By Karen Rubin, Laini Miranda, Dave E. Leiberman & Eric Leiberman
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
On our second morning in Death Valley National Park, we’re up before sunrise to race to Zabriskie Point, one of the not-to-be-missed highlights, to watch the brilliant display as the rising sun seems to set the rock faces aflame with color.
Today’s itinerary in Death Valley National Park is on a strict schedule around Laini’s zoom appointments (COVID has given rise to “worker nomads” and “workations”) – the proximity to the places we wanted to see was one of the reasons we left Designed to Death AirBnB, 45 minutes drive into the park, for the Ranch at Death Valley, just about 7 minutes drive from Zabriskie Point, in the most central part of this vast national park. We rush back to the Ranch at Death Valley, until her next break, so grateful for its close proximity to what we would like to do today. It requires incredible planning and logistics considering the distance to get to places in a park twice the size of Delaware.
But these breaks give me more time to explore and enjoy the Ranch. It is a full resort with a very casual, family-friendly vibe almost like a dude ranch resort; in fact it once was a working ranch and now has stables offering horseback and carriage rides and a marvelous “Last Kind Words Saloon” that looks like it is straight out of a western movie. It is laid out with two-story units of rooms that open out to either a patio or balcony, with everything from a gorgeous swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, playground. There is even a full 18-hole golf course, at 214 ft below sea level, the lowest elevation course in the world. The ranch also offers Jeep rentals to explore the park in a rugged 4×4.
The “new and improved” 224-room Ranch at Death Valley is part of a $100 million renaissance along with the nearby Inn at Death Valley (a historic, four-star luxury resort), and is at the vital center of activity in Death Valley. Set along Highway 190 next to the National Park Service Visitor Center, it offers a classic town square with towering date palms and Mission California architecture. Among the improvements: a new restaurant, ice cream and coffee bar, general store with souvenirs as well as groceries.
The Ranch offers a real surprise when I come upon a museum with an outdoor display (the indoor museum is still closed as a COVID precaution) of coaches, mining implements, even a full train locomotive train, set outside almost like a park. And you realize that this wasn’t all that long ago – the turn of the last century, a blip in context of the eons of time on view in Death Valley’s dramatic geology.
The Museum at the Ranch is not to be missed. When you are in the midst of this unforgiving harsh environment, it is astonishing to realize how people lived and worked here, that they even lived here at all – extracting resources like salt and borax, mining gold. The way the artifacts are displayed, it seems almost as if they had just been left behind – there is this immediate connection.
You are overwhelmed in Death Valley by nature and its powerful force, but here at the museum, you are reminded of man’s handiwork. The first white men to enter Death Valley were gold-seeking pioneers with the Death Valley Wagon Train in 1849, looking for a short cut to California. They came to Travertine Springs, near where we are here at Furnace Creek. Stranded, they eventually walked up to Stovepipe Wells and used wood from their wagons to cook meat of slaughtered oxen. We had seen the marker at Stovepipe Wells Village of “Burned Wagons Camp,” the site of the first tourist accommodations in Death Valley.
You also feel the presence of the workers and miners when you drive through the 20 Mule Team Trail and walk over the Badwater Basin salt flat, visit the Harmony Borax Works and hike passed a mine shaft.
I contemplate all of this as I sit outside on the porch of the wood cabin with a cup of coffee coffee.
We’ve timed it so as soon as Laini has another break we dash back to Zabriskie Point for a short hike (the trail connects to the Golden Canyon trail), before rushing back for her next Zoom meeting.
Back again at the Ranch, I do something I rarely ever have time to do: swim in the pool. It is absolutely glorious – naturally heated by hot mineral springs to a perfect temperature. And the scenery! We see what we couldn’t last night when we had the stars – the mountain peaks all around. We lounge for a couple of hours.
We’ve plotted an afternoon hike for when Laini finishes: Sidewinder Canyon.
We eat our lunch in the car as we drive the 32 miles to Sidewinder Canyon, a slot canyon where you are supposed to be able to explore three separate slots.
This trail is really for adventurers, much less visited than the star attractions (there isn’t even an outhouse at the trailhead here); and it’s not at all well marked.
We are supposed to watch for cairns – stones others have arranged in the shape of an arrow, or a pile of stones to mark the entrances. Even the notes say that the first slot, supposedly at the .8-mile mark, is easy to miss. What we think is the first slot has a fairly dramatic entrance, a stony scramble of pointy sedimentary rock like concrete that has come out of the mixer with lots of stones.
The second slot though is great – scrambles to get to higher levels – interesting formations with light coming through. It is dramatic when you enter, like something will happen, especially when look up and see a boulder wedged in a space between narrow walls above you. It dares you.
The landscape here is really harsh, unforgiving – RoadRunner cartoons come to mind, especially when we see a coyote and what seems to be roadrunner’s feathers on the ground.
The Sidewinder Canyon is more of adventure than I anticipated. Rugged, stony, not a lot of color, more scramble than I imagined (Dave and Laini go further into the canyon while Eric starts back with me), and not as picturesque, making me appreciate the Golden Canyon trail all the more, but in retrospect, a wonderful adventure. We hike uphill for a mile and then return.
The contrast between these two canyon hiking experiences – the Golden Canyon yesterday and Sidewinder today – is remarkable, in fact, all the hikes prove so wonderfully different.
We again rush back to Zabriskie Point for sunset – we had missed it by five minutes the night before, so this time, we make sure to get here in plenty of time to appreciate the changing light and colors. It proves not what I expected – I actually find myself more entranced by the full moon rising from behind the mountain peaks. (Artist’s Palette is another popular place to watch the sunset – get there at least a half-hour ahead in order to see the rich colors in the rock.)
This evening, we treat ourselves to a special dinner at the luxury, grand hotel, the Inn at Death Valley (originally named the Furnace Creek Inn), sitting outside on a lovely terrace rather than the dining room. The historic hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America, dates from 1927, built by Richard C. Baker of the Pacific Coast Borax Company as a means to save its newly built Death Valley Railroad, and played a pivotal role in the transformation of Death Valley from a mining wasteland to treasured national park.
The Inn was designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull. Baker hired the Fred Harvey Company to manage the inn (a similar story to the famous El Tovar Hotel in Grand Canyon), which it did for decades.
After 90 years, the AAA Four Diamond resort remains an elegant hideaway- and how much more romantic could it be that it is set in a desert oasis and lists among its famous guests are Marlon Brando, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Open from mid- October to mid-May, it offers fine dining in one of the world’s most remote settings, a magnificent spring-fed pool, lush palm gardens, and golf on the world’s lowest golf course, 214 feet below sea level, located at the adjacent Ranch at Death Valley. Both the Ranch and the Inn at Death Valley are part of the Xanterra Travel Collection (www.oasisatdeathvalley.com; xanterra.com; you can also book at historichotels.org)
Before returning to the Ranch, we head to Harmony Borax Works, one of the best places to see stars (I even see a shooting star), though on this night with a full moon, we probably should have gone back to the Badwater Basin salt flats where we likely would have seen amazing shadows cast by the moon. The difference though, is that Harmony Borax Works is just five minutes away from the Ranch versus Badwater Basin, a 30 minutes drive.
In the moonlight, we can make out what remains of Harmony Borax Works. Borax ore was processed here from about 1884 to 1888. It was built by W.T. Coleman who developed the system of 20-mule team wagons that hauled the borax 165 miles across the desert to the railroad at Mojave. But after only five years, Coleman’s financial empire collapsed and the Harmony plant was shut down.
The next morning, we pack up to leave the Ranch, with a plan to hike the Mosaic Canyon trail on our way out of the national park.
The four-mile roundtrip hike into Mosaic Canyon is sensational from start to finish – stunning, improbably smooth marble walls, scrambles on the way in that become natural slides on the way back (from eons of floods, apparently, or perhaps all the backsides that slide down). This is like amusement park ride from start to finish – sheer delight. We follow cairns in the shape of stone arrows that point the way.
“Mosaic Canyon is a geological art gallery: irregularly shaped fragments of tan-colored Noonday Dolomite, sandy matrix, and limey cement create what seem to be murals on the canyon walls,” the National Park Service notes read. “In other places, dolomite, transformed into marble by heat and pressure, forms colorful swirls in stream-polished whirlpools and chutes in the bedrock. This is because the geologic history of Mosaic Canyon is a succession of fill-and-scour cycles – major flash floods fill the canyon with up to 20 feet or more of gravel every couple of decades, often blocking easy passage with large boulders. Less intense storms slowly scour the canyon again, removing the earlier deposits. The remains of iron railings and steps installed at the first narrows serve as reminders of a filled canyon only a few decades ago. Hiking up the canyon is a visual and intellectual treat. The canyon itself offers evidence of past floods and serves as a vivid reminder of the enormous power of water.” (https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/mosaic-canyon.htm)
You can take just an easy one-mile roundtrip hike through the narrows or hike 2.2 miles to the upper end of the canyon.
I have to actually try my (minimal) rock-climbing skills, with lots of cheers and support from everyone. It is a hoot. And the colors and patterns!
It takes us less than three hours, gorgeous and fun from very beginning, perfect for our final hike before driving back to Sonoma, with a short stop to enjoy the view of Mono Lake in the late afternoon light.
As we drive away, we start a list of what we need to do when return: the Telescope Peak hike (a strenuous 7-mile hike up 3,000-feet to 11,049 feet altitude, which Eric does just weeks later when he returns); Dante’s Peak (for an amazing view); and Darwin Falls (an actual water fall) top the list.
Plan your visit to Death Valley National Park, nps.gov/deva, 760-786-3200.
by Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bike tours offer one of the best vacation alternatives in these times when people want to be outdoors in open spaces, and enjoy stunning landscapes, discover heritage and history and have that opportunity for shared experiences that travel uniquely provide. There is still time this season to take advantage of guided, self-guided and private bike tours from companies including Pocono Biking, Wilderness Voyageurs and Discovery Bicycle Tours.
Pocono Biking has space on departures this season on a supported four-day bike tour that takes you 142 miles of the Delaware & Lehigh rail trail, also known as D&L Trail.
I did this ride, anchored by the charming town of Jim Thorpe and the famous historic landmark at Washington Crossing, on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn, though with camping instead of inn-to-inn along this scenic and history-rich trail (railstotrails.org). The RTC trip also was operated by Pocono Biking, a powerhouse outdoors- adventure company in the area well known for its rafting adventures on the Lehigh River in the Lehigh Valley.
