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Biking through the Badlands is Voyage of Discovery Millions of Years in the Making

Badlands National Park, South Dakota is 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires and the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My first look at Badlands National Park is not anything I expected or visualized. The Pinnacles entrance to the national park, where the Wilderness Voyageurs guides have taken us for our first ride of the six-day “Badlands and Black Hills” bike tour of South Dakota, is aptly named for the spires that form this otherworldly landscape.

Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires and the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The Badlands Wilderness Area covers 64,000 acres, where they are reintroducing the black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in North America. Just beyond is The Stronghold Unit, co-managed with the Oglala Sioux Tribe where there are sites of the 1890s Ghost Dances. But as I soon learn, Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old, a period between dinosaurs and hominids.

Badlands, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The name “Badlands” was intentional, for the earliest inhabitants and settlers found the extremes of climate and landscape extremely harsh. The American Lakota called this place “mako sica,” or “land bad” and early French trappers called it “les mauvaises terres a traverser,” both meaning “badlands.” Those very same French trappers would be the first of many Europeans who would, in time, supplant the indigenous people, as they were soon followed by soldiers, miners looking to strike it rich with gold, cattlemen, farmers, and homesteaders recruited from as far away as Europe.

We get our bikes which our guides – James Oerding and John Buehlhorn – make sure are properly fitted, and outfit us with helmet, water bottle, Garmin. They orient us to the day’s ride – essentially biking through the national park on the road (“Don’t stop riding as you go over the cattle guards”; when the van comes up alongside, tap our helmet if we need help or give a thumbs up otherwise). We will meet up at the 8.2 mile mark where there is a nature walk and the van will be set up for lunch. 

Setting out on our Wilderness Voyageurs bike trip through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And then we are off at our own pace down an exquisite road (the cars are not a problem). That is a mercy because the vistas are so breathtaking, I keep stopping for photos. And then there are unexpected sightings – like bighorn sheep.

At the 8.2 mile mark, we gather at the van where James has set out a gourmet lunch.

There is a boardwalk nature trail (I note the sign that warns against rattlesnakes and wonder about the kids who are climbing the mounds with abandon). I realize I am in time for a talk with Ranger Mark Fadrowski, who has with him original fossils and casts of fossils collected from the Badlands for us to look at and touch. We can see more – and even scientists working at the Fossil Prep Lab – at the Visitor Center further along our route.

Badlands, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“There are no dinosaurs here,” Ranger Fadrowski explains. “This area was underwater when dinosaurs lived.” But these fossils – gathered from 75 million years ago and from through 34 to 37 million years ago (there is a 30-million year gap in the fossil record), fill in an important fossil record between dinosaurs and hominids (that is, early man). Teeth, we learn, provide important information about the animal – what it ate, how it lived – and the environment of the time.

Ranger Mark Fadrowski gives a talk on the fossils found at Badlands National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Pierre Shale, the oldest layer when this area was under a shallow sea, is yielding fossils from 67-75 million years ago. He shows us a fossil of a Mosasaur, giant marine lizards, an ancestor of the Komodo dragon, and one of the biggest sea animals.

 “We don’t have fossils from the 30-million year gap – either the sediment was not deposited or it eroded.” Indeed, we learn that these tall spires of rock with their gorgeous striations, are eroding at the rate of one inch each year, and will be completely gone in another 100,000 to 500,000 years. But the erosion also exposes the fossils.

The environment changed from a sea to a swamp during the Chadron Formation, 34-37 million years ago. “That was caused when the Rocky Mountains formed, with a shift in Teutonic plates. That pushed up and angled the surface so water drained into the Gulf of Mexico.” It was formed by sediments carried by streams and rivers flowing from the Black Hills, deposited in a hot and humid forest flood plain.

Alligators lived during this time. The alligator fossils found here show that the animal hasn’t changed in 30 million years. The alligators migrated when the environment changed, so survived.

During the Brule Formation, 30-34 million years ago, this area was open woodlands, drier and cooler than during the Chadron Formation; in some areas, water was hard to find. Animals that lived here then include the Nimravid, called “a false cat” because it seems to resemble a cat but is not related. The specimen he shows was found by a 7-year old girl just 15 feet from the visitor center and is the most complete skull found to date (imagine that!); there are two holes in the skull that show it was killed by another Nimravid. Also a three-toed horse (now extinct); and a dog.

Many hikers in Badlands National Park have found fossils right on the trail, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In fact, it turns out it is not at all unusual for visitors to the park to come upon important fossils (there is a whole wall of photos of people and their finds just from this year). In fact, one visitor, Jim Carney, a photographer from Iowa, found two bones sticking up and reported the location. “They thought it would be a single afternoon. It turned out to be a tennis-court sized field, now known as the Pig Dig; the dig lasted 15 summers and yielded 19,000 specimens, including the “Big Pig.”

Fossil of “The Big Pig” is displayed at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It was found at the beginning of the Brule Formation, when the area was drying out. “We believe it was watering hole drying up. Animals caught in the mud were prey for other animals.”

This is a place of Archaeotherium, Oredonts, Mesohippus, Subhyracodon, Hoplophoneus, Metamynodon, Cricid and Paleolagus.

The Sharps Formation, 28-30 million years ago, is where they have found Oreodont fossils. “The name means ‘mountain teeth’ because of the shape of its teeth, not the environment.” Fossils are identified mostly because of teeth which are most common to survive and reveal clues about behavior and what the animal ate, which speaks to the environment.

He shows us the fossil of an Oviodon. “It is weird, there isn’t anything alive like it. The closest relative is camel – like the weird cousin that no one knows how related. It is the most commonly found fossil – which means it was probably a herd animal.” And a Merycoidodon (“ruminating teeth”), which he describes as “a sheep camel pig deer”.

“The Badlands are eroding, so will reveal more fossils. Fossils are harder than rock, so won’t erode as fast.” Interestingly, only 1% of all life is fossilized. “We have to assume there are missing specimens.”

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Badlands “is particularly lush for fossils – because of the types of sediment that preserves them well.– 600,000 specimens have been collected from the Badlands since paleontologists first started coming here in the 1840s. Just about every major institution in the world has specimens that were originally found here, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

They provide clues to the “Golden Age of mammals – half-way between when dinosaurs ended and today – horses, camels, deer.”

I had no idea.

I’m so grateful that John (elected the sweeper for today’s ride) has not rushed me away and, in fact, waited patiently without me even realizing he was there.

Wilderness Voyageurs lunch stop on our ride through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I continue on, stopping often to take photos of the extraordinary landscape with its shapes and textures and striations. I barely miss a dead rattlesnake on the road (I think it was dead) and am too rattled to stop and take a photo.

I get to the Visitor Center which has superb displays and an outstanding film (must see). Again, no one is rushing me away, so I stay for the film, “The Land of Stone & Light”.

Native Americans have been in this area for 12,000 years; the Lakota came from the east around 1701 following buffalo, their culture was so dependent on buffalo. “They would pray for the buffalos’ well being” rather than their own.”

Treaties were signed that defined the borders, but they were broken. The white settlers demanded more and more of the Indian land, especially after gold was discovered in the Black Hills. (I later learn it was William Custer, the famous General of Custer’s Last Stand, who discovered the gold.)

Buffalo were at the center of Lakota culture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The buffalo – so precious to the Lakota – were hunted nearly to extinction. The white men put up fences for their ranches and farms, preventing the buffalo from migrating. “What happens to the buffalo, happens to Lakota” – they were forced to cease their traditional life, settle down and farm or ranch. Resistance led to tragedy (Battle of Wounded Knee). (There is a photo of the Wounded Knee Massacre at the Trading Post.)

By the turn of the 20th century, the federal government was inviting homesteaders to come out and settle the West – they would get 160 acres if they could last five years on the land. They advertised abroad, enticing immigrants to “the luscious plains in the Dakotas.”

Lumber and stone was rare in the Badlands, so the settlers built their shanties of sod, called “sodbusters.”

“Living was hard; small-scale farming couldn’t succeed. They endured blistering summers, cruel winters, extreme wind. Many left” especially in the Great Depression. I think how ironic.

“Before the Lakota, before the dreams of homesteaders ended, paleontologists came here 150 years ago.” The layered landscape of the Badlands told the story of geologic change, of climate change, that is still continuing. The Badlands are eroding fast – at the rate of one inch per year, “so in 100,000 to 500,000 years, all will be gone. The earth is a dynamic and changing system.”

Badlands National Park is 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires and the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ecology is complex. This is a mixed grass prairie – it may look dry, but the tangled roots store nutrients. Animals help sustain it –the bison churn up the soil, mixing the moisture and scattering seeds; prairie dogs are critical to the ecosystem, too – they also stir up the soil, and the burrows they dig are used by other animals like owl and ground squirrel. The black footed ferret lives in abandoned burrows and also eats prairie dogs.

The farmers’ attempt to eliminate prairie dogs resulted in the near-extinction of black-foot ferret. They have been reintroduced; also swift fox, bighorn sheep.

Coming upon longhorn sheep during our ride through Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The mission of National Parks is to preserve and restore – but we can’t restore the biggest animals that once were here – the prairie wolf and grizzly bear.”

I’m about to leave when I stumble upon the Paleontology Lab, which is open to the public, where we can watch as two paleontologists painstakingly work to remove sediment from bone – their efforts magnified on a TV screen.

