Archive for January, 2008

Cycling the ‘Great Wall of Britain’

January 30, 2008

This was first published in the Boston Globe on Jan. 27, 2008, but you’ll find links and a lot more photos in this version. Surprises in England: It really is as expensive (for Americans) as everyone says it is. Beware that most lodging prices are listed *per person.* I loved being in a foreign country where I spoke the language. I hated cycling on the “wrong” side of the road, especially in roundabouts! But I was impressed with the cycling infrastructure, both on roads and dedicated paths.

By Diane Daniel

GREENHEAD, England – “OK, you can stop staring now,” I called out between labored breaths. The sheep kept their eyes on me as I pushed a bike weighted with a week’s worth of gear up the steep path next to their pasture.
Sometimes, when you’re on a bicycle and the hill is vertical, you just have to get off and push. My husband and friends were too far ahead to witness my surrender. Instead, I had an Hadrian’s Wall at Walltown Crags near Greenhead, Englandaudience of 50 or so sheep following my every move.
The reward for tackling one of the few punishing grades along the 175-mile Hadrian’s Cycleway was Walltown Crags, which gave us our most impressive view of the week of “the great wall of Britain.”
Begun in 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian and his Roman soldiers, Hadrian’s Wall marked the army’s northern frontier in Britain for nearly 300 years. An engineering marvel of stone and turf that ran 73 1/2 miles from the North Sea to the Irish Sea, the wall Hadrian envisioned was to be 10 feet wide and 15 feet high, though those dimensions varied because of materials and manpower as the wall extended westward.
The wall was completed in about eight years and bustling civilian communities sprang up around it and its milecastles (fortlets) and garrisons to do business with the soldiers. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While only small parts of the wall are visible, ongoing excavation turns up new finds yearly.
We, however, assumed we would be cycling along the wall for days. Instead, we didn’t spot it until our fifth day, after 100 miles of riding. But the route is filled with archeological stops – forts, churches, museums, and ruins. Best of all, we were treated to an eclectic sampling of northern England, from its haunting coasts and sheep-speckled countryside to thriving cities.
Hadrian’s CyclewayThe national cycleway, which opened in 2006, was routed using mostly country roads and bike paths. Save for a few spots, it is well signed. For walkers, there is the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail, opened in 2003.
It was early October when we met our friends in Newcastle, then paid for private transportation across the island to the Cumbrian coast. (Because of prevailing winds, most cyclists ride west to east.) My husband and I rented bikes, while our friends brought their tandem. We carried all our gear and winged it with lodging, but shuttle providers are available for those wanting baggage transfer and nightly reservations.

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Signs of change in Moldova

January 28, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(published Jan. 27, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I was very impressed with Justin, who hadn’t even heard of Moldova before going there to volunteer. Since then his world has opened up, and he keeps in touch with several friends there. Before doing this story I’d never thought about sign language being specific to written and spoken languages. Even British and American is different. I learned a lot about it during my interview with Justin. Very interesting!

WHO: Justin Goujon, 27, of Methuen, Mass.

WHERE: Moldova.

WHEN: Four weeks in August and September.

WHY: Goujon (pronounced goo-ZHAN), an American Sign Language Justin Goujon in Moldovainterpreter, volunteered at a school and orphanage for deaf children in the small Eastern European country, a former Soviet republic. “I went twice before with a group of deaf adults from Grace Chapel in Lexington, Mass., and made friends. This time I went back to work at the orphanage and to visit friends I’d made in Moldova.”

DEAF OUTREACH: “A fellow interpreter mentioned the trip to me the first time, and about the church’s deaf ministry,” said Goujon, who works as an ASL interpreter at Work, Community, Independence in Waltham. “Each time we go we raise our own money, $1,600 each.” Before going the first time, Goujon researched the country. “I’d never heard of it before. It’s bordered by Romania and Ukraine. It’s the poorest country in Europe.”

US ROLE MODELS: At Cahul Hipoacuzi Orphanage, in the city of Cahul, “some children live there year-round and some go to school and go home on weekends. There’s lots of outreach to Moldova from secular and religious groups. But as far as we know, there’s been no one deaf visit the school,” Goujon said. “Sign language is different in different countries, but for them to even see deaf adults from America was the biggest benefit, to see how their lives are here, how they’re educated. Deaf people there don’t have a lot of role models. There are no real services there for them.”

