Monday, September 7, 2009
11:04 am est
The Travel on the Level blog has moved to a dedicated blog site that should be more convenient
for you. Take a look and let me know what you think. There are several links on the Travel on the Level homepage.
You can keep checking in here to see what's been posted there, if I've found any new travel equipment worth
taking up space and adding weight in your suitcase and lots of other tips as I encounter them.
Monday, August 24, 2009
More Moore, more gardens
10:17 am est
The Atlanta Botanical Garden is often overlooked by travelers in favor of other, glitzier
attractions - the Georgia Aquarium, Coke, the High Museum, Stone Mountain.
well worth a visit any time and particularly now through October when 20 works of renowned British sculptor Henry Moore are
nestled among 30 acres nature's beauty.
perfect for Levelers. There are a few steps but always alternative ramps and while elevations change, it's so gradual
you'll hardly notice.
Moore in America presents Moore's sculpture as the artist
meant for it to be seen - in the open out of doors. His reclining figures look right at home and his popular mother and child
images are an artistic complement to the mothers and their children roaming the gardens.
The gardens themselves are lovely. The Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory and Orchid Center is spectacular with its
lush, tropical flora. You and the young ones will love the Children's Garden so save the energy to include it.
Best of all, it's in the middle of the city in Midtown, just north of Piedmont Park on Piedmont Avenue.
Admission will set you back $15 - $12 for seniors and children ages 3-17.
Tip: If Southern summer heat is too much for you - and it is for most Southerners - visit on Thursday for Moore at Night:
Cocktails in the Garden, 6-10 p.m., through September. Come October it's Fest-of-Ale, same hours.
is the largest showing of Moore's work in one place, let alone the best place, you are ever likely to see so if you are
in the Atlanta area, don't miss it.
Tip: Where to stay.
Kimpton's Hotel Palomar, www.hotelpalomar-atlantamidtown.com, is the newest spot in the Midtown
area; cool, contemporary but friendly, especially to dogs, and very well equipped. Pacci, the adjacent restaurant, serves
superb Italian inspired cuisine.
W Atlanta-Midtown, 404-892-6000, on 14th Street is the closest. The
Sheraton Atlanta downtown has undergone a multi-million dollar transformation and with
its large, lush pool is especially good if you are traveling with children.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Brer Rabbit and friends
10:42 am est
If you grew up listening to the tales of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear and their cohorts that Uncle Remus
told to the Little Boy, you'll want to travel to the Uncle Remus Museum in Eatonton, GA, a pleasant
and easy drive north from Macon.
If you've never heard anything of Uncle Remus except that
Harris' books of his tales are considered politically incorrect, you ought to stop and pick up a book to decide for yourself.
Personally, I'd hate to think of these richly evocative tales of African folklore being lost
to posterity, which they probably would have been without Harris popularizing them. The dialect, which many find offensive
and demeaning, is one of our few links to the language and ingenuity of generations of involuntary American immigrants.
The small museum, made from three slave cabins, is in Turner Park right in the center of
this pretty town, which was the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris. The park was part of the original home place of Joseph
Sidney Turner, the "Little Boy".
Harris chronicled the folklore of African slaves at
Turnwold Plantation where, at the age of 13, he was hired as printer's devil for the plantation newspaper, "The Countryman."
The Civil War and General Sherman's army ended Harris' job, but he went on to an illustrious
career as a journalist.
The museum features artifacts from Harris' life, Civil War era Southern
life, the development of the Uncle Remus tales, the Disney movie about them ("Song of the South") and 12 charming
vignettes from the tales carved by Frank Schnell.
It won't delay your trip by much and you
can arrive in Atlanta in time for a late lunch.
Tip: Or, you can cut over to I-75 and stop at Buckner's
on Bucksnort (!) Road in Jackson, a stomach-filling tradition for 29 years. The barn shaped and sized eatery is open from
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, 11-9 Friday and Saturdays and 11-7 on Sundays. You'll be seated at one of the large round
tables for a family-style, all-you-care-to-eat meal of downhome Southern style cooking.
table is centered with a lazy susan on which are piled bowl after bowl of delicious fried chicken, green beans, fresh beans
or peas and coleslaw, rolls and cornbread plus a so-so peach cobbler. These are augmented, depending on the day and season,
by BBQ pork, roast beef or ham, potatoes in various styles, Brunswick Stew or stewed tomatoes, cream style corn or boiled
The cost is $13.95 for adults, $12.95 for "60-year-old recycled teens,"
$3 for youngsters ages 3-8. The experience is memorable.
Museum and eatery are both totally level.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Make it to Macon
11:05 am est
For years I and too many others have traveled by Macon en route to Atlanta via I-75, never taking the time
to stop. It won't happen again.
Macon is well worth a two-or three-day stay.
The city is large enough to offer a lively downtown yet small enough that you can still find a parking place.
The first thing you notice is its beauty. Macon wasn't on Sherman's route through Georgia so it wasn't
burned down which means 70 of those elegant antebellum homes are still being lived in. Newer additions have been blended
in and the city is an architecture lover's dream.