The trip, traveling through 57,600 acres (90 miles) of state park, is designed so you get to enjoy three of Pennsylvania’s award winning quaint small towns: Jim Thorpe, Bethlehem and New Hope. Essentially, we follow the route of Anthracite Coal, from mine to market, which thrust America into the Industrial Revolution. Along the way, we see the geography, the resources, and the technological innovations that made this possible, and how they affected the society, the culture, and the economy of the fledgling nation. The trail, part of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, is so historically significant that it is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.
Day 1 – 36 miles: The adventure starts in the wilderness of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, riding passed waterfalls and spotting wildlife (deer!), taking advantage of the newly connected D&L Rail Trail into the charming town of Jim Thorpe. The first night is spent amid mountains in the Inn of Jim Thorpe, circa 1849.
Jim Thorpe – an odd name for a town – was established in 1818 as Mauch Chunk, which means “Mountain of the Sleeping Bear,” the name the Lenni Lenape Indians gave to the nearby mountain. But it was later renamed for an Oklahoma-born Native American, the Olympic hero Jim Thorpe, who is buried there. Thorpe was born in Oklahoma in 1888 and raised on the Sac and Fox Reservation and had never set foot in the borough. But Patsy Thorpe, Jim’s third wife, cut a deal with two struggling towns in Pennsylvania, that if they would merge, rename themselves Jim Thorpe and build a memorial to honor him, she would present them his remains for burial.
The town played a key role in the emergence of the United States as an Industrial Revolution powerhouse. Here, entrepreneurs led by Josiah White formed the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the 1820s (you can still see the brick building), which shipped tons and tons of anthracite coal and other goods to market via the Lehigh and Delaware Canals which they constructed. The town grew in importance when it was named Carbon County’s seat in 1843.
A major attraction here is the Packer Mansion, which I was lucky enough to visit on my trip. Asa Packer’s story epitomizes the rags-to-riches-for-those-with-grit-and-a-good-idea American Dream: Born poor in Mystic, Connecticut, Asa Packer (1805-1879) left home when he was 17, setting out on foot to Brooklyn, Pennsylvania where he apprenticed as a carpenter to his cousin, Edward Packer. In 1828, he married Sarah Minerva Blakslee (1807-1882) and the couple tilled a farm they rented from Sarah’s father. But after four years, they were just as poor as when they started. So hearing that men were needed to captain coal barges on the Lehigh Canal, Asa traveled to Mauch Chunk, in the winter of 1832. He used his skill as a carpenter to build and repair canal boats. He resettled his family in Mauch Chunk and became the owner of a canal boat that carried coal to Philadelphia, then opened his own firm, A. & R. W. Packer, which built canal boats and locks for the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.
He tried to get the company to build a railroad, but was refused. So, in October 1851, risking financial ruin, Packer purchased nearly all the controlling stock and interest for the unfinished Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad (later known as the Lehigh Valley Railroad). By November, 1852, he expanded the railroad from Mauch Chunk to Easton, Pennsylvania, in exchange for the company’s stocks and bonds, and later into New York State.
He became the third richest person in the world and parlayed his business success into political success, serving as a Judge, a state representative, a two-term Congressman (1853-7), and even challenged Ulysses S. Grant for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868. He narrowly lost election to become Pennsylvania’s Governor in 1869.
The Packers settled in their Italianate Villa in Mauch Chunk in 1861 and, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, on January 23, 1878, held a fantastic gala (a newspaper printed in gold described it, and the man who performed their wedding attended). Asa died just 18 months later.
This quaint village is a hub for many marvelous attractions including the Packer Mansion; the Old Jail Museum (the eerie dungeon where the Molly McGuires were jailed; Cell 17 with its mysterious handprint on the wall, under the gallows on which seven of the accused Molly Maguires were put to death); the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, St. Mark’s Church, Historic Stone Row, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Anita Shapolsky Art Center, Mauch Chunk Museum, plus wineries and distilleries (Big Creek Vineyard and Stonekeep Meadery), biking, hiking and rafting.
Jim Thorpe Visitors Center, 2 Lehigh Ave., Jim Thorpe PA 18229, 570-325-3673, jimthorpe.org.
Day 2 – 37 miles: After a night exploring the shops, museums and restaurants in Jim Thorpe and breakfast at the Inn, cycle beside the locks and canals along the Lehigh River to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Along the way you pass the Lehigh Gap Nature Center with its protected land. There are stunning views of the Blue Mountain and Appalachian Trail. Bethlehem, circa 1741, an old Moravian settlement, has cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and history around every bend. Spend the night in the Hotel Bethlehem where Presidents and dignitaries have stayed.
Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again on the trail. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)
Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s.
At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, which, when I visited, was manned by interpreters in period dress. I wonder whether the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.
Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)
Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.
Day 3 – 47 miles: After breakfast, the group departs Bethlehem and cycles south following the path of 19th century aqueducts to the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. Visit the only operating mule drawn canal boat east of the Mississippi. Tour the National Canal Museum and pass through quaint river villages, until arriving in New Hope. New Hope offers bustling nightlife and cultural attractions such as the Bucks County Playhouse.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. Here you see remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, which plies a two-mile section of the canal that has been restored. The National Canal Museum, with hands-on exhibits highlighting 19th century canal life and technology, normally is open from June until October. (https://canals.org/)
Day 4 – 22 miles: On day four, after breakfast at the Fox and Hound Bed & Breakfast, ride along the canal trail to Washington Crossing where George Washington crossed the Delaware in 1776. You also cross the Delaware to the D&R Canal State Park and head north to Bull’s Island where the ride ends with lunch before being shuttled back to your car.
Available dates at this writing include Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 (up to 14 guests per trip, with 2 guides; the minimum age is 13; e-bike rentals are available, but the trail is easy/moderate crushed gravel trail). The cost is $995 ($225 single supplement); $90 to rent a bike, and includes the overnight accommodations, professional bike guides; sag wagon; basic bike repair (replacement bike if needed to complete the ride); rest stops with snacks and water; breakfast on three days; lunch on two days; luggage transportation to each accommodation; morning trail briefings and transportation back to your car by 4pm on the final day.
If you would rather DIY, Pocono Biking also offers daily rates and shuttle service, Big Day Out & Big Night Out (Multisport Adventures), two-day trips, and Pocono Whitewater Rafting on the Lehigh River.
“Bike touring lends itself to a vacationing style that uniquely fits these times: small groups and big open spaces! Although we understand that traveling at this moment is not for everyone and is a personal decision, our goal is to minimize the risks where possible and make traveling as comfortable as possible.”
By Karen Rubin Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
If you want to see how America came to be, travel along the Erie Canal. A marvel of engineering when it was opened in 1825, the canal, which spans 353-miles from Albany to Buffalo, creating a water highway for commerce from the Midwest through New York City to the rest of the world, remains a dazzling achievement. But it was also the artery and an engine for invention, innovation, economic development, and ultimately social and political movements. Bike along the Erie Canalway (now virtually uninterrupted and part of the 750-mile Empire State Trail; there are several bike tour companies that offer inn-to-inn bike trips), but to really get the sense of it, float along the canal, tying up at the small towns and major cities that the canal birthed, and see unfold before you all the major social and economic movements that made America: immigration, labor, abolition and civil rights, women’s rights.
A few years ago, I had that opportunity, and in this time when people are shunning cruising because of the coronavirus pandemic but embracing RVs, renting your own self-skippered, specially-designed Lockmaster canal boat offers the best of those worlds. Founded decades ago as Mid-Lakes Navigation by Peter Wiles who designed the Lockmaster canalboats and was a significant force in repurposing the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use, the company, Erie Canal Adventures, is now in the hands of Brian Kennan, and . And even though you are still in New York State, the sights and experiences are as interesting and exciting as sailing the canals of Europe.
The company has made accommodations for COVID-19 – sanitizing the compartments so that there is a tape over them until the passengers arrive; instead of cooking utensils and “hard goods” being kept on the boat, they are taken off after each trip, sanitized and provided to guests in a sanitized tote when they arrive.
The orientation is still done on the water – the guide wears mask and gloves – to take you through one of the canal locks (thrilling), but the orientation that would have been done in the cabin is now offered by video.
Bikes are still provided but they are taken off the boat after each cruise, sanitized and replaced for each trip.
This part of New York State is already in Phase 4 – meaning that there is indoor and outdoor dining (with social distancing), many of the museums and attractions have reopened like the George Eastman Museum and the Strong Museum (with limits on capacity). In the various canal towns, you won’t have any trouble finding groceries or restaurants. And New York State has been successful containing the spread of illness and turning from the worst infection rate to the lowest in the country, because New Yorkers have scrupulously adhered to using masks and social distancing. (Now, to prevent any reemergence, the state is imposing a 14-day quarantine on visitors from states where COVID-19 rates are surging.)
I am at the helm of a 41-foot canal boat, a boat so enchanting and lovely, it turns heads and evokes waves, smiles, and snapped photos as it chugs pleasantly along at a top speed of 6 mph.
From this vantage point, I can appreciate this marvel of engineering, of grit and ingenuity the Erie Canal was, the vital role it played in the United States’ emergence as an Industrial giant in the 19th century and a dominant economic power in the 20th century.
There is no place in the United States like the Erie Canal, and no experience like having your own self-skippered canal boat – our floating home for the week – and a bicycle with which to explore the towns that were literally birthed by the canal. And to a New York City kid, seeing this bucolic countryside is a revelation. (“This is New Yawk!”)
It is extraordinary and thrilling to travel on the 363-mile long Erie Canal that slices through New York State and played such a vital part in the nation’s history, especially as we go through locks that are filled for us, and under bridges that must be lifted for us to pass.
Most of all, it lets us explore and appreciate the extraordinary innovation and ingenuity that developed because of the Erie Canal, the villages and towns, the factories and businesses that developed, and how the canal turned New York City into a global financial capital, and united the East with the West, how it funneled thousands of immigrants who populated the Midwest.
This is a true adventure. One where there are new discoveries, new insights, new perspectives formed with every new encounter. The Erie Canal birthed these places and now we see how they are being reborn, revitalized.
Setting off on our first morning, I have rarely felt that exhilarating sense of being so fancy free – to not have a set itinerary or schedule or even know where I am going or what I will see, but to have the power and ability just go where your curiosity leads. It is a marvelous.
We had trepidation about navigating the boat – a 41-foot long houseboat, like a floating RV – docking and most intriguingly going through the locks along the canal. But when we arrive, we get a two-hour orientation – every aspect about operating the boat, plugging in to electricity and water; how to turn on the engine, the stove, the shower, flush the toilet; how to recharge the batteries by running the engine in neutral; how to operate the radio and the correct protocol when contacting bridge and lock operators to “request passage”.
