Archive for March, 2008

HEY, ma, look at this HEMA site!

March 12, 2008

I am not one to go gaga over websites, but promise me you’ll check this one out. On-line ad from Dutch department store HEMAHet is uitstekend! That’s “it is outstanding!” in Dutch. It’s a shopping site for the ubiquitous Dutch department store HEMA, pronounced HEY-ma. You’ll see its products do the most creative Rube Goldbergian song and dance imagineable. If you haven’t looked yet, do it! And don’t forget to turn on the volume!

The site was passed along to me by Karen Richards in Boston, who has fed me more Where they Went ideas than anyone ever. Karen sent this by way of her friend Nancy Shepard. I wrote about a trip they and friends took, with kids in tow, to Holland in 2002.

logo of Dutch department store HEMAHEMA is known for offering affordable modern products with a touch of design (read, Target) that carry the chain’s name. The first store opened in 1926 in Amsterdam and there are now HEMA shops in Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany. You can imagine the Dutchies’ shock last year when the company was sold to the British investment company Lion Capital. But if this website, created by Dutch ad agency CCCP, is how they’re spending their money, they can’t be all bad. On the flip side, as mod as the site is, customers have to pick up the products in person at a store. That’s gotta change!

Another cool thing about HEMA that Wessel noticed is it organizes a yearly design contest for university students. A very cool dynamic site shows the 2007 winners, while a more static one lists presents them in more organized fashion. The most famous student design, from 1989/1990, is for a whistling kettle called Le Lapin, or the rabbit.

HEMA in Emmen, The NetherlandsWhen I was in Leiden in 2005 for three weeks to study Dutch (I would say to learn Dutch, but I’m not sure that transpired), HEMA was the first store I visited. My pal Victor Benard took me there in search of two items I was desperate for — a plug adapter for my laptop and a fan to drown out the noise from the busy street below my rented room. HEMA had them both. Hoera!

As Karen says, “it always tickles me that in Dutch a shop is called a winkel! It’s a word I can’t say without laughing!” Ik ook, Karen. I agree. Hmmm …. I guess I did learn some Dutch after all!

Italy’s hills, groves, and vineyards

March 10, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published March 9, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: As I told Janis, the daylong walk I took by myself along Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s Lane, a footpath that hugs the coastline of Cinque Terre, was a highlight of my three months in Italy. Heck, of my life! I still have vivid memories of it, some 22 years later.

WHO: Janis Owens, 58, and Caroline Roy, 56, both of Duxbury, Mass.

WHERE: Italy.

WHEN: 12 days in October.

WHY: “We’re in the same book group, and we always gravitate toward travel books,” Owens said. “Caroline said, ‘I’ve always wanted to go to Cinque Terre,’ then I saw an article on it. We decided to go with a small group because we’re two single women traveling together, and it’s a wonderful way to meet people.”

Caroline Roy and Janis Owens in Cinque TerreFEMALE BONDING: They signed up for a weeklong walking tour in Tuscany and Cinque Terre through Experience Plus, starting with three days in Lucca, near Pisa. The women met the seven other Americans in the group there. “The only man was part of a couple. I told him, ‘You’re getting a real window into women here,’ ” Owens said. Their tour guide was an Italian woman, who was joined by local guides in both locations.

OLD AND OLDER: “Lucca is a walled medieval city on a Roman ruin,” Owens said. “You see parts of the wall from the coliseum and then it’s mostly medieval on top of that. We did a walking tour, and also went to Pisa to visit the leaning tower. We ate a lot, too. Our first meal was an eight-course meal at a local restaurant.”

FOLLOWING HIS FOOTSTEPS: One long walk they took started in the hills west of Lucca to Torre del Lago, where Puccini wrote many of his operas. “We hiked down to Lake Massaciuccoli, then down a Roman road and through a vineyard to have lunch in Torre del Lago, then we ended at the beach.”

