorned
temples and impressive public welfare works.
turned their attention to the natural world and to phenomena that gave rise to
philosophical speculation, formulative ideas such as those of matter, the atom,
force, space and time, and laying the foundations of science. Flourishing Ionia
was the region in which philosophy and science first evolved. By the end of the
century, the thriving Greek cities of Southern Italy and Sicily, known as Magna
Graecia, were sharing in these astounding intellectual achievements. At the
same time, the first prose works were written, taking the form of local
histories or geographies containing an abundance of mythological elements and
continuing the brilliant tradition of 7th century poetry.”
of the Easter holiday, and our limited time, and the fact that I have visited
twice before, I miss an otherwise not-to-be-missed Athens attraction, the New
walk through Athens is fabulous, taking me through neighborhoods, and I get to
see Athens’ gallery of street art, with its political and social tinge. Indeed,
taking photos of at least five street art murals is one of the scavenges (you
have to explain where you found them, 25 points).
back through the Plaka, I bump into Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of our 23-day
Global Scavenger Hunt, Pamela and their son Luka – it turns out to be a team
challenge to photograph them (whichever team sends in the photo first wins the
been a challenge to “see” Athens in just 30-hours, let alone venture out to the
Peloponnese. But our quick visits, one country, one culture, after the next,
paints the rarest of pictures of our common humanity in our mind’s eye. We are
becoming global citizens.
helps us along with the design of his scavenges, and in each location, he
provides language sampler (for Athens, he offers “I am sorry”, “what is your
name,” “Can you speak more slowly,” as well as icebreakers to start
conversations with a local, and questions to ponder.
walk back to the hotel to meet several of us who are sharing a van to get back
to the airport. Our deadline and meeting place is 8:30 pm at the airport.
to Marrakech, Morocco.
Excellent visitor planning tools of Athens are at www.thisisathens.org. Also, the Athens Visitor Bureau offers a wonderful program that matches visitors with a local Athenian volunteer who goes beyond the traditional guidebook sights to take you to local neighborhoods, http://myathens.thisisathens.org/
The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
At the start of Leg 6 of the Global Scavenger Hunt in Amman,
Jordan, only four of the original 10 teams competing are still in contention to
win, so several of the teams can now join together, use their cell phones for
planning and booking, get help from the hotel concierge, and be generally
unrestricted by the rules but still enthralled by the challenges of the
But for those competing, some of the mandatory challenges pose a
difficult puzzle to achieve in terms of logistics and timing. The one that
proves problematic requires the team to travel one way to or from Petra along
the ancient Kings Highway – the problem is that the Jett Express Bus doesn’t
take that route and the rules don’t allow a taxi from outside the city. Hearing
how the two top teams surmount the challenge is quite interesting.
We arrive at our five-star hotel, the Amman W, have our meeting and get our booklet with the scavenges, and a bunch of us (no longer competing) pack into a taxi to visit an ancient Roman amphitheater built during the time of Antenios Pius in 138-161 AD. We cross the street to a local restaurant, where we enjoy a meal of rotisserie chicken served with rice, and get a sense of this ancient city.
Whereas Abu Dhabi seemed unreal in many respects – a modern
invention, manufactured even – Amman, the capital of Jordan, is very real and
reflects its age as an early city. Jordan is where one of the largest Neolithic
settlements (c. 6500 BC) ever discovered in the Middle East exists; Citadel
Hill contains early Bronze Age tombs (3300-1200 BC). By the beginning of the
Iron Age, Amman had become the capital of the Ammonites, referred to in the
Bible as Rabbath-Ammon (“rabbath” means capital, or “king’s quarters”). We can
look out from the high floors of the hotel to the hillsides crammed with houses
and imagine what it might have looked like.
All but one team is intent on going to Petra, but have chosen
various means to get there. I find myself on the 6:35 a.m. Jett Express Bus
with three of the teams, including one that is in second place in the Global
Scavenger Hunt, only a point behind the leader. Five others (including my
teammate) hired a car and driver (allowed because none of them were competing),
and Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster of GSH, Pamela and teenage son Luka are
traveling separately. Each of us leaves at a different time by a different
conveyance. But what a surprise! We all wind up at the same mid-way trading
post at the same time. Hugs all around.