The Macon Plateau is where Georgia starts getting hilly but you don't have to navigate them by foot if you don't want
to. Just park nearby.
Macon's Beauty and history
A lot of history has occurred in Macon. People have been living here since the Ice Age. Towns of giant earth lodges
and burial grounds can be explored at Ocmulgee National Monument. When the first Europeans arrived, beginning with Hernando
de Soto in 1540, this was a thriving area with planted fields, stockaded villages and impressive earthen structures.
Tip: Stop by the attractive Visitor's Center downtown to get an overview
of what the city has to offer. While there, pick up a Self-Guided Tour Map and tickets for the Historic Homes Tour and/or
the Museum District Tour.
Macon soon became an inland trade center with all the advantage wealth
brings, from architecture to the arts. This is where the genius poet-musician Sidney Lanier was born and developed his remarkable
talents. The Sidney Lanier Cottage has triple landmark status - it is on the National Register of Historic Places, a Landmark
of American Music an a National Poetry Landmark.
your visit when Marty Willett is on duty; he's a one-man show with encyclopedic knowledge and fun anecdotes about Lanier
What Lanier began, the likes of Graham Jackson, Jessye Norman, Gladys Knight,
Little Richard, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Ray Eberle, Harry James, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Otis Redding and the
Allman Brothers continued, as you can learn at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (if state budget cuts don't close it).
Best food and hotel
By all means catch lunch at the H & H, the landmark soul food restaurant where "Mama Louise" Hudson kept the
Allman Brothers fed during their early "poor" days.
African American culture
is celebrated at the Tubman African American Museum which was named in her honor even though that revered woman had no Macon
connections. With its collection of art, history and culture it's definitely worth a visit. Regardless of your skin
tone, you'll be amazed at the inventions and products - fire extinguisher, push lawnmower, collapsible ironing board -
developed by African Americans. Currently in modest and cramped quarters, a new building is under construction in the Museum
Tip: The elegant 1842 Inn, a four-diamond, four-star
property built - you guessed it - in 1842, is the place to stay. You'll love breakfast, cocktails and canapes and a mint
julep nightcap served in front of the cozy fireplace. Be sure to ask for a first floor room because there is no elevator.
Come spring, you'll know why several of Macon's streets have pink cherry blossoms on them and a pink line
between the yellow stripes. With 300,000 - those zeroes are no mistake - cherry trees, Macon is the cherry blossom capital
of the world!
Can't wait to travel back there to see them.
to look at, engaging to visit, by all means travel to and stop in Macon. You'll be glad you did.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Fitzgerald: The love-hate town
10:44 am est
Imagine hundreds of Union Army veterans and their families traveling to Georgia pine country, the heart
of Dixie, 25 years after the Civil War.
That's what happened in Fitzgerald, GA, a town designed
for and built by Civil War veterans. Neighbors still were fighting the war but the soldiers themselves were ready for peace.
They found it here alongside their former enemies in a town where streets were named for Union and Confederate leaders.
Industriousness kept Fitzgerald thriving through depressions, the railroads and the timber and pulp businesses brought
prosperity and the newcomers brought understanding and amity to what had been hostile territory.
Today, Fitzgerald is a small town where neighbors keep up with one another and take the time to welcome visitors. However,
the love-hate dynamic is still very much present as you'll find when you travel here.
old railroad depot may have become the Blue and Gray Museum but a train rumbles through town every 28 minutes, stopping traffic
and cutting the silence with its whistles. The inconvenience and noise annoy some, please others. Love-hate.
Then there are the chickens. In the 1960s the Georgia Department of Natural Resources brought in Burmese chickens
as new game birds to augment the existing dove, quail and pheasant.
The chickens were small,
feisty and more athletic and intelligent than their domesticated cousins. Flocks were released all over the state, including
down by the Ocmulgee River several miles from Fitzgerald.
Other flocks disappeared, probably
into the stomachs of predators, but the Ocmulgee contingent, preferring a more urban - and probably safer - environment, migrated
into town and thrived.
Now they rule the roost. Some residents feed them, others shoo them
away, again with the love-hate dynamic. But mostly the town folks tolerate them. Chickens have the right of way on the streets
and roads and the third weekend in March the Wild Chicken Festival attracts visitors.
and cock-a-doodle do's are the sounds of Fitzgerald.
Nabila's Garden Restaurant is the place to eat and the Dorminy-Massee House Bed & Breakfast is the place to stay.
The ever-changing buffet at Nabila's is a local favorite, especially the fried chicken and desserts although I was partial
to the vegetables.
The white-columned B & B will remind you of antebellum mansions
and it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places although it wasn't built until 1915. All eight bedrooms
come with private bath, phone, TV and computer modem and two of them are on the first floor. However, the stairs leading to
the second story aren't bad.
