Archive for June, 2009

She can’t believe it’s accessible

June 30, 2009

I share my blog today with Candy B. Harrington, a fellow member in the Society of American Travel Writers, who is an expert on accessible travel, from people using wheelchairs to slow walkers. Her slogan: Have Disability, Will Travel, and she’s giving us a Top-10 list of little-known accessible places. I haven’t met Candy, who writes from California, but for years I’ve been impressed with her work and uncompromising dedication to her topic. In the world of travel, staying uncompromised is a major feat. She recently released the third edition of her classic book “Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers And Slow Walkers.” From the book site, you can check out Candy’s own blog. Photos (except Lake Powell)  are by Mr. Candy, aka Charles Pannell.

Heeeeeere’s, Candy:

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken Agnes

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken, Agnes

During the past 16 years I’ve traveled the world in search of appropriate vacation choices for my readers. Although they have a wide range of tastes, preferences and budgets, my readers all have one thing in common; for the most part they are physically disabled — slow walkers to wheelchair-users.

Over the course of my travels I’ve seen a good number of accessible hotels, attractions, resorts, spas and even bus tours, but I’ve also discovered some unconventional accessible finds along the way. These are the things, that really made me step back and say “Wow, I can’t believe they made that accessible.” And although I keep adding to my wow list, here’s my current Top 10.

View of Yaquina Head Tidepools

Walkways lead to Yaquina Head tide pools

Yaquina Head tide pools

Located just three miles north of Newport, Ore., this Bureau of Reclamation project features barrier-free access on paved walkways down into the Quarry Cove tidepool area.


Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

These gardens in Richmond, Va.,  feature a cool treehouse with ramped access to all areas. Think Swiss Family Robinson on steroids.

White Water Rafting

In Northern California, everyone can enjoy white water rafting on the American River, thanks to the folks at Environmental Traveling Companions. This San Francisco based company can accommodate wheelchair-users (even folks who use a power wheelchair) and slow walkers on their exciting white water rating trips.

Aerial view from Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Houseboating on Lake Powell

Forever Resorts  offers a wheelchair-accessible houseboat on Lake Powell, in Utah. You can rent the houseboat for a few days or a week. The accessible model features level boarding, a bathroom with a roll-in shower, an oversized master suite complete with a portable hoyer lift, elevator access to the top deck and a beach wheelchair.

C&O Canal Boat

Docked at the Great Falls Tavern, near Potomac, Md., the replica Charles F. Mercer canal boat features incline lift access to both decks and an accessible restroom on the lower deck. The canal boat is pulled along by mules and offers passengers a colorful look at 1870s canal life.

Baja Sport Fishing

Larry Cooper designed his En Caliente  sport fishing boat with access in mind. Docked in Los Barriles, Mexico, it features removable lockdowns, hoist access to the flying bridge and custom tackle designed for anglers of all abilities.

Wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Accessible lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Adirondack Camping

John Dillon Park , near Tupper Lake in upstate New York, features wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos.

African Safari

Endeavour Safaris  offers wheelchair-accessible safaris in a ramped Toyota Landcruiser, through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

In a Cavern

Billed as America’s only ride through caverns, Fantastic Caverns  features ramped access to their tour vehicles. Just roll-on and enjoy this cool site near Springfield, Mo.

Bungy Jumping

If you want a little adventure, the folks at Taupo Bungy  in New Zealand can accommodate you. It takes very little adaptive equipment, but a whole lot of guts!

Thanks, Candy. The world of travel (and beyond) needs you and your advocacy work!


The Skyway’s the limit

June 26, 2009

As I was driving west toward Asheville yesterday I was thinking how five years ago around this time Wessel and I drove the same route, and hours beyond, to reach the Cherohala Skyway for a killer bicycle ride. It’s a fantastic and little-known mountainous highway from North Carolina to Tennessee. We saw more bikers there, of the motorized kind, than we did cars. I’d love to go back, but we don’t do many repeats. Meanwhile, I can relive it with y’all here. Though I can’t say this was my most inspired piece of journalism, I hope it at least piques your interest in one of our favorite American destinations. By the way, Wessel is the mysterious friend in the story. We were married a few weeks after publication of the article.