Visitors can watch as a paleontolgist works painstakingly to release fossilized bone from rock at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“I am working on a Merycoidodon, an oreodont, which is a group of hoofed mammals native to North America,” the sign says in response to what must be the zillionth time a visitor asks. “Although they have no living relatives in modern times, oreodonts are related to another native North American mammal: the camel. Oreodonts are sheep-sized and may have resembled pigs, but with a longer body, short limbs and with teeth adapted for grinding tough vegetation. The skulls of Merycoidon have pits in front of the eyes, similar to those found in modern deer which contain scent glands used for marking territory. Oreodonts lived in herds and may at one point have been as plentiful in South Dakota as zebras are in the African Serengeti.”

But the paleontologists are happy to answer questions, too. One tells me she has part of an ear canal (very unusual) and ear bones. “It’s unusual to have the upper teeth. This is a sub-adult –I can see wisdom teeth and unerupted teeth.” She is working on a Leptomerycid – relative of mouse deer – an animal the size of house cat.

It has taken her 170 hours to extract teeth from rock.

“This is the second time anyone got an upper row of teeth for this species. It may change scientists’ understanding. We’re not sure if it is a separate species – it has a different type of tooth crown. But having a second fossil means we can compare.”

Visitors can watch as a paleontolgist works painstakingly to release fossilized bone from rock at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just then, the senior paleontologist, Ed Welch comes in and tells me that because teeth are used to determine species, the work being done could prove or disprove whether this animal is a separate species.

Welch says it so far looks like a species that was named in 2010 based on the lower teeth. “Now we have upper teeth and part of the skull. The difference could be variation by ecology (for example, what it ate). It was found at same site so would have been contemporary. We looked at several hundred jaws. This one could be an ‘ecomorph’ – just different because of what it ate.”

The Badlands have some of the oldest dogs ever found, and the most diversity. In the display case is one of only eight specimens ever found – the other seven are at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City but they are not displayed; this is only specimen that can be viewed.“It is the oldest one of its kind,” 33-32 million years old – and was found by a college student from Missouri.

He says the seven-year old girl who found the saber cat fossil that the Ranger showed, came back this year, now 16 years old.

“We ask visitors to leave the fossil where it is and report to us, give us photos, a GPS, so we can locate. Some of the fossils were found right on the trail, not even in remote areas.

Probably the most famous – a hero around the lab – is photographer Jim Carney of Iowa who found two bones that ended up being a big bone bed that so far has yielded 19,000 specimens.

Judging by wall of photos of visitors and their finds just in 2019 it would seem that people have great odds and probability of finding important fossil. Add fossil hunting to the hiking or biking adventure.

Dramatic scenery in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The fossils collected here since the 1840s are in every major institution. While fossils of dinosaurs and early man might get everyone excited, these fossils – the middle of the Age of Mammals – are important to fill out that story of ecological and evolutionary change.

“The Badlands is in the middle of the earth’s transition from Greenhouse to Ice House – and the fossils found here show how animals responded to the ecological change: “adapt, migrate or go extinct.”

Welch made the decision to open the paleontology lab so people can see scientists at work. “We decided to do more than a fishbowl, to make it a great education tool.”

The Fossil Preparation Lab in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is typically open from 9 am – 4:30 pm daily from the second week in June through the third week in September.

Badlands National Park is open year-round.

(More information on Badlands National Park at www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm, www.nps.gov/badl/planyourvisit/events.htm)

During our ride through the Badlands National Park, I spot the major animals that are resident here: bighorn sheep; American bison, pronghorn (also called antelope), mule deer and black-tail prairie dog. The one I miss is a coyote (yet to come).

The breathtaking scenery as we bike through Badlands National Park © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have 12 miles further to bike to our accommodation for the night, the Circle View Guest Ranch, which proves to be an amazing experience in itself.

Wilderness 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.

There are still a few spots left on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Quintessential West Cuba Bike Tour departing onMarch 21.

Wilderness Voyageurs, 103 Garrett St., Ohiopyle, PA 15470, 800-272-4141, bike@Wilderness-Voyageurs.com, Wilderness-Voyageurs.com

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© 2020 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Philadelphia Offers Treasure Trove of History, Heritage, Culture: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin), and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute and can’t wait to come back.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

You get a taste of what to expect in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) as you enter the South Street neighborhood. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, who has lived in the neighborhood since moving there with his wife, Julia, in the late 1960s when it was derelict and blighted, turned trash and broken walls into sparkling mosaic art. Otherwise forbidding narrow alleyways and whole sides of buildings twinkle with the pieces of broken mirrors and glass and humor (you can’t help but smile). But nothing prepares you for the awe you feel when you walk out of the two indoor galleries into the Magic Gardens.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is a riot of handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, international folk art, recreated into walls, pathways, stairways, layers and levels. There is so much to explore and discover – not just visually, but emotionally. Woven into the art are Zagar’s profound, personal sayings, expressions, thoughts, feelings: “I build this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” “Imagery which refuses to stabilize.” “The complexity of various problems. Rewind it.”

Messages not in a bottle. Artist Isaiah Zagar embeds his philosophy into his  Magic Gardens© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s called Magic Gardens even though there are no plants, flowers or trees. But you aren’t here long before you realize how it nonetheless is a living organic thing, where broken and discarded trash and objects considered valueless or past their useful life, get new life, purpose, meaning. And value.

The “magic” is how the objects are re-animated – an expression of creativity, infusion of imagination. ”The Garden” grows organically, as if living organism.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is one man’s vision, process, style,” Elisabeth Carter (Lis), a Magic Gardens guide, tells me. “He had assistants. Most of the smaller figurines and sculpture were made by Mexican folk artists and couple of local artists, especially the Aguilar family. Others helped make some of the tiles – including First Lady Michelle Obama (there is a letter that she sent to the Gardens).

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is still a work in progress – new pieces are added – plus it is outdoors, so weather (snow/ice) is factor. We have a full-time preservation team of thee who maintain, repair, and document new folk art.

“He’s interested in how things wear, fade, and change over time – things are constantly changing, new things added – like a breathing animal.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zagar brings the art form of mosaic to a whole different dimension.  “Zagar is known for mosaics. He uses things that others think are trash or have no value. He is inspired by the Hindu God Shiva – the god of destruction and transformation.”

Zagar, who is 80 years old now, studied art at the Pratt Institute, Lis says, “but painting wasn’t fulfilling. He Is bipolar; he used mosaics as mental health therapy. Small, broken pieces of tile people were throwing away, he found satisfying to build into something positive and beautiful.”

Lis points me to a small sculpture which is a self-portrait, depicting the artist with three arms.

Isaiah Zagar (self-portrait in ceramic with three arms) inspired a movement of public art and showed that art could transform a culture, an attitude and create community © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There must be thousands and thousands of objects here. You first see what is in front of you as a whole, but then your eye goes to sections, narrower and narrower, until you spend time searching and discovering individual objects.  And what you see, what you experience would always be different – with light, time of day, weather affecting the colors and textures.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You have to walk through at least twice: the first time is very sensory, overload. The second time, you can focus more. You walk through an alley of art, curved paths, you see things differently from every angle, every step. Like a Japanese Garden, you cannot see the whole thing at once, and you don’t know what to expect beyond. It’s a carnival of art, a riot of color, texture, shapes and subjects that dazzle the eye and the brain and stir the heart.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ After the street was saved, Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public artworks over the next five decades.

Part of the fun at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is creating your own art, transforming Isaiah Zagar’s 3-D mosaics into 2-D images © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In 1991, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He first mosaicked the buildings on either side of the property, then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2004, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. His creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, quickly became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further; excavating tunnels and grottos.”

Philadelphia Magic Gardens opened to the public in 2008, giving visitors the opportunity to participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and more.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open Wednesday-Monday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Tuesdays. (1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org)

I continue my walk to the Franklin Institute, all the while coming upon the fantastic public art throughout the city – magnificent murals that decorate buildings, that reflect and speak to that particular neighborhood and inspire with their beauty and their message. No doubt a public art movement inspired by Isaiah Zagar.

Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” of sculptures and art work throughout the city (an audio tour is available, www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, 215-399-9000).

Franklin Institute

As you enter Franklin Institute. beneath a giant moon there is a sensational lighted statue of America’s first scientist and Philadelphia’s Favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin, who inspired the institute’s founding in 1824. During the course of a few hours, I travel to outer space in search of life; walk through a human heart; tangle in neurons of the human brain; visit one of the earliest steam engines; and try to unravel the mystery (to me, anyway) of electricity.

Ben Franklin beneath the moon makes for a dramatic entrance to the Franklin Institute © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” Carl Sagan said, the quote opening the movie in the Fels Planetarium, one of the first ever built, that dates from 1933.

Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the country.  Today, the Institute continues its dedication to public education and fostering a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.

Everything about the Franklin Institute is designed to engage, immerse, interact.

I climb through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Climbing through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is exemplified in the special exhibition on view through April 12, 2020, the world-premiere exhibition of “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Experience,” based on the best-selling survival handbook series. The exhibit showcases strategies of survival and elements of escape in the form of a hands-on, minds-on logical series of immersive challenges providing the essential instructions for surviving unexpected but possible real-life scenarios with countless moments of excitement and levity throughout.

Learn how to jump from a moving train car, pick a lock, escape from quicksand, survive an avalanche, and more in the thirteen challenges that fill the Survival Gymnasium, which offers step by step instructions, expert advice, and the training to build the worst-case survival skills.

Tools for extreme survival, including counterintuitive uses for everyday items are on display, plus graphics that share how to identify anxiety and fear within the body and uncover how stress, physical exhaustion, and disorientation can make an activity, like surviving, more challenging.

Neurons become a climbing gym at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A new perspective of the brain at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in 1824. The Franklin Institute science museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, calling itself a “Wonderland of Science,” and was one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. It has been expanded over the years to contain more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX Theater – becoming the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, and one of the leading science centers in the country.