We are taken on a “shake-down” cruise that includes going back and forth through a lock. We are provided with a chart book and a handy sheet that lets you approximate how many hours between ports (important to keep track of the hours the lift operator is available).
Key advice: “Don’t approach anything faster than you would care to hit it.” The steel-hulled boat is powered by a 50 horsepower diesel engine; its top speed is 6 mph, and it weighs 11 tons “so you can’t get into trouble,” we are told.
The canal boat is outfitted with just about everything you might need – from ponchos to potholders to paper towels. There is even a grill and BBQ tools and canisters of propane. There are safety devices, a tool kit, even a sewing kit.
Our boat, the Canadice, is 41 feet long and can sleep 4 people (one double bed and two bunk beds in the galley; a well designed galley kitchen with small refrigerator and freezer; a shower; a table and sitting area in the bow), suitable for a family; the largest Lockmaster can accommodate 6 adults.
Within moments, the thrill of what this is all about floods over me: This is a real adventure, where have to do everything yourself, not have it done for you, make decisions.
As we sail along, I reflect on how lovely this boat is: the gorgeous knotty pine wood detailing; the varnished wood seats and a railing that makes for a back rest as you hold the tiller, brass and varnished wood. The cabin is beautiful knotty pine. It has a canvas canopy over the helm and even on a hot day, the breezes as we travel are delightful. The bow has screens with plastic and canvas that zip and snap easily so we can close everything up in the event of rain and a table that can even be moved inside.
The design for the Lockmaster came from Peter Wiles, Sr., who was a key architect of the transition of the Erie Canal from commercial to recreational use. He had a small tour boat business on Skaneateles Lake and went to England to see the self-skippered canal boats that operated on the Thames, and brought back the concept for boats that he would design and build here.
Wiles took the charm and the traditional design but adapted the boat to the Erie Canal, with a wider (roomier) beam, mostly flat bottomed and do not have a keel (the Erie Canal is only about 12-feet deep and is actually filled and drained each season). He founded the MidLakes Navigation company which, when we visit, is run by his children, Sarah and Peter Wiles (the company has since been acquired and renamed Erie Canal Adventures).
We soon get the hang of piloting the boat, and after a couple of hours sailing, we come to Fairport, a most charming town, with shops and restaurants right along the canal. It is a picture-perfect model of revitalization.
Fairport did not exist before construction of the Erie Canal dried up a swamp and produced a “fair port” for travelers. “Commerce thrived as entrepreneurs turned ideas into products,” says one of the best guides to this portion of the canal, “100 Must See Miles”
One of these entrepreneurs was Henry Deland who had the idea to produce baking soda from wood ash. The building right on the canal and next to the bridge where there is now a delightful Towpath Cafe was where Deland manufactured his baking soda which was transported by canal to international markets.
Just up Main Street, on the south side of the canal, I find the Deland Mansion, built in 1876. After Deland made his fortune in Fairport, he bought land and founded Deland, Florida in 1876, which he thought to build into a citrus, agricultural and tourism center. He sold his northern business and hired people to clear land, lay out streets, erect buildings and recruit settlers, most from upstate New York; he lost his fortune in an orange freeze in 1885.
The mansion is magnificent: Second Empire style with tower, porches, fireplaces, it was one of the grandest private residences in western New York. After several private owners, including the Clark Family, the Deland Mansion opened as the Green Lantern Inn sometime after 1928, and served as a restaurant, speakeasy, rooming house, banquet hall.
The mansion is across from the First Baptist Church, which was built at same time as Deland built his mansion.
Each of the canal towns we visit has done a superb job of using historical markers and photos to illustrate the “then and now.” As we follow them, it is like a story that unfolds.
At Fairport, there is a marker that shows how Old South Main Street “yields to urban renewal: Commercial block changes from necessities to niceties.”
The beauty of the canal boat is that you can organize the day around what you want to do – whether it is to just hang out in a town – perhaps visit a museum. Our main purpose is to position us to bike the towpath. And so we tie up the Canadice at Fairport, take down our bikes from the roof, and head out about 7 miles to the next major town, Pittsford, along the canal bikeway. It is one of the prettier rides, with lovely homes on the canal.
Just before Pittsford, we cross over a mile-long section called “The Great Embankment.” This is the highest canal embankment, actually built over the Irondequoit Creek which rushes through a tunnel under the canal.
In the earliest days of the Erie Canal, the embankment thrilled both onlookers and passengers as boats seemed to travel in midair over the mile-wide valley created by the Irondequoit Creek. The canal has been rebuilt three times since it originally opened in 1823. The original canal was a mere four-feet deep and 40-feet wide; three times it was enlarged, made deeper (first 7 feet deep and 70-feet wide, then 12-feet deep and 120-feet wide), and in many cases, moved entirely to make a better route as boats became motorized.
This is our first introduction to the engineering of the Erie Canal. I really hadn’t even thought of the canal as having a false bottom, that the canal is actually drained (around November 1), and refilled (around May 1) each season.
The Great Embankment is a revelation, but we will find even more dramatic examples of engineering, as we explore by bike and boat.
We return to Fairport, and prepare to get underway again – actually boating back to Pittsford.
It’s just passed 6 pm when we leave Fairport.
But to leave Fairport, you have to go under a lift bridge, and Fairport’s is very distinctive: it is constructed with no right angles.
There are 16 lift bridges on the Erie Canal, all of them in the west, and the eastern-most one is here at Fairport. The bridges are delights to look at – they have ornate towers and it is wonderful to watch how they work.
We have been instructed on the etiquette of using the radio to ask the lock tender to lift a bridge or open a lock. Some are covered by operators handling multiple bridges, so you might be told to standby and wait for the operator to get back to the bridge. (take note of the hours of operation – westward from Macedon toward Buffalo, the locks are open 7 am to 10 pm; eastward to Lake Oneida in Syracuse (the boats do not go all the way to Albany), the lifts operate 7 am to 7 pm).
We tie up for the night at Port of Pittsford Park, right below the Main Street Bridge (there is no charge but some of the ports along the canal charge up to $15 to overnight).
We stroll the charming streets (and there are some gorgeous residential streets as well), and see what an affluent community Pittsford is. Old money and new money poured in over the last 15 years to revitalize the downtown area.
Pittsford was settled in 1789 by Revolutionary War veterans, but it was the Erie Canal that first brought prosperity to the town, because it facilitated transport to market of tons of heavy gravel from the nearby hills.
We see stunning Victorian-era buildings – the Phoenix Hotel, built in 1812 in the Federalist style, 1812 to serve the Erie Canal and Turnpike trade, restored 1967 as an office building across from the Town Hall, dated 1890. There is also the Canal Lamp Inn, a stunning Victorian, right beside the canal bridge. (Self-guided walk through Pittsford, villageofpittsford.org).
Just minutes after we finish our picnic dinner of pizza and get inside our boat and close the hatches, it starts to pour. We are cozy inside. We hear the patter of rain as we watch a DVD on our computer.
The star attraction – and the major character – in this travel epic is the Erie Canal, itself. The historic markers we come upon are like chapters in the story, and as our trip unfolds, our appreciation of what the canal was, what it represented, and the impact it had, grows.
All 11 Lockmasters in Erie Canal Adventures’ fleet sail from Macedon, near Rochester, NY, and with enough time, you can cruise some 200 miles from Buffalo to Lake Oneida in Syracuse along the canal. Besides sailing along the Erie Canal (as far as , you can also sail on other waterways, taking spurs south to the Finger Lakes, or north up the Oswego canal to Lake Ontario.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
2017 Women’s March may have been the largest single protest in history, but
women have been marching literally and virtually for 200 years. And for 200
years, the march, the campaign for women’s rights has been shorthand for
voting, education, health care, equal pay, workers rights, civil rights,
environmental justice, gun safety. Yes, there was that period when temperance
was a priority, as well. But it has only been in the 1970s, that Feminism – the
fight for women’s equality – took hold, and with it, the fight for the
essential right: reproductive freedom.
new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society simply
called “Women March” (part of The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium, www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org) traces
this long arc which has not always moved toward justice or equality. Indeed,
progress, on just about every front, has been in brief spurts of enlightenment.
In reality, that long arc is more zig-zags and a maze with brick walls to block
the beginning, women directed their activism to abolition of slavery, labor
rights, working conditions and pay equity, civil rights, health, education,
property rights, custody, rights for Native Americans – issues regarded as “moral imperative.”
“Women seized on the notion that women had a moral power, beyond home, a moral imperative to effect public policy,” said Jeanne Gardner Gutierrez, curatorial scholar in women’s history at the New-York Historical Society.
Without the right to vote, they took
advantage of the Constitution’s right to petition Congress – until Congress
said they would ignore any anti-slavery petition.
“It was infuriating. The one right
available to women, guaranteed by Constitution, swept away. They realized that
moral suasion has limits.”
rights was not at the core of the women’s activism, which was hardly a movement
then. Even at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the women leaders – mainly
Quaker women who already had a measure of equality within their religious
society – had to be persuaded (by
Frederick Douglass) to include the right to vote among their demands, enunciated in the Declaration of Sentiments, that
mimicked the Declaration of Independence. Their demands centered on equal pay
and rights to own property and have control of one’s own earnings, a growing
issue for women who were being employed in factories and for the first time
earning their own wage. Many women did not sign on. It may surprise many to
learn (as I did when visiting the Roosevelt historic site at Hyde Park) that
Eleanor Roosevelt was not an early supporter of suffrage.
the Civil War – as in the Revolutionary War and later World War II – women took
on roles that had been reserved for men: they managed their farms and
businesses while husbands and fathers were off fighting, they were nurses, and
organized fundraisers showing they could manage large financial projects (Sanitary Fair raised $1 million for union, the treasurer was
After the Civil War, there was a
great debate over whether women should seek the vote, whether under the 15th
amendment which said that men could not be denied the right
to vote simply based on their race,
voting should be a right of citizenship. Women were considered citizens, but
the Supreme Court found that citizenship did not automatically bestow voting
But a section of the exhibit labeled “Go West Young Woman” notes that in the Western territories, women did have right to vote (and apparently, women had the right to vote briefly in New Jersey, from 1776 to 1807 when the vote was restricted to white men. (See:On the Trail of America’s First Women to Vote)
those who think that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to run for
president (she was the first to run as a major party candidate) might be
surprised to learn that even before women won the right to vote, Victoria
Woodhull was the first woman to run for president as the Equal Rights Party
candidate in 1871. “Despite questions about eligibility to vote, women, she
reasoned, still could run for political office,” the notes read. Lawyer Belva
Lockwood, the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court, followed in 1884
and 1888 on the National Equal Rights Party
ticket and was the first woman to appear on
official ballots, endorsing equal rights, temperance, civil service
reform and citizenship for Native Americans; she won some 4,000 votes.
at a certain turning point, the women’s movement realized that moral suasion
wasn’t going to effect real change; the key to getting any of the changes and
rights they wanted was the right to vote.
used the latest techniques and technology to build support. Film was new in
1915, and a newsreel agency, Universal Animated Weekly, captured a 1915 strike
for workers rights (we get to see the film on a screen almost life-sized). The
films were distributed and shown in nickelodeons (small movie houses), and were an inexpensive
way to reach working-class people.
only in the 1960s-1970s, it seems, that women’s rights became equated with
reproductive rights, or more precisely, abortion, and coming almost
simultaneously with The Pill and sexual freedom that broke down gender
barriers. The threat to male domination became much starker – uprooting the
concept of women in the home, being consumers of appliances and cosmetics,
caring for children while men held the economic reins. Women could be fired for
becoming pregnant, could be paid a fraction of the same wage, and relegated
into specific jobs. Check out the classified job listing in the 1970s, and you
will see “male” and “female” listings.
really only comes to play in the 1980s, when the right to control one’s own
body, make one’s own choices, have the same right as men to self-determination,
takes hold. The outrage at women as
property, chattel, of objectification comes into focus.
you see a display with the first issue of Ms. Magazine, an organizing force
which reinforced women’s yearning for equal status.
in the earliest stages of activism, women’s issues were those that were
considered the “moral imperative” – abolition, workers rights – now it boiled
down to self, individual rights, but exploded back up again: women’s rights are
for others, feminism boiled down to one word: abortion.