Published October 3, 2004, Boston Globe

View on the curving Cherohala Skyway from the Spirit Ridge outlook on the North Carolina side of the Skyway

View on the curving Cherohala Skyway from the Spirit Ridge outlook on the North Carolina side of the Skyway

TELLICO PLAINS, Tenn. — If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall hearing about real-life wagon trains rolling from Tennessee over the mountains into North Carolina. Most years, starting in summer 1958, the caravans got national media coverage, including Life magazine one week. In 1960, the train contained 105 wood-spoke, steel-tire, authentic covered wagons and 776 horseback riders.

While these reenactments, which continue in a smaller, less-publicized, and more comfortable (rubber tires, cushioned seats) form, took on a life of their own, they were started as a way to draw attention to Tellico Plains, a small town (population 860) that went nowhere.

Billie Nell and Charles Hall in front of a collection of vintage telephones

Billie Nell and Charles Hall in front of a collection of vintage telephones

“We were a dead end,” said Charles Hall, former owner of the Tellico Telephone Co., then mayor for 30 years, and now curator of a private museum bearing his name. Hall and some fellow Kiwanis Club members came up with the wagon train idea as a publicity stunt to draw attention to what they perceived was a need for a roadway over the Unicoi Mountains in the southern Appalachians, connecting the hardscrabble towns of Tellico Plains and Robbinsville, N.C. (population 750).

In 1996, thirty-eight years and $100 million later, 37 miles of new road was completed, and it’s beautiful. The history of the Cherohala Skyway is a good story, but the true drama lies in the scenery.

Diane cycles the Skyway

Diane cycles the Skyway

The skyway got its name (pronounced chair-oh-HAH-la) from the forests it connects, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee to Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. Some locals call it the Wagon Train Road, or simply Highway 165. (In North Carolina, it’s Highway 143.)

In 1962, Congress approved $6 million to build the roadway. Construction slowed nearly to a halt when conservationists stepped in. Some still wish the roadway had never been built. Still, a drive or hike or bike ride in this nearly pristine wilderness should turn anyone into a tree hugger, at least for the 90 minutes or so it takes to traverse in a car.

One of the things that makes the Cherohala special is the absence of big connecting roads. Mostly this is rugged, lonesome land, offering views, some above 5,000 feet, with no evidence of civilization.

Diane and mysterious friend later husband Wessel at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line

Diane and "friend," now husband, Wessel, at the N.C.-Tenn. state line

A friend and I stayed just off the skyway one weekend this summer. We love cycling on paved mountain roads, and knew we could get more than our fill here. Motorcyclists, who outnumbered auto drivers during our stay, are drawn to the Cherohala for the same reasons we were: the twists and turns, refreshingly light traffic, and stellar views. Not surprisingly, we saw only a handful of other bicyclists. With road grades upward of 9 percent and no shoulders, there are easier ways to see the sights.


Mayberry, Mount Airy, what’s the difference?

June 23, 2009
Russell Hiatt aka barber Floyd

Floyd's owner, Russell Hiatt, stays busy cutting the hair of locals and tourists

I about keeled over when I peeked through the large window on Main Street into Floyd’s City Barber Shop. There was Floyd! OK, not really, but it looked enough like him that I thought I’d channeled myself into a 1960s television set. Black and white, of course.

Really it was 85-year-old owner Russell Hiatt, who has been cutting hair at his Mount Airy barbershop for more than 60 years. Oprah has been here, so you know it’s special.

Barney Fife, on duty 24 hours a day

Barney Fife, on duty 24 hours a day

Since moving to North Carolina six years ago, Wessel and I several times have been close to Mount Airy, Andy Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for Mayberry, but never ventured “downtown.” We did last weekend, and what a treat it was. Wessel being Dutch, I’ve had to give him a Tarheel and American primer on “The Andy Griffith Show” and all things Mayberry. Over the years, I’ve taught him “The Fishin’ Hole” whistle, and a little about Opie, Barney, Goober and Gomer. And, now, Floyd. Finally he got to see that I wasn’t the only one waxing nostalgic over such things.