Learn hands-on about machines and technology, like a steam locomotive at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Institute also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Institute is home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and which is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national memorials in the custody of a private institution.

The new 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion which opened in June 2014, houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled traveling exhibition gallery, and (an amazing) new permanent exhibit Your Brain, in which visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses.

Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu.

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

One of the lounge areas for guests at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The outdoor, heated lap pool at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The living room in our two-bedroom apartment at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

See also:

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

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

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

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

The room where it happened: Independence Hall, where delegates debated and signed the founding documents that created the government of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Independence Hall

I’m out of The Roost East Market apartment hotel at 8:30 am for a delightful 15 minute walk down Market Street to the Independence Hall Visitor Center to get a timed ticket for a tour of Independence Hall. They start distributing tickets at 8:30 am and I get a ticket for the first tour, 9:20 am (the ticket is free; you can pay $1 for advance reservations online, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/independencehalltickets.htm). That gives me enough time to watch a short film in the Visitor Center and visit the “Great Essentials” exhibit of original printed copies of the three founding documents signed here at Independence Hall: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution. Another interesting artifact: the Syng inkstand, believed to be the silver inkstand in which the 56 Founding Fathers dipped their quills to “mutually pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in the cause of independence.

Independence Hall, where delegates debated and signed the founding documents that created the government of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We gather in a room and learn that we have come from throughout the United States and the world. “Government as we recognize it, was invented inside Independence Hall,” the Ranger tells us.

The building, in Georgian style architecture which manifested symmetry and order, is on the original site; the foundation was laid in 1732, the year George Washington was born. The founders, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, would have called the building the Pennsylvania State House. All three branches of colonial government were housed here.

“Delegates representing 13 diverse colonies, speaking with a variety of accents, met here, who would have been more familiar with London than Philadelphia. What united them was how disturbed they were how the King and Parliament was treating the colonists. It was the end of the French & Indian War (The Seven Years War), which gave the British victory and control over most of North America, but the Crown imposed new taxes to pay for the war.

We are ushered into a room that would have served as Pennsylvania’s highest court.

Philadelphia’s Highest Court. Colonists had the rights granted to British citizens under the Magna Carta, including trial by jury but the Crown began to erode rights, prompting the War for Independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Magna Carta spelled out the rights of British citizens – no man above law; trial by jury of peers; attorneys would be gathered at one table and colonists could gather and watch the trial. Colonists inherited numerous rights.” But grievances grew – taxation without representation – and the colonists saw their rights being whittled away by the British crown.

We enter the very room where the Continental Congress brought together delegates from 13 free and independent states. “We don’t know for sure but we think they were probably seated by geographic area.” As they gathered to consider their grievances with the crown, shots were fired at Lexington and at Concord, “the shots heard ‘round the world.” The War for Independence officially began.

July 8 1776, the bell in the steeple announced the first reading of Independence. (You can see the Liberty Bell with its famous crack now housed in its own pavilion.)

The visit, coming at such an auspicious time in American history, is like going back to ground zero of the founding:

The “Great Essentials” exhibit of original printed copies of the three founding documents signed here at Independence Hall: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution includes the Syng inkstand, believed to be the silver inkstand in which the 56 Founding Fathers dipped their quills to “mutually pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” in the cause of independence © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the start, colonists were deeply divided. The delegates met for a year before Thomas Jefferson penned the words, “All men are created equal endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”

“That was one of the most profound and inspiring statements in human history. That government derives just power from the consent of the governed,” he said.

The War for Independence lasted eight years – France and Spain aided; the Dutch provided financial support. But the War for Independence also was a civil war that divided communities and even families. Ben Franklin’s own son, Sir William, was the Royal Governor of New Jersey, and remained a loyalist. He left America for England. (You can also visit the marvelous Ben Franklin Museum, housed below where his house would have been.)

The powerful words, “All men created equal” presented a paradox, even to the Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners from states where the economy derived from slavery. Despite Abigail Adams’ exhortation to husband John Adams to “Remember the ladies,” women’s rights were not even a consideration. “The Declaration is a document of promise,” the Ranger reflects. “Lincoln mentioned the Declaration of Independence in his Gettysburg Address; suffragettes Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Frederick Douglass & Martin Luther King Jr. all drew on the Declaration. We are exhausted from becoming independent, but work had just begun.”

The Articles of Confederation which set up the United States’ first government “was more like treaty of 13 independent countries, with 13 armies, 13 currencies. In less than four months, it was replaced with a central government under the Constitution.”

The room where it happened: delegates were likely seated by geographical area; Washington sat in the center, Independence Hall, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We see the chair used by George Washington, which has carved into it a rising sun. James Madison  and Alexander Hamilton argued and debated over making of three co-equal branches of government; they compromised over representation of large and small states; compromised over the power and function of the presidency.

“George Washington called it the ‘miracle in Philadelphia.’ But they knew they could not predict the future. So the Constitution was designed to change, with provision to amend it.”

Plan your visit, get itinerary suggestions at Independence National Historic Park, 215-965-2305, www.nps.gov/inde/planyourvisit/index.htm.

The tour takes about a half-hour, and I am trying to pack a lot into one day. I decide to forgo a tour of Congress Hall and the Liberty Bell to race over to the National Museum of American Jewish History because I spot a banner showcasing the special exhibit, “Notorious RBG” which is only on view through Jan. 12. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my heroes.

Notorious RBG at NMAJH

“Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH)  is the first-ever museum retrospective of the Supreme Court Justice-turned-pop-culture-icon. The special exhibition traces a career that traveled from trailblazer to pop-culture icon, exploring the roots of her precedent-setting role on the nation’s highest court, as well as her varied roles as a student, life partner, mother, change-making lawyer, judge, and women’s rights pioneer.

Take a photo with “Notorious RBG”, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after seeing the exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia.

Even though I had seen the excellent “Notorious RBG” documentary and the superb “On the Basis of Sex” film (written by her nephew) which formed the basis of the exhibit (photos, home movies), there was still so much to learn, and the artifacts, and explanations.

The second woman—and the first Jewish woman—to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg acquired the “Notorious RBG” moniker after a series of fiery, record-breaking dissents she gave from the Supreme Court bench in 2013 around the Voting Rights Act. Then-NYU law student Shana Knizhnik was inspired to create the Notorious RBG tumblr, referencing rap star Notorious B.I.G. (In homage to Notorious B.I.G., the exhibition section titles are inspired by his lyrics.)

Based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same name by Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, the visually rich and entertaining exhibition explores RBG’s legacy through archival photographs and documents, historical artifacts, contemporary art, media stations, and gallery interactives. It presents not only the Justice’s writings, opinions, and interviews, but also the whimsical yet powerful world of Notorious RBG memes, fan art, and parody – from a cartoon action figure named Wrath Hover Ginsbot to renderings of the Justice’s likeness on t-shirts, nail decals, and even as tattoos. (Clearly, Justice Ginsburg has always had a sense of humor, which was at the essence of her long-time relationship with her husband, Marty).

NMAJH’s location on Independence Mall provides an ideal backdrop for exploring Justice Ginsburg’s story and the circumstances that brought her to the Court. It places the Justice’s story at the very location where the United States was founded and the US Constitution established the Supreme Court. In fact, just diagonally across from NMAJH is the National Constitution Center (constitutioncenter.org).

The National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Independence Mall, Philadelphia, is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience, going back 360 years © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Established in 1976, the National Museum of American Jewish History is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience, going back 360 years.  NMAJH, a Smithsonian Affiliate, was originally founded by the members of historic Congregation Mikveh Israel, which was established in 1740 and known as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution”.

The National Museum of American Jews is a revelation to me – beginning with why it is “National”: it is the only museum of its kind in the nation. That’s why.

I have seen parts of the story in other venues – notably Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island (www.tourosynagogue.org), the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida; Ellis Island and the Jewish Museum in New York City– but none presented such a comprehensive unfolding of the epic Jewish experience in America that dates back nearly as far as the Puritans in Plymouth (though Jews first settled in the New World since Columbus).

Its exhibits and galleries, the artifacts and commentary brilliantly presented to express complex concepts – the sweep of history, in effect – but taken down to very personal levels of a person, with a face, a name and a genealogy.

It comes down to legitimacy – much as the museums which speak to the Jewish people’s history in Israel – and the illegitimate notion of the United States founded as a Christian nation. Non-Christians were part of this country’s founding and the Founders, who were humanists, globalists and men of the Enlightenment – among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin – were not only tolerant of other religions but open-minded about philosophies. But what is painfully clear are the strains of anti-Semitism and racism that have persisted throughout American history despite George Washington’s assurances to the Touro congregation (“To Bigotry No Sanction,”), despite the Bill of Rights and the Naturalization Act of 1790 which bar the establishment of religion, an issue as relevant as today’s headlines.

There are four floors which wrap around a huge atrium, each floor devoted to a different era and theme. The displays, including multi-media , interactive stations, and artifacts, are well presented to convey complex, even nuanced concepts, intertwining real people with places, historical events and cultural movements. In some instances, it is the sheer numbers that impress: “Foundations of Freedom: 1654-1880” (Do most Americans realize that Jews were already settled in the New World colonies from 1654?); “Innovation & Expansion”  is part of the timeline of Jews in America usually ignored entirely, but Jews were very much a part of the Westward expansion and the march to the Industrial Revolution; “Dreams of Freedom: 1880-1945”, chronicling the migration of millions of immigrants who came to the United States beginning in the late 19th century who profoundly reshaped the American Jewish community and the nation as a whole; and Choices and Challenges of Freedom: 1945 – Today.