Magazine publishes an amazing call to sign on to “a campaign for honesty and
freedom” along with a long list of 53 famous women who declared, “We have had
abortions” On the list: Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Judy Collins, Susan
Sontag, Lillian Hellman, Lee Grant, Gael Greene, Billie Jean King.
exhibit follows to the 2017 Women’s March, with some of the posters.
just to emphasize the importance of Women’s Suffrage, just outside the exit
door is a computer where you can check on your voter registration.
For as long as there has been a
United States, women have organized to shape the nation’s politics and secure
their rights as citizens. Their collective action has taken many forms, from
abolitionist petitions to industry-wide garment strikes to massive marches for
an Equal Rights Amendment. Women March celebrates the
centennial of the 19th Amendment—which granted women the right to vote in
1920—as it explores the efforts of a diverse array of women to expand American
democracy in the centuries before and after the suffrage victory.
On view in the Joyce B. Cowin
Women’s History Gallery, Women March is curated by Valerie
Paley, the director of the Center for Women’s History and New-York Historical
senior vice president and chief historian, with the Center for Women’s History
curatorial team. The immersive exhibition features imagery and video footage of
women’s collective action over time, drawing visitors into a visceral
engagement with the struggles that have endured into the 21st century.
The exhibition begins with the many
ways women asserted political influence long before they even demanded the
vote. Objects and images demonstrate how they risked criticism for speaking
against slavery, signed petitions against Indian Removal, raised millions to
support the Civil War, and protested reduced wages and longer days. A riveting
recreation of an 1866 speech by African American suffragist and activist
Frances Harper demonstrates the powerful debates at women’s rights conventions.
Absence of the vote hardly prevented women from running for political office:
one engaging item on display is a campaign ribbon for Belva Lockwood, the first
woman to argue before the Supreme Court, who won around 4,000 votes in her own
Multiple perspectives on the vote,
including African American and working-class activism, are explored, upending
popular assumptions that suffragists were a homogenous group. The 19th
Amendment is hailed as a crucial step forward, but recognized as an incomplete
victory. One photograph shows an African American women’s voter group in
Georgia circa 1920, formed despite wide disenfranchisement, and another shows
women of the League of Women Voters who sought to make suffragists’ goals real
with legislation that addressed issues such as public health and child welfare.
A digital interactive monitor invites visitors to explore the nuances of voting
laws concerning women across the entire United States.
Offering an examination of women’s
activism in the century after the Amendment, the exhibition concludes by
showing how women engaged with issues such as safe workplaces, civil rights,
reproductive justice, and freedom from violence. Photographs and video footage
of women building warships, boycotting segregation, urging voters to register,
and marching for the Equal Rights Amendment convey the urgency of their desire
for full citizenship. The dynamism of women’s collective action continues to
the present day with handmade signs from the 2017 Women’s Marches and footage
of a variety of marches and speeches on topics ranging from reproductive
justice to indigenous peoples’ rights to climate change. Visitors can also
learn about many individuals who have been instrumental in women’s activism
over the past 200 years in an interactive display compiled by New-York
Historical’s Teen Leaders program. Meanwhile, young visitors can explore the
exhibition with a special family guide.
on view through August 30, 2020, is one of four major special exhibitions
mounted by the New-York Historical Society that
address the cornerstones of citizenship and American democracy.
the Presidentswhich opened on President’s Weekend, is where you can
discover how the role of the president has evolved since George Washington with
a re-creation of the White House Oval Office, decorated “thread by thread”
exactly as it was during Ronald Reagan’s tenure, and a new gallery devoted to
the powers of the presidency.
Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American
Republic explores the important roles
state constitutions have played in the history of our country.
The People Count: The Census in the Making of Americadocuments
the critical role played by the U.S. Census in the 19th century—just in time
for the 2020 Census.
To encourage first-time voters to
learn about our nation’s history and civic as they get ready to vote in the
presidential election, New-York Historical Society offers free admission to the
exhibitions above to college students with ID through 2020, an initiative
supported, in part, by History®. This special program allows college students to
access New-York Historical’s roster of upcoming exhibitions that explore the
pillars of American democracy as they prepare to vote, most of them for the
“The year 2020 is a momentous time
for both the past and future of American politics, as the centennial of the
19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, coincides with both a
presidential election and a census year,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and
CEO of New-York Historical. “This suite of complementary exhibitions showcases
the ideas and infrastructure behind our American institutions that establish
and protect our fundamental rights to make our voices heard and opinions count.
We hope that all visitors will come away with a wider understanding of the
important role each citizen plays in our democracy.”
New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard
Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
One hundred years ago, women earned
the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. To honor their
fight and commemorate this moment in history, a collective of New York City
cultural organizations has formed the Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is a collaboration of cultural
organizations citywide that foregrounds exhibitions and programs that,
together, offer a multi-dimensional picture of the history of women’s suffrage
and its lasting, ongoing impact. The consortium has launched www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org to highlight the activities being presented across New
York City throughout 2020.
Founding members are the New-York
Historical Society, the Staten Island Museum, the New York Philharmonic, The
New York Public Library, Brooklyn Historical Society, the Museum of the City of
New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Brooklyn
Museum, Park Avenue Armory, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical
Announced programming includes the
exhibition Women March at the New-York Historical
Society, which explores the efforts of a
wide range of women to expand American democracy in the centuries before and
after the suffrage victory (February 28 – August 30); Women
of the Nation Arise! Staten Islanders in the Fight for Women’s Right to Vote at
the Staten Island Museum, which presents the remarkable stories of local
suffragists acting on the grassroots level to create the momentum necessary for
regional and national change and the bold tactics they employed to win the vote
(March 7 – December 30); the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19—a
multi-season initiative to commission and premiere 19 new works by 19 women
composers, the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history, which
launched earlier this month and continues in the spring (May – June) and
beyond; and 100 Years | 100 Women a partnership of Park
Avenue Armory with National Black Theatre and nine other cultural institutions in
New York City to commission work exploring the complex legacy of the 19th
Amendment 100 years after its ratification from 100 artists who identify as
women or gender non-binary (showcase of commissions on May 16).
The consortium is committed to
showcasing women’s contributions to the past, present, and future. Though many
women were given access to the right to vote 100 years ago, the fight for
equality continues. Their goal is to expand the conversation through meaningful
cultural experiences that convey that all women should be seen, heard, and
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is co-chaired by Janice Monger, president & CEO of the Staten
Island Museum, and Valerie Paley, director of the Center for Women’s History
and senior vice president and chief historian at the New-York Historical
Society, to bring together a group of vital New York City cultural
organizations with a shared vision to honor the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.
“We are so proud to bring together
this collective of organizations and colleagues who share the vision that
women’s stories are important and need to be told. All of these activities
represent multi-faceted, nuanced cultural and historical insights into the
early 20th century movement and equality in progress today,” said Janice
Monger, consortium co-chair and Staten Island Museum president & CEO.
“In an effort that was many decades
in the making, a century ago, women came together to fight for and win the
right to vote. While that right was not fully and immediately extended to all
women, their continued collective action galvanized movements to expand and
give substantive meaning to American democracy after the suffrage victory,”
said Valerie Paley, consortium co-chair and senior vice president and chief
historian at the New-York Historical Society, where she directs the Center for
Women’s History. “Through these cultural experiences across New York City, we
hope New Yorkers and visitors alike will be inspired by the women who made
history and the women who are making history now,” she added.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium will continue to grow as new programs and exhibitions are announced
during the year.
the National Trust for Historic
is compiling a catalog of 1000 sites associated with women of accomplishment and
is more than halfway to the goal of
identifying places Where Women Made History
and is inviting people to submit entries (go to the site to submit a photo and
year the United States commemorates the 100th anniversary of women gaining the
right to vote, providing an important opportunity to celebrate the place of
women in American history. While history, of course, is complicated, and voting
rights for many women continued to be denied because of discriminatory
practices, we at the National Trust want to tell the full history—to uncover
and uplift women across the centuries whose vision, passion, and determination
have shaped the country we are today. Our goal: discover 1,000 places connected
to women’s history, and elevate their stories for everyone to learn and
to do this, we need your help. What places have you encountered where women
made history? They can be famous or unknown, protected or threatened, existing
or lost. No matter their condition or status, these places matter, and we
encourage you to share them with the world.
a place you’d like to share? Submit a photo and a short description.”
checking the listings in New York State, I see already listed is Grange Hall, Waterloo,
NY, associated with Belva Ann Lockwood; Harriet Tubman House and Gravesite,
Auburn, NY; the former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York City, “Little
Nellie,” Newspaper Editress, Penfield, NY; Alice Austen House, Staten Island;
and Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue, Fayetteville, NY.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is sensational, awesome and profound. The
carved portrait in the cliff-side, which I first encounter by surprise as I
bike on the Mickelson Trail between Custer and Hill City is spectacular enough,
but there is so much more to discover. There is also a superb Museum of Native
Americans of North America (it rivals the Smithsonian’s Museum in Washington
DC) where you watch a terrific video that tells the story of the America’s
indigenous people, and can visit the studio/home of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski.