Pricey fridge magnet but priceless memories each time the fridge door is opened

Pricey fridge magnet generates priceless memories

Mayberry, er, Mount Airy, has done a good job of keeping the Andy mania fairly tasteful. Main Street has as many cool vintage and antique shops in old department-store storefronts as it does stores full of tourist schlock. But I loved the schlock too. I even forked over an outrageous $7 for an Andy fridge magnet.

There are more attractions than I have time to enumerate here. The most popular one is The Snappy Lunch, credited as the only existing local business mentioned on the television show, which aired from 1960 to 1968 and was filmed in … LA of course!

Barney Fife's famous Ford Galaxie squad car

You can catch a ride in a classic Ford Galaxie squad car

Another draw is The Squad Car Tour, where a carload of folks can ride in a restored 1962 Ford Galaxie squad car, the same as Andy’s and Barney’s. And I loved that Mount Airy’s “horse-drawn carriages” are instead powered by mules. Off in the distance, you can see the familiar knob of Pilot Mountain, called “Mount Pilot” on the show.

This year’s Mayberry Days is Sept. 24-27, when some 25,000 fans (and some of the show’s characters) descend on the town of 8,400 to celebrate the show, which first aired on Oct. 3, 1960.

One amusing ditty. Last fall, Griffith donned his Sheriff Andy Taylor persona and Ron Howard his Opie to endorse presidential candidate Barack Obama. That apparently did not sit well with the largely Republican county. It was all they could talk about at Floyd’s.

Toni Morrison invites you to take a seat

June 15, 2009

200906_27b_Sullivans Island benchYou’ve heard of Ellis Island in New York, right? The first place some 12 million immigrants from Europe arrived on US soil. There’s another important entry port not quite so celebratory. Does Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina ring a bell? This residential barrier island 10 miles southeast of downtown Charleston is where an estimated around 200,000 to 360,000 slaves from Africa were first brought before being sold.  Nearly half of all living African Americans are said to have ancestors who passed through Sullivan’s Island.

The bench on the grounds of the park at Fort Moultrie

The bench at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island is a somber reminder of slavery

Wessel discovered information about the slave memorial while plotting out a bicycle ride we were doing from Charleston last week. As an aside during a tour of Fort Sumter the day before, a park guide said there was a new slavery monument on Sullivan Island. (Turns out there’s not really a monument.) That got Wessel to thinking about this story he’d read in The New York Times last July, about when writer extraordinaire Toni Morrison came to christen a bench the Toni Morrison Society had installed to memorialize the spot where slaves were first brought.

The bench was inaugurated in July 2008

The bench was inaugurated in July 2008

All we knew was that the bench was maintained by the National Park Service, so we cycled to Fort Moultrie on the southwestern tip of the island to see if it was there. There were no signs, but luckily the visitor center was open for another five minutes and a ranger told us to walk toward the water. Indeed, there it was, Toni Morrison’s metal bench.

Writer and Nobel winner Toni Morrison (photo Wikipedia Commons)

Writer and Nobel winner Toni Morrison (photo Wikipedia Commons)

The bench was inspired by something the Nobel prize winner said during an interview in 1989 (this quote is taken from the plaque near the bench, but not verified): “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road.”

Diane contemplates the meaning of the bench

Sitting on the bench, Diane can't help but contemplate what once took place here

Reading that gives me chills. Sitting on the bench did, too, thinking about the thousands of people kidnapped from their homes, treated like animals, brought to a foreign land, and then sold to do hard labor. Wessel and I sat there, soaking in the enormity of it all. I can only hope that if I had lived during slavery, I would have been an abolitionist.

