Every year around the second week of February - when the weather gets cold, the snow stays around a little longer than normal - with clear blue skies, crisp stars and when thoughts of "where can we go to get warm" creep into my mind - I think of Quebec. Specifically - Carnaval de Quebec. It is a reminder to celebrate the season and what it brings so instead of fighting or complaining about this time of year just jump in.....and that is how the Quebecians "celebrate" winter.....Carnaval de Quebec....so a couple of years ago we decided to give it a try. It is a time I will never forget and I want to share some of that with you.
Carnaval de Quebec is the biggest winter Carnaval in the world. We flew from Denver through Toronto to Quebec City. It was an easy trip - even when you would look out at the frozen tarmacs and snow covered planes as we entered and departed both Canadian cities. It looked cold.
When we arrived we grabbed a taxi and headed straight to the hotel. It looked cold.
We stayed directly across from the Frontgate of the Old City - the location was perfect giving us access to virtually all the activities of the Carnaval - which were in walking distance on the "Plains of Abraham" as well as very close access to the main streets of the Old City.
Well - it didn't just look cold.....it was cold! Many people who have been to Quebec would probably be familiar with the Fairmont de Chateau Frontenac and the promenade or boardwalk that fronts the St. Lawrence.....well here is what it looks like in winter. Crowded and beautiful in summer....almost deserted, cold with a different beauty in February.
The Carnaval lasts for about 10 days. Every day has something new to offer from Fireworks to Ice Sculpting to Night Parades - Ice Canoe Races across the St. Lawrence (those people are crazy) to enjoying music - the building of the Ice Palace, the sledding hill and so much more - including.....snow shoe races ....which were extraordinary........did I mention it was cold.
The evening we decided to see the ice sculptures and palace was very cold .....it had been a bit windy earlier in the day....they said with windchill it was close to -28......yes that is below zero....but it was still incredibly beautiful. But it was so cold that day - ice formed on the INSIDE of our hotel room's window due to the condensation from the shower. INSIDE the room......now that is cold!
One local merchant had told us that sometimes during the winter it gets cold and windy for so long that shops just close.....she mentioned that a couple of years ago she closed for almost 10 straight days horrible weather that year...but it was unique. Quebec is such a world class city with kind and wonderful people. Hearty souls no doubt to deal with the adversity of very tough winters and still a joyful place to visit.
One of the interesting things about Old City - Fortress is that is sits high above the river. The Old City has the commanding view and position but the lower part of Old Town...closer to the water is amazingly attractive and fun too.
Shops along the streets - especially at the bottom of the funicular located by the Frontenac Hotel (which runs in the winter as well as the summer) will take you down and up so you don't have to walk. I honestly don't even know if there is a trail in winter that you can traverse....summer yes....winter - not so sure.
Ice sculptures, beautiful shops with warm and inviting window displays, food, drinks, games - fun - around the corners - museums and crafts. The entire time we were there for Carnaval - I don't think there was a moment that we didn't enjoy any place we visited.
There is a saying in cold "Scandinavian" type countries......"no bad weather-just bad clothing" and since we had come prepared nothing stopped us.....EXCEPT.......maple syrup poured onto snow blocks which freeze as you slowly roll them with popsicle sticks !!!!!! That stopped us......to enjoy......
Finally - of all the activities and food and wine.....and the best French Onion Soup - ever....we made our way to "Hotel de' Glace"...the Ice Hotel.
Starting in November - this hotel is built with blocks of ice. It takes months to completely finish. As each month gets colder new sections are added on. The size is somewhat dependent on the weather.
Their are normally 42 rooms and themed suites. Each has a different theme and/or colors and snow sculptures in the walls. The entire experience is made to make you feel like you are in an igloo. I felt like we were in an ice sculpture museum. Very quiet, very different rooms - different lighting - different shapes - very cozy - very intimate. Fur blankets abound.
There are hot tubs and saunas and an eating area that is not in the hotel of ice itself....but close by. But the draw is the hotel and the ice bar. It is something to behold and enjoy.
We didn't stay here overnight we just hung out and slid down the ice slide - had a drink at the bar - sat by the fireplace and inhaled the colors - and the smiles of the people who visited with us. Pure Vida !!!!
If you decide to spend the night - they will send you a "Preparation Guide" to get you ready for your stay..........how cool is that. (Wish I had an emoji for that last one).
We have been to Quebec a number of times. We love Quebec but had no idea what to expect at Carnaval.
One of the pure pleasures of travel is discovering that people in places around the world find ways to find joy and to celebrate their lives and where they live no matter where that might be. It is cold in Quebec in February....but as they might say...."habillez-vous pour rester au chaud.....et profitez des bons moments ave de bons amis".........loosely translated: "dress to stay warm...and enjoy the good times with great friends".