It is the highlight of our third day of the Wilderness Voyageurs “Badlands and
Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota.
I rush to join a tour (a
modest extra fee) that brings us right to the base of the sculpture. You look
into this extraordinary, strong face – some quartz on the cheek has a glint
that suggests a tear.
Only then do I realize that,
much to my surprise, seeing the scaffolding and equipment, that 70 years after
sculptor Ziolkowski started carving the monument in 1947, his grandson is
leading a crew to continue carving. Right now it is mainly a bust – albeit the
largest stone carving in the world – but as we see in the museum, the completed
sculpture will show Crazy Horse astride a horse, his arm outstretched toward
the lands that were taken from the Lakota.
At 87 ft 6 inches high, the Crazy Horse Memorial
is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. They are now working on
the 29-foot high horse’s head, the 263-foot long arm, and 33 ft-high hand, the
guide tells us. The horse’s head will be as tall as 22-story building,
one-third larger than any of the President’s at Mount Rushmore. The next phase of progress on the
Mountain involves carving Crazy Horse’s left
hand, left forearm, right shoulder, hairline, and part of the horse’s mane and
head over 10-15 years. The plan is to carve the back side of the
rock face as well, which would make the Crazy Horse Memorial a three-sided
When completed, the Crazy
Horse Mountain carving will be the world’s largest sculpture, measuring 563
feet high by 641 feet long, carved in the round. The nine-story high face of
Crazy Horse was completed on June 3, 1998; work began on the 22-story high
horse’s head soon after.
“One if hardest decisions
(after two years of planning) was to start with head, not the horse (in other
words, work way down),” the guide tells us.
In 71 years of construction,
there have been no deaths or life threatening injuries of the workers (though
there was that accident when a guy driving a machine slipped off edge; his father
told him he had to get the machine out himself.)
Four of Korczak and Ruth’s 10 children
and three of his grandchildren still work at the Memorial.
On the bus ride back to the
visitor center, the guide tells us that Zioklowski was a decorated World War II
veteran who was wounded on D-Day, but was so devoted to the Crazy Horse
Memorial, he even planned for his death: there is a tomb in a cave at the base
of the monument..
Back at the visitor
center/museum, the story about the Crazy Horse Memorial is told in an excellent
The overwhelming theme is to
tell the story, to give a positive view of native culture, to show that Native
Americans have their own heroes, and to restore and build a legacy that
survived every attempt to blot it out in a form of genocide.
There were as many as 18 million Indians living in North America when the Europeans arrived
(the current population is 7 million in the US). “These Black Hills are our
Cathedral, our sacred land,” the film says.
Crazy Horse was an Ogala
Lakota, born around 1840 on the edge of Black Hills. He was first called “Curly”
but after proving himself in battle, earned his father’s name, “Crazy Horse” (as
in “His Horse is Crazy”). The chief warned of encroaching “river” of settlers,
leading to 23-years of Indian wars. In 1876 Crazy Horse led the battle against
General Custer, the Battle of Little Big Horn (known as Custer’s Last Stand,
but Indians call it “the Battle of Greasy Grass”). It was a victory for the
Indians, but short-lived. Soon after, the US government rounded up the rebels
and killed Crazy Horse while he was in custody at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. (See www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/crazy-horse.htm)
I am introduced to a new hero: Standing Bear.
Standing Bear was born 1874 near Pierre, South Dakota, and was among the first Indian children sent away to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where his name was randomly changed to “Henry.” In the school, their Indian identity was forcibly removed – they cut the boys’ hair, they were not allowed to speak their language “to best help them learn the ways of non-native.”
“As a result of attending Carlisle, Standing Bear concluded that in order to best help his people, it would be necessary for him to learn the ways of the non-Native world. Somewhat ironically, Carlisle – an institution that was designed to assimilate Native Americans out of their indigenous ways – became a source of inspiration that Standing Bear would repeatedly draw upon to shape his enlightened understanding of cross-cultural relationships, as well as to find new ways of preserving his people’s culture and history.” He honed leadership skills like public speaking, reasoning, and writing, realizing that because of the changing times, the battle for cultural survival would no longer be waged with weapons, but with words and ideas. “This realization became a driving force behind much of his work during his adult life and led him to become a strong proponent of education,” the background material on the Crazy Horse Memorial website explains (crazyhorsememorial.org).
attended night school in Chicago while he worked for the Sears Roebuck Company
to pay for his schooling. With feet firmly placed in both worlds, he became
heavily involved in the affairs of his people over the course of his life and
politically astute —working with Senator Francis Case and serving as a member
of the South Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. He led the initiative to honor
President Calvin Coolidge with a traditional name – “Leading Eagle,”
taking the opportunity for advocacy during the naming ceremony to challenge
President Coolidge to take up the leadership role that had been previously
filled by highly-respected leaders such as Sitting Bull and Red Cloud.
In 1933, Standing
Bear learned of a monument to be constructed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, to
honor his maternal cousin, Crazy Horse, who was killed there in 1877. He wrote
to the organizer that he and fellow Lakota leaders were promoting a carving of
Crazy Horse in the sacred Paha Sapa – Black Hills.
Standing Bear looked for an
artist with the skill to carve the memorial to his people that would show
Indians had heroes too and turned to Korczak Ziolkowski, a self-taught
sculptor who had assisted at Mount Rushmore and had
gained recognition at the 1939 World’s Fair. Standing Bear invited him back to
the Black Hills.
Born in Boston of Polish descent in
1908, Korczak was orphaned when he was one year old. He grew up in a series of
foster homes and is said to have been badly mistreated. He gained skills in heavy construction
helping his foster father.
On his own at 16, Korczak took odd jobs
to put himself through Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, MA, after which he
became an apprentice patternmaker in the shipyards on the rough Boston
waterfront. He experimented with woodworking, making beautiful furniture. At
age 18, he handcrafted a grandfather clock from 55 pieces of Santa Domingo
mahogany. Although he never took a lesson in art or sculpture, he studied the
masters and began creating plaster and clay studies. In 1932, he used a coal
chisel to carve his first portrait, a marble tribute to Judge Frederick
Pickering Cabot, the famous Boston juvenile judge who had befriended and
encouraged the gifted boy and introduced him to the world of fine arts.
Moving to West Hartford, Conn., Korczak
launched a successful studio career doing commissioned sculpture throughout New
England, Boston, and New York.
Ziolkowski wanted to do something
worthwhile with his sculpture, and made the Crazy Horse Memorial his life’s
“Crazy Horse has never been
known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen,” Ziolkowski wrote. “Crazy
Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a
lineal likeness, but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his
people. With his left hand gesturing forward in response to the derisive
question asked by a white man, ‘Where are your lands now?’ He replied, ‘My lands
are where my dead lie buried’.”
There is no known photo of
Crazy Horse, Ziolkowski created his likeness from oral descriptions.
He built a log studio home
(which we can visit) at a time when there was nothing around – no roads, no
water, no electricity. For the first seven years, he had to haul himself and
his equipment, including a decompressor and 50 pound box of dynamite, up 741
Living completely isolated
in the wilderness, Korczak and his wife Ruth bought an 1880s one-room school
house, had it moved to this isolated property and hired a teacher for their 10
There is so much to see
here: The Museums of
Crazy Horse Memorial feature exhibits and engaging experiences that let you
discover Native history and contemporary life, the art and science of mountain carving and the lives of the Ziolkowski family.
INDIAN MUSEUM OF NORTH AMERICA® houses an enormous collection of art
and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native
Nations. The Museum, designed to complement the story being told in stone
on the Mountain, presents the lives of American Indians and preserves Native
Culture for future generations. The Museum collection started with a single display
donated in 1965 by Charles Eder, Hunkpapa Lakota, from Montana, which remains on display to this day. The
Indian Museum has about the same number of annual visits as the National Museum
of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Close to
90% of the art and artifacts have been donated by generous individuals,
including many Native Americans.
The gorgeous building housing the Museum
was designed and built by Korczak Ziolkowski and his family in the
harsh winter of 1972-73, when no work was possible on the Mountain.
The Museum incorporated Korczak’s love of wood and natural lighting, being
constructed from ponderosa pine, harvested and milled at Crazy Horse Memorial.
The original wing of the museum was dedicated on May 30, 1973. In the early 1980s,
Korczak planned a new wing of the Museum to accommodate the growing collection
of artifacts. He did not live to see his plans realized, instead his wife Ruth Ziolkowski and 7 of their children
made sure the new wing was built. The structure was built in the winter of
1983-84 and funding came in large part from a $60,000 check left in the Crazy
Horse Memorial contribution box in late August of 1983. The contributor said he
was moved by the purpose of Crazy Horse, Korczak, and his family’s great
progress and by the sculptor’s reliance on free enterprise and refusal to take
The Ziolkowski Family Life Collection is shown throughout the complex and demonstrates to people of all ages the timeless values of making a promise and keeping it, setting a goal and never giving up, working hard to overcome adversity, and devoting one’s life to something much larger than oneself. There are portraits of the couple and personal effects that tell their life’s story.
The Mountain Carving Gallery shares the amazing history of carving the Mountain. It features the tools Korczak used in the early years of carving, including a ½ size replica of “the bucket” – a wooden basket used with an aerial cable car run by an antique Chevy engine that allowed the sculptor to haul equipment and tools up the Mountain. Displayed in the Mountain Carving Room are the measuring models used to carve the face of Crazy Horse, plasters of Crazy Horse’s face and the detailed pictorial progression of carving the face. They also detail the next phase in the Memorial’s carving which is focused on Crazy Horse’s left hand and arm, the top of Crazy Horse’s head, his hairline, and the horse’s mane. If you stand in just the right spot, you can line up the model of how the finished work will look against the actual mountain sculpture as it is.
Crazy Horse Memorial is
actually a private, nonprofit (they also have a nonprofit college and medical
training center that educates Indians), and twice turned down federal funding
because “they didn’t believe the government would do it right.” Indeed, Mount
Rushmore (which we see on the last day of our bike tour) was never completed
because the federal government stopped funding the project. The entrance fee
($30 per car, 3 or more people, $24 per car two people, $12 per person, $7 per
bicycle or motorcycle) support the continued carving, the Indian Museum of
North America and the Indian University of North America, which assists qualifying
students get their college degrees.
Once again, I am so grateful
that I am not being pushed along with an artificial time limit by the
Wilderness Voyageurs guides, I wander through the vast complex trying to take
it all in. I am utterly fascinated.
I buy postcards for 25c apiece and stamps, sit with a (free) cup of coffee in the cafe and mail them at their tiny post-office. There is an excellent gift shop.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is
open 365 days of the year, with various seasonal offerings.