View across the marsh from the bench

From the bench you see Charleston Harbor

So now I must rail a bit. It embarrasses me that my country doesn’t have one national museum or monument about slavery.  (I’ll mention here that Fort Moultrie recently opened a terrific permanent exhibit called “African Passages” to examine Sullivan’s Island slave trade.) To set the record straight, as a Southerner, slavery was not confined to the South. In fact, Rhode Island merchants controlled the majority of the American slave trade. Slavery certainly wasn’t confined to my homeland, either. It’s estimated that “only” 5 to 10 percent of the as many as 15 million Africans taken to the Americas and the Caribbean were brought to the US. But still.

Entrance of Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC

The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston

To Charleston’s credit, it has a museum dedicated to slavery, the Old Slave Mart Museum and is working on another. Meanwhile, other national projects are in the works, including, finally, a Smithsonian Museum in the works, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (The architect is from here in Durham!)

But we Americans also need a national museum dedicated solely to slavery, as well as many more “benches by the road.”

Where to find Perfection

June 8, 2009
Perfection, Craven County NC (photo Lessew)

And suddenly there it was ... Perfection

Who says you can’t find Perfection? Wessel and I have. It’s right here along NC Highway 55 in Craven County, North Carolina, only 55 miles from Atlantic Beach, on, you guessed it, the Atlantic Ocean.

I first stumbled onto Perfection last year, but my photo wasn’t so, um, perfect. Better to leave that part to Wessel. Of course he was ready with his four cameras when we passed Perfection last month during research for my farm guidebook.

Sunset at Atlantic Beach, close to Perfection

Sunset at Atlantic Beach is close to Perfection, don't you agree?

Perfection, it turns out, doesn’t contain much more than farmland and a few houses at the crossroad of Highway 55 and Ashbury Road. We discovered that Perfection had its own post office from 1888 to 1903, but that’s all the information we could dig up.

So the next time you’re seeking Perfection, you know where to look.

Artist’s-eye view of Art Basel Miami Beach

June 4, 2009
Arden Gallery in Boston represents Joanne Mattera

Joanne Mattera wakes up Newbury Street with this piece at Arden Gallery in Boston

I met artist Joanne Mattera when I went to her 2003 show at Arden Gallery in Boston (one of my first outings with Wessel). I’m drawn to colorists, and she’s one of my favorite. I love, love, love her paintings. Joanne works in (and introduced me to) encaustic, a method of painting with translucent layers of wax. She literally wrote the book on it — “The Art of Encaustic Painting.” Coincidentally, this weekend Joanne is holding the third annual Encaustic Painting Conference at Montserrat College at Art in Beverly, Mass. I took an encaustic workshop last year in Chapel Hill, NC, with Lynn Bregman Blass, whose work I also greatly admire. Let’s just say that I’m sticking to writing (which Joanne also does a great job of in her blog).    

When Joanne sent me this idea for my “Where they Went” column in the Boston Globe, I thought it was great. So, enough intro, here we go:

(“Where they Went,” published April 26, 2009,  Boston Globe)

Joanne Mattera at Art Basel Miami Beach, reflected in screen by Mark Fox

Joanne Mattera gets artsy with a Mark Fox screen at Art Basel Miami Beach

WHO: Joanne Mattera of Salem, Mass., and New York City

WHERE: Miami.

WHEN: A week in December.

WHY: To attend Art Basel Miami Beach and related shows. “My life and my art life are intertwined,” said Mattera, a painter mostly in encaustic who is represented by Arden Gallery in Boston. “Look what I do for fun: I go look at art.”

Joanne reflected in Anish Kapoor sculpture

Joanne reflects on Anish Kapoor sculpture

HOT SHOW: The prestigious Art Basel in South Florida, an international modern and contemporary art exhibit and sister show to Art Basel in Switzerland, has grown exponentially since its start in 2002, said Mattera, who has attended for the past four years. “It came out of nowhere and made this huge splash in the art world here. But then who wouldn’t want go to Florida in December?” Over the years, the show, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, has inspired more than two dozen “satellite shows” both in surrounding venues and in Wynwood, Miami’s growing art district.