Travel Safe Travel Well "Vivre galamment"
Divine Beauty and Inspiration - in my own backyard Our Lady Of Loreto - Catholic Church, Foxfield CO
"The Virgin of the Grapes" - the original painted by Pierre Mignard in 1640 hangs in the Louvre.....but this "recreation" greets you as you enter the main offices of one of the most beautiful "churches" which I have had the wonder of not just visiting but attending and... in of all places just 3 miles from my home....in my backyard.
Located in Foxfield, Colorado.....just off Arapahoe Rd and about a quarter of a mile east from the Parker Rd intersection. It sits to the south. Although the exterior which has grown dramatically due to the increase in the school looks like so many other - large - churches - the interior is something to behold.
The Parish was started by Father Ed Buelt - in his garage. I didn't know Father Ed who is now Monsignor - but he had a vision. He organized and grew the parishioners and they kept growing - moving to Regis High School until finally in 2001 they broke ground for the new church. Father David Bluejacket is now the spiritual leader and the parish continues to grow.
Much of the information I am going to share is from a brochure they have that traces the history and symbolic meanings of the architecture and design of the church. I give them all the credit for the information in this blog. Not trying to plagiarize but I did take some comments directly from the brochure. I hope they will forgive me but I couldn't have said it any better......
Enjoy and when - you have a chance to visit or take part in the services - sit in awe as we have and rejoice in the divine "nature" and inspiration of "Our Lady Of Loreto".
The entrance was inspired by the Basilica of St. Ambrose in Milan, Italy. It faces the west and in Colorado our western sun glows brightly...bathing the interior with light in the afternoon. The golden bronze doors - invite you to enter and to leave the secular world behind as you are called to worship.
As you enter the "Narthax" - entry way before the sanctuary - you walk on a red carpet with white four armed crosses which symbolize fish which combined evokes the Red Sea...Exodus to freedom.........in this case not just physical but spiritual as well. The carpet continues into the santuary......where:
.....your gaze to the alter and the surrounding pillars - of wood and stone and none with any right angles makes you feel as if you have entered a heavenly dome....which you have.
It reminds me of the the Cathedral - Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain - Antoni Gaudi's magnificent cathedral that symbolizes and embodiments the beauty and diversity found in nature created by the divine. Like tree trunks the pillars reach to the heavens another reminder when Moses lead his people through the desert to the promised land singing......"The trees of the wood shout for joy at the presence of the Lord".
The sanctuary was also very reminiscent of the Stave Churches in Scandinavia...or the Norwegian Longships. The pillars looking like the "ribs or bones" of the ships that were built.....so functional and yet so beautiful.
Everywhere you look - you are uplifted. I was fortunate to be there early in the morning to capture the elegance, the beauty, the artistry and fascination as the light danced around the walls. The peacefulness and grace of the symmetry. It was something to behold.
Around the walls are magnificent stained glass windows. They are called the Rosary Windows and are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I tried to capture them but the light was so bright - I couldn't get a good shot.
Additionally are the Stations of the Cross. They were designed by the Italian sculpture Marcell Tommasi and they are unique to Our Lady of Loreto. No other copies were made.
The stained glass windows and the sculptures are worth a visit all to themselves......but the majesty and simple beauty of this entire structure is something to enjoy.
The alter is a focal point. It is elegant and again full of symbolism. The edges are rough and stand for the world in which we live...the base - cut in two to remind us of the intervention of God in the created world and in sending Christ as the intervention of Love.....and all made of stone....."the cornerstone that the builder's rejected". I could go on and on about the Ambo, the Baptismal Font, the Tabernacle......more and more but what I want to finish with is this:
The Church building - maybe any church building is not what it is all about. It symbolizes and reminds of the the deeper meaning of the Ministry - in this case Christianity. Our Lady of Loreto - in all of its beauty and splendor and it is amazing ... also oversees Fellowship, Prayer, Faith Formation, Liturgy and Worship as well as supporting Outreach Programs like:
Habitat for Humanity
Nursing Home Outreach
Funeral Reception Help
Cookies, Sandwiches and More
Food Bank of the Rockies......and many more.
It is a magnificent building but like so many things in it..........it means so much more when you take the inspiration with you when you leave......and turn it into action.
Be good to someone today..
I know it has been some time since I posted a travel feature. There are have been a number of personal situations that have been more important than just telling you about a place we visited but I thought I would take this time to tell you about a wonderful and memorable trip to Mexico we took the day after Thanksgiving.