Also good, there are no hills in Fitzgerald and very few steps
with which to contend, making it a good stop for levelers.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Gorillas, gator benches & other good times in the Blue Ridge Mountains
9:51 am est
If you've been wondering, I've been on the fly - to a digital photo institute in Milwaukee - and
on the road, one that took me through south central Georgia to the ankles of the Blue Ridge mountains and on to the peach
fields of South Carolina.
Lots of goodies to tell you about but I'll start with level-worthy
spots in the Blue Ridge.
Gorilla Haven is a remarkable facility developed by
Jane and Steuart Dewar in Morganton, GA., between Blue Ridge and Blairsville. Jane envisioned a home not unlike their original
environments where captive gorillas could be placed while better arrangements could be developed or found. Stueart, a genius
at creating and building better mousetraps, made it happen on a level that no individual zoo or animal park could imagine
At the moment there are two gorillas loving life in their Haven: Oliver, a profoundly
deaf but gentle and handsome giant who shares his compound with a pair of goats, and Joe, the third oldest gorilla in captivity,
whose condition is a testament to the Dewars' quality of care.
With no outside funding and
zoos too financially strapped to participate, the Dewars have begun opening their Haven to visitors for limited tours. Dates
for this year are Sept. 5 and 9, October 10 and 14 and Nov. 28, all for 2-3 hours beginning at 11 a.m. Cost is a $50 donation
per per adult, with a discounted family rate possible.
terrain is mountainous, you'll be walking on gravel roads and there are flights of stairs to be climbed, but the experience
is so unique it's worth pushing yourself. Bring your walking stick and of course, camera and video cam. Contact Emily
Moreland at 706-851-9440 or Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This could be your last opportunity to
see these magnificent creatures. Oscar may be relocating to a gorilla family in a zoo this winter and Joe is defying veterinary
science living as long as he has, but with extensive medical issues including a heart problem, no one knows for how much longer.
You'll never forget the delicacy with which these giants reach for favorite morsels of food.
Around Back at Rockys Place in Dawsonville, GA., is the best
and most intriguing gallery of folk art you'll find in the Southeast. Begun by a pair of art collecting school teachers
in their backyard, it displays the work of more than 200 artists, many recognized by major museums like the Smithsonian Institute
and awarded grants by the national Endowment for the Arts. They work in all sorts of mediums - paintings on tin, "found"
objects sculpture, paintings using caulking on board, wood of all varieties, fabrics, clay and glass.
They are everywhere you look - overhead, under foot, in trees, on shelves and walls, in cases, leaning against buildings,
on the ceiling, in the bathroom. You won't be able to pull yourself away from the visual overload and when you start hearing
the stories about these creators, you won't want to. Dare you not to buy something. I lost the dare but gained a double-headed
alligator bench by J. L. Nippers.
Tip: No steps either.
Rockys Place is open on weekends and by appointment and can be found at the intersection of Hwy 53 East and Etowah River Rd.
You can day trip there from Atlanta and you can't miss it. Just look for the gigantic wooden angel out front.
After feeding your soul and sense of humor, feed the body with a gourmet lunch at the nearby Blue Bicycle or a good
old greasy Bully burger and hand-cut fries at The Pool Room.
Next post: Peach country.
Monday, July 6, 2009
10:50 am est
Diamonds and crystals are yours for the finding in Arkansas.
a diamond is a bit like winning the lottery but the world's only public diamond mine is relatively on the level so you
might as well try.
At Crater of Diamonds State Park, two miles southeast of Murfreesboro
on Arkansas Hwy 301, it costs $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children ages 6-12 to dig. Equipment rental - plastic stools,
screens for sifting and buckets for collecting - costs more depending on how elaborate and serious your search will be.
The "mine" is like a roughly furrowed field into which diamonds and other rocks have been washed by rain
from the volcanic vent. Periodically the park rangers turn over the dirt to facilitate fresh finds. They also give visitors
free lessons on how to go about diamond finding.
There are three ways: Fill up buckets with dirt
and bring it back to a water station and wash the clay from, hopefully, the stones. Take your bucket, spade, screen and stool
out to a likely spot and dry sift. Walk down the furrows looking for the telltale clear opacity of a diamond (the way the
biggest are found).
Heat and patience levels dictate how diligent your search will be. People
- usually the most patient - do find diamonds here.
Tip: If one
member of your group flags before the others do, there's a large swimming pool, a gift shop, vending machines, bathrooms
and air conditioning at the nearby park headquarters.
Crystals are much easier to find and
"harvest". Mount Ida is the area for these pleasers. Drive along the road toward town and pick a rock shop that
appeals to you. Go inside and they can direct you to a crystal mine. The map will cost $10-$20 per adult per day, $5 to $10
for children, and will take you up a winding mountain road to the top where the owners have dumped tailings from the open
Crystals and clay go together so the "digging" is dirty and messy but there's
usually a good breeze and the finding is easy. Just look for the glint of sun off a crystal facet.
can keep as many crystals as you find and want.
Of course you can eliminate the driving and dirty
digging by picking out a crystal you like at the shop and buying it, but that's no way to have fun or impress your friends.