NMAJH , 101 South Independence Mall East at the corner of Fifth and Market Streets, www.NMAJH.org 215.923.3811.

Next: More Philadelphia Treasures: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

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

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

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

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

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

Barnes Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Scavenger Hunt: Entranced by the Mystique of Fez, Morocco

Bab Boujeloud, the Blue Gate,entrance to Fez el-Bali, the Medina, the walled city Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 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.

The 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.

Welcome to Riad el Yacout, built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university, which stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He 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).

Hadisha 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.

The 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.

Even 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

My 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.

Palace, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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..

Gold doors presented to the Sultan by the Jewish community of Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 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 Nouvelle.

Hamid 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.

Ibn Danan Synagogue, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He 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. 

Nearby 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 original aspect.”

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.

Hamid tells me that an adviser to the King and the ex-minister of Tourism were both Jewish.

Indentation on doorposts where a Mezuzah would have been, indicating a Jewish home, in the Fez el-Jdid, the Jewish Quarter Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

As 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

Since 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 Andalusiatiles 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.

Artisans create zellige, the traditional tiles of Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We 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.

Artisans create zellige, the traditional tiles of Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 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, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.”

A forest of satellite dishes in the Medina, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

The Medina of Fez is the oldest walled city, dating from 900 AD, and the largest in the Arab world, at one point, Fez, Morocco was the largest city in the world. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.”

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Qarawiyyin Mosque, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 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, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 stability peace.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 minaret.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Today, Fez is known as the ‘Athens of Africa’ and the “Mecca of the West” for its history and role as the spiritual and learning capital of Morocco.” (www.journeybeyondtravel.com/morocco/fez)

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the course of the afternoon, we visit various craftsmen and artisans including embroiderers, carpet makers and weavers.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Carpets, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Tannery, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tannery, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tannery, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Tannery, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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”.

Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(As 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.)

Back 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.

Dinner at Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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, riadelyacout@gmail.com, www.riadelyacoutFes.com).

We 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.”

I 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?

Breakfast at Riad el Yacout , Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riad el Yacout, Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Riad el Yacout , Fez, Morocco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

We 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).

Team NEXUS (aka Ali & Michael) from Ontario, Canada; Team Ying 2.0, father and daughter Alan & Emory from Texas; and Team MargoPolos (Margo from Connecticut and Karen) on the train to Tangier © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenes of Morocco from train, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenes of Morocco from train, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenes of Morocco from train, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Scenes of Morocco from train, © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are on our journey to Gilbraltar.

(Zoe and Rainey Littlepage, Lawyers Without Borders, the team leading the Global Scavenger Hunt, published a brilliant blog documenting how they fulfilled dozens of the scavenges: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019-from-minurets-in-morocco-to.html )

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

See also:

Unraveling Marrakesh’s Old City Maze Before Tackling the Global Scavenger Hunt 4-Country Challenge

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

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

Global Scavenger Hunt Leg 2: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

Presiding over some of the most interesting fruits and vegetables where we sample dragonfruit, rambutan, a mangosteen, a longan.(c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Monday, April 15, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

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

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

Dragon fruit at the Ben Thanh Market, Saigon, Vietnam (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

We ask locals for directions to our next stop: the Water Puppet Show of Vietnam at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater, getting lost along the way and simply amazed at the rush and crush of mopeds (mainly) and cars, and the range of what people carry on them without a second thought. Also amazed we are able to function having departed Vancouver for Vietnam at 2 am for a 14-hour flight to Taipei, followed by an hour lag time before a 3-hour connection to Saigon. But we forge on (the secret to avoiding being taken down by jet lag is to stay up until bedtime). This is also on the scavenger list.

Scene from Water Puppet Theater, a marvelous display of traditional Vietnamese culture at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, Saigon, Vietnam (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The performance proves fairly amazing – the puppets actually emerge out of water; water is their platform. There is musical accompaniment on traditional instruments and the musicians also become the characters and narrators and sing. This is quite an outstanding cultural performance – the artistry and imaginativeness of the puppets (who swim, fish, race boats, dance, catch frogs anddo al sorts of things,is amazing. These seem to be folk characters, and the music is traditional. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand Vietnamese. (www.goldendragonwaterpuppet.com).

View from Saigon Skydeck © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From there, we hit another scavenge, going to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitesco Financial Tower, which affords beautiful scenes of Saigon, which you appreciate as a very modern city. Many of the buildings below are decorated in colored lights.

Preparing the Majestic 1925 at the rooftop bar at the historic Hotel Majestic, Saigon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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

We will continue doing scavenges tomorrow in Ho Chi Minh City, before heading out to who-knows-where-in-the-world to continue our 23-day Global Scavenger Hunt. The grand prize is bragging rights as World’s Best Traveler (and a free trip next year to defend the title).

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents ‘Chinese Artists in America’ Exhibit

Artists Ping Wang and Arthur Liu with Town North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Gold Coast Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil at opening of exhibit, “Chinese Artists in America© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island presents an exhibition of “Chinese Artists in America.” The works by eight contemporary Chinese-American artists is on view through March 20.

“The exhibition reflects the creative vitality of Chinese and American cultural interaction and growth through the arts and its historical and aesthetic links to other communities,” Gallery Curator Jude Amsel writes.

“These artists created a new visual language that embodies aspects of traditional Chinese art while responding to a time of great transition. Their artworks express personal beliefs, national pride, and international awareness.”

“The Gold Coast Arts Center is dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding through the arts and through public events that bring people together,” stated Regina Gil, founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center. “We are proud to have enabled artists from around the world to share their vision and craft with our audiences. The exhibition of art by Chinese-American artists weaves the heritage, experience and craft that has emerged from each artist’s personal exposure to Chinese and American culture and education.”

The opening reception for the art exhibition was accompanied by a cultural performance, music and dance presented under the aegis of the Great Neck Chinese Association.

Here are highlights, with the artists’ own statements.

Zhen Guo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zhen Guo: “With ‘Muted Landscape; I present a view of the world, and we who live on its surface, that is at once expansive and frightening.  The images, created (I do not say painted because there is no obvious brush work in the ink on rice paper creation) present a landscape as if from 36,000 feet, muted by both the gray color and by the distance.  Mountains, lakes, a sheer rock face wall, caldera, fields of snow, high and pointed peaks and rivers are joined and blended but not necessarily in the places or ways we expect.  It is as if the vision of Ansel Adams has been stirred shaken and kneaded merged a late Autumn vision of the natural world.  As our eyes travel over the painting the view changes and rivers become shadows, mountains become fields, and lakes become snow covered peaks.  We are entranced and at the same time afraid that, if we landed, there we could not find our way out. Perhaps this is a place for own internal search for a perch for our soul or to find our way forward.”

“Country Fair,” by Dexiang Qian © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dexiang Qian: “I was born in Zhijiang. Many artists have come to Zhijiang to observe, sketch, and experiment with depicting the rural countryside. During my creation process, I use a glazing technique with a limited color palette. I continue to simplify the elements, and the resulting composition often is in geometric patterns.”  © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi: ““Food: Chinese beauty, taste and auspicious meaning. Chinese cuisine is not only delicious, but also the pursuit of form and color, such as Sweet Dumplings, put in a few red medlar, and immediately look happy, and eat the Sweet Dumplings at the Lantern Festival, so the Sweet Dumplings are also called Yuan Xiao, means the first full moon night of the year. Chinese cuisine is rich and auspicious Meaning, such as birthday, Chinese people often cook a bowl of noodles, called longevity noodles, meaning healthy longevity. Another example is the Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding, is the exclusive food of the Dragon Boat Festival, it is to commemorate the ancient Chinese famous poet Qu Yuan, in addition, often in the  Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding have any jujubes, white rice and red jujubes are put together, the color contrast is strong. Red has a special meaning in Chinese culture, and represents good luck. Therefore, the food series I painted not only expresses the taste of food, but also the sense of form and meaning of food. This is the true essence of Chinese culture.”

Arthur B. Liu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Arthur B. Liu is President of Queens Art Education Center, New York, visiting professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, member of the Watercolor Society of USA, artist of the National Art League of USA, director of the Chinese Culture Art Association of New York, USA. He is the Educator, Artist and Inventor. He is the only one Chinese American artist who has been granted patents for inventions. He is showing “The flowing colors Chinese painting series” in this exhibition.

Ping Wang © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ping Wang: “The initial idea of my “In and Out” series were body parts extended from a “Square”(space ) merged into a background. The background scenes are from Chinese illusional landscapes to recent New York City landmarks and daily life.  After a year or two reminiscing in depth I subconsciously escaped in the collision between China and American culture. I was enormously inspired by traditional Chinese composition and techniques. In the ‘Fight Club; series, I tried to combine some oriental perspectives and compositions into a Western story. Now living in New York for several years, I can see the integration of eastern and western cultures.”

“Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger,” by Yulin Huang
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yulin Huang: “In the face of the canvas, I have never forgotten all the so-called knowledge, just by intuition, in a simple, primitive, child-like way, straightforward and quick to smear. “Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger” (2018) is a “Dunhuang” mural from the ancient East, painted on the walls of the grotto 2000 years ago. It tells a Buddhist story. A prince, giving up his life and helping his hunger with his own flesh   The hungry tiger mother and son are born into Buddha after death. Like the cross that Jesus passed. In “Chinese New Year,” red lanterns, dragon dances, lion dances, firecrackers, fireworks, spring couplets, red envelopes… The people celebrate the biggest festivals, joyous and lively. But I feel a very loneliness.”