Caroline Roy in VernazzaHILL TOWNS: A two-hour van drive took them north to Cinque Terre, five coastal villages. The first day they hiked from Levanto to their home base in Monterosso, while the van driver deposited their gear at the hotel. “After that we did day hikes from Monterosso. Marco was our local guide. His English was so broken, it was adorable. The hiking in Cinque Terre was totally different because the towns are clinging to the side of the hill, and they’re difficult to get in and out of. We were very excited to be there.” The group walked about 5 to 7 miles a day under sunny skies in the high 70s.

MEMORABLE MEAL: Their favorite meal was at Marina Piccola in Manarola. “We hiked to it in the morning, had lunch for two hours on the patio, and hiked back. It seemed to be the most authentic local place we ate at. We had a seafood pasta dish and squid ink pasta in a creamy tomato sauce. Everything had a seafood base, and the sauces were very light.”

Janis Owens in Cinque TerreHAPPY HIKING: The hikes to and from towns were pleasantly challenging. “You’re climbing up rocky steps that take you up out of the villages. The hills are terraced vineyards and olive groves. Then you reach wooded areas, with very steep paths through pinewoods. The sea was blue and clear, and the shore was rocky.”

ONE LAST LOOK: Owens and Roy spent a couple days on their own in Varenna on Lake Como. “It’s an adorable little town,” she said. They loved their stay at Hotel Eremo Gaudio. “It’s an old nunnery on the side of the hill. We had to take funiculars to go up to the room and back to the lobby.”

Bhutan or bust

March 7, 2008

Perhaps I travel more than the average person does, but I don’t travel half as much as people think I do, especially overseas. And there are many countries I’ve yet to visit. Bhutan, for instance. Flag of Bhutan (source: on that later.) Instead, I live vicariously through my Where they Went subjects, whose trips I write about every week in the Boston Globe.

One such journey was in April, when three friends from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) spent two weeks in Peru. Marianne Page did all the planning as part of her preparation to become an AMC leader. She’s now officially co-leading a trip to Glacier National Park in Montana this summer, which has already filled up But her Oct. 8-26 trip to Bhutan still has openings. (If any of you have done AMC trips, I’d love to hear about them.)

The Dzong (fortress-monastery) at Punakha; Henry David Shapiro ©2003Of course I want to join the group, but it’s not on this year’s agenda.  Bhutan is a pricey place on purpose, to keep tourism at bay. Although now it’s becoming known as a luxury destination, and don’t even get me started about that.  Anyway, the $4,600 to $5,000 fee for 2.5 weeks of travel is the usual AMC-type bargain. It includes lodging, meals, museums fees, trekking fee and transportation in Bhutan. For airfare, add another $2,200. 

Here’s an excerpt from the AMC listing linked above: An eight-day trek “travels through two high passes of 16,000 feet through The Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery); Henry David Shapiro ©2003remote wilderness with abundant wildlife. The remaining time in this ‘Shangri La’ will be spent visiting monasteries, dzongs, textile museums, the local market place, Thimpu festival and the famous ‘Tiger’s Nest.’ This is the most famous monastery, perched precariously on a steep cliff almost 3,000 feet above the Paro valley.”

If you sign up and you live in New England, let me know and maybe I’ll highlight your trip in Where they Went. And then my readers and I will get to travel to Bhutan with you, at least in our minds.

Photos by Henry David Shapiro (©2003); photos reprinted with photographer’s permission.

4.5 Gs of ‘fun’ at Canada Olympic Park

March 5, 2008

I spent several hours recently at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary for a Globe story. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown, and so close to the highway that you can see skiers while you’re driving by. Ski jumping in Canada Olympic ParkI’m sure the park was in the boonies when it was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, but now the suburbs have reached it. Adrenalin junkies can get their fix in all seasons here. In the winter: skiing, snowboarding (including a pipeline for those who dare), and bobsleigh rides that hit 4.5 Gs. In the summer there’s  luge rides and major mountain biking. Or how about, year-round, a zip line that reaches speed of up to 75 mph (= 120 km/h)? To all this I have to say: yuck.

Diane sits in bobsleighBeing a weenie, I took the audio tour. The audio tracks were fantastic, using interviews and sound effects to really put you in the athletes’ minds and settings. Unfortunately the equipment and technology had many failings, but the park is working to improve it. I did get to sit in a bobsleigh (woo-hoo!), watch ski jumpers, and also interviewed several bobsleigh riders for my article. 

