Archive for February, 2010

Vancouver’s Olympian totem poles

February 21, 2010

The Olympics have reminded me of one of my biggest travel regrets — not joining Wessel when he went to Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 2004 on business (translation: free digs!).  I was just too gosh-darn busy. He raved then about the assortment of totem poles he saw all over the place, especially in Thunderbird Park in Victoria and in Duncan, City of Totems. Here are a few of his favorites:

Totem poles in Thunderbird Park in downtown Victoria on Vancouver Island

Thunderbird Park is devoted to the poles. Left, Empress Hotel in background.

Totem pole on banks of the Cowichan River in Duncan, BC

Duncan, the City of Totems, is home to over 80 totem poles

Duncan, the City of Totems, is home to over 80 totem poles

Detail of right totem pole in photo above

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Friendly Turkey won her over

February 12, 2010

This was first published Sept. 27, 2009, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.”

Rob and Cindy Walsh at a restaurant on the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul

WHO:  Cindy, 57, and Rob Walsh, 63, of Wales, Mass.

WHERE: Turkey.

WHEN: Six days in March.

WHY: “We started traveling together out of the country about 12 years ago,’’ Cindy Walsh said. “We first went to London, then France, and Rob thought Istanbul sounded really interesting.’’

CHANGE OF HEART: “I kind of put him off; it sounded a little too exotic for me. Then after Bush attacked Iraq, I thought people wouldn’t be too fond of Americans anywhere where there was a Muslim population. Then I saw a great airfare, and someone on the fodors.com forum had come back and written a glowing report, and I thought, what am I waiting for? I felt really stupid when I saw how friendly everyone was. The Turkish people are the friendliest people I’ve met.’’

Galata Bridge fishermen, with the famed New Mosque in the background

TERRACE WITH A VIEW: Following the online advice of travelers, Walsh booked a room at Hotel Empress Zoe. “We loved it. It was very old-Turkish style but boutiquey. We decided to get the penthouse suite. It wasn’t luxurious, but it had a terrace with beautiful views.’’ They looked onto the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia, as well as Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque, the national mosque of Turkey.

FERRY TO FREE TIME: Their favorite outing was a ferry trip up the Bosphorus. “It’s a regular state ferry run, and they stop at different ports on both sides. The river traffic is crazy, ferries crisscrossing each other and honking, freighters going through, pleasure boats, fishing boats, even sailing boats.’’ Their ride ended at the mouth of the Black Sea (which the Bosphorus connects to the Mediterranean), in Anadolu Kavagi, where they had a few hours free. “It was beautiful, forested with steep hills going down to the water and towns built into the sides of the hills. At the top of the hill there’s the ruins of a castle you can walk around.’’ Back in town, where stray dogs and cats wandered by the dozens, waiters worked to reel in tourists for lunch.

Rob on a Kadikoy ferry, with the New Mosque in the background

THE SHOPPING SPIRIT: Initially the couple was reluctant to bargain in the Istanbul bazaar. “The first time we even went out of the hotel a carpet salesperson followed us all around, even waiting for us to come out of the Blue Mosque. I kept yelling at my husband, ‘Put your head down, don’t look at anyone.’ But finally we started to get into the whole aspect of shopping and how to have fun with it,’’ Walsh said.

ONLINE FIND: Again following online advice, the Walshes sought out the restaurant Ziya Sark Sofrasi. “We were really impressed. It was small and good and very Mediterranean.’’

To Amsterdam from Russia with love

February 6, 2010

The Hermitage Amsterdam is housed in the Amstelhof on the Amstel River

Let’s just agree to put aside, shall we, the hookers and hash. The Amsterdam you don’t hear as much about is filled with beautiful historic buildings, great restaurants and cafes, funky design shops, and world-class art museums. That’s what the city is to us.

Most museumgoers associate Amsterdam with the world-class Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. But now there’s a third art attraction pulling in the crowds. Last summer, the Netherlands capital opened the Hermitage Amsterdam, a branch of the renowned State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (where I hope to some day go). This Hermitage is run by a local foundation and independently financed.

The 17th-century Amstelhof was formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly

Wessel and I had the chance to visit in November. The weather was dreary but the place was packed. Everything about it is magnificent, from its setting along the bustling Amstel River to its location in the Amstelhof, a 17th-century building formerly used as a state-run home for the elderly.

The restored 107,000-square-foot building holds rotating and permanent exhibit space, a restaurant, outdoor terrace, courtyard, auditorium, children’s wing, and gift shops.

Church Hall with a view of the river

Our favorite spot (and everyone else’s, it seemed) was the Church Hall, a grand gathering area with large windows overlooking the Amstel. A smattering of comfy chairs faces the windows and they’re always filled.

The exhibit we saw, the inaugural (it ended Jan. 31) naturally focused on Russia, specifically on the Russian Court. The pageantry, polish, and pearls were lovely, but I’m much more interested in the upcoming show, opening March 6 (through Sept. 17). Called “Matisse to Malevich: Pioneers of Modern Art from the Hermitage,” the 75-piece modern-art showstopper is expected to draw huge crowds. The Hermitage has one of the world’s finest collections of early-20th-century French masters and famed Russian painters, so this will be a blockbuster. Most of the works in this show are usually on permanent display in Russia.

Metal fence with camellia blossoms near the back side of the museum

We’ll be back in Amsterdam in April, and will gladly fight the crowds to see this collection. On this trip, it will (hopefully) be warm enough to rest up in the courtyard, admiring the Hermitage from the outside

Admission for adults is a stiff $22, but that’s Europe for you.

Winter Olympics, North Carolina style

February 1, 2010

Yay! We got our first substantial snowfall since moving here from New England in 2003. As you can see below, our low-riding dachshunds were not pleased, but Wessel and I rejoiced, along with much of North Carolina. Durham, where we live, got seven inches, which almost — don’t laugh — qualified it for the top-10 snowfall list started in the 1920s. (The record is 14 inches, in 2000.) We still have our cross-country skis, minus one pole (oops) and managed to ski out the back door both Saturday and Sunday. Temps climb into the 40s this week. Farewell, old friend! 

Sabrina was not amused when she ended up belly deep in the white stuff

Wessel swooshes down a hill on one of our neighborhood streets

If you don`t own snow boots, just make them! (We spotted several of these)

Diane puts her keen herringbone skills in place up this tiny golf-course hill

Diane lobs a snowball at Wessel, plucked from the mountain formed by a plow