Hai Wei © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hai Wei: “Even though we all advocate tolerance, different habits and beliefs sometimes constitute an offense.  Each different culture and art is connected of each other while learning from each other and integrating with each other. When the plane flies over the Arctic Circle, across the window, the outside is a mountain like a scarf, inside is a scarf like a mountain… All things connected, miraculous conversion. Similarly, in the body, the blood, the fresh life, can also be converted and reincarnation?  We have been watching ourselves for too long and rarely look at them. Most people think the sheep is weak ,ordinary, silent. In fact, they still have power and charm of wildness. The art created by nature is life, the beauty of life, and it does not depend on us. It is a kind of dignity.”

Yafu Wang with “Chinese Artists in America” curator Jude Amsel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yafu Wang: Yafu’s works are varied and diverse.  Those selected art pieces cover his early works in road, shadows, posters, and temples etc.  Yafu always states that his work expresses his deep love and awe for the mighty God.  It fulfills all the missing parts in his life. 

Here are highlights from the performances:

Chinese Drum “Ma Deng Dance” featuring Anthony Wu, Dorie Liu, Kexin Huang, Yuxin Huang, Kingsley Liu. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Guzheng Duet “Dong Ting New Song” featuring Ella Li, Shiying Wei. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Cucurbit Flute Solo, “Wedding Vow,” featuring Ricky Deng © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Violin & Piano in Chinese song, “Painted Heart” with Aili Tian, Phoenix tian, Joy Yang and Selena Lu (piano). © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Instruments ensemble “Xi Yang Yang (Be Happy)” “Turpan’s Grapes Turn Ripe (with Dance)” featuring Xiulu Xin (Banhu):, Yuqi Sun (Erhu), Xianyi Wang (Dulcimer), Xiuzhen Liang (Ruan), Rongxian Chen (Electronic Guitar), Cathong Li (Rock Percussion/Dance) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Chorus: Jasmine Flowers featuring Evan Cao, Derick Chen, Melissa Chiang, Jessica Chiang, Anthony Chiang, Athena Jin, Ella Li, Jack Pei, Dorothy Qian, Lucas Wang, Madeline Wang, Isabella Wu, Kenneth Wu, Katharine Xu, Carolyn Zuo and Kaitlyn Feng (piano) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents “Chinese Artists in America”

The Gallery is open when the Gold Coast Arts Center is open, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY, 516-829-2570, goldcoastarts.org.

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

Holiday Lights in New York City: A Walk in Photos

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Crowds flock to Rockefeller Center for its traditional scene of angels lighting the way to the giant Christmas tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays in New York is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light and sound show that is projected onto Saks building, this year, a “There’s No Business Like Show Business” vibe) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman (still the most artful, creative windows of them all).  Returning along Sixth Avenue, stop in at the Rockefeller Center skating rink and then to Bryant Park with a fantastic skating rink and holiday market.

Enchanted by Macy’s holiday windows with a whimsical snowy spaceman theme © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walk this year led me to “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new (and timely) play at the reincarnated Studio 54. The play, based on what is apparently true events turned into an Essay/Book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale who play (respectively) Jim Fingal, an intern/copy editor, magazine publisher Emily, and prominent, respected writer John D’Agata.  I had been wanting to see it, intrigued by the subject (fact-checking an important essay) and the issues it raised (“What is truth?” “What is poetic (embellished) truth in the service of a greater good?” “What is truth and trust in the scheme of journalism business, liability and viability?”). And so took a chance, and walked up to the box office and bought a ticket. I was so delighted I did: it is smart, intelligent, extremely interesting and thought-provoking and oh-so relevant in light of truthiness, “fake news” and the Rolling Stone Magazine affair.

Seeing the play was a serendipitous and satisfying addition to my holiday stroll regimen, something that is oh so possible in New York.  Broadway and off-Broadway theaters add performances during the holidays, one of the most popular times of the year for theater.

Some of the best places to catch some discount tickets include Broadwaybox.com, Theatermania.com, Stubhub.com, and Tdf.org, and waiting on line at the TKTS counter at Duffy Plaza in Times Square (a happening in itself), with two other locations, at Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport. Some hard-to-get shows, like Aladdin (which we thoroughly enjoyed over Thanksgiving), offer daily lotteries for discounted tickets.

Here are highlights:

Macy’s “Believe” theme and Empire State Building, two iconic images of holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Salvation Army guy, a familiar sight during the holidays, surprises with a spirited performance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chestnuts roasting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the imaginative holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
57th Street, with its crystal snowflake and Tiffany’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Ski Areas Greet Guests With $71 Million in Improvements for 2018-19 Season

Ski like an Olympian at Whiteface, Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York’s ski areas are greeting guests this season with an unprecedented $71 million in investments and improvements. More than 25 mountains and resorts have made enhancements in snowmaking, grooming, chair lift operations and guest/lodging services. Whether it is a seamless lift-ticket experience with RFID, opening new high-speed lifts, or doubling the size of the lodge/restaurant, New York ski areas have invested more capital into the 2018-19 season than any other state in the Northeast.

Most notably Windham, Hunter Mountain & Peak Resorts, Catamount and ORDA ski areas (The New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority which operate Whiteface, Gore Mountain and Belleayre) top the list with a collective $60 million invested. Energy efficiencies in power and snowmaking have been made possible by a $5,000,000 grant from NYSERDA which benefited Plattekill, Oak, Song,Thunder Ridge and Kissing Bridge

Windham Mountain Resort along with Catamount are the first resorts in New York State to implement RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology, providing guests with easy, simple lift access. ORDA property, Gore Mountain is opening a two-level addition to the Base Lodge, doubling the size of the Tannery Pub &Restaurant, seating up to 350 guests, while the lower level addition will house the new headquarters for their Mountain Adventure kids’ program, and more lockers. Resorts including Greek Peak (a self-contained resort notable for its indoor water park), Holiday Valley, Bristol, Titus and Peek n’ Peak have focused on infrastructure upgrades as well as optimizing their ski and stay offerings by expanding activities and creating lodging packages.

“New York ski areas have dug deep into their own pockets to make these improvements,which will allow us to expand our Learn to Ski programs- this is incredibly exciting,” said Scott Brandi, President of Ski Areas of New York, Inc. “Coupled with investments to increase efficiency in snow grooming, lodge hospitality and lift upgrades, we hope to create life-long ski enthusiasts and welcome future generations of winter sport advocates.” This is a state-wide effort with moxie and vision for a fantastic season around each bend, Brandi added. “With these expenditures, it is clear that New York ski areas and resorts are committed to being known as family-friendly accessible outdoor destinations, as well as offering a great experience to both the novice and advanced.”

New York State has 50 ski areas–more than any other state in the country—and will welcome nearly four million skiers, riders and winter enthusiasts this season, making it fourth in the country for skier visits; the ski industry has a $1 billion economic impact in the state.

Here are highlights of what’s in store for this season:

Gore Mountain Adds Snowmaking, Gets FIS Certification

Set in the Adirondacks, Gore is a big ski mountain – actually four linked mountains – with the most terrain (110) and lifts (14 including an eight-passenger Northwoods Gondola and two high-speed quads) in New York, the 6th longest vertical in the East, highest vertical drop within a four-hour drive of New York City and is closest big mountain (439 skiable acres) to New York City (a snow bus is available).

Skiing Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Skiers have been coming to Gore to be challenged for more than 80 years. Beginning and expert skiers will appreciate the vast improvements this season, including a 42% increase in snowmaking with 400 new snow guns, 312 of them state-of-the-art with sensors that adjust to weather changes.  In addition, new grooming machines ensure a smooth experience on the nine sides of four peaks of alpine terrain. For those looking forward to après ski, the Tannery Pub and Restaurant doubled in size.

Gore offers night skiing in North Creek Ski Bowl, where  60% of the trails are intermediate; this is also where there is the Nordic skiing center and snowshoeing (also open at night).

Four of the Nordic courses at North Creek Ski Bowl have just won homologation certifications from the International Ski Federation (FIS), making Gore Mountain one of just 29 FIS venues in the United States and one of only two in New York State. The certifications are for the 2.5K Distance Course, the 3.3K Distance Course,the 1.2K Sprint Course, and the 1.6K Sprint Course. Gore Mountain recently increased its snowmaking capabilities at the Ski Bowl with the purchase of 20 HKD Phazer snow guns designed specifically for Nordic terrain.


The Gore Mountain Nordic Center is equipped with lights, snowmaking and grooming, and welcomes recreational users and athletes daily.  The amphitheater style of the landscape at the North Creek Ski Bowl provides an outstanding experience for spectators, and the facilities include a lodge with rentals, restrooms, and fireplace, a food truck, a yurt, a tuning pavilion, and bleachers.

Gore has a reciprocal pass with the other two NYS Olympic Regional Development Authority ski destinations, Whiteface and Belleayre. (www.GoreMountain.com, 518-251-2411)

Gore doesn’t have slopeside lodging (except for Gore Mountain Lodge which offers yurts on the access road). But the nearby village of North Creek is utterly charming (lovely shops and bistros) where we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com, 877-235-1466). The town offers a free shuttle to the mountain.

New in North Creek for summer and fall: Revolution Rail Experience: a fast-moving “rail bike” that you propel 6 miles, roundtrip, one of the many year-round activities being developed.

Whiteface Mountain Expands Snowmaking

Whiteface Mountain (Wilmington, Essex County) is home to the greatest vertical in the east (3,430’), and the east’s longest intermediate run (Wilmington Trail, 11,088 ft), with 86 trails stretching over 22 miles and encompassing three peaks, with an almost natural separation in skier ability. This season the Olympic mountain offers upgraded snowmaking capabilities on key trails while widening and expanding popular trails, and anew pump house, for a 25% increase in snowmaking capacity. The renovations to the Bear Den Base Lodge will be home to the facility’s ever-growing snowsports program.