EXHIBITING THRIFT: “This is the first year I’ve been that I haven’t had work there, but I love the opportunity to go. My galleries weren’t participating, and fewer were overall because of the economy. Some dealers were saying they were going to sit it out this year.” Mattera has another reason for attending – she writes about the scene and the shows for Joanne Mattera Art Blog.

Joanne reflected in Garden Mirror by Olafur Eliasson

Joanne puts herself in "Garden Mirror" installation by Olafur Eliasson

ALL INCLUSIVE: “Except for a few art fairs, there is no other time and no other place that you can see art from dozens of countries and you get to chat with dealers, collectors, other artists, critics, and curators. Even though people are working, their guards are down, they’re relaxed.” The public attends, too, with tickets $35 a day or less. Many of the smaller shows are free or nominally priced.

MAJOR TO MINOR: A change this year, Mattera said, was fewer boundary-pushing pieces. “I think the economy made dealers bring some of their safer work.” Art Basel also is a market for dealers to sell big-name work for millions. “You might have a Picasso or a Miró or a Warhol. But at the smaller venues, you find work from galleries like in Boston and other regions at prices of $10,000 and under, much under.”

SEE, SEE, SEE: Mattera doesn’t seek or find inspiration at Art Basel. “I have a path for my work and an approach and it doesn’t really matter what I see or where I am. It’s an interior dialogue. So for me it’s not about getting ideas, but it is about connecting with the larger art world to see what’s going on. You want to know what’s out there, and see it all.”

Five porker stars for Wilber’s Barbecue

June 2, 2009
Wilber's take out in full swing

It takes three Wilber's workers to keep up with Memorial Day takeout orders

Willllll-berrrrrs! Willll-berrrrs! That’s my cry whenever we drive to the beach from Durham, North Carolina, or anytime we get close to Goldsboro, home of Wilber’s Barbecue. (I try to sound like Mr. Ed talking to his pal Wilbur, but I do a poor imitation. At any rate, it annoys Wessel. Mission accomplished.)

When I moved back to eastern North Carolina after years in Florida and then Boston, I was happily reunited with barbecue made the right way — slow cooked over wood and seasoned with vinegar, not, I repeat not, with tomato-based sauce.

The cornucopia of Eastern North Carolina

This Wilber's waitress is a winner!

We all have our favorite BBQ joints, and Wilber’s is mine. I was thrilled to bring Wessel here. Somehow Wilber’s had stuck in my brain, although I moved from North Carolina at the tender age of 16, when I didn’t care what I ate as long as it had pasta and spaghetti sauce in it.

We most recently stopped at Wilber’s on Memorial Day, on our way back from the beach. It was just us and about 80,000 other customers doing the same thing. We got ‘cue to go, along with coleslaw, sweet tea, and hush puppies. Classic Wilber’s. The restaurant is totally old-fashioned, with as many locals as visitors. There’s always a brisk takeout business, but the table service here is great too — friendly and oh so country. Yanks might need a translator.

Dutch friends Tjits and Liekle demonstrate before and after effects of Wilers BBQ

A stop at Wilber's transformed the profiles of our Dutch friends Tjits and Liekle

Wilber’s also has great Brunswick stew, fried chicken, and other Southern specialities (pronounced spesh-ee-AL-i-ties).

We love sending our friends there, too, like the Dutchies, at left, visiting from the Netherlands last summer. They loved it, maybe even a little too much.

The word has been out on Wilber’s for a while now. As owner Wilber Shirley said in an interview with John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed of  the awesome book “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” “we’ve been written up in right many magazines over the years.” (That’s an understatement.) All deserved, too!

I do have to say that after spending this past weekend at Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, North Carolina, which raises its hogs sustainably and environmentally, I am feeling a tad guilty about hawking a place that I’m guessing doesn’t really think right much about that stuff.

But there you go. My blinders are firmly in place, and I’m here to say: Willllll-berrrrrs! Willll-berrrrs!