By Robert N. Jenkins
BALDWIN CITY, Kansas — Fireflies beckon to each other in the darkness accentuated by the trees and the rural countryside. But rough-spoken men break the fairy-tale cheer with threats that reek of hatred – hatred of each other and what the others stand for.
These men are on the frontier of the still young United States — indeed, their looming confrontation is based on whether the barely settled swath of rolling prairie and forest known as the Kansas Territory should be admitted to the Union as a state where slavery is legal or is forbidden.
And tomorrow at daybreak, these men will stage what many historians consider the true first battle of the Civil War — almost 5 years before the Confederates will fire on Fort Sumter, more than 1,150 miles back east.
History a few miles away
This re-enactment, along with others plus museums and an active Army base, recount not just the tortured history of what became known as “bleeding Kansas” but also the state’s role in the challenging creation of the frontier in the mid-19th century. A driving trip of less than 150 miles reveals a rich vein of America’s history. But few sites are as dramatic as the Battle of Blackjack Springs, just a few miles from quiet Baldwin City.
The re-enactors include those angry men and one woman — now a sorrowful widow and grieving mother victimized by the blood lust along the Kansas-Missouri border. They re-create events before and during a three-hour firefight on the grassy hillsides split by a creek along the Santa Fe Trail.
The re-enactment is held on the anniversary of that battle on June 2, 1856, when an estimated 75 Missourians ultimately would surrender to about 25 Kansans led by John Brown, an Easterner who would become a lightning rod for abolitionists.
On the night before the re-enactment, visitors sit on hay bales on the site of the actual three-hour battle, to hear Brown — cradling a rifle, his eyes blazing – decry the “abomination” that is slavery.
He recounts the history of thousands of pro-slavery Missourians moving across the Missouri River into Kansas, where fewer thousands of anti-slavery Easterners and Northerners had already settled.
Battling the Jayhawks
Many arrived just to take part in the vote that would decide Kansas’ status. Many of the Missourians terrorized the settlers — called Jayhawks, after an imaginary combination of those two birds — robbing and beating them.
The raiders also set fire to the town of Lawrence, a hotbed of abolitionists. Five townspeople were killed.
Brown, leading a group that included some of the five sons who had preceded him into Kansas, crossed into Missouri. On May 26, 1856, the group committed what is known as the Pottawatamie (cq) Massacre, using swords and pistols to slaughter five farmers.
The showdown at Blackjack Springs abut a week later was to avenge the massacre, but Brown’s vastly outnumbered forces were victorious. Oddly, no one was killed in the firefight before the Missouri force, led by a deputy U.S. marshal, surrendered.
For the annual re-enactment just yards from the actual battlefield, Brown briefly summarizes the reasons for the fight. Then for about 20 minutes, a few dozen re-enactors including some on horseback have at each other, firing their rifles and pistols.
When it’s time for the surrender, firebrand John Brown (enactor Kerry Altenbernd (cq) tells the crowd: “Everyone heard of Blackjack — it was civil war!”
Later, Altenbernd, the law librarian for Douglas County (site of Blackjack Springs and Lawrence), tells me in a surprisingly soft voice, “I feel I understand Brown. He was dedicated, not crazy” — addressing a concept most people have when they hear of the massacre.
“There were 4-million of his brothers and sisters in bondage, and he couldn’t free them.”
Different play, different troupe
Another set of folks offers their version of the history that led to the nickname “bleeding Kansas” in the tiny town of Lecompton, briefly the territory’s first capital and just 30 miles from Baldwin City.
A repertoire troupe of about 30 takes turns portraying Brown, as well as the sheriff who torched Lawrence, the Pottawatomie widow and several more historic figures, in a play written 17 years ago by a resident.
Their preferred venue is in the main hall of a former college building, now the Lane Museum. There, the re-enactors send visitors into either side of the main aisle and encourage them to shout out huzzahs or boo the actors, depending on whether the visitors are sitting on the Missouri or the “Free State” side. This group, which also bought or made their costumes and props, performs up to 50 times a year, often for school groups around the state.
On the road west
Less than an hour’s drive southeast, in Olathe, more of Kanssas’ history — without the emphasis on the bloodshed – is recounted by costumed docents at the Mahaffie (cq) Stage Coach (two words cq) Stop and Farm. Occupying original and recreated buildings, plus a 4-year-old museum, the story of America’s westward growth is told through artifacts — from a child’s plate to farm implements to a Colt revolver – and reproductions and a timeline mural that begins in 1845. That’s 12 years before James Beattie (cq) Mahaffie arrived in Olathe with his wife and five children and created a 600-acre farm along the Santa Fe Trail.
That wagon path was used by Midwesterners as the trade route when Mexico won its freedom from Spain. It went from Missouri’s Mississippi River towns to what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Uncle Beattie” Mahaffie first built his stone farmhouse, which still stands, and operated an inn and then a stop for stagecoaches. His wife and daughters would feed 75 to 100 passengers daily — the coaches rolled 24 hours a day between 1865 and 1869.
Owned by the city of Olathe and covering 11 of the original 600 acres, the attraction includes a blacksmith shop, livestock barn for oxen and horses that pull the reproduction stagecoach that carries visitors around the buildings. In the farmhouse, they can watch a docent cook using authentic kitchen equipment and even try their hands at churning butter.
But 30 years before the Mahaffies arrived, the federal government needed to protect the traffic along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails and the early settlers from attacks by Native Americans. The government erected a series of forts about 100 miles apart along the frontier, and one of them is the oldest, continuously operating, military base west of the Mississippi. It has a familiar name: Leavenworth.
Touring an Army base
Laid out on the tree-covered bluffs high above the Missouri River, Fort Leavenworth opened in May 1827 and as usually happened, a village grew up nearby.