These are neat day excursions for anyone staying in the Hot Springs area.
If the kitsch there gets you down, consider shifting your stay to a more resort-like setting. Mountain Harbor
is a delightful facility with rooms, cabins and houses for nightly or weekly rental. You'll find the country's only
floating Subway, an excellent restaurant, a grand spa, unfortunately with unavoidable stairs, and even horseback riding. It's
on the very large Lake Ouachita and if stationary rooms are too tame, try a houseboat.
prefer the state park route, you can rent cabins and yurts in DeGray Lake Resort State Park or rooms at the
lovely lodge. The restaurant there is good, the boating is fun and the fishing is fine. There's a pool, horseback riding,
even a golf course. In-room massages can be arranged.
You'll have earned a bit of pampering
after digging for those sparklers.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Cows equal cheese and chocolates in Fribourg and la Gruyere
11:04 am est
Still on food but back to pre-Alp Switzerland and what to do besides skiing, hiking or mountain climbing.
After a night spent in Charmey sleeping to the sound of cow bells in the pasture behind the hotel, the drive to Fribourg
is a treat. Cats out hunting in dewy pastures the shade of golf course greens, apples ripening on the trees and firewood
stacked neatly for winter.
We arrived at the Sarine River which winds through the medieval town
and its modern city and walked across the flat bridge to the 13th-14th century lower town at the end of the peninsula.
Warning: This may be the last flat thing in Fribourg. We're getting closer
to the Alps and changes in elevation, not to mention cobblestone streets abound. It won't be hard to take your
time because there's much to see and photograph as you make your way up to the level before the next hill.
There was a flea market in the lower square and, on this the last day of the annual medieval festival, costumed children
and adults frolicking down the hill as we walked up. This was and is a university town and was an important stop for pilgrims
on the way to San Juan de Compostela in Spain. Look for the directional sign on the wall to the left.
the hill levels the market square begins; venders of flowers, artisanal cheeses, chocolates, freshly picked mushrooms and
colorful vegetables line the pedestrian way.
Just when you think you can't climb another
step an even higher hill - many of us would call it a mountain - looms.
there's a funicular powered entirely by water (!) that takes you to the top.
If you can't linger overnight in Fribourg, as we wanted to but couldn't, give
your feet a rest, have a light lunch and drive on to Gruyeres
To sound like a native, remember it's le Gruyer for the cheese, Gruyeres for the city and la Gruyere for the region
No doubt, this is cheese country with at least one cow for every resident in the region. Necessary because it takes
400 litres of milk to produce one kilo of cheese.
By all means take in a cheese factory to see
how Gruyer and Vacherin Fribourgeois are produced. Do sample, but save yourself for dinner - fondue and raclette, of course,
the local specialties.
Tip: Always utilize horse-pulled wagons and miniature
train trolleys when offered. It's really hilly here.
It's a hike but do tour
up through Gruyeres and its castle. There's good window shopping en route so it's easy to pace yourself.
The count didn't need a castle - he had no enemies - but all the other counts had one so in 1250 he built his.
The family was cultured; arrtists and musicians were frequent long-term visitors. There are Corot paintings on the wall and
Franz Liszt left his piano to them. Half of the hotel has been turned into a museum of fantasy art.
the delight of visitors - this is as touristy as Fribourg is not - costumed Alpenhorn players and flag tossers regularly demonstrate
their talents during the day in the courtyard outside the castle.
As you leave the castle, to
the left is the H. R. Giger Gallery - not for the faint of heart and only if you are into surrealistic sadism - and to the
right is a cafe based on the Alien of film fame. Giger is the artist who won as Oscar for the original's special effects.
Go inside and you'll feel like you are inside one.
There are many charming restaurants
for dinner but I know Hostellerie St.-Georges serves a memorable raclette.
From here you
can close the circle with a stop in Lausanne and the shores of Lake Geneva or go on to the real Alps. Even in St. Moritz there
are level spots!
Friday, June 19, 2009
Y'all go to Charleston, S. C.
12:13 pm est
No one leaves Charleston hungry. It is a must-visit for foodies not to mention historians, hospitality seekers
and architecture buffs.
Chefs here preserve the integrity of the area's wonderful low country
cuisine while infusing global touches on local foods. From raising their own veggies and pigs, treating them to the occasional
slurp of chocolate milk, to creating a club for patrons of their home made charcuterie, a nearby and personal farm to plate
connection is emphasized.
Tip: Don't miss the grits or tomato pie at Dixie
Supply Company. Rachel Ray rightfully raves over the sweet potato pancakes at Joseph's.
Not surprisingly, Culinary tours are popular. On Fridays, some tours include a chef's tour through his kitchen.
Culinary Tours of Charleston can set you up with a variety of choices but be warned, these are walking tours.
Warning: Charleston is flat but nothing is level. You have to watch your step here because much of
the city has been built on fill and over the centuries, a good bit of settling occurred. It still is, so stop when you spot
something worth a look.