Whiteface, Lake Placid, is where you can experience Olympic sports such as bobsled on an Olympic track © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues(you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers,cross-country). Even (and especially) if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try also to fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter). It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for off-hill activities. Purchase an Olympic Sites Passport for $40 for one-time admission to the venues any time through April 30, 2019 (ages 6 and under get free admission; online purchases must be made at least 24 hours in advance.) (www.whiteface.com, 518-946-2223).

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Belleayre Expands Areas 51, 15, Kidscamp

The third of New York State’s ski destinations under the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), Belleayre, in the Catskills, is one of the closest major ski areas to New York and one of the best for families and beginners. Located off of State Route 28 in Highmount, just a few hours from New York City, Belleayre is set in an area that was declared “Forever Wild” by the New York State Forest Preserve in 1885 and was one of the earliest pioneers of American skiing.

Belleayre is compact: 51 trails (the longest is 12,024’), 5 glades, one terrain park, one progression park, 175 skiable acres, a vertical drop of 1,404 feet, 8 lifts,with a natural separation between beginners in the lower part of the mountain,and intermediates and advanced above. The “Catskill Thunder” gondola located next to the Discovery Lodge which opened last year, services intermediate and expert terrain and “Super Chief” detachable high-speed quad services the Intermediate/Expert Area  and 4 lodges.

New for 2018-2019: Area 51 and Area 15 terrain parks are bigger and better, with new jumps, ramps, boxes, rails, pipes; expanded snowmaking capabilities with the addition of 50 low energy tower snowguns to the fleet and 4 new 1500 cfm compressors; expanded Kidscamp Learning Area with a longer 220′ magic carpet.  

Belleayre, an ORDA ski area, has an adaptive ski program.

Belleayre also offers 9.2 km of cross-country trails, which free to use and are only open with natural snow.

Belleayre has become a year-round destination. In summer into fall, Belleayre Beach swimming, picnicking, horseshoe pits, volleyball, basketball, boat rentals (pedal boats and kayaks), stand-on-top paddle board rentals, fishing, hiking and great relaxation; there’s mountain biking; hiking, scenic gondola rides, and festivals. (845-254-5600 or 800-942-6904, belleayre.com)

Belleayre doesn’t have its own lodging, but there is plenty in the vicinity. Years ago, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in an 1866 Queen Anne bnb with mountain views, the Margaretville Mountain Inn (845-586-3933, www.margaretvilleinn.com).

Hunter Mountain Opens Hunter North

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills is debuting five new trails, four new glades and high-speed six-person lift this season – adding nearly 80 acres (an increase in 33%) in skiable terrain, accessed with a new high-speed six-person lift.  Driven by a $9 million investment by its new owners, Peak Resorts (which also owns Mount Snow in Vermont), the opening of Hunter North is the largest expansion the Northeast U.S. has seen in 15 years.

“Hunter North is a game-changer for Hunter Mountain as it dramatically expands our winter offerings and adds variety to our terrain,” Russ Coloton, General Manager at Hunter Mountain, commented. “Featuring predominantly intermediate terrain serviced by the high-speed six-person chair lift, Hunter North will allow our resort to broaden its appeal and improve on-mountain traffic flows over the course of the winter season. Views from the additional terrain are spectacular.”

Hitting the park at Hunter Mountain, now owned by Peak Resorts. This season, the resort opened Hunter North, expanding skiable terrain by 80 acres.

With the addition of Hunter North, the resort offers 320 skiable acres; 67 trails, 7 gladed areas, 4 freestyle areas, 13 lifts and a vertical of 1600 ft.  There’s also snow tubing, cat tours, and a spa. (www.huntermtn.com, 800-486-8376)

Hunter Mountain has its own slopeside lodging with ski in/out convenience – the Kaatskill Mountain Club Lodge and condos – but the area also has most charming inns and bnbs. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Fairlawn Inn, an elegant Victorian bnb, just down the street from Hunter’s entrance (www.fairlawninn.com).

Windham Mountain Has New Lift, RFID

Windham Mountain (Windham, Greene County) is where small-town charm meets 21st century technology:  radio-frequency identification (RFID). This new feature eliminates paper lift tickets and allows skiers to reload online, meaning shorter lines, less waste and lower prices.

But the big news is the opening this season of Windham’s new high-speed six-pack detachable lift, Westside Six, which brings skiers up the mountain in less than 5 ½ minutes, for a total of 12 lifts accessing its 285 skiable acres and 54 trails, six terrain parks. The resort, which began as a private club and still has that intimate feeling,offers night-skiing, Terrain-Based Learning, beginner packages. It also offers lodging, dining options, an Adventure Park, and full-service Alpine Spa. 

Windham Mountain, which began as a private club and still has that intimate feeling, offers night-skiing, Terrain-Based Learning, and beginner packages.

This year, Windham Mountain Resort and the Adaptive Sports Foundation have joined forces with the Capital Region Nordic Alliance, Inc. to offer Nordic and ParaNordic activities at Windham Country Club including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering, and biathlon (light-based and paintball). Trail fees will be $10 for adults and $8 for youth (children ages six and under are free). An additional fee of $10 for adults and $5 for youth will be charged for orienteering or biathlon activities.  Rental equipment and PSIA certified Nordic lessons are also available.  Capital Region Nordic Alliance, Inc. plans to work closely with The Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, making these services available to children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses.
 
“Last year, we offered cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at the Country Club but it was contingent on natural snow, making operations difficult. This is an exciting expansion because the orienteering and biathlon activities will be available whether there is snow on the ground or not,” says Kristen Garraghan, Director of Operations at Windham Country Club.  “I had the pleasure of managing Nordic operations at Windham Country Club toward the end of last winter and I’m thrilled about this new partnership,” adds Russ Myer, Executive Director of the Capital Region Nordic Alliance (capitalregionnordicalliance.org).
 
Windham Mountain Resort is a year-round destination in the Great Northern Catskills of Greene County, in the Hudson River Valley, about two and a half hours north of New York City. In the summer months, Windham Mountain Bike Park is famous for its World Cup course, but also features a three-mile-long beginner trail. Windham Mountain Country Club is an 18-hole public golf course with a private club atmosphere. (windhammountain.com, 800-754-9463)

Windham has its own lodging but there are also several delightful inns in the vicinity.We enjoyed our stay at the Thompson House Family Resort, a six-generation historic inn, just around the corner (actually abuts Windham’s golf course), thompsonhouse.com, 518-734-4510.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort

Greek Peak Mountain Resort (Cortland, Cortland County in the Finger Lakes) continues to invest in the mountain with more than $1.5 million in improvements. Under new ownership, the resort, which was founded in 1958, has added a new quad chairlift, new PB 600 groomer with Zaag attachment, new ski and board equipment in the rental shop and state of the art ski & board tuning facility and added snowmaking machines with 1,000 gallons per minute capacity. Improvements to the lodge include a gazebo, a mountain-top deck, a wedding-tent venue with new flooring, and a new ‘Big Bear Activity Zone’ at Cascades Indoor Waterpark, a 41,000 sq. ft. park featuring 500 ft. of slides, wavepool and hot tubs open to the public year-round.

Mountain coaster at Greek Peak is a year-round attraction.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort is the largest ski resort in central New York with 33 trails, six aerial lifts, two surface lifts, beginners’ slope, and terrain parks. The four-season resort is located in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region, just off Interstate I-81.

Its “green” hotel, Hope LakeLodge, affording ski in/out convenience, features 106 luxury condominium-style suites. Arcadia Village, located next to the hotel, offers additional lodging in units that are spacious with all the comforts of home.

Amenities at the resort include three restaurants, a world-class customized spa, a fitness center, and a 41,000-square-foot indoor water park. The Resort is set within 7,000 acres of state-protected land that is accessible by all residents and guests for cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and horseback riding.Additionally, Greek Peak Mountain Resort operates an Adventure Center in New York State with a Mountain Coaster and 4 tandem zip lines operating year-round and a ten-lane winter snow-tubing center and the Cascades Indoor Waterpark  (greekpeak.net, 888-353-5707).

Hop Metro North to Thunder Ridge

Closest and most convenient to New York (actually, just a hop off Metro North) an hour north of New York City, Thunder Ridge Ski Area, Patterson, NY, is an ideal area for families and beginners. The ski area offers a convenient shuttle service form the train, a “Take the Rails to the Trails” package and is open for night skiing until 9 pm (Sunday until 5 pm). Ski and snowboard lessons are available for all ages and ability levels. There are ski and stay packages, and seasonal passes are based on age (https://thunderridgeski.com/, 845-878-4100).

Located just an hour by Metro North railroad from New York City, Thunder Ridge, which offers night skiing,has been a popular place for families to learn how to ski.

January is Learn to Ski Month

Events and discounted programs for skiers and riders of all skill levels are planned for this season, including:

         January 11, 2019: National Learn to Ski or Snowboard Day Celebration – Part of a national month-long initiative that encourages skiing and snowboarding with professional lessons offered by many ski areas  
         January 17, 2019: Discover NY Ski Day – Special deals and discounts by various ski areas  
         January 26, 2019: Central Park Winter Jam – Annual event hosted by the Ski Areas of NY, NYC Parks and the Olympic Regional Development Association that brings free skiing and snowboarding to New York City’s Central Park  
         All season: Kids Passport Program – Third and fourth grad students learn to ski for free with a paying adult  
         Various dates: Ski & Stay Weekends – Deals includes ski and stay for two nights and get the third night free  

For more information on these and other winter experiences in New York State, visit iloveny.com/winter.