Our son and daughter-in-law set this up. They had been here a couple of years ago with other family members and had such a fabulous time - they wanted to go back and invited us.......AND IT WAS TERRIFIC.
The place they chose was in Nuevo Vallarta Mexico - just outside or Puerto Vallarta. It was the Marival Residences and World Spa. It is about 25 minutes from the airport which is so easy to get to. It is an all inclusive resort with pools - hot tubs - beach - playgrounds and great food and beverages. Yet the best element was the relaxed atmosphere and the service from the attentive and kind "employees"...which was kind of a misnomer. We had a number of young kids with is - the youngest being a few months old and the staff was so loving and caring....they acted as if the kids were their own. They made us feel like we were just extended family.
The facilities are impeccable. Infinity pools - views off our deck - breakfast buffet in the morning with made to order omelets - breakfast tacos - fresh fruit - whatever you want....it was as if everyone was at your service just to please you. AND it didn't end there.
They have two sister properties maybe a half mile apart. The older property which has a "pirate pool" catering to kids with small and medium slides as well as a pirate shipwreck to play on and the newer property which has a renovated beachfront area with cabana's a wonderful restaurant and BAR !!! Although you don't need to worry about a "BAR". We were in an all-inclusive package so we were never without libations....literally - until you said " no mas" there was never any empty glass.
There are a myriad of activities and purveyors of local crafts on the beach....BUT.....different than some of the other places in Mexico we have been to - they are not aggressive - quite the contrary - they were kind - conversant and not pushy in any way. If you want to partake - it is available - but if not - ok - no problemo......see you again. At the "older" property a couple of times a week they have a market night where some of the local vendors (they have to be approved and certified by the property owners) will set up booths where you can pursue at your leisure what they have for sale while having a buffet dinner.... it was such a beautiful setup and so tastefully done....well done !!!!.
We had a wonderful time. The staff was so kind to us and so attentive. We meet a couple one night at the roof-top wine bar watching the sunset. They were from Southern California and had been going to Cabo but they decided to try Marival - it was their third time in 2018 they had been there. They never ventured into PV.....they didn't feel like they needed to...they just loved the weather, the facilities and most importantly the service and kindness they received from the folks at Marival.........all in all - we agree....it was a total treat !!!!!!
We have stayed at some of the finest hotels and resorts in the world - maybe not the exclusive best - but amazing places - and this now ranks with the top !!!!
"gracias mis amigos espero verte de nuevo" - Thank You for A Wonderful Stay !!!
Travel Safe Travel Well Live Gallantly
BK - the Travel Guy
This is going to be a quick blog and a quick shout-out for one of my favorite and BEST travel apps out there - that I constantly use. I MEAN CONSTANTLY. We never plan a trip without using Rome2 rio !!!!!!!!!!
We are looking at another multi-destination trip to Europe this coming summer - as we made two trips last year. Rome2rio has been and is our go to app to help plan our trips. We are considering Spain - Italy - Greece - France - Germany - we are not exactly sure where and when and that is exactly what Rome2rio helps us with.
It works beautifully and is so simple. You enter your starting point and your destination. It then lays out a number of different ways to get to your destination including - planes - trains - buses - cars - ferries and even uses multiple combinations you might need, the approximate travel times as well as the cost range.
Let me give you an example:
Madrid Spain to Pamplona Spain (for the running of the bulls) -
Train: 3 hr 5 min Cost: $50-$65
Bus: 5 hrs 15 min Cost: $22-$26
Rideshare: 5 hrs 17 min Cost $26
Drive: 4 hrs 15 min Cost $48-$69
Fly: 1 hr 54 min Cost $144-$475
It even helps with the details. For instance - you pick from the above to Fly - it will show you which airlines you can choose - times and whether it is direct or has stops. It also includes how to get to the airport by public transportation - the time of each leg and if you are going to have to walk from one mode or transportation to the next. It is amazing.
This app has helped us all over the US as well as Europe. I really can't say enough superlatives about it.
If there is one app you should download to aid in planning your travels - this is the one. It is FABULOUS !!!!!!! And no....they didn't pay me to say this..........I SIMPLY LOVE THIS APP!
Travel Safe Travel Well
One of the things I had always wanted to do was to go to Norway and take the train from Oslo to Bergen. I had read that this is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. After spending a few days in Oslo - visiting wonderful museums and sculpture gardens and eating fabulous seafood we jumped on board for the seven hour journey that would take us to high altitude lakes through a gorgeous fjord down a winding descent of switchbacks past the siren songs of a Norwegian Mountain Wench past trolls and finally into the seaside city of Bergen with its UNESCO world heritage site - Bryggen. Come along for the ride.