Justin Goujon in MoldovaREADING THE SIGNS: The first time Goujon visited, the interpreting process was cumbersome, with four interpreters involved. “This time we worked the kinks out more. We found a Moldovan who knew ASL and could interpret into Moldovan sign language.” Most younger Moldovans speak Romanian and Russian, as well as some English, while older citizens speak only Russian. “Menus are in both languages, but most street signs are in Romanian,” he said. Although the country is poor, “it depends on where you are,” he said. “The capital, Chisinau, is beautiful, with tons of parks, modern buildings, well-dressed people. There’s a huge disparity between poor and rich.”

MOLDOVAN MARRIAGE: During his visits, Goujon became friends with a Moldovan interpreter and spent several weeks with him. “He’s a university student, and his family is in Chisinau. I timed the visit to go to the wedding of a friend of a friend. It started at 6 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m. in a hall. A smaller church wedding was the following week. There was a huge production of signing the marriage license, with vows and rings. There were traditional dancers and bands all night, and a lot of circle dances, with everyone holding hands.”

AMERICAN IDOLS: Several times Goujon was a guest at a friend’s university English class. “Most of their questions were about American pop culture,” he said. “They think McDonald’s is around every corner and that everyone is fat. Whenever I would meet anyone and say that my name was Justin, everyone would say, ‘Timberlake?’ “

Late artist’s oasis casts a spell in Tucson

January 25, 2008

I’ve been to Tucson, Arizona, a few times, but only on my most recent trip, last June with Wessel, did the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun catch my attention. I saw a listing for it in the city’s tourism magazine, and it seemed interesting. But nothing prepared us for such a mystical place that reflects its desert setting. Do not miss it! 

Mission in the Sun chapelWhen artist Ettore “Ted” DeGrazia and his sculptor wife, Marion, moved out of downtown Tucson and into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the 1950s, only a small dirt road marked the way. Half a century later, his 10-acre retreat, home to a public gallery and chapel, sits just off busy Swan Road, a thoroughfare into the foothills and now a tony address.

DeGrazia (1909-82) was a painter and graphic artist who specialized in Southwestern and Native American life. He was most known for his illustration “Los Niños” (The Children), which graced a 1960 UNICEF Christmas card.

Lady of Guadalupe in Mission in the Sun chapelThe 13-room DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun featuring his original art and the tiny Mission in the Sun chapel are magical places, where admirers of Southwest art and architecture can go for a sensory overload of colors, textures, and religious iconography. The complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2006.

The artist and his Native American friends created the buildings literally from the ground up, using mud to shape adobe bricks. The colorful dry-brush painted walls and the floors of cholla cactus slices embedded in concrete could stand up to any of today’s decorative treatments.

The large gift shop sells some original lithographs and serigraphs and ceramics made from DeGrazia’s molds. Merchandise can also be purchased at the foundation’s website.

DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, 6300 North Swan Road, Tucson, 520- 299-9191, 800-545-2185, degrazia.org. Free admission. Daily 10 am.- 4 p.m. except holidays. Chapel open daily sunrise to sunset.

What? You say my flight left two hours ago?!

January 24, 2008

On a Saturday, while visiting DC, I argued with friends Vicki Ritterband and Lauren Markoe that using third-party booking services added built-in problems. They didn’t believe me. I also said companies treat you better when you book directly through them. My pals weren’t buying it. So when Vicki had a big problem the next day with her United Airlines flight, booked through Travelocity, I thought I’d be doing the “told-you-so” dance. Well, it turned out it was mostly just one of those things, so I had to remove my dance shoes. Still, there are ways the mix-up could have been avoided.

The background: Lauren lives in DC. For a gal-pal weekend, Vicki, who lives in Newton, Mass., flew down from Boston on a Friday night, landing in Dulles Airport without a hitch. (I drove up from North Carolina.)

The drama: Just before Lauren pulled out of the driveway to take Vicki to the airport on Sunday, Vicki called United to check on the What do you mean my flight left two hours ago?flight status, something everyone should do. Much to her surprise, the customer service rep told her it had left two hours earlier. “What do you mean my flight left two hours ago??” Vicki kept saying. Flights might leave five, even 10 minutes early, but not two hours. To their credit, United scrambled and got Vicki on a US Airways flight (they have a partnership) leaving from Reagan Airport. The new location was actually more convenient, though Vicki’s stress level was sky high.