Connect with ISKINY online at www.iskiny.comwww.facebook.com/ISKINY,and www.instagram.com/i_ski_ny/

New York State features 11 vacation regions. Attractions encompass landmarks such as Niagara Falls, the largest park in the continental U.S. in the Adirondacks and treasures such as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, the Strong Museum of Play (with its Toy Hall of Fame) in Rochester, National Comedy Center in Jamestown, Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, and the Erie Canal stretching across the state’s mid-section. New York State offers diverse activities for all seasons, from fishing, hiking, biking and boating to year-round festivals and exploring the rich history and culture of one of the 13 original colonies. Throughout the state, visitors enjoy fine cuisine, beverage trails and farm-to-table fresh foods. Visit iloveny.com for more information.

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© 2018Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved.Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet@TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Skiers Converge on Vermont to Experience ‘Winter in its Original State’

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Riding the bubble chair up Okemo Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love Ski Vermont’s slogan: “Winter in its Original State”. It captures perfectly Vermont’s heritage and character that make coming to ski, snowboard, cross-country and enjoy all the other winter pursuits amid these Green Mountains and rolling hills, so special. 

The biggest change, though, is the entry by the industry powerhouses – Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Peak Resorts,Powdr), linking many of its major resorts through marketing, loyalty programs and seasonal passes (EpicPass, IkonPass, Mountain Collective, Peak Pass) to networks spanning the continent, even the globe that will inspire people to experience skiing in Vermont from all over the world. Importantly, though,their contribution has been to enhance facilities and guest experience while preserving the special personality of the resorts.

Here’s a taste of what Vermont-bound travelers will experience:

Killington Resort 

New investments totaling $25 million revolutionize the guest experience at Killington, including a new 6-person high speed bubble chairlift, new lift service at South Ridge, significant upgrades to the K-1 Express Gondola, additional availability and improvements of intermediate trails and resort-wide infrastructure upgrades including the addition of hands-free lift access validation with RFID technology at both Killington and its sister resort, Pico.

Besides a jam-packed schedule of bands, festivals,and competitions such as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup (you can watch for free), Rails 2 Riches and the FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, there’s plenty to do including a mountain coaster, ski biking,tubing,  snowmobile tours, sleighrides, snowshoeing, dinner excursions to the Ledgewood Yurt, spa treatments,shopping and more than 100 restaurants and bars in the region.

The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England and has the longest season. A Powdr resort, Killington and its sister resort Pico are both partnering in the IkonPass.

Killington, Vermont, “The Beast of the East” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington is all about four seasons of beastly activities, and now the Beast 365 All-Seasons Pass gives guests access to everything at Killington, all year long. It starts in summer with unlimited lift and trail access for mountain biking, plus golf course greens fees and access to the Adventure Center including the new WreckTangle. And of course, unlimited winter access to the longest season in the East. (skivermont.com/killington-resort)

Pico has a very different feel from its sister resort, Killington, just next door. A self-contained resort with slopeside lodging, Pico has 57 trails serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Its more intimate scale, gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers and classically narrow New England steeps, that all that funnel to a single base make it ideal for families. Even the most selective skiers and riders will be impressed by Pico’s vertical drop of 1,967’ – taller than 80% of Vermont ski areas. (skivermont.com/pico-mountain)

Skiing at Pico © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Snow

Mount Snow  has a new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge that helps mark Carinthia’s 10-year anniversary of becoming a 100-acre all-terrain-park mountain face.  Conveniently located right at the base of Carinthia Terrain Park, the new 42,000sq/ft lodge is five times the size of the old and features a coffee bar, sit-down restaurant, two bars, large multi-station cafeteria, along with retail, rentals, ski school, ski patrol. The resort had a major upgrade to its snowmaking system last year and has been voted “Best Snow in the East” by Ski Magazine.

There is also snow tubing and snowmobiling. You can book a leisurely sunset tour to the summit of Mount Snow, or a trek across Somerset Reservoir through Snowmobile Vermont (book in advance, mountsnow.com/snowmobile). Unwind at Mount Snow’s Naturespa, located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel,offering pure, natural and organic spa treatments, guided mountain treks,holistic health, and fitness specialties.

Mount Snow is part of Peak Resorts (Hunter Mountain in New York and Attitash in New Hampshire are others, and included in its PeakPass. (skivermont.com/mount-snow-resort)

Okemo Mountain Resort

Okemo is now an Epic resort. Vail Resorts, Inc. purchased Triple Peaks, LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, plus, in a separate transaction, Stevens Pass, in Washington. Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million, over the next two years,across the four resorts to continue to elevate the guest experience. But most immediately, Okemo is now part of the 2018-19 EpicPass (Vail is honoring previously sold 2018-19 season passes for Okemo.)

One of our favorite ski mountains with its long,scenic cruisers, Okemo also offers an assortment of alternative activities for families to enjoy together. For a thrill, try Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or go snow tubing down a specially groomed chute in the Jackson Gore courtyard; skate at Okemo’s ice skating pavilion; rent a fat bike for riding on snow; go snowshoeing; cross country skiing; work on your golf game at Okemo’s indoor golf facility. Chill out with an after-hours snowcat excursion to the top of the mountain, take a swim or soak in a hot tub at Okemo’s Spring House Pool & Fitness Center. Enjoy a massage or a facial at the spa.

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont

The Adventure Zone located in Okemo’s Jackson Gore area offers year-round activities soar through the treetops on Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour or go off-roading on a Segway PT Tour; launch yourself into the Amp Energy Big Air Bag; climb the climbing wall; putt Cal’s Miniature Golf Course or challenge yourself on the 18-hole Disc Golf course.

A wide variety of trailside and mountainside lodging options provide great ski-in/ski-out convenience, but our favorite is Jackson Gore. (skivermont.com/okemo-mountain-resort)

Smugglers’ Notch

Famously family-friendly (and now hyping that it also is still “family-owned, operated, focused”), Smuggs’ continues to grow in what appeals to families with the resort’s free Kids’ Club. whereby all kids 12 and under get a free “treasure chest” of goodies. During the weeks of 12/16-12/21, 1/13-1/18, 2/3-2/8, and 3/3-3/8, Smugglers’ will offer all guests staying on any Club Smugglers’ package free lessons and rentals for kids 12 and under. Smuggs’ banked slalom course on Madonna Mountain will open new doors for intermediates and experts both in and out of lessons and host various events this season. Fat Bikes give winter access to Smuggs’ expansive cross-country MTB terrain.

Smugglers’Notch is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the country but alsooffers expert trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smugglers’ claim to fame is  the total experience the resort offers. There is probably no other ski resort that is so focused on family togetherness, with a vast array of activities families enjoy together as Smugglers Notch. Families can vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges,scavenger hunts, Snow Cat tours, story times, and pool games (included in their Smugglers’ vacation package). Among the most popular activities: weekly torchlight parade and fireworks, belting out tunes in family karaoke and building a sled to launch from a jump in I-Did-A-Sled. Smuggs has also introduced S.T.E.A.M. activities that bring fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

FunZone 2.0 offers 26,000 square feet of indoor fun:  an adventure center (laser tag, climbing tower, giant slide), a café serving beer and wine, so parents can relax while kids play. Outdoor activities include snowmobile tours through the historic Smugglers’ Notch pass, and CatTrax heated-cabin snow cat rides to the summits of Smugglers’ most popular peaks.

There’s so much to do, this is the ski resort you want to stay longer at – not just ski and stay – 43 pages of activities in 7-day period.  Everybody has something even if they don’t ski. There are even activity packages that don’t include skiing.

The condo-style accommodations provide plenty of space for families to spread out, have meals and snacks in the condo (every condo has a crock pot; there is a country store on the mountain with the essentials and a grocery store 15 minutes away that you can shop at on the drive up).

Apart from its reputation as the most family-friendly ski resort anywhere, there is serious skiing to be had on three mountains: Morse (all green, so there is a natural separation of ability) while Madonna and Sterling are big, steep and deep; Sterling has a great variety of cruisers (great for intermediates) to bump up skill on short black. Madonna is the toughest, with some of the steepest trails (even a double-black) in the East, but there are also a couple of blues from top (Chilcoot and Drifter). (skivermont.com/smugglers-notch-resort-vt)

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe has new on-mountain Kids AdventureZones, well signed areas that give kids and families the opportunity to easily access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. Stowe, which is now owned by Vail Resorts, now offers Epic Mix, which enables skiers and riders to track their days and vertical feet skied,earn digital pins, share photos, race against the pros and check real-time liftline wait time using their RFID chip-embedded season pass or lift ticket. As part of Vail Resorts, Stowe is also included on the EpicPass.

Stowe has an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting its two mountain peaks, Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. There are new high-speed lifts on Spruce, new base facilities, gourmet restaurants. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 312 room hotel and spa, is recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside lodgings anywhere.There’s also a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak. (www.stowe.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton’s new Snow bowl high-speed quad,the major project in this year’s $10 million-capital plan, is positioned to minimize wind impact and, traveling at 1,000 ft./minute, reduce ride time from 14 to five minutes. Plus, the top ramp provides smoother access to Mike’s Way,a beginner run from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. Home of the great snow guarantee, Stratton offers 97 trails, 100+ acres of glades, 600+acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain including top ranked terrain parks,the fastest fleet of lifts in the East, convenient lodging, slopeside Village,Training & Fitness Center, Spa and a full slate of winter and summer events and activities.