You will find much to linger over which is good because in the summer,
Charleston is hot and no one in their right mind moves far fast.
Wander the residential areas in the early morning or late afternoon when the heat's down.
days are long gone when an open garden gate meant you were welcome to go in and look around but stop and peek through those
closed wrought iron gates. You can get a hint of the marvelous gardens beyond. When it's hotter than the latest new uber
chef, go from one air conditioned store to another or give up, retire to your hotel and take a nap.
is a city you need to walk and most can handle it if headquartered in a well-located hotel. Just remember to make frequent
stops on a shady bench.
There are no hop-on, hop-off vehicles circulating around the peninsula
but you can't walk a block without seeing a tour group going by on foot, in a horse and wagon, a van or small bus. I'd
recommend starting with a horse-drawn tour. The pace is slow enough to peek behind the fences and you can make note of where
you'd like to return for a longer look.
Tip: The concierge at The Mills
House recommends Charleston Tours and Touring Charleston.
To cool off, tea is the beverage of
choice. Traditionally served sweet it can be cloyingly so. The alternative is to order a half-and-half, half sweet, half unsweetened.
The coolest new adult beverage for hot weather is Firefly sweet tea infused vodka with a splash
of lemonade. It's fast becoming a local tradition.
Definitely visit Charleston, the city where
Southern hospitality was born.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Canaling in Switzerland
11:24 am est
Most of us think of Switzerland as a country for hiking, mountain climbing and skiing, but few if any associate
it with commuting by boat. Yet that is exactly what we did, traveling from Neuchatel to Murten/Morat along the Canal de la
In the process we arrived in the Fribourg region, the pre-Alps. The Navigation Company
runs regular service in the Three Lakes area and is a perfect vehicle for levelers. Seats on deck or inside are comfortable
and the boat's slow speed makes photography a joy. You'll pass bicyclists and walkers going along the lakeside paths,
swans cruising by, cornfields, vineyards sloping up from the lake and other picturesque, camera-worthy sights.
Tip: You can get off at a stop, look around and pick up the next boat that comes along.
We did just that, stopping for lunch in the shady garden of the Hotel de l'Ours in Sugiez. With Mont-Vully at
our backs, the Broye River in front of us, we feasted on local perch fillets and local wine before ambling along the "Wine
Path" and having a tasting at one of the country's smallest vineyards.
boarded another boat and continued to the town with a split personality. For 400 years it was shared by two cantons, one French,
one German, thus the two names. Murten is the one most people use.
Two wedding receptions aboard
separate barges were in full swing when our boat arrived, a festive welcome.
You'll do some walking here, but it's worth the effort, especially the climb atop the walled city's battlements.
At one time a retirement area for Roman soldiers, Morat/Murten became a
stop on the roadway between north and south Europe, making it strategically important.
walls you can picture the awesome forces of the undefeated Charles the Bold who camped outside the city and boasted, "I
will have Murten for breakfast and Lausanne for lunch."
So valiantly was the undermanned
city defended, he failed.
You won't fail to live and eat well here; the cows are milked
at 5 p.m. and by 5:55 the milk arrives at the town's gruyere -making plant.
Take time for a beverage at the Cafe Bern Tor (road to Bern) next to the city gate. Its owner is tasked with tending and cranking
the huge clock each day.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Journey into the Jura
3:19 pm est
We're still in Pays de Neuchatel and I suggest a great, full day side trip up to La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Trains leave Neuchatel hourly for the 30-minute-long trip, but it's better by car. There's
a great view around every turn and some truly grand overlooks where you'll want to stop and grab the camera.
Tip: A car will help keep your walking and climbing to a minimum.
The town, where Switzerland's watch-making reputation was solidified, burned to the ground in the 18th
century. Instead of recreating age, the city fathers looked ahead with modern architecture. The standout is "Villa Turque"
(Turkish house) by Le Corbusier which now serves as the public relations center for the fine watchmaker Ebel.
The International Watchmaking Museum (Musee International d'Horlogerie) is a must see even if you think viewing
over 4,000 examples of time keeping sounds as dull as I did. Trust me, it's fascinating.
the road in time to have a lunch of delicious trout at Les Rives du Doubs, then take the mini-cruise on the Lake of Les Brenets.
Deep gorges, serene surroundings and at the end, the Saut-du-Doubs waterfall.
It takes a bit of walking to get to the waterfall but the grade is gentle and the surface is pretty good. Give it a go.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Watch it bubble in Switzerland
11:07 am est
Examine the fine arts of sparkling wines and watch making on an easy side trip from Neuchatel to Motiers
and Fleurier. While you are driving through mountainous landscapes, the roads are broad, good and well marked.
Mauler Cellars in Motiers is a good introduction to the little-known Swiss expertise in wine culture. You won't
see much Swiss wine in the states because what the Swiss don't drink themselves is snapped up by the French who are a
mere 15 kilometers away and know a good deal when they taste it.
The family operation has been
centered in Le Prieure St.-Pierre, an 11th century priory (Rousseau once lived in it), since 1829 and tours and tastings are
Warning: Cobblestones in the courtyard and stairs on the tour.