The train in Norwegian is called the Bergensbanen and is operated by the NSB. We had secured tickets before we traveled to Norway so we knew both date and time of departure. We also had planned to arrive in Bergen in the early evening. The station in Bergen is in the city center and was just a short walk to the historic Bryggen area and our hotel. Very easy to get around.
The initial part of the journey is somewhat inauspicious. Traveling out of Oslo reminded me of taking the train out of Denver to Winter Park or Glenwood Springs. The countryside is non-distinct and you slowly gain altitude as you traverse the hills (or mountainsides). It was raining or more closely misting as we left and I wondered if the entire trip was going to be like this......I couldn't have been more wrong.
As we reached what felt like the higher altitudes of the trip we were in a cloud bank - but we burst through and were greeted with amazing views of high altitude lakes - partly cloudy skies where the sun periodically broke through - snow fields and deep blue waters. It was magnificent and beautiful. Even by Colorado standards.
The next part of the trip took us to a small city atop the Alpine lakes where a number of hikers and some backpackers disembarked for - to us- unknown destinations. But they were all smiles and giddy. We enjoyed watching their excitement.
Eventually and not too much longer we were dropped into Myrdal to catch the Flam train.
The Flamsbana (Flam Railway) is a beautiful ride past waterfalls and canyons filled with greenery. After catching this next train we entered the fjord Naeroyfjord....and I know I didn't spell this correctly. Where I was so impressed with the first part of our journey - it was about to get even more spectacular.
The boat ride through the fjord was beyond beautiful. The ferry was not very busy - at least on the bottom of it where the cars are parked. I was alone for much of the trip and had the opportunity to serenely sit and wonder at the fabulous vistas that came around every corner of the trip.
I met a commercial photographer who lived in this little mail stop - Unredal Brygge. He told me his professional business was out of Oslo but his home was here. IN the peace and quiet of this little - gorgeous - place on the fjord where he and his wife wanted to raise their kids and where they knew and cared about everyone in town.
Disembarking at Gundvangen - we boarded a bus and road the spectacular switchbacks of Stalheimskleiva to Voss to catch the final train to Bergen.
Coming from such a beautiful place as Colorado with majestic mountains and canyons - valleys and parks in between - from Telluride to Estes Park and Steamboat Springs - we live in a gorgeous place - but this trip was special. The weather gave us unimagined vistas. It was green - filled with waterfalls and foliage - it was wonderful.
We finally arrived in Bergen. There weren't too many tourists - matter of fact we almost had the city to ourselves.
The seafood - the shops in Bryggen - the museums - hiking from the top of the funicular down to the city. The girls at the picnic table - having lunch - laughing and just enjoying themselves. The "Pulverhekser's" - I will include a few pictures but to say the least we had a wonderful time.
We were told we were lucky. The weather was beautiful. But what was or were even better were the people. You hear stories of how "private or cold" Norwegians can be. To us they were gracious - charming and warm. Matter of fact as I write this - I am wearing the sweatshirt I bought in Bergen at the top of the city ! It simply says - Norway - 1814.
I LOVE IT !
Travel Well Travel Safe -
Time flies - it truly does. I never finished blogging about our trip to Scotland before writing about the other trips I (we) have been on since and what a shame. We loved - yes LOVED Scotland. It is a land of enchantment. The people were so kind and wonderful to us we won't forget it. But....with all that has happened since - including an after Thanksgiving trip to Nuevo Vallarta Mexico - I wanted to go back and highlight our last couple of days in Edinburgh AND give a couple of BK Travel Tips in case you find yourself lucky enough to go.
"BK Travel Tip": we learned that although there are over 100 souvenir ships scattered in Edinburgh with many of them along the Royal Mile and side streets - they are owned by the same family. You won't find a bargain in one shop and not another. The prices are the same and although you might find some different merchandise from place to place - after a few stops - they all blend in together. Still fun.
The castle absolutely dominates the central part of the city. Along the main Old City thoroughfare the central "street' is the Royal Mile. It runs from the "high side" to the low end where you can find the Holyrood Palace. It is cobblestone and littered with souvenir shops, pubs and intermixed with some additional higher end establishments.
The castle and the streets surrounding it are crowded since it is the major attraction in the city.
There are a number of ways to get to the castle - walking - bikes - taxis - etc. We had decided that morning to take the Hop-oN Hop-oFF bus tour around the city. Since the castle was one of the first stops - we decided to visit it first.