Skiing Stratton Mountain, Vt. (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s lift-served snow tubing, moonlight snowshoe tours, and 12 km of cross country trails for skiing and fat biking. Unwind with a massage from the Village Day Spa or enjoy a dog sled ride through Vermont’s wooded terrain. Stratton’s Training and Fitness Center offers Olympic-sized, salt-water swimming pool,cardio and weight room and the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. Stroll through the Village to enjoy cafes and shops or venture 20 minutes down Route 100 to Manchester for shopping at 40 designer outlets.

Stratton has a learn-to-ski package at $99. It also offers a Jitney from New York City. Another feature is the Winter Wondergrass, a blue grass festival. Now part of the Alterra Mountain Company, Stratton is included on its IkonPass, now offering access to nearly 82,000 acres at 38 premier mountain destinations across the globe. (Stratton.com)

Sugarbush Resort

In honor of its 60th anniversary since Damon and Sara Gadd and Jack Murphy opened the resort in 1958, Sugarbush is hosting anniversary celebrations throughout the season. Sugarbush has also joined the IkonPass, connecting some of the most iconic mountains in North America (Killington, Pico, Stratton in Vermont, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine). On-mountain improvements this season include snowmaking upgrades, lift upgrades, and relocating the beginner First Time lift for more convenient access.

The resort offers 111 trails across two mountains – Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen—connected by  a chairlift (so fun!) and shuttle bus. Mt.Ellen is the third-highest peak in Vermont, with steeps, wide-open cruisers and some great intermediate terrain, the Riemergasse Terrain Park designed with rails, tables, and jumps for all levels, and home to a series of events and competitions; and 28 marked areas for beginner to advanced tree skiing. The 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, tucked in between Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, is an adventurer’s paradise. Guided trips are available with the legendary skier John Egan and the staff of the Adventure Learning Center’s Ski & Ride School.

Sugarbush offers free uphill travel passes for skinning up designated routes at the resort before and after lift-served operating hours. The resort hosts Tour De Moon several times a season – a guided skin to Walt’s at the Glen House at Mt. Ellen and also offers an uphill travel option for Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining. There is also self-guided snowshoeing access and guided tours,including photography tours, twilight tours, and the more endurance-based outback tours in the Slide Brook Basin.

Cabin Cat Adventures also offer a great way to experience the mountain, whether it’s Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining at the top of Gadd Peak, Cabin Cat First Tracks on a powder day or Sunset Groomer Rides to the top of Lincoln Peak. Other activities available in Mad River Valley include ice-skating, an Icelandic horse farm, a locally owned movie theater and cross country skiing. (sugarbush.com)

Bolton Valley

What’s old is new again! Bolton Valley, a self-contained resort where you walk from slopeside lodging directly to the lifts, is once again owned by its original family founders, the DesLauriers who opened the resort in 1966.  

Besides being one of the few places in New England offering night skiing, last year Bolton opened an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment. Building on its reputation for having some of the best and most accessible backcountry terrain in the Eastern U.S., this program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. Explore 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.

“It’s unique in the East for a back-country experience to be so accessible,” said Josh Arneson, V.P. of Sales and Marketing.

How good do you have to be? “At least strong intermediate –we take it slow. People are surprised when they can do it. It is scary to attempt if you do it alone, but a mind-opening experience when you realize you can do it.” A group lesson is $75 plus rental.

Bolton Valley also has back country huts which can be rented through the Green Mountain Club, the organization that runs the Long Trail,but accessed through Bolton. “It’s a unique camping experience, just one mile from the base. You wake up to fresh tracks, and get to do winter camping. It’s accessible, but feels like being deep in woods.”

Bolton Valley sits high in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The high mountain alpine village is surrounded by 5,000 acres of wilderness. Bolton Valley offers 71 trails and glades for Alpine skiing and riding and 100 km of Nordic and backcountry trails. Each year Bolton Valley receives an average of 312 inches of snow.

All the lodging, including hotel rooms, suites and condominiums are either ski in/ski out or within a short walking distance of the lifts. Two restaurants, a cafeteria, deli and general store are located within the village. After a day on the slopes, walk over to the Sports Center,where there is an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna, skateboard bowl and mini ramps, arcade games as well as an open floor for basketball and other games.The Indoor Amusement Center offers bouncy houses for kids who just want to keep moving. (skivermont.com/bolton-valley)

Jay Peak:  Jay Peak expanded its off-slopes roster with the opening of the Ice Haus in 2010, offering  offer public skating times, figure-skating lessons and stick-and-puck pick-up games, and in 2011,  with the 60,000-square foot PumpHouse, an indoor waterpark; and last winter the opening of Clips & Reels, an entertainment center that features a 142-seat movie theater along with a Clip ‘n Climb facility. (skivermont.com/jay-peak-resort)

Ski Areas Are Proud ‘Throwback’ to ‘Pure Vermont’

Suicide Six Ski Area: DON’T LET THE NAME FOOL YOU! Suicide Six is one of the most family-friendly ski areas in Vermont, with 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced slope ratings. New trails carved for mountain biking in summer offer skiers and snowboarders hidden stash lines to discover; snowmaking has been improved and the FIS certified slalom trail will now be fully automated. The downhill ski area is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn which also offers the Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center providing 30 kilometers of trails to explore via cross country skis, fat bikes or snowshoes;a 10,000 sq. ft Spa; and Woodstock Athletic Club, with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, a 30-by-60-foot heated indoor lap pool, a whirlpool, workout equipment and steam and sauna rooms. (skivermont.com/suicide-six-ski-area)

Mad River Glen, the only cooperatively owned mountain open to the public is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the “pure Vermont” ski experience. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. It is one of the last bastions of natural snow skiing in New England and is one of only three areas in North America that still prohibit snowboarding. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. Skiers can descend the entire 2,037′ of vertical on true expert terrain with no run-outs. There is a special camaraderie among the skiing community, with its co-op ownership,non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff, and – of course-the Single Chair, America’s favorite ski lift. You can also experience the mountain on snowshoes: join one of MRG’s staff Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interest in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain (Naturalist Programs). (skivermont.com/mad-river-glen).

Magic Mountain: After winning Liftopia’s award for best ski area in North America for the second year in a row, Ski Magic LLC, the new ownership of Magic Mountain, continues to invest in its counter-cultural ski and ride experience. Magic has 50 trails including glades; 1,500 vertical feet, “some of the steepest,most challenging terrain in the East, certainly in southern Vermont.” This year, there is a new base-to-mid-mountain double chair (the “Green Lift”) which makes Magic’s classic terrain accessible to novice and intermediate level skiers. In combination with more snowmaking, this new lift allows Magic to open far earlier in the season. Last year, Magic opened a new beginner area accessed with a magic carpet.

Magic has introduced one of the first alpine touring centers in partnership with Salomon with ATrental gear for first-timers, along with lessons and tours. New gear will be added this year. Long known for its extensive and challenging lift-served tree skiing, Magic will have guided backcountry tours this coming season with shuttle van pick-ups, which must be reserved in advance through the Snowsports Learning Center. Snowshoeing trails have also been marked this season (rentals available). (skivermont.com/magic-mountain)

Bromley Mountain: Bromley has announced a new partnership with Arena Snowparks to collaborate on a family-friendly progression park for all skill levels, green to black, with all new features and a wicked mid-season rebuild. For après-ski entertainment, enjoy Bromley’s Wild Boar Tavern (located at the base of the mountain) as well as expanded events calendar with more free, family-friendly entertainment for everyone. Top off your ski days with a scenic sleigh ride at beautiful Taylor Farm, take a stroll through the sculpture garden at the Vermont Art Center, treat yourself to a fabulous shopping experience at the Manchester Shopping Outlet center, and much more, all within a 10-mile radius. (skivermont.com/bromley-mountain-resort)

Nordic Skiing Favorites

More famous for Nordic skiing, but providing a uniquely cozy country atmosphere as well as nearby access to major downhill ski areas:

Situated on 2,500 acres in Stowe, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp Family of “Sound of Music fame”) is a mountain resort that combines Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations with the best of Vermont. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views, old-world comforts, and impeccable service, along with activities for every season, but it boasts being one of the first American resorts built around cross-country skiing. Its cross-country center celebrated its 50th anniversary last winter and offers one of the most extensive trail systems – a whopping 160 km of terrain. (The Trapp Family Lodge is hosting the NCAA Nordic championships, March 6-9.) Snowshoeing is also popular (equipment rentals available). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the meadows with stunning views into the valley.  Enjoy any number of tours to learn about the history of the von Trapp family and lodge; how maple sugar is made; tour the von Trapp Brewing’s state-of-the-art brewery on site; dine in the Bierhall to sample the lagers and enjoy the authentic Austrian experience and cuisine. There’s also ice/rock climbing, spa, pool, hot tub and three restaurants. When you get the urge for downhill skiing, Stowe is nearby.(www.trappfamily.com)


A horse-drawn sleigh ride, a signature experience at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, set on 350 acres ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, is breathtakingly enchanting, offers 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails(snowmaking on a 2 km loop insuring optimal conditions); horse-drawn sleighrides; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). The most charming of inns offers 32 rooms plus 23 individual guest houses; dining at The Mountain Top Tavern (with 12 Vermont Craft Brews on tap) and fireside dining in the dining room.Downhill skiing at Killington and Pico is a short drive away. www.MountainTopInn.com.

Ski Vermontoffers a Take 3 Pass program whereby beginner skiers and riders can take three lessons for a package price of $129 and choose to redeem all three lessons at the same participating resort or at a different participating resort for each lesson. Each pass will include rental equipment for the day plus a group lesson with a professional instructor and a lift ticket to access beginner terrain.Visit skivermont.com for more information.

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