Here’s what one of them, Calgarian Rob Ingram, said: “It starts out like a fast roller coaster then progresses to a hurtling freight train, and sounds like one too. It was deafening as we reached terminal speed (120 km/h). The bumps make focusing difficult and the 4.5 G force in the corners pushes you down in your seat and slams your head against the sled.”


Bobsleighing in Canada Olympic ParkThen, and this cracks me up, Rob goes on to say: “It was very fun, especially the Kreisel Corner, the 270-degree corner (the most G-force). I ended up with short-term stiffness in my neck and shoulders from the pounding.”

Excuse me, Rob. It was “very fun”? Are you insane? Well, he did used to drag race, so he clearly has the adrenalin gene. Rob was there for his 53rd birthday. Happy Birthday, eh?

Have ticket, will travel the world

March 3, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published March 2, 2008, in the Boston Globe) 

From Di’s eyes: A round-the-world trip is just the thing to kick off a law career and is much more interesting and educational than the typical week in the Caribbean. Here’s to great jobs and a wonderful life for these two young adventurers!

WHO: Andrew Hass, 26, of Acton, Mass. and Lauren Hager, 25, of Sacramento, Calif.

WHERE: Around the world.

WHEN: Nine weeks from August to October.

Andrew Hass and Lauren Hager; CLICK TO ENLARGEWHY: The friends, fellow law students at the University of Miami, decided to reward themselves for finishing school and the bar exam by taking a trip. “Most students do, but not like this,” said Hass, who attended Boston University for undergraduate studies.

WITH A MAP AND A WISH LIST: “We basically sat down with a map and alternated places we wanted to go,” Hass said of their planning. They booked what’s called a Blue Ticket through the Student Travel Agency. “If you keep going in the same direction you can get great fares,” said Hass, who paid about $4,500 for all his flights. They visited 11 countries, starting in Peru and then going to Argentina, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel, Russia, Mauritius, India, China, and Japan, spending four days to a week in each. Their luggage was lost – and found – twice.

PLOTTING IT OUT: “We got our tickets first, and once we knew where we’d be, we scheduled budget hotels and hostels,” Hass said. In harder-to-navigate countries, such as India and China, they set up personal tours and drivers. By the end of the trip, they’d seen many of the world’s great sites, including the pyramids at Giza, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China, as well as glaciers, deserts, oceans, and mountains. “Our top three places as far as activities and overall fun were Peru, South Africa, and Japan.”

Andrew Hass at Machu Picchu, Peru; CLICK TO ENLARGEANDES FANS: “Machu Picchu is an experience in and of itself,” Hass said. “It’s in the middle of nowhere, up this winding road. It’s so magnificent and breathtaking.” Their favorite view of the ancient ruins was from Putukusi Mountain. “It was a three-hour hike to the top and you had to go up hundreds of feet of wooden ladders, straight up, without a rope or a net. It was quite a rush.”

GREAT FRIGHT: From their favorite hostel, the Ashanti Lodge in Cape Town, the adventure seekers booked a cage dive among great white sharks. “It was quite an experience,” Hass said of being surrounded by sharks. “They throw chum in the water and the sharks dive at it with their jaws open. It was scary and awe-inspiring.”

Andrew Hass at the Great Wall of China; CLICK TO ENLARGESECOND WIND: By the time they reached Japan, after fleeing a typhoon in China, they were ready to get home, but the country invigorated them. “We spent a night in Tokyo, then took the trail to Kyoto. Our hostel was typical Asian budget. You sleep on the floor, and low on amenities, but not in a bad way. It really catches the local flavor.” They spent a somber day touring Hiroshima. “Even 60 years after it happened, it really hits you.” On a lighter note, they were thrilled to attend a major league baseball game. And Hass traveled all the way to Japan to discover he actually liked sushi.

SUSPENSEFUL JOURNEY: Because they left the country a few days after taking the bar exam, they didn’t know their outcomes. “Lauren found out she passed when we were in China,” said Hass, who was in suspense until he returned home – to good news.