What happened: By calling Travelocity and United the next day, this is what I learned. More than a month before Vicki traveled, United changed the DC-to-Boston schedule by several hours. Travelocity said it emailed Vicki about the change. Vicki said she never got the email. So the flight that left “two hours early” was actually a different flight number with a new, earlier schedule, and Vicki was booked on it — unbeknownst to her.

The lessons: Always check your flight, in both directions, online or the phone before you leave on a trip, especially if you booked more than a few weeks out. In this case, Vicki also could have signed up with United’s automatic alert system, called EasyUpdate. As for Travelocity, I think the company should not only email but also telephone customers about major changes like this. It’s all automated and easy to do, and they had all Vicki’s contact information. In the end, Travelocity could have gone the extra mile, United in fact did, and Vicki lucked out!

In the ‘other’ Rockies: snow and scones

January 21, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(published Jan. 20, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I loved hearing about this trip to a place that’s been on my wish list for years. I am going to Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise next month, but I’d rather go in the summer, and attempt to cycle up Going-to-the-Sun Road! My favorite parts: Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse (I’ve heard raves for years), Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (because it’s fascinating and you can’t beat the name), the backwoods immigration border at Goat Haunt ranger station (amazing!), and the Prince of Wales Hotel (you gotta look at the photo). The other thing that is so cool is that finally newspapers, like my Boston Globe, will run a photo of a gay couple. This warms my heart!!

WHO: Ken Paulsen, 45, and David Valentine, 42, of Malden, Mass.

WHERE: Canada.

WHEN: 10 days in September.

WHY: “We’d both always wanted to go to the Canadian Rockies,” Paulsen said. “I love history. I’ve got a PhD in Canadian history, but my specialty is in Nova Scotia.”

the haystackMANY MILES: Although the couple doesn’t do a lot of hiking at home, they did plenty in Canada. “When I figured it all out, it was about 55 miles of hiking. I was surprised we didn’t feel more tired.” Paulsen mapped out the itinerary and made the reservations for five days in Banff National Park and two days at Waterton Lakes National Park, both in Alberta, followed by two days at Glacier National Park in Montana.

ROOM WITH A VIEW: They stayed at the historic Storm Mountain Lodge in Banff. “It’s an absolutely wonderful place, with 12 cabins from the 1920s and a wonderful restaurant,” Paulsen said. “All the food is organic, and the chef is absolutely fantastic. We were quite up high in a canyon, but overlooking it, between 5,000 and 6,000 feet up.”

HIKING HEAVEN: “We did a hike called the Johnston Canyon Trail, which turned out to be a classic hike, but I didn’t know that,” Paulsen said. Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House“You’re going up through a narrow gorge at the beginning and once you get out you’re in this absolutely beautiful mountain meadow with bubbling cold springs.” They also hiked to the famed Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. “We had tea and scones and homemade bread made that morning. It was a great little break before we reached the glacier, at about 6,500 feet.”

BUFFALO SOLDIERS: On the way to Waterton, they stopped at Kootenay National Park and for a soak at the spring-fed pool in Radium Hot Springs as well as Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “They have a great interpretive center,” Paulsen said. “The First Nations, as they call Indians in Canada, would use that as a place to drive buffalo over the cliff. So there’s thousands of years worth of buffalo bones in the soil.”

BACKWOODS BORDER: In Waterton, part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, they stayed at the majestic Prince of Wales Hotel, dating from the 1920s. A 12-mile hike took the pair from Canada into the United States. “At the Goat Haunt ranger station, in the middle of the woods, we had to bring our passport. They can’t scan your passport; all they can do is look at it.” Most visitors to Goat Haunt arrive by ferry across Waterton Lake, which is how Paulsen and Valentine returned. They were always aware of bears. “There were campgrounds along the lake closed because of bears, and we saw fresh bear scat and clawed logs,” Paulsen said.

SUN TO SNOW: Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park impressed Paulsen. “You’re starting out at the lake about 3,200 feet [up] and in 10 miles you’re at the top at 6,500 feet. Once you get to the part where it’s steep, there are cliffs above you, and cliffs below you, and it’s very narrow.” One hiking trail they took looked down on the road, “and with mountains soaring a couple thousand feet above. We were there for the first snow of the year, so when we were hiking, there was an inch or two of snow on the ground.”