I’m the last one to leave
the Crazy Horse Memorial, and note that the bike of our sweeper guide for today John
is still on the rack, but
I figure he will see that I have gone and catch up to me, so I get back on the
Mickelson Trail. He catches me again when I don’t realize to get off the trail
at Hill City, where we are on our own for lunch and exploring the town.
Hill City is really
charming and the home of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, where you can
take a ride on an old-time steam railroad. The shops are really pleasant.
The Wilderness Voyageurs
van is parked there in case anybody needs anything.
The ride to the Crazy Horse Memorial was uphill on the rail trail for 8 miles but going down hill isn’t a picnic because of the loose gravel – but not difficult and totally enjoyable. We ride through train tunnels and over trestles. It is no wonder that the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, which is a centerpiece of the Wilderness Voyageurs’ tour, is one of 30 rail-trails to have been named to the Hall of Fame by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. We finish this day’s ride at Mystic at the 74.7-mile marker– we’ll ride the remaining miles on another day. Mystic used to be a significant town when the railroad ran here. Now there are just two buildings and four residents.
I notice the sign tacked up at the
shelter: Be Aware: Mountain Lions spotted on the trail toward Rochford within
the last few days.
We are shuttled back to Custer for our
second night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Express (very comfortable, with pool,
game room, WiFi and breakfast), and treated to a marvelous dinner at one of the
finer dining restaurants, the Sage Creek Grill (611 Mount Rushmore Road,
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor
adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike
itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great
Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.
are still a few spots left on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Quintessential West Cuba
Bike Tour departing on March 21.
You always make
fascinating discoveries at the New-York Historical Society, but the nexus of
exhibits and experiences that are being showcased through the holidays makes
this particularly prime time for a visit: flesh out who Paul Revere was beyond
his mythic Midnight Ride; see why Mark Twain, featured on the 150th
anniversary of the publication of his seminal book, “Innocents Abroad, or The
New Pilgrims’ Progress” was our first travel blogger; learn about the Baroness artist
in exile who made a visual diary, and, of course, become enchanted at the “Holiday
Express,” re-imagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author
and illustrator Richard Scarry.
Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere
Paul Revere is most famous for his
midnight ride warning people of Massachusetts “the British are
coming,” but the larger than life legend is not the focus of this
first-ever exhibit now on view at the New-York Historical Society. And while
his prowess as a silversmith and artisan is very much displayed, we are
surprised to learn about Revere as a printer, an engraver, an entrepreneur and innovator,
a savvy businessman, a Mason, a “proto-industrialist” – all of which figured
into his role as a patriot.
Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere separates fact
from fiction, revealing Revere as a complex, multifaceted figure at the
intersection of America’s social, economic, artistic, and political life in
Revolutionary War-era Boston as it re-examines his life as an artisan,
activist, and entrepreneur. The exhibition, featuring more than 140 objects, most
never before exhibited in public, highlights aspects of Revere’s versatile
career as an artisan, including engravings, such as his well-known depiction of
the Boston Massacre; glimmering silver tea services made for prominent clients;
everyday objects such as thimbles, tankards, and teapots; and important public
commissions, such as a bronze courthouse bell. There are personal items, as
well – most touching is the
gold wedding ring Paul Revere made for his second wife, Rachel, in a case below
portraits of the two of them, a thin band engraved inside with the words, “Live
Organized by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester,
curated by Nan Wolverton and Lauren Hewes, Beyond
Midnight debuts at New-York Historical through January 12, 2020, before
traveling to the Worcester Art Museum and the Concord Museum in Massachusetts
for a two-venue display (February 13 – June 7, 2020) and to Crystal Bridges
Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (July 4 – October 11, 2020). At New-York Historical, Beyond Midnight is
coordinated by Debra Schmidt Bach, New-York Historical’s curator of decorative
“When many of us think of Paul Revere, we instantly think of Longfellow’s lines,
‘One if by land, and two if by sea’, but there is much more to Revere’s story,”
said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society.
“This exhibition looks beyond the myth of Paul Revere
to better understand the man as a revolutionary, an artisan, and an
entrepreneur, who would go on to become a legend. There is much more to the
Revere story than the famous ride. We are proud to partner with the American
Antiquarian Society to debut this exhibition in New York.”
The New-York Historical
Society partnered with the American Antiquarian Society (of Boston) which holds
one of the most encompassing collections of Paul Revere’s documents, largely
due to the society being founded by Isaiah Thomas in 1812, an “omnivorous
collector,” who was a printer, publisher, patriot, colleague and customer of
Paul Revere’s as well as a fellow patriot advocating for a break from Great
The Antiquarian Society,
the oldest national historical society, is a research library and not a museum,
so its collection is not publicly exhibited. That’s why this collaboration with
the New-York Historical Society is so extraordinary.
A Revolutionary activist, Paul Revere was a member of the Sons of
Liberty, a secret group opposed to British colonial policy including taxation
that kept track of British troop movements and war ships in the harbor. The
exhibition displays Revere’s 1770 engraving of the landing of British forces at
Boston’s Long Wharf.
Four versions of Revere’s provocative engraving of the 1770 Boston Massacre are also reunited in the exhibition. The engravings capture the moment when British soldiers fired upon a crowd of unruly colonists in front of the Custom House. The print inflamed anti-British sentiment, and different versions of it were widely disseminated as Patriot propaganda.
The only known copy of a
broadside that still exists is on display under canvas.
But the print that most
fascinated me was the one that depicted the first casualty of the American
Revolution, a black man, Crispice Attucks, at the center. It was used to
advance the cause of abolition before the Civil War.
Paul Revere was a master craftsman specializing in metalwork,
including copperplate engravings and fashionable and functional objects made
from silver, gold, brass, bronze, and copper. An innovative businessman, Revere
expanded his successful silver shop in the years after the war to produce goods
that took advantage of new machinery. His fluted oval teapot, made from
machine-rolled sheet silver, became an icon of American Federal silver design.
You see marvelous
examples of Revere’s artistry as a silversmith – a skill he learned from his father.
There is a Revere tea service that had belonged to John Templeman, on loan from
the Minnesota Institute of Art, the most complete tea service by Revere in
existence, which he made toward the end of long career that lasted until he was
in his 70s.
Among the silver objects on view are two rare wine goblets
possibly used as Kiddush cups made by Revere for Moses Michael Hays—his only
known Jewish client—as well as grand tea services, teapots, tankards,
teaspoons, and toy whistles created in Revere’s shop.
But Revere, a genius at working with metals, also worked in brass and copper. He produced bells and cannon. Featured in the exhibit is a 1796 cast-bronze courthouse bell made for the Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, Massachusetts (about 100 Revere-created bells are still in existence and one, in Cambridge is still rung). The exhibition also explores how Revere’s trade networks reached well beyond Boston, even aboard ships bound for China. He frequently bought and sold raw and finished copper from New Yorker Harmon Hendricks and supplied copper for Robert Fulton’s famous steamship.
We learn that the silver that Revere
and the colonial silversmiths would have used came from South America, from
mines run by the Spanish with African slave and Indian labor. “Spanish coin was
the currency of colonial America. Revere
would melt old objects and coin for the silver.”
Meticulous account books
that are in the collection show that Revere had customers in and around Boston-
they are never shown except on microfilm, so it is very special to see these
originals. In one, we see where Revere made notations and sketches.
What we learn is that
Revere, who had 16 children, would create new businesses, set up new workshops
and put a son in charge as he went on to create a new one. “He had a drive to keep changing technology,
but he built on what he learned as a silversmith.”
Revere was a proto-industrialist
of the nascent nation; he changed from a workshop model that would employ two
to four people, to more of an industrial model, with six to eight people paid
The connection between
being an artisan, an entrepreneur and an innovator plays into his role as a
As you enter the exhibit, you see a nine-foot-tall re-creation of
the grand obelisk made for a 1766 Boston Common celebration of the repeal of
the Stamp Act, the first tax levied on the American colonies by England.
Originally made of wood and oiled paper, and decorated with painted scenes,
portraits, and text praising King George while also mocking British
legislators, the obelisk was illuminated from inside and eventually consumed by
flames at the Boston event. Local newspapers of the time described huge event.
The only remaining visual evidence is Revere’s 1766 engraving of the design
which was used to make the reproduction.
was a member of the Sons of Liberty and helped plan and execute the Boston Tea
Party in 1773, hurling tea into Boston Harbor. You get to see a vial of tea
from the Boston Tea Party that was collected from Dorchester Beach (the water
was cold so the bales of tea didn’t dissolve). One of the vials was given to
the Antiquarian Society in 1840.
place where the Sons of Liberty met to discuss their plans for the Tea Party,
the Green Dragon Tavern, was also where the Masons met. Revere was a member of
this secret society as well. The Masons were humanists, a clique and seen as
anti-Christian, inspiring anti-Masonic societies, because all religions,
including Jews like Hays, could join.
Thomas, a Masonic brother, was a patriot and like many of the merchants saw
America as independent of Great Britain, with its own ability to make
(manufacture), sell and distribute goods and not rely on Europe. Thomas
published a newspaper and hired Revere, who was a printer as well as an artist,
to do the book plate and masthead for his newspapers.
Isaiah Thomas, a Masonic brother, was a patriot and like many of the merchants saw America as independent of Great Britain, with its own ability to make (manufacture), sell and distribute goods and not rely on Europe. Thomas published a newspaper and hired Revere, who was a printer as well as an artist, to do the book plate and masthead for his newspapers.
Paul Revere was born in
America in 1735. His father was a French Huguenot who came as a young man from
Bordeaux France, emigrating first to the Isle of Jersey, and then to Boston as
a goldsmith. Revere’s father dies young and Paul, having finished his
apprenticeship, takes over at 19.
Revere belonged to an economic class called “mechanics,” ranked below merchants, lawyers, and clergymen. But Revere was a savvy networker, and what he lacked in social status, he made up for by cultivating influential connections. Membership in the Sons of Liberty led to commissions from fellow Patriots, but he also welcomed Loyalist clients, setting aside politics for profit. On view are nine elements from a grand, 45-piece beverage service that Revere created in 1773 for prominent Loyalist Dr. William Paine—the largest commission of his career—just two months before the Boston Tea Party.
A key associate was Isaiah
Thomas who, like Revere, exemplifies an American success story. Thomas was
poor but taught himself how to read, write and set type and became one of
wealthiest Americans as a printer, employing 150 people. It was the same with
Paul Revere and Ben Franklin – they all started from nothing, but became
successful – each of them had the ability in America to rise up, each was a
printer, and each was a great innovator and thinker. The exhibit makes clear
that a big part of Revere’s story is his importance as a printer.