BK Travel TiP: Thanks to our guide we found out we could get tickets to the castle directly from the driver. We didn't go online....so we bought the tickets and started to get off the bus. He took us off to the side and this is where is gets to be a TIP. There is an entry gate by the ticket office...but that IS NOT the gate you need a ticket to get into the castle grounds. The actual entrance to the castle is farther up the hill. At the entry gate there is a right hand que but on the left side is an area marked for people who are exiting. He told us since we had our tickets to skip the lines - go to the left - walk in the exit up to the actual castle entrance where we would produce our tickets. Instead of waiting we just walked right in the castle - it was AWESOME !!!!!!! Thank you Hop-On and Hop-Off !!!
The castle is quite extraordinary. It is home to the Crown Jewels, Royal Apartments, Canon from the 1800's, the prison which housed prisoners up until the Gulf War and the National War Museum with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As are most castles the walkways are not exactly steep but slant fairly dramatically. It isn't difficult to traverse but it was hard on a number of people - especially those who had walking difficulties to start with.
We did see a golf cart that was being used to shuttle folks - but didn't see how you could hail it.
The Tomb was quite moving and the ceiling above it reflective with beauty and peace.
In the adjacent corridor are books with the names of soldiers who had died - lined up side by side. It must have been at least 30 yards long. One of the amazing ironies of travel is that my wife - Marian - opened a book dated from the 1800's at random and on the page she opened - was her dads name. He had passed away on May 23rd of this year. It gave us great pause and wonder if he wasn't connecting for just another moment. Amazing..........
Another fascinating area of the Castle is the prison. It has been used for centuries although no longer today. To think of being incarcerated in such dismal, unsanitary and dark circumstances. Awful.....not that it is any better today but at least you might get a little light.
There is much to see here. The Crown Jewels and the Throne of Stone are incredible but no pictures were allowed so you will just have to go see for yourselves.
Leaving the castle we decided we needed to lift our spirits - so what better place than to try some spirits.....Whisky that is !!!
We opted for a tasting and found this little place: The Scotch Experience. It is touristy but we didn't care. We were treated with four different Whisky's from four different regions of Scotland - Highlands - Lowlands - Isle - and Central. Each one was unique and to be able to compare them side by side and not just taste from one distillery was fun.
AND .......in case you are interested..........here was the most expensive we found in the shop:
Translation - about 24 ounces for a little over $20,000.............seems like a lot to just rent it....becasue in the end that is all you are doing. We skipped the purchase.
There were so many remarkable places to visit and highlights that I could go on and on and on....you might feel like that already. Needless to say this was a fabulous trip.
When we arrived in Edinburgh it was Sunday night. We had chosen a hotel on the Royal Mile for the convenience and location. We only had a reservation for one night so we needed to find a place for the next couple of days.
The hotel we were at was nice - but it wasn't where we wanted to be or where we wanted to stay for the rest of our trip. It was part of a major chain - very nice but a bit "boring".
We found a hotel at the bottom of the Royal Mile - one block off by the Dynamic Earth attraction (where we picked up the Hop-On Hop-Off bus) and across from the trails to Arthur's Seat.........it is the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel.
BK Travel Tip: If you are going to Edinburgh - stay in this hotel. It was terrific. Great price - excellent location - wonderful service and you felt like you were in a boutique hotel not a major chain. Across the street were restaurants - around the corner more restaurants - they have their own Bistro. A little convenient grocery store was a block and a half away. We found a wonderful spot. Here are a few pics to give you an idea....
Finally ...the view out our window instead of a parking lot:
Edinburgh is a stunning city. We barely scratched the surface of this magnificent place. Of so many that we have visited - this is one we want to return ----- can't wait.
Travel well Travel safe
Last Friday night - we were treated to and participated in a magical event. We had gotten tickets to the play "Harvey" which was produced by the PHAMALY Theatre Company. It was held in the Historic Olin Hotel - Apartments which is located on Logan street in Downtown Denver.
The Olin is home to numerous - over 100 - low and very low income seniors who live in subsidized housing. The average income for the folks there is $10,800.....a year. Senior Housing Options owns and operates the hotel and was established in 1979 to try to address the needs of seniors and older individuals with disabilities. A worthy organization in collaborating with PHAMALY Theatre Company......but the magic was just the beginning.....
PHAMALY Theatre Company is the oldest and longest running theatre company in the United States that EXCLUSIVELY casts actors with all natures of disabilities. It doesn't make any difference with regards to race, gender, class, ethnic background or religious beliefs. It was established to give individuals a chance to realize their dreams in the theatre with respect to but without prejudice to their disabilities. It casts for potential - and performance !
The play was "Harvey". It was written in Denver by Mary Chase for the people of Denver....fitting since we were watching it here. It took her over two years and is quite the story.