Civil rights beyond MLK weekend

January 18, 2008

If you’re interested in the Civil Rights movement, including information on visiting historic sites, there’s a wonderful book just out called “On the Road to Freedom: A Guide Tour of the Civil Rights Trail,” by Charles E. Cobb Jr. (Algonquin, $18.95). The sub-sub-title is: “The Marches, the Book cover On The Road To FreedomStruggles, the Triumphs, Speeches, Profiles, 150 Photos, Maps, Web Sites, and 400 Historic Sites.” Unfortunately, there’s no accompanying website, but the book is absolutely worth buying to learn about black history and civil rights sites in DC and the South.

Author Cobb will be touring in DC and the South almost daily through February and a bit beyond.

It’s funny. Folks talk about how racist the South is, but I’ve lived in the Tampa, Fla., and Boston areas, and now Durham, NC, and Durham is by far the most integrated place I’ve experienced. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the majority of Black Enterprise Magazine’s “Ten Best Cities for African Americans” are in the South. (None are in the north!) This makes me proud.

Absolutely, the South has had more than its share of atrocities. Like the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, where riots broke out after blacks registered to vote and some 22 people were reported dead, all black. Only this year did our state leaders express “profound regret” about that awful chapter in history. Growing up in Raleigh in the ’60s, I remember how segregated we were. I was bussed to an “inner city” junior high school, which for me was an eye-opening experience.

After moving back to North Carolina in 2003, and especially since living in racially mixed Durham, I’ve been much more aware of the fight for black equality here, and have visited many sites, including the former Woolworth department store in Greensboro, where on Feb. 1, 1960, four students held one of the first sit-ins; and Parrish Street, aka “Black Wall Street,” the commercial strip in Durham that was home to many black-owned enterprises. There’s now an advocacy group working on the Parrish Sreet Project to commemorate its history and spur economic revitalization along a central downtown corridor. You can learn all about it during Preservation Durham’s free walking tours April through November.  So y’all come on over for a spell.

Can you say francobollo?

January 16, 2008

When traveling in another country, it’s often the everyday differences that stay with us. That’s why I love going into grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. Everything is a little (or a lot) different, from the signs on the walls, to the packaging, to the checkout lines. It can be humbling, too, when you have to ask for help while doing a basic task. That’s one of the reasons I feel compassion toward foreign travelers in the US.

In Italy a few months ago, I had a couple instances of “now what do I do?”

At the post office in Padova I couldn’t for the life of me remember the Italian word for stamp. (That would be francobollo.) My phrase book was useless and I didn’t have my postcards to wave about in universal sign language. I couldn’t just walk up to the counter because there were 15 of them, each with a flashing number. There had to be some system here, but what was it? I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Diane is puzzled by the number dispenserFinally, I went to the one clerk who wasn’t waiting on someone and kept saying, “stamps?, stamps?” and she knew what I meant. She took me back to the entrance and pointed to a bright yellow machine I’d totally overlooked, a complex multi-category “take-a-number” dispenser. She pushed the correct button, handed me my number, and led me to the correct line. I never would have figured out that one on my own.

Then, at the grocery store, also in friendly Padova, I was happy to find drinkable yogurt, olive crackers (yum!), and bananas. When I went to check out, the cashier held up my one lone banana, shaking her head, and said something to me. But what? “Scusi, non parlo Italiano,” I answered. Instead of chastising me and putting the banana aside, she said, “I show you. Come.” She led me back to the fruit section, placed the banana on the electronic scale and pushed the little banana picture to get a price label. “Grazie, grazie,“ I said with a wide smile. I was so grateful for her kindness, though I’m not sure the people behind me in line felt the same way.

Family takes San Diego by storm

January 14, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel

(published Jan. 13, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: When Michael emailed me about possibly featuring his family’s trip, I immediately said yes. I love writing about domestic travel. More and more, people seem to think “travel” can be only to exotic, international destinations. What the Leverone family did stateside was wonderful. They found a vacation rental in San Diego and then explored the heck out of the area, doing more activities than I had room to write about. Now that’s a great family vacation!

WHO: Michael, 55, and Sue Leverone, 54, and their children Julia, 20, and Patrick, 11, of Reading, Mass.

WHERE: San Diego

WHEN: One week in August.

WHY: “We usually go to Maine for two weeks, but we had airline tickets from a canceled trip to use,” said Michael Leverone, who previously had never ventured west of Denver. “Patrick was interested in Legoland and other people had raved about San Diego.”