The end of exhibit
focuses on the Revere legend and the reality.
Paul Revere died in 1818, at the age of 83 (he worked until his
70s), but his fame endured, initially for his metalwork and then for his
patriotism. In the 1830s, Revere’s engravings were rediscovered as Americans
explored their Revolutionary past, and his view of the Boston Massacre appeared
in children’s history books.
In 1860, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, after visiting the Old
North Church and hearing the story about the lanterns, was inspired to write
“Paul Revere’s Ride,” romanticizing (and somewhat embellishing) the story of
Revere’s journey to Lexington. The poem first appeared in the Atlantic
Monthly in January 1861 (an original copy of the magazine is on view
in the exhibition).
“Listen my children and you shall
hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,” Longfellow wrote 85 years after the event,
April 18, 1775. It was the eve of another revolution, the Civil War. Longfellow’s intention was not to promote the
idea of revolution but to remind Americans of our common foundation, our roots,
our unifying experience.
Before the Longfellow poem was
published, a new print of the famous Revere print of the Boston massacre was
published that put the black man, Crispice Attucks, the first man to die for
Revolution, America’s first martyr, in the center.
“The Civil War started in 1861. Longfellow was
an abolitionist and Boston was a hotbed of abolition. He wanted to remind the country
of its shared past. That is why he brought Revere back to life, but his life was
stripped down to one event,” curator Debra Schmidt Bach explains.
The exhibit is timely
now for much the same reason: with such intense partisanship, there is the
sense of needing to remind people of our common foundation.
In reality, Revere, who was 40 years old when he undertook his
famous ride, was on foot until he crossed the Charles River to Cambridge and
then rode a borrowed horse to Lexington. He was
also one of three riders and was stopped briefly by British officers and then
released when Revere talked his way out of being arrested. A map of the actual
ride is on display.
Works like the Longfellow poem, artist Grant Wood’s 1931 painting Midnight Ride of Paul Revere depicting a dramatic scene of Revere riding past Boston’s Old North Church (also an embellishment) and others enshrined Paul Revere at the heart of the nation’s founding story. By the turn of the 20th century, the tale of Paul Revere and his midnight ride was firmly established in the nation’s psyche as truth, not fiction, and Revere’s contributions as a metalsmith and artisan were overshadowed.
The Revere exhibit, and
the people who we are introduced to like Isaiah Thomas, reveals the DNA that
propelled the American Revolution: how Americans had become their own culture,
their own society, where an individual was not limited by birth, but could rise
up. The Stamp Tax and the Tea Tax imposed by Britain clarified the limitations
placed on the Americans’ economic development. More than a political
revolution, the American Revolution was an economic and social revolution.
In piercing the bubble
of the Revere legend, the exhibit exposes an even more interesting and
“Paul Revere” exhibit on view in NY until January
12, 2020 before
traveling to the Worcester Art Museum and the Concord Museum in Massachusetts
for a two-venue display (February 13 – June 7, 2020) and to Crystal Bridges
Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas (July 4 – October 11, 2020). Special
programming is offered in conjunction with the exhibit, check the website, www.nyhistory.org.
Mark Twain and
the Holy Land
This small alcove within
the New-York Historical Society is hallowed ground for a travel writer,
consisting of artifacts, leaves from journals, letters, stereotypes, photos
that re-create Mark Twain’s journey through the Holy Land in 1867. Twain’s
cruise aboard the Quaker City was a first – the first organized tour in
American history – and Twain was the first travel writer, sending back
dispatches of his impressions that were published in a San Francisco newspaper,
two years before his subsequent 1869 book, The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims’ Progress, one of the best-selling travelogues of all
Historical Society celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of Innocents Abroad with Mark Twain
and the Holy Land, on view through February 2, 2020. This new
exhibition traces the legendary American humorist’s 1867 voyage to the Mediterranean
and his subsequent book through original documents, photographs, artwork, and
costumes, as well as an interactive media experience.
by New-York Historical in partnership with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation,
it is curated by Michael Ryan, vice president and director of the Patricia D.
Klingenstein Library, and Cristian Petru Panaite, associate curator of
sail from New York for a great adventure abroad, Mark Twain captured the
feelings and reactions of many Americans exploring beyond their borders,
inspiring generations of travelers to document their voyages,” said Dr. Louise
Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “We are pleased
to partner with the Shapell Manuscript Foundation to present the history behind
this influential book by Twain, a uniquely American writer whose work helped to
define American culture in the postbellum era.”
What I delighted in most
was an interactive display where you can summon up a specific site Twain
visited, like the Holy Sepulchre, and read Twain’s notes and observations,
adjacent to a historic photo, that read like today’s travel blogs.
“We spurred up hill
after hill, and usually began to stretch our necks minutes before we got to the
top-but disappointment always followed – more stupid hills beyond – more unsightly
landscape – no Holy City. At last, away in the middle of the day, ancient bite
of wall and crumbling arches began to line the way-we toiled up one more hill,
and every pilgrim and every sinner swung his hat on high! Jerusalem!”
“Just after noon we
entered these narrow, crooked streets, by the ancient and the famed Damascus
Gate, and now for several hours I have been trying to comprehend that I am
actually in the illustrious old city where Solomon dwelt, where Abraham held
converse with the Deity, and where walls still stand that witnessed the
spectacle of the Crucifixion.”
“The great feature of
the Mosque of Omar is the Prodigious rock in the centre of its rotunda. It was
upon this rock that Abraham came so near offering up his son Isaac – this, at
least, is authentic – it is very much more to be relied on than most of the
traditions, at any rate. On this rock, also, the angel stood and threatened
Jerusalem, and David persuaded him to spare the city.”
expressed disgust at the way his fellow travelers treated hallowed sites. “Pilgrims
have come in with their pockets full of specimens broken from the ruins. I wish
this vandalism could be stopped.” But Twain himself carried back items (a list is
provided) including marble from the Parthenon in Athens, mummies from Egyptian
pyramids, a letter opener made from Abraham’s oak and olive wood from Jerusalem.
Artist in Exile:
The Visual Diary of Baroness Hyde de Neuville
Artist in Exile: The Visual Diary of Baroness Hyde de Neuville introduces visitors to a little-known artist whose work documented the people and scenes of early America. The exhibit, on view November 1, 2019 – January 26, 2020 in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery of the Center for Women’s History, presents 115 watercolors, drawings, and other works by Anne Marguérite Joséphine Henriette Rouillé de Marigny, Baroness Hyde de Neuville (1771–1849). Self-taught and ahead of her time, Neuville’s art celebrates the young country’s history, culture, and diverse population, ranging from Indigenous Americans to political leaders.
All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown
holiday favorite returns to the New-York Historical Society this
season—reimagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and
illustrator Richard Scarry. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard
Scarry’s Busytown (November 1, 2019 – February 23, 2020) showcases
artwork and graphics of Scarry’s characters like Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm from
publisher Random House Children’s Books alongside more than 300 objects from
the Jerni Collection’s antique toy trains, stations, and accessories. Using
Busytown stories and characters, dynamic displays explore the workings of the
railroad, the services it provides, and the jobs required to keep people and
goods moving. An assortment of kid-friendly activities, story times, and crafts
accompany the exhibition throughout its run, welcoming families into the world
of classic toys and trains. Richard “Huck” Scarry Jr., the son of Richard
Scarry, will make a special appearance on December 14 and 15. Holiday
Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown is supported by
Bloomberg Philanthropies. Additional support provided by Random House
Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (77th St), New York, NY
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).
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
Abu Dhabi is one of those places
where the impression you have is either completely wrong or nonexistent. At
least for me. Coming here on the Global Scavenger Hunt is yet another instance
of proving what travel is all about: seeing, learning, connecting for yourself,
and undoing stereotypes and caricatures.
Yes, Abu Dhabi is about conspicuous
ostentation. That part of the pre-conception seems validated.
But what I appreciate now is how an
entire nation state was built relatively recently out of a chunk of desert. The
skyscrapers and structures have grown up here in a matter of decades, not
My first awareness comes visiting
Fort Hassan, the original defensive fort and government building, and later the
sheik’s residence built around (it reminds me of the White House, which is both
the home of the head of government and government office). Fort Hassan has been
restored (not rebuilt) and only opened to the public in December 2018. It
provides the history of Abu Dhabi (https://qasralhosn.ae)
Qasr al Hosn, as it is properly called, is the oldest and
most significant building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city’s first permanent
structure; the watchtower. Built around the 1790’s, the commanding structure
overlooked the coastal trade routes and protected the growing settlement
established on the island.
It consists of two major buildings: the Inner Fort (originally
constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-45). Over the centuries, it has
been home to the ruling family, the seat of government, a consultative council
and a national archive; it now stands as the nation’s living memorial and the
narrator of Abu Dhabi’s history.
Transformed into a museum in 2018 after more than 11 years
of intensive conservation and restoration work, Qasr Al Hosn is a national
monument that encapsulates the development of Abu Dhabi from a settlement
reliant on fishing and pearling in the 18th century, to a modern, global metropolis,
with displays of artifacts and archival materials dating back to as far as 6000
You see photos of how the
fort/palace looked in 1904, with nothing but desert and a couple of palm trees
around it. Today, it is ringed (yet not overwhelmed) by a plethora of
skyscrapers, each seeming to rival the next for most creative, most gravity-defying,
most odd and artful shape. It is like a gallery of skyscrapers (New York City
Museum of Skyscrapers take note: there should be an exhibit) – for both their
art and engineering. I note though that as modern as these structures are, they
basically pick up and mimic some of the pattern in the old fort. And the
building boom just seems to be going on.
And then you consider this: it’s all
built on sand (and oil). “In 500 years from now, will these be here?” Bill
Chalmers, the organizer of the Global Scavenger Hunt for the past 15 years,
remarks. We had just come for Bagan, Myanmar, where the temples have been
standing since the 11th century despite earthquakes and world
events, and Yangon, where we visited the Schwedagon Pagoda that dates back
There is also a Hall of Artisans
which begins with an excellent video showing how the crafts reflected the
materials that were at hand (eventually also obtained through trade) and then
you see women demonstrating the various crafts, like weaving. (Indoors, with
very comfortable air-conditioning and facilities.)
From there, I walk to a “souk” at
the World Trade Center that had stalls of some traditional items – wonderful
spices for example – but in a modern (air-conditioned comfort!) setting, and
directly across the street from a major modern mall promising some 270
different brand shops. Souks are aplenty here.
My walk lets me revel in the
skyscape. I come upon an intriguing road sign pointing toward the Federal
Authority for Nuclear Regulation.