Struck for decades by the Frederic Church painting of Petra, and
then by hearing a New York Times Travel Show talk about “Petra at Night,” I
decide to arrange my own overnight stay so I don’t have to rush back. I learn
that the Petra at night is only offered twice weekly and am lucky enough to be
there for a Wednesday. I hastily consult hotels.com for a hotel – none
available under $200/night. I check booking.com and find a hotel – more of a
hostel, really – at a very affordable price, less than a mile from the entrance
to Petra. “Only one room left” the site warns. And considering how so many of
the hotels were booked, I take the leap and book it within seconds.
The concierge has reserved the seats on the Jett bus for the
morning, with the return the next day (only one departure each way/daily), at 5
City of Petra
We travel 240 km south from Amman (120 km north of the Red Sea
city of Aqaba – the trip through the countryside is interesting – the vast
emptiness, the sand, flocks of animals. Wind turbines!
The bus – which is an hour late in departing because the company
has put on a second bus to accommodate all the passengers – arrives at the
Petra bus station next door to the entrance to the archeological site at around
I use our Jordan Pass (which Chalmers had obtained in advance,
providing pre-paid admission to most archaeological sites, including two
consecutive days at Petra, along with the visa) for the day’s admission and buy
the ticket for Petra at Night ($25).
While the others have to move hastily through Petra – in fact,
they don’t even get as far as the Treasury (so what is the point of coming at
all?), I am able to move as slowly and contemplatively as I want, immersing
myself in the scenes and the details, knowing I will return in the evening and
the next day.
I am amazed by Petra. That now-iconic view of the Church painting (and Indiana Jones movie) that comes into focus as you walk through the cavern (known as the Siq) with the most beautiful striations and shapes, then the teaser of The Treasury through the opening. It is as wonderful as I had hoped. But the rest of Petra is a complete surprise – I had not realized how vast – an entire city, in fact – how much has been carved out of the rock (the Royal Tombs are not to be believed), and how much was built during the Roman era (The Great Temple where Brown University is doing archaeology and the Colonnade).
All around are fellows who hawk riding their camel, their horse, their donkey, or take the horse-drawn carriage (at fantastic speed considering the narrow walkway), to or from the entrance – it is a full mile walk from the entrance to The Treasury (an electric cart is available for those who have difficulty walking in addition to horse-carts).
It is hot, but dry and the breeze is surprisingly comfortable.
Besides exploring the archaeological structures, Petra turns out to be a hiking
place – you can take trails that bring you up to fantastic views. One of the
toughest is up to the Monastery – a mile each way up stairs and then back down
again (and one of the challenges on the scavenger hunt – in fact, visiting
early and doing the hike is worth 500 points).
I decide to reserve that for the next day.
The city of Petra, aptly known as the Rose-Red City for the
luscious color of the rock from which many of the city’s structures were
carved, was the capital of the Nabataean Arabs, and is today one of the world’s
most famous archaeological sites.
The Siq, the main road that leads to the city, starts from the
Dam and ends at the Treasury. It is a rock canal 160 meters in length, 3 to 12
meters in width and reaches up to 80 meters in height. The main part of the Siq
is created by natural rock formation and the rest is carved by the Nabataeans.
If you look carefully, you can see a channel carved from the
rock to capture and even filter water – the secret to how Petra was sustained.
At the start of the Siq the original Nabataean dams are visible, and these
prevented flooding in the Siq and collected water for use.
Then, through a narrow, curving break in the rock, you get your
first teasing glimpse of The Treasury, just as Frederick Edwin Church painted
it in 1874.
According to the website, www.visitpetra.jo, it is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices (stalls sell the spices). Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes (and politics), eventually led to the city’s downfall.
“The city was pretty much abandoned by the middle of the 7th
century and lost to all except local Bedouins,” according to the website, www.visitpetra.jo. “But in 1812, Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt set out to
rediscover Petra. He dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to
take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the
West as a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and it began attracting
visitors and continues to do so today.