Jimmy Stewart made it famous on the big screen. - It is about a man who has as his friend a 6 foot invisible rabbit...only he can see him. It was written after WWII to brighten the lives of so many that had been affected by the travesties of the war....it was written to make them smile and laugh again. The question being.....do you have to deal with reality that makes you unhappy or maybe deal with a belief that brings joy to you and others. The point.....look past the tragedy.
That is basically the story but this is where the magic happened for us:
The actors and acting were FABULOUS...splendid and memorable. I don't disclose the names of people on line or in blogs without their permission.....and I wasn't able to talk with the members of the cast after the show so I don't feel comfortable blogging about them without their approval. But I can say this........The entire cast including the ensemble was comprised of sixteen dedicated and hard working actors, a production team of ten and a staff of four. As for the actors their personal "disability" issues ranged from Parkinson's to dyslexia, traumatic brain injury, deafness, bipolar disorder, autism, epilepsy.....on and on. Talk about courage, commitment and support for the sake of theatre. Working as the true professionals they are they made "magic" happen. They were downright good !!!!!
The production was also wonderfully unique. There were two sets - a living room and a sanitarium office. The were placed on different floors of the Olin Hotel-Apartmen building. Instead of the sets changing the audience simply moved from one floor to the other as the scenes changed. Ingenious......
PHAMALY Theatre Company is a professional - well coordinated and superior acting group. We have seen shows - plays - musicals around the world. From London to Broadway to Denver and in between. This group ranks as one of our favorite. Treat yourself if you get the chance and go watch some magic being made.
They have a Mission & Vision:
"OUR MISSION is to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theatre.
OUR VISION is that every individual with a disability has the opportunity to participate in all aspects of high-quality performing arts."
"MISSION and VISION ACCOMPLISHED"
Recently I have blogged about current trips and places that I have visited in the last couple of months. But in this blog I wanted to continue with our journey through Scotland. It was and is one of my favorite trips - so I am referring back to the beauty, landscapes and travels of our very short time there.
Keep in mind if you decide to go - driving to me is the best option. It allows you to side track and stop in places that tours may not. BUT........it may be a challenge.
It isn't necessarily driving on the left side of the road that is an issue - it is that the roads are two-lane, narrow and there are a number of tour buses that are large and NOT NARROW !!!! I drove off the road three times the first day - hit a curb the second and ruined a tire so either make sure your credit card company covers any damages or get the CDW........just saying........back to our trip......
We drove from Stirling Castle to Fort William through the Highlands. It was beautiful with low hanging clouds - a slight rain and mist that hid some of the peaks but created a mystical appeal...and soooooo green!
Living in Colorado we have our share of majestic mountains but it was different here. So many different shades of green. Fabulous.
There are a number of trails and long hikes you may take through the Highlands. I didn't know that. We drove and it was still beautiful.
We stopped for lunch at a very small roadside cafe...as we entered we were greeted by backpacks stacked to the ceiling in the corner. Hikers relaxing and drying out as they ate. And of course the slight smell of wet dogs as they sat under the hikers' tables - resting.
We encountered a father and daughter. They were from Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively who had decided to get away for the weekend and head to the Highlands for a reunion. They were not hikers. They shared their story of the night before when they dressed nicely for dinner. When they entered the "white table cloth" dining room they noticed they were the only ones not wearing jeans or hiking gear. They laughed - attributed to the weekend in the Highlands. Made us think of Colorado.
It was a Saturday and little did we know that as we headed to Ft. William the tiny city would be overflowing with weekenders......we didn't have a reservation at a place to stay - we often travel with the thought that we will find something for the night after we get there. - We did.....although next time - on a weekend in the Highlands in Scotland - get a reservation. Where we ended up staying - was not the best.....no matter. It was an experience. Enough said.
The main "city" of Ft. William is a single street that is lined with shops. Since we were there late in the day most of them were closed. But we did find a little souvenir shop that was run by two older sisters. We thoroughly enjoyed our time. We bought a couple of items and they were so gracious and quaint. They finished each others sentences when we talked with them. It was ....... as they would say "Lovely".
There are lots and lots of B&B's in Ft William. It is a weekend get away place. We stayed the night and then headed out to find "Nessie".
Loch Ness was beautiful the day we traveled. There is a saying in photography that the water reflects the sky and that day the sky was blue and the water reflected the shadows of clouds shimmering across the deep blue of the water.
Loch Ness is over 23 miles long and over 700 feet deep. The story we know is about "Nessie" the Loch Ness Monster that some have seen and others have searched for. Keep this in mind....the country has a Unicorn as its national symbol.....so I believe they believe in Nessie. You will see a number of attractions and museums that will also have you looking for "the monster". For me the only monster I saw ....was how "monstrously beautiful" it was and the surprise of Urquhart Castle!