Next, head to the lovely little town of Fleurier, once the center of fine
watchmaking and now coming back thanks to the presence of Atalier Parmigiani.
Little did the
puritanical John Calvin realize when he banned the wearing of jewelry in the 16th century what an industry he would create.
Jewelers turned from rings and necklaces to the unfrivolous keeping of time via watches. Winters are long here and craftsmen
isolated in nooks and crannies of the Jura mountains had time to devote to the necessary tedious details. Thus this area of
Neuchatel is known now as the Watch Valley.
You've probably never heard of Parmigiani watches.
They aren't cheap ($8,000-$750,000) but they are beautiful and created with amazing intricacy and care.
The company welcomes opportunities to show off its precision as it is one of the few companies still making all parts
of the watches themselves. With axles thinner than a human hair, it takes more than two months to finish a single watch;
300 hours for assembling.
You will develop a newfound appreciation for fine craftsmanship here
and you might become a bit of a watch snob. When you find yourself checking out the wrists of passersby, you'll know you've
been infected. Warning: Walking by the many jewelry stores here
can be hazardous to your American Express card.
Next posting: More side trips.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Leveling in Switzerland
11:18 am est
Traveling on the level in Switzerland, home of the Alps?
You bet if you can
handle the occasional up and down slant. The trick is to take the country's wonderful trains through the mountains
to see what else is there.
My suggestion: Head east to the Neuchatel region in the foothills of
the Jura Mountains, home to Switzerland's famous watch, cheese and chocolate makers.
town of Neuchatel begins across from the lake of the same name and winds up through yellow sandstone buildings from the 16th
and 17th centuries.
Tip: If you go in July or August, the tourist
train will do the climbing for you. The 45-minute tour, which stops at the 15th century castle, runs four times daily then;
Sundays only in May and June, Saturday and Sunday in September.
don't-miss, the Jaquet-Droz automatons in the Museum of Art and History down by the harbor. Like 18th century computers,
they are three young figures.
The scribe can write up to 40 words in any language that uses the
Roman alphabet. The female pianist breathes and compresses the keys of the pipe organ to play four different tunes. The draftsman
draws a cupid, a dog or a portrait of a man. They will amaze you just as they have the crowned heads of Europe since 1774.
Tip: Hotel Beau-Rivage is situated on Lake Neuchatel adjacent to Esplanade du Mont-Blanc,
a formal garden interspersed with sculpture - artists include Arp, Vasarely and Robert Indiana - all of which is nice and
Friday, May 22, 2009
2:15 pm est
Ever spend a day at the beach and return home sunburned, sand burned and exhausted?
Have we got a deal for any of you lucky enough to live or be passing by near Jacksonville Beach, FL.
Cruise over to the beachfront Casa Marina Hotel and Restaurant and sit down to their Sunday Brunch. Linger over the
meal and by the time you've finished, your ocean-view room should be ready.
up and stretch out on the soft sandy beach. No need to be hasty, let your repast settle before taking to the ocean waves or
beach combing for shells. Shower, nap or survey the surf from your room if you like then head for the Penthouse for a cocktail.
Warning: You'll have to negotiate stairs to the Penthouse but the view and ambiance are worth
Sleep tight then watch as the rising sun turns the ocean pearly shades you never knew existed.
Enjoy a Continental breakfast and head off for home or office refreshed and glowing.
Best of all,
do it for $139 - room, brunch, cocktails and breakfast for two.
Sounds like Leveler heaven to
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Taiwan: Island of wonders
2:51 pm est
Taiwan rarely makes it into most travelers' Asian bucket list, which is a shame.
The country is small, a little larger than Maryland, but filled with amazing sights, natural and man-made.
In Taipei, the capital city, you'll find one of the world's finest museums with arguably the world's
best collection of Chinese creativity. The National Palace Museum houses the best of China's cultural heritage which was
rescued from invading Japanese by Chiang Kai-shek in 1931 and eventually transferred to Taiwan in 1948-49.
one of the finest bookstores, Eslite, five stories of literature that's open 24 hours a day.
Tip: Travelers from the U. S. and a number of other countries who find themselves at the Taipei airport with
at least seven hours to spare between connections can take advantage of a free, visa exempt tour. Depending on the time, it
might hit city highlights, nearby villages or night markets.
Gourmets will want to try the world
famous dumplings turned out in steamy profusion at Din Tai Fung.
this restaurant is four floors of invariably full tables and booths. Stairs are narrow and there is no elevator, but make
the effort if you can. The steamed crabmeat and pork dumplings are to die for. Don't be deterred by the crowd standing
around in front of this hole-in-the-wall; most are waiting for take-out orders.
the CKS Memorial Hall, temples adorned with brightly-colored Chiao-Chi pottery figures and wonderful wood and stone carvings
are just a few of the city's other delights you don't want to miss.