“The Nabataeans buried their dead in intricate tombs that were
cut out of the mountain sides and the city also had temples, a theater, and
following the Roman annexation and later the Byzantine influence, a colonnaded
street and churches” the ruins of which we can explore.”
I climb the path up to the Royal Tombs and go into cavernous
rooms – I can’t tell if it is the rock’s own configuration or whether the
surface has actually been painted or carved to expose swirls of different
colors and textures, but they are exquisite.
“In addition to the magnificent remains of the Nabataean city,
human settlement and land use for over 10,000 years can be traced in Petra,
where great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features merge,”
according to the website.
Walking back out through the Siq, you have to keep moving to the
side to let pass the horse-drawn carriages which go through at quite a clip.
The park closes at about 6 p.m. and reopens at 8 pm for the
8:30-10:30 night program (it is operated separately and privately from Petra).
I still have to get my pack, which I have left with the fellow at the CV
Currency Exchange, just before you enter ($5 tip) and get to the hotel, which I
had thought was within walking distance (0.7 mile), but turns out to be totally
uphill. I take a taxi (negotiating the rate since I don’t have very much local
My el cheapo-supremo hotel (more of a hostel than a hotel), The
Rose City Hotel, turns out to be exactly that – the nicest part is the name and
the front entrance. When I am brought to my room, I think the fellow made a
mistake and has brought me to a room under construction (or rather
deconstruction) – plaster patches, exposed electrical outlet, rusting shower,
cracked bathroom shelf, an “armoire” that is falling apart, only a small bed
and a stool (not even a chair), slippers left for the bathroom that are too
disgusting to contemplate putting on. Ah, adventure. But overall, clean and no
bugs. So this will do for a night, I think, laughing to myself about my room at
the five-star, ultra-hip, chic and luxurious W Hotel (which is like living in
art, it is so creatively designed) I had left behind in Amman.
I head out just after 8 p.m., walking down the hill into the
park again, where I join throngs of people making their way along the mile-long
stony path illuminated by nothing more than lanterns and starlight, thinking
how dramatic and wonderful. It turns out to be the best part of the evening.
After 45 minutes of walking (it is dark in the cavern), I arrive
at The Treasury where there are perhaps 1,000 people sitting on carpets. I
stuff myself into a place. I am keen to reproduce the photo I had seen of the
event, but The Treasury at this point is barely lighted at all. There is some
traditional music, then a fellow sings, talks for a few minutes, and then
garish neon-colored lights are projected against The Treasury, completely
destroying the mood. And then it is over at 9:30 pm (not 10:30 p.m.). People
start leaving, and I am totally exhausted, so I leave, too. I hike back up the
hill to the hotel getting lost so a fellow very nicely leads me to where I need
to go. I fall asleep to the meowing of feral cats just outside the window.
Solitude at Petra
My overnight adventure is redeemed the next morning when I am
able to return to the archaeological park as early as 6 a.m. The hotel
proprietor has packed my breakfast in a baggie in the refrigerator. I take my
pack with me and find a nice man at one of the refreshment stalls at the bus
station who offers to hold it for me for the day.
When I arrive at Petra, who should I come upon at 6:14 a.m. but
the Lawyers Without Borders team! What are the odds! (Literally on the run, so
not to lose time, Zoe tells me of their amazing adventure in a tented camp
about two hours away where they could get their scavenger points being
photographed on a camel, so they were up at 4 a.m. and had to organize a taxi
to get here by 6 a.m.). Rainey and Zoe have to literally race through Petra and
do the strenuous hike up to the Monastery in order to earn their 500 Global
Scavenger Hunt points.
I could be more leisurely because I am not trying to earn
points. Walking through the caverns (some of the most exquisite scenes) is
unbelievably peaceful at this hour – I am even the only one at some points.
There are no horse-drawn carriages rattling through, none of the hoards of
people stopping and posing for selfies. And once inside, there is perfect peace
also at The Treasury – the camels perfectly positioned to re-create the 19th
century paintings of the scene.