The castle sits with a commanding view of Loch Ness. It is just ruins - it was literally blown up in 1692 to prevent the warring Jacobites from taking it and has never been rebuilt. The visitors center's most interesting element is a short film that walks you through the history of the area and the destruction of the castle. There is also another short film demonstrating the creation and use of a trebuchet which is a type of catapult that was used for sieges.
The trebuchet would launch 72kg or about 158 pound boulders to break down walls and destroy battlements. It worked.
Our time in Urquhat was well spent. Expect crowds although on a Sunday it wasn't too bad.
On to Inverness ......which was pretty quiet ....so next up "Edinburgh" - another blog at another time !!!
Travel Safe Travel Well !!!
I didn't plan on this - honestly I didn't. My original goal was to blog and post some pictures about my journeys and other traveling topics when they occurred or about every week or two. But when you discover something unexpected - as we did when we visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science - it is hard not to share.....even though I just finished blogging about my trip to DC yesterday....so here it is:
On the third floor of the museum there is a small but magnificent gallery containing the gem-carvings of Vasily Konovalenko. To find it you must walk towards "Exploring Colorado" - walk through that exhibit towards the "Leprino Family Atrium". When you are standing in that center crossway - turn right and you will see the sign - "Gem Carvings of Russian Folklife - Konovalenko as shown in the picture on the left.
This is a one room exhibit on permanent display in the museum. The gallery is included in your museum ticket so there isn't any additional cost to view it - but it is priceless.
After leaving I decided to do a little more research on Vasily Konovalenko - so what I am writing has much of the information as gleaned from Wikileaks.......
Konovalenko was born in 1929 in the Ukraine. He passed away in 1989 in New York City. His earlier career was in the theatre where in was a set designer and later received training in art and architecture. He was self taught in gem carving and through his extensive studies and developing his carving skills he began to produce pieces of art made of gems.
He refined not only his skills but his knowledge of gems through many travels to mineral sources in the - USSR. His works became accepted by the party leaders and he was employed to produce art for them as well as for gifts that they could give to others.
He accepted this state for a number of years but felt constrained in pursuing the freedom to produce what he wanted to produce. At the same time - he became involved in a power struggle between dueling party leaders and was determined to be guilty of breaking the law when buying and selling precious gems. He wanted the chance to leave the USSR to pursue his art - except he didn't have a good reason for leaving. He felt stuck. But........
Vasily's wife was Jewish and between 1961 and 1982 there was a plan for Jews and their immediate families to emigrate from the USSR - legally. In 1981 because of his wife he left for Vienna and soon the rest of the family followed,. They subsequently moved to New York City.
According to Wikipedia - the sculptures went on display in 1984 to great acclaim.
The works are simply amazing. To give you an idea in the next photo - I am going to include the gems that were cut to create this masterpiece......
This collection is so unique - in 2016 the first ever international exhibition of his work was held in the Patriarch's Palace, Kremlin - Moscow. The 40 items shown were on loan from:
Moscow Kremlin Museums
The Samotsvety Museum - Moscow
The Russian State Precious Metals and Gems Repository - Moscow
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
DMNS - Trustee Alvin Cohen has purchased 20 of Konovalenko's sculptures which are on display at the DMNS. It is the only collection on display outside of Moscow.
Take the time to visit the museum and admire and appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of these fine pieces. It is a "Gem of a Gallery".......Konovalenko.
Travel safe Travel well
P.S. - any thoughts or comments on these blogs would be greatly appreciated.....I am working to improve them.
After sharing this post with folks at the DMNS I received an email from Steve Nash who is the Chair, Department of Anthropology and Curator of Archaeology for the DMNS. He has written a book on Vasily Konovalenko and is currently working with filmmaker Erika O'Conor on the life - times and works of Konovalenko. I am including links to their efforts - which - no doubt will be a fascinating and an illuminating look at one of the finest and most unique artists of our time that you may never have heard of.......until now........
And......in 2013 from Erika's comment below: NPR former Russian Bureau Chief Corey Flintoff did a story on Konovalenko while they were working in Moscow. He will be the narrator for the film.
I especially enjoyed this piece.......Sauna II - Woman enjoying the traditional Russian Banya - "therapeutic message".
WHY? In Denver and Parker there are two IZBA Spas that employ this traditional practice. We visited the one in Denver and it is quite the experience........
Iconic - to say the least !!! My guess is that most of the folks who read this post have been there at least once and probably a few times. I hadn't been there for awhile so last week on Tuesday we visited Mt. Vernon.