Taiwan is a mountainous
country and Taroko Gorge is one of the most mountainous spots (up to 9,000 feet with 27 of the country's 100 tallest peaks)
but that's no excuse for Levelers' missing it.
The scenery is phenomenal at Taiwan's
Grand Canyon and its surrounding mountains. Marble lined and tree-filled with more twists than an Ocean's movie
plot, Taroko will take your breath away.
A 30-minute flight from Taipei to Hualien then an unforgettable
20-minute drive along the sea-hugging Chingsui Cliff will get you there.
You can drive or take a motorized tour to many of the high-spots, the best of which is the Tunnel of Nine Turns. This engineering
marvel will take you via a relatively flat, paved surface that winds through tunnels and along cliffs for a bird's-eye
view of the gorgeous gorge carved over the centuries by the Liwu River. Don't miss it.
Friday, May 1, 2009
9:30 am est
Title get your attention?
Mountain country is usually a challenge to Levelers,
but in Dawson County, GA, about 50 minutes north of Atlanta, I recently found ways to get up close without arduous climbs
or stairways that go on forever.
Amicalola Falls State Park is the site of the tallest cascading
falls east of the Mississippi River and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but Levelers can find maximum beauty
with limited effort.
Letting the car do the climbing for you may not be the greenest approach,
but if it's that or missing out, I say go for it.
Start at the bottom by following the signs
to the reflecting pool where you get a view of the falls from top to almost bottom. It's a great place to let the kids
drop a line.
Tip: It's totally flat here and if the pond has been stocked
recently (ask a ranger), expect to catch some trout.
Next, hit the middle via the West Ridge
trail. It's a spectacular view at the end of a quarter-mile-long trail. The trail includes a slight elevation change and
a few stair steps, but its surface of recycled tires provides a soft, springy feeling underfoot. It leads to a bridge that
extends over the falls.
Tip: From here you can see the falls gushing from
the top and cascading down and around the mountain. To get the best picture of someone with the falls as a backdrop, walk
down to the fourth or fifth step on the switchback of 425 steps (aren't we feeling smug about now?) and aim back up to
where your subject is posed at the corner of the walkway. Snap a photo of those steps going down while you're at it. No
need to tell anyone you didn't climb them unless they ask specifically!
Continue on up the
West Ridge route to the overlook atop the falls for a spectacular look at how the spring-fed creek burbles quietly along until
it starts its precipitous fall with a roar.
Tip: A few stone steps and a path
with a slight elevation change takes you to another bridge over the falls.
Keep driving up and
you'll reach the four-story, 56-room non-smoking lodge where the rooms are comfortable, the food is good and the view
across the valley and foothills from a rocking chair on the back deck is down-right therapeutic. Best of all, you didn't
have to practically cripple yourself getting there.
Tip: The park also has a few
campsites and 14 one- to three-bedroom fully equipped cabins. The upper cabins have fireplaces, the lower ones are by that
burbling stream. The two-bedroom No. 4 would be my pick: not only is it the best designed, it's ADA compliant, all
on one level with a deck and fire pit out back and a gentle slope down to the creek.
we Levelers can't enjoy mountain country?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
More of the hills: Gruene and New Braunfels, Texas
11:58 am est
The Guadalupe River provided power for a gristmill, the land proved perfect for growing cotton and until
the boll weevil, and Great Depression times were good in Groene [Green], the settlement founded by the Groene family. When
the family died out so did the town except for Groene Hall, the dance hall and saloon.
closed and now the town, a small microcosm of turn-of-the-century buildings, is a popular weekend getway. Old buildings have
become trendy specialty shops, the gristmill is a busy restaurant and Henry Groene Jr.'s home, next to the Hall, is now
a spiffy B & B.
Tip: Groene Mansion Inn is the place to stay.
If you want a touch of yesteryear with modern ammenities, stay in the Inn proper, but realize the side overlooking the dance
hall is noisy when the bands are playing. If you want quiet, opt for one of the newer units down by the Guadalupe River.
The Inn has stairs and the newer units come on a first or second floor so insist on ground
level if you need to. Walking is the only way to see the town itself, but it's small and doable.
Follow the river to New Braunfels [BROWN-fulls] for a more in depth look at how the area founded
in 1845 by a German prince developed and thrived. History and architecture buffs will find much to enjoy but kids and the
young at heart will absolutely love it.
One of the main reasons - Schlitterbahn, America's
No. 1 water park according to the Travel Channel. Loosely translated it means "slippery road," and with 40 separate
watery attractions there's a lot of slippin' and sliding to be enjoyed. From the end of November until the first week
of January, more than one million lights, an ice skating rink and shows turn it into a winter wonderland.
Landa Park is 196-acres of natural beauty with a municipal golf course, tubing chute, trout fishing, arboretum, miniature
golf, picnic facilities, miniature train and pools fed by Comal Springs which produces the Comal River, the shortest in the
U. S. Warning: it's a bit hilly.
Locals remind you of the seven
museums, call their home "the town of tin ceilings" and, if you're lucky, will direct you to Henne Hardware,
the state's oldest hardware store, which has everything, the town murals and Naegelin's. the oldest bakery
in Texas. Come the end of October, Wurstfest, a 10-day celebration of sausage, takes over the town.