I find myself dashing to get to the
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where I had pre-booked the 2 pm tour. I didn’t
realize how far it is from downtown – a 35-minute drive. The taxi driver, who I
learn was recruited to come work in Abu Dhabi from his home in Ghana along with
many other young men, and lives in an apartment building with other migrant
workers, has to stop for gas and I worry I will miss the tour altogether.
The visit to the Falcon Hospital is
truly a highlight of a visit to Abu Dhabi. It is fascinating to learn how these
prized birds are handled. We are taken into the treatment area, surprised to
see a couple of dozen hooded falcons, waiting patiently in what is a waiting
room for their “appointment”. Their owners drop them off for the day for
whatever checkup or healthcare they require; others stay in the falcon hospital
(the biggest in Abu Dhabi and one of the biggest in the world), for months
during their moulting season, when, as wild falcons, they would otherwise live
in the mountains for six months. They are provided the perfect cool temperatures
they would have in that habitat, before coming to the desert in spring to hunt,
and later to breed.
We get to watch a falcon being
anesthesized – they quickly pull off his hood, at which point he digs his claws
into the gloved hand holding him, and his face is quickly stuffed into the mask
and put to sleep. His claws, which normally would be shaved down in the wild,
become dangerously overgrown in captivity; the falcon doctor also shows how
they can replace a feather that has become damaged, possibly impeding the
bird’s ability to fly or hunt (they can carry prey four times their weight).
The feather has to be an exact match, which they match from the collection of
feathers from previous moultings. Then we get to hold a falcon. Not
surprisingly this is one of the scavenges on the Global Scavenger Hunt (worth
35 points in the contest to be named “World’s Greatest Traveler”).
We learn that the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (ADFH) is the
first public institution in the United Arab Emirates providing comprehensive
veterinary health care services exclusively for falcons. It was established by
the Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and opened in October 1999. The Abu
Dhabi Falcon Hospital has become the largest falcon hospital in the United Arab
Emirates and in the world, caring for 11,000 falcons a year and more than
110,000 patients since its opening.
From being established as a purely veterinary facility,
the ADFH has expanded in the fields of education and awareness, training and
research. Due to the huge demand the falcon hospital has became a full-fledged
specialized avian hospital for all kinds of birds and poultry species in 2006.
In 2007, it added services for a wide variety of VIP pets and in 2010 opened an
animal shelter. In 2011, it began its own falcon breeding program and breeds
Saker falcons for the H.H. The Late Shk Zayed Falcon Release Program.
2007, ADFH opened its doors to what has become an award-winning tourism program
and has become the most important tourist attraction in Abu Dhabi – for good
It is a thrilling and unique
experience. I meet a woman from Switzerland who is engaged in a four-week
internship at the falcon hospital, learning how to handle and care for the
falcons – information she will bring back as a high school teacher. She tells
me the falcons are very kind and gentle and bond with their owner. The feeling
is clearly reciprocal – these prized falcons, which can cost up to $1 million,
can fly on an airplane in the first class cabin with their owner (they have to
have their own passport to prevent illegal trafficking), have their own seat
and their own menu (fresh killed meat).
The Grand Mosque
Next I go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand
Mosque – an experience that is not to be believed. If you thought the Taj Mahal
was magnificent, a wonder of the world, the Grand Mosque which was built in
1999 and uses some of the same architectural and decorative design concepts,
vastly surpasses it, in architectural scale and in artistic detail. Not to
mention the Taj Mahal is basically a mausoleum, while the Grand Mosque is a
religious center that can accommodate 7800 worshippers in its main sanctuary,
31,000 in the courtyard and altogether up to 51,000 worshippers for such high
holy days as Ramadan. At more than 55,000 sq. meters it is the largest mosque
in the United Arab Emirates and one of the largest in the world. And every
cubic meter of it spectacularly decorated – the courtyard is one of the largest
mosaics in the world.
I time the visit to arrive about
4:30 pm in order to be there at dusk and sunset – and go first to what is
labeled “the Visitors Happiness Desk” – how could I resist? The two gentlemen
who manned the desk (surprisingly who are natives of Abu Dhabi when 88 percent
of the population here come from some place else) are extremely well suited to
their role – extremely friendly, helpful. As I am asking my questions, who
should come down the escalator but my Global Scavenger Hunt teammate (small
world!), so we visit together.
The experience of visiting is
surprisingly pleasant, comfortable, welcoming – not austere as I expected
(especially after having visited Buddhist temples in Myanmar where even when
the stones are hot enough to fry an egg, you have to walk completely barefoot).
Women must be fully covered, including hair, but they provide a robe (free). (I
look like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.)
Indeed, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque “aims to cultivate interaction between Islam and world cultures… Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations and celebrate cultural diversity by creating a haven that is truly diverse and inspirational in its foundation. The mosque’s architects were British, Italian and Emirati, and drew design inspiration from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt among other Islamic countries, to create this glistening architectural marvel accommodating 40,000 worshippers and visitors at a time.
“The open-door policy invites tourists and celebrants from all around the world who can witness the spectacular onion-top domes, the reflective pools that engulf the courtyard and the iconic prayer hall, which not only overflows with blissful sunlight, but also houses the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade. Be sure to spot the calligraphy encircling the hollows of the domes, etched with verses from the Quran and painted with gold leaves in An-Naskh lettering.”
When you arrive at the Visitors
Center, which is at some distance from the mosque, you walk underground to where
there is an air-conditioned mall, with restaurants and shops, then go through a
tunnel like an airport (an electric cart is available for those who can’t walk
distances; it kind of reminded me of how Disney moves its visitors into its
The public tour (an absolute must)
is also free, indeed, the admission ticket to the Grand Mosque is free.
(Fortunately, Margo manages to get us on the last public tour of the day which
had already left, getting the guard to let us slip under a barrier.) Our guide
is a delightful young woman who cheerily walks us through and points out the
amazing art and details. The mosque is massively large in scale, but looks
Just as we leave a touch of sunlight
breaking through clouds that make the structures even more beautiful, if that
were possible. By the time we get outside, the lights have come on (www.szgmc.gov.ae/en/Home ).
I ask the Happiness guys where to go
for the best view of the Grand Mosque after dark, and, instead of the adjacent
hotel where I had first been directed, they point us to The Souk at Qaryat (Al
Beri), just across the water from the mosque. Sure enough, the view is
Global Scavenger Hunt Challenges
We had arrived in Abu Dhabi about
midnight local time the night before, after having left our hotel in Myanmar at
5:15 am, flying an hour to Bangkok where we had an eight-hour layover challenge
(I only managed to do a water taxi on the canal and explore the Golden Mountain
and some buildings and watched preparations for the King’s coronation (I later
heard it was for a parade that day). Then flew six hours to Abu Dhabi where we
gained 3 hours (that is how we make up the day we lost crossing the
International Dateline and why it is so hard to keep track of what day or time it
is), so for us, midnight was 3 am. Bill Chalmers, the organizer, ringmaster and
Chief Experience Officer of the Global Scavenger Hunt tells us this was the
most arduous travel day we would have (and the 18 hours travel from Vancouver
to Vietnam was the longest airline trip).
We have had a full day in Abu Dhabi
to do our scavenges. Tonight’s scavenger hunt deadline is 10 pm, when we will
learn where our next destination will be on the 23-day day mystery tour. Only
five of the original nine teams are still in contention to win the title,
“World’s Best Traveler” (and free trip to defend the title next year).
The scavenges are designed to give
us travel experiences that take us out of our comfort zone, bring us closer to
people and immerse us in cultures. In Abu Dhabi, one of the experiences that
would earn 100 points is to be invited for dinner with a family in their home.
“It is always a good thing to be invited for dinner with a family in their
home. If you are, and you do – please do bring something nice for them, be
patient and be gracious. Of course, we want proof.”
Another is to “hold an informal
majlis with actual locals (people actually from UAE and not at any hotel) over
an Arabica coffee; talk about a few things like the future of Abu Dhabi, oil,
tourism, arranged marriages, Western values, etc.” That would earn 35 points.
Other possibilities: ride “the
world’s fastest rollercoaster” (75 points – Paula and Tom, the SLO Folks and
returning champions, did that and said it felt like 4G force); walk the
Emirates Palace from end to end and have a “golden cappuccino” (they literally
put gold flakes in the cappuccino, this is Abu Dhabi after all) for 35 points;
take in the grandeur of the Presidential Palace, only recently opened to the
public, and visit Qasr Al Watan, a building within the compound dubbed “’Palace of the
Nation” (complete with huge white domes,
lush gardens and dramatic chandeliers, the new landmark is intended to give
visitors a stronger understanding of the UAE’s governing traditions and values.
There is also a spectacular nightly show.) (50 points).
Many of the scavenges (including
mandatory ones) have to do with local food, because foods and food preparations
are so connected to heritage, culture and environment and bring people
together. One of the scavenges here is to assemble three flavors of camel milk
from a grocery store and do a blind taste test (35 points).
Unfortunately, an attraction we all
wanted to visit, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was closed. The museum, which opened in
November 2017, is a collaboration with the famous Louvre of Paris, France, and
intended to be a “universal museum in the Arab World,” focusing on “what unites
us: the stories of human creativity that transcend individual cultures or
civilizations, times or places.”
The pioneering cultural project
combines “the UAE’s bold vision of cultural progression and openness with
France’s expertise in the world of art and museums.” The museum was expected to
exhibit Leonard Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, considered the most expensive
painting in the world (purchased for $450 million at auction in November 2017,
believed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sulman), but delayed the exhibition.
A lasting impression that I will
carry away from this brief visit to Abu Dhabi is that its theme this year is
“Year of Tolerance” which also goes to what we have experienced here:
attractions and programs intended to promote understanding of Islamic history,
heritage and culture.
Our accommodation in Abu Dhabi is
the five-star St. Regis (just about all the accommodations arranged for the
Global Scavenger Hunt are five-star), which serves the most extravagant
breakfast. Purposefully, our ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer, Bill
Chalmers, has arranged it so we will have two, lavish breakfasts here, much to
our collective delight.
The hotel has a stunning rooftop
pool and bar (what a view!) and is connected by a tunnel under the busy
boulevard to the beach on the Persian Gulf.
We gather together at 10 pm in the
lavish lobby of the St. Regis, excitedly trade stories about our travel
adventures during the day. Inevitably, I am jealous of the things I didn’t do,
couldn’t fit in to do – like visiting the Fish Market, the Iranian Souk, the
Presidential Palace! (can’t believe I missed that), built for the tidy sum of
$5 billion (open til 7 pm, then a lightshow at 7:30 pm).
And then we learn where we are going