It was a beautiful Virginia day not a cloud in the sky. The sun was so brilliant I couldn't take a picture across the Bowling Green in the front of the house without it "blowing out". There were a few school kids but if you take a look you won't see anyone in this shot and that was what it was like. I wouldn't say we had it to ourselves but October is a wonderful time to travel.
If you decide to visit - you need to get time-stamped tickets online before you go - this will save you waiting to get in if there are crowds....as we were there early - school field trips were coming in behind us.
There is no photography allowed in the house where many of the rooms have been refurbished - and a few are still undergoing renovation which is always fun to see what is being done. As you go from room to room there are docents there who will fill you in on the purpose of the room and the commitment to renovating the room and furnishings to their historical accuracy. For example - in some areas they have analyzed that there were 14 and as many as 22 layers of paint that had been applied. With new technology they have been able to drill down to the original color - the rooms have been updated to reflect the past ! (I actually love that statement - Updated to reflect the Past)!
Not to be a spoiler but George Washington was first and in his last days - a farmer. He had vast lands and hundreds of slaves and workers to do the daily tasks. His earlier employment as a surveyor and his proclivity for geometric orientation provided him with the tools necessary to lay out plots and plots of well designed and conceived farmland AND the buildings which housed the supplies, equipment and craftspersons necessary to support his 8,000 acres.
In reality - it isn't just to learn about the Mansion - it is to visit the "city" that was necessary at that time to support such a monumental undertaking.
Almost all - except for the finest materials that were used in the household and by the Washington's - clothing - footwear - ropes machinery - food were a product of the farm. This includes breeding selective lines of sheep to produce a higher albeit domestic quality of wool.
The leather shop was used to make saddles - shoes - bridles - anything which need to be repaired - which as you can imagine was constant as well as a blacksmith(s) for equipment "manufacturing" and repair. This farm was a city.
One thing that isn't often mentioned are the number of slaves that Washington had or "rented". At one time it was estimated that over 300 were needed to work and run the farms. A memorial has been erected to remember and commemorate them. They have been doing excavation in the surrounding woods since this area is believed to be where many were buried. Washington left in his will - that they would all be freed at his death - but not until Martha died.......+
Leaving the "Mansion" and farm there is a fabulous and I mean fabulous Museum that has been built and dedicated to the importance of General Washington and what his leadership meant during the revolutionary war. It is off the Mansion Grounds and towards the entrance. I would suggest you visit the Mansion and farms first - then spend your other time at the Museum. You might think you have seen Mt. Vernon but until you visit the Museum you haven't had the complete experience.
Entering the "Educational Center" you walk past a giant 3-D forensic face of GW. It follows you as you walk in - eerie. Immediately there is a hands-on forensic display that walks you through how they have been able to recast what they believe how Washington looked at different times of his life. They have taken it to the point where in one of the final dioramas they show him with sunken cheeks. When he died he only had on tooth left. The story goes that he had wooden teeth - apparently they isn't exactly true......the plates may have been wooden but he had real teeth - just not his.
There is so much to see and do. You could probably spend days there reviewing your history and learning new things.. To help - there is an amazing 4-D movie - yes 4-D movie called: Revolutionary War. It chronicles just how hopelessly outmatching we were in fighting the British. I believe it was at the end of 1776 - our "troops" made up of farmers and workers not skilled military fighters as the British were out numbered 5,000 to 50,000. Ten skilled soldiers to every one militia. We didn't have the resources - the supplies - the armaments. It was and looked hopeless.....but we had some fine leadership. The movie highlights the major battles and risks that Washington took in fighting the British before finally - with the help of the French - defeating General Cornwallis at Yorktown. But that isn't all the fun......the movie is in 4-D !!!!
The 4-D part makes you feel a part of the experience. Shaking seats when the canons roar - all around surround sound - flashes of light when they fire - a breezy snowfall covering the audience when Washington is at Valley Forge. On screen action sequences mixed with animated graphics tell the story superbly and bring it all to life. It was a highlight of the visit.
I hope you get a chance to visit - again. In these times it is remarkable to be able to look back at what the founders of this country decided to risk and endure to give US a start.
The Musical 1776 has a Bald Eagle hatching out of an egg. That must have been what it was like to be starting something so ambitious, so preposterous and so likely to fail that it was truly the "Birth of a Nation". We have a messy history - but all stories do. The myths surrounding Washington and his role in the "Birth" are many - and so are the truths !!!!!
Visit Mt. Vernon -
Travel safe Travel Well
BK Travel Tips
To enjoy travel and see the world and often yourself as if for the first time and with with the eyes of a young child.