As soon as you arrive, though, you are swooped upon by a legion
of guides. One guide offers to lead me on a trail that would take me to the
overview of The Treasury (ranked moderate), but I am not feeling 100 percent
and hope I will be able to hike the Monastery Trail if I take it slow.
A word about the guides – they try to convince you that they
will take you places you can’t go yourself, which is highly dubious– but though
I don’t hire any, what I observe is that they are very knowledgeable, very
considerate of their guests (in fact, it is difficult to become a guide – you
have to take a test, be accepted, and then trained). The people who provide the
camels, the horses, the donkeys (you can ride donkeys up to the Monastery), and
the carriages work very hard (the animals work even harder). Later, though, I
see guides leading people up the Monastery Trail that spend their time on their
cell phone coordinating their next gig.
And all through are the souvenir stands (they actually look
pretty good) – and you realize that Petra was a trading center, a stop along
the vital caravan routes, and this is very likely what the scene would have
looked like even then. And I am sure the experience was the same for the early European
tourists 150 years ago, guides, merchants, donkeys, camels and all.
I walk through the park again, this time to hike the Monastery
Trail at the other end of the park. I get some scouting information from people
coming down and begin the steep ascent up stone steps. It is a very interesting
hike not just because of the gorgeous stone contours and colors and the views
back down, but because of the market stalls and refreshment stands set up along
the way. (You can also take a donkey up, which means that hikers have to keep
moving aside for the donkeys). I wish I had my hiking sticks with me (the hike
reminds me of the Bright Angel trail up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon) –
a fellow from Spain hiking with his mother, offers a hand when I trip (then we
take a wrong turn and find ourselves scrambling over boulders, instead of
climbing the stairs).
The Monastery proves to be a highlight – it is actually bigger
than The Treasury – one of the largest structures carved out of a rock face (if
I have that right). The hike is absolutely worth it and feels so satisfying
when you make it to the top. There is a lovely rest stop at the top (as well as
stalls improbably situated along the way and a refreshment stand picturesquely
set about two-thirds up the trail with a stunning view).
But back down, I am exhausted and have several hours before the Jett
Bus back to Amman (I expect to arrive at the W Hotel after the 8 p.m. deadline
for the Global Scavenger Hunt teams but have informed Bill that the bus likely
won’t be back until after 9 p.m., and I won’t miss a flight to our next
destination, will I?)
I have my plan: first I linger at the Basin Restaurant at the
entrance to the Monastery Trail, a veritable oasis, where I sit outside under
trees and have refreshment. I regain some strength and wander some more. At
this point, I realize what a phenomenal experience I have had in the early
morning when I had Petra to myself when I see coming at me some 2,000
passengers off the MSC ship, another 2,000 off a second MSC ship, and hundreds
more off a Celebrity cruise that look like an invading army. Each group is led
by a guide holding high a numbered sign (I spot the number 50) for their group.
My next plan is to stop into the Petra Guest House, which is
located right at the entrance to the park. (This is the hotel I would recommend
for those who want to come overnight in order to experience Petra in the early
morning – it is very comfortable, pleasant and moderate price).
I have left an hour to visit the newly opened Petra Museum,
sandwiched between the Visitor Center and the Bus Station (perfect!). It offers
an outstanding exhibit (curiously Japan was a major contributor) – with some
250 artifacts and displays that explain extremely well how Petra developed, the
Nabateans, how they grew to power first by controlling water through ingenious
engineering and the main trade route, the King’s Highway, that linked three
kingdoms. Artifacts including art as well as everyday materials going back to
the Stone Age are on display; there are excellent videos, graphics, displays
that are engaging and informative.
Petra was designated a World Heritage Site on Dec. 6, 1985 and Smithsonian Magazine named Petra one of the 28 places you should visit them before you die.
(More visitor information from Petra Development and Tourism Region Authority, www.visitpetra.jo)
I board the Jett Bus
(it is the first-class bus geared to foreign tourists) for the three-hour trip