Tip: Historic Walking Tour Guides of downtown are available at the Visitor Center. We lucked
into a tour by raconteur and resident Wayne Rahe, which was one of those you didn't want to end.
The Hill Country really shouldn't be missed. As if to make it irresistable, you can start or
finish in two of the state's most enjoyable cities, Austin or San Antonio.
Friday, April 17, 2009
No sour grapes
11:09 am est
The burgeoning wine industry in Texas is centered around Fredericksburg, which its German settlers had already
made famous by their beer brewing. Between the two, it attracts throngs of city-dwelling Texans on weekends and Hill Country
tourists all of the time.
With so many steady visitors, you know there's a lot worth
seeing and tasting.
Main street, anchored by the popular Fredericksburg Brewing Company where
you ought to try the food and a flight of their best brews, is full of Texas chic, wine tasting rooms and trendy boutiques.
After lunch there you'll welcome the stroll.
Stray a few blocks left or right and you'll
find more galleries,historic buildings and homes, the National Museum of the Pacific War and August E's which has to be
one of the best restaurants in the state and destination-worthy all by itself.
Hop in the car
and tour the country's fastest growing wine region. Don't be embarrassed if you haven't heard about it; as with
many European wine growing regions, visitors and the locals consume the lion's share of the finished product. There are
21 wineries from which to choose. Ken Maxwell at Torre di Pietra adds music to the mix on many weekends, Stone House Vineyard's
main building is of interest architecturally and a number of vineyards have B&Bs on or near their property.
Tip: Fredericksburg is worth an overnight or more. Those vertically inclined can mountain
climb in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area while Levelers are savoring wine, wonderful food as well as the herb gardens and
lavender producing farms the area is also known for.
The Luckenbach, Texas of Willie and Waylon
fame is nearby and a big draw day and night, but especially on Friday nights when the dance hall is full. It can be rented
for special parties so check the schedule so you won't be disappointed. This is also LBJ territory, another reason to
stay awhile, and the Pedernales is the river that runs through it.
If you visit Luckenbach at night, check the rafters over your head. Chickens roost there.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
9:47 am est
Travel Weekly's latest posting contained some interesting statistics.
three hottest travel destinations in 2008 were the Middle East, 11.3 %; Central America, 7.9 % and South America, 5.9 %, according
to date from the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Worldwide growth was only 2 %.
are still traveling but their trips are shorter and they are choosing packaged deals to save money.
Tip: Watch for hotels to add incentives for staying longer. If you're researching reservations for a two-day
weekend, ask what they could do if you stayed three or four days. Don't assume you can't afford the four- or five-star
rooms or cruises. Everything is on sale these days.
And Levelers, rooms near
the elevator - too noisy - or on ground level - less secure - are considered less desirable by many travelers. Ask for them
but don't forget to set the inner security lock in ground floor rooms.
Friday, April 10, 2009
More Texas Hill Country
10:24 am est
Texas had its own version of Johnny Appleseed, the Adams family who brought apple trees to Love's Creek
Orchards in the town of Medina [MeDEEna]. Adam's Apples' The Apple Store is known for its apple pie, voted one of
the South's Best Desserts by Southern Living in 2007. It's certainly big enough: five pounds of apples go into
each pie. A whole one costs $22.95, a slice $4 and the aroma is tantalizing. Outside, the nursery carries 16 different
varieties of apple trees for sale.
Tip: This area is popular with motorcyclists
so don't be surprised if on weekends you spot bikes parked next to horses tethered at "downtown" hitching posts.
The 200 or so residents ride their favorite mounts to town and join the bikers in shopping and blowing off a little steam.
Levelers will find the towns situated in the relatively flat valleys of what Texans refer to as the "Swiss Alps
of Texas" - if nothing else, a testament to the Texas tendency toward exaggeration.
Kerrville is the arts center of the Hill Country and with 25,000 residents, one of its largest towns. A symphony, live theater,
an arts center, the Museum of Western Art, the James Avery Craftsmen's World Headquarters and seven restaurants along
the south fork of the Guadalupe River sets it apart from its neighbors. The annual Texas Furniture Makers Show at the Kerr
Arts and Cultural Center is well worth a detour.
Tip: There are steps, more
than most of us would like, at Elaine's Table but the food and view make it worth the effort.
like its state, accommodates all types from the artistic to would-be big game hunters. There are 57 exotic species raised
at area ranches where hunters pay big bucks to bag their beast of choice.
The YO Ranch is one of the biggest of these trophy guaranted operations and as you might expect, the lobby of the YO Ranch
Motel is filled with mounts. If it bothers you to see the head, neck and shoulder of a mother giraffe enfolding her calf emerging
from a wall, pick another place to stay.
The rivers of Hill Country are
particularly scenic with cypress trees lining their banks and enough changes of elevation to ensure that lovely burbling murmur.