ALL THE COMFORTS: They rented a three-bedroom house about 8 miles south of downtown in the Tierrasanta neighborhood. “It was in a complex with a pool we could use, with a two-block walk to a shopping center,” he said. “We had breakfast there and made sandwiches to take with us. A couple evenings we ate out, and half the time we ate in.”

Julia at Palomar ObservatorySCOPING IT OUT: Patrick was disappointed in Legoland, in Carlsbad, because it was geared toward younger children, though he did enjoy the Mindstorms robotics lab. They all were captivated by Miniland, cities made of Lego parts, including Las Vegas, Washington, and New Orleans. More impressive to Patrick was the Palomar Observatory at Palomar Mountain State Park. “It has a 200-inch telescope and Patrick has been fascinated by astronomy since he was 4,” his father said.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: A wish of Julia’s, a Spanish major at Tufts University, was to visit some Spanish missions. From Carlsbad, they went to Oceanside to see Mission San Luis Rey and, on another day, Mission San Diego de Alcala. Julia also requested a stop at the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park, a collection of artist studios and galleries.

CASTING CALL: For Dad, and the entire family, there was a charter fishing trip. “My father runs a charter boat on Chesapeake Bay,” Leverone said. “We made a quick visit to the bait float for live sardines, with a close-up of wild sea lions looking for an easy meal, then took a 20-minute bouncy run to the kelp beds offshore of La Jolla.” Over the next three hours, the family caught more than 50 fish, including calico and sea bass, jack mackerel, bonito, and Pacific barracuda. Dinner that night was three of the larger bass.

ANIMAL URGES: On everyone’s list was a day at the San Diego Zoo. “It was very impressive, especially their plains game. They had polar bears, and there was quite a line for the panda exhibit.” Later in the week they saw marine life at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It’s right above the Pacific; the big pier extends out where oceanography vessels tie up.”

Patrick paraglidingSOMETHING CLICKED: Julia convinced the family to check out Torrey Pines Gliderport for paragliding. “The constant wind off the ocean hits these 350-foot cliffs and there are major updrafts. Julia had such a smile on her face that Patrick and I were sold,” said Leverone. Once aloft with a guide, “All you have is the sound of wind. You zoom over the golf course, fantastic mansions, and Black’s Beach. I was so busy taking pictures of Patrick that I didn’t see everything.”

Circulating in DC

January 11, 2008

I drove to DC for a weekend last month, my first visit to our nation’s capital in a couple years. I had many stops to make on Monday before heading home to North Carolina. From my digs in Chevy Chase, DC (thanks, Markoes!), I was to start at the “soon-to-open” Newseum near the Mall for a sneak preview at 10 a.m., then go to the Washington Post at 15th between L and M for lunch with my former Boston Globe travel editor and the current Post food editor Joe Yonan (I also finally met my Post travel editor John Deiner), and next head over to Georgetown to see a relative. I hoped to accomplish all this before afternoon rush hour.

I asked my DC pals which transportation to use and everyone had the same advice: “Park in Georgetown and take the Circulator.”The DC Circulator bus service The what? The DC Circulator is a tourist-friendly two-year-old bus service in DC with three lines that bridge popular stops: Convention Center-Waterfront, Georgetown-Union Station, and Smithsonian-National Gallery of Art. It runs every 10 minutes, stops frequently, and costs $1 a ride. Day and mutli-day passes are available, too. (All-day parking in Georgetown was a reasonable $12. Or was it $15? Ooops, I forgot!) While I had to change lines once, the bus strategy worked well, thanks especially to the helpful passenger on my first ride. And the Circulators are right purty too. They’re bright red, with oversized windows and doors.

Amazingly, I was on the road by 3 p.m., though I didn’t really leave DC until 3:30 because I somehow managed to get onto 395 North instead of South and ended up back in the city. That’s the kind of circulating I don’t advise.

Wire-haired wonder

January 11, 2008

Fluffy Puppies, a doggie-themed gift shop in Clearwater, Fla., has a nice display of canine topiaries from Green Piece Wire Art outside its store. topiary dachshund with mossOf course we gravitated toward the dachshund. While this wiener ($88!) won’t greet you with a wagging tail, it also won’t bark at everything that moves or sully the lawn. I never was a big fan of wire-haired wieners, but this is the sort I could grow to love. I should add that the first topiary “dachshund” Wessel pointed out to me was actually a Bassett hound. Hon! My cat-loving husband still needs a little help in the dachshund department, but bless him for trying (and for processing my photographs).