It wasn’t long before a 14-year-old from the village named William Cody began working for a freight shipper, riding along the trails to help protect the wagons and to provide the drovers with fresh meat. His prowess with a rifle earned him a nickname he cherished: Buffalo Bill.
Nowadays, visitors to Fort Leavenworth are passed through a security checkpoint and can follow a self-guided tour of the base, a handsome facility of red brick buildings that date back a century but are also are as new as the 21st century.
Immediately after the Civil War, newly freed blacks comprised about a fifth of the U.S. Army, By 1867, Leavenworth was home to one of the regiments of African-American cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers. When he was commander of Leavenworth in the early 1990s, Gen. Colin Powell had erected two handsome statues commemorating those units.
Visitors learn that the famed Leavenworth prison now has both military and civilian components. Prohibition-era gangsters such as Machine Gun Kelly were imprisoned here. So was Robert Stroud, a murderer who gained fame because he kept birds in his cell, Thus he was later – but incorrectly — referred to as the Birdman of Alcatraz, where he did serve time.
While the prison buildings are not open to the public, the base does hold the Frontier Army Museum, which traces America’s growth even before there was a United States. Among the artifacts are a1763 French musket, surveyors’ tools from the late 18th century and on to the 20rh century — including a biplane like those used to chase Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in 1916-17.
Among the extraordinary pieces on display: a Medal of Honor awarded in 1875, and a paymaster’s ledger showing that in 1881, the highest paid non-commissioned officers were chief musicians, who earned $228 total for a five-year enlistment.
The signs claim this 200-acre swath of serenity is in the unremarkable community of Delray Beach. But, in truth, the Morikami Museum does a marvelous job of re-creating a slice of Japan.
True, it’s an idealized view: The Morikami (pronounced MOOR-ee-CAH-me) and its adjacent gardens are designed to present Japanese culture as a bridge between two nations. What is here are two distinctly different exhibition buildings and a fine example of the delicate, less-is-more gardening that ushers your average flowerbed into the Gaudy category.
The overall effect is to make you feel deliciously alone in the gardens, enlightened in the museums.
The history of this unusual place is told by exhibits in the Yamato-Kan, built in the style of a traditional Japanese villa. The history explains the museum/park’s benefactor and moving spirit.
The museum’s architecture is inspired by traditional Japanese design.
George S. Morikami arrived in Seattle from Japan in 1906, bound for the sandy palmetto barrens a few miles inland from Florida’s Atlantic coast. His way was paid by a speculator who promised Morikami room, board and a $500 payment – after he had labored for three years growing pineapples.
The crops were to be shipped north; Morikami was joining the 3-year-old colony of Yamato (YAH-muh-toe), an ancient name for Japan.
But blighted crops and cheaper, Cuban-grown pineapples soon forced the farmers to shift to other crops. Having brought over wives and having begun their families, the young workers increased the population of Yamato to about 50 by World War I. However, by the early 1920s, most of the Japanese had left.
Young Morikami, however, stayed on, farming and buying land. When World War II began, he was so respected that he was not interned — as tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans were. The museum displays a letter signed by a federal judge in Miami allowing Morikami to cross county lines in 1942.
Following the war, Morikami continued to prosper. He decided he wanted to increase the understanding between his native land and his adopted country.
George Morikami, who arrived in America to farm pineapples, persevered, prospered and gave back to his adopted homeland.
Although it seems difficult to believe now, Morikami was rebuffed four times in nine years when he tried to donate land to Delray Beach and to Palm Beach County. The reason: The prime farmland was considered too remote from the coast to be of any use.
Finally, the county accepted a parcel in 1974, and work was begun on the museum and park soon after. George Morikami died at the age of 90 in 1976, the year before the attraction opened.
The original building was the Yamato-Kan. Inside its graceful walls are a series of small rooms that provide historical background on the farming colony – and similar Japanese enclaves elsewhere in turn-of-the-century Florida – and display typical furnishings for a home this size.
Old meets new here, with one room holding the traditional bathing tub and another decorated as a modern teenager might do it, with posters of a baseball player and two of the Westernized cartoon teens made popular in Sailor Moon and racier animated films.
Outside the Yamato-Kan are a small garden and two stylized bridges. Beyond the bridges are three graceful gardens, sand-and-shell pathways featuring patterns of stones of one color bordered by those of another.
Here is a tiny fountain created just for its sound; over there is a large, artificial waterfall.
There is also a display of bonsai, the craft of growing stunted trees in small boxes, that includes some native Florida miniatures.
The park's grounds and gardens create serenity.
A stroll around these grounds removes the visitor from the bustle of the highways that ceaselessly feed Florida’s crowded Gold Coast.
The Morikami expanded its offerings, It both displays traveling exhibitions and has other permanent features that offer readable explanations and photos of Japanese culture. Another imaginative room allows an audience to view a traditional room in which the stylized tea ceremony is regularly demonstrated.
In addition, the Morikami has a 1-mile nature trail, shaded picnic areas, a restaurnat and an active program of demonstrations as well as major festivals celebrating Japanese tradition.
If you go
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens are in Delray Beach. The park is just off Jog/Powerline/Carter Road, a north-south street between the Florida Turnpike and I-95. From the turnpike, exit at Atlantic Avenue and head east to Jog/Carter, then turn south. From the interstate, take the Linton Boulevard exit west and head south on the same road.
The attraction is open daily except Mondays and on major holidays. Admission is $12 for adults, $11for those 65 andolder, and $7 for those ages 6-17 and for college students.
The museum and most landscaped areas are accessible to wheelchair-users, but some paths are not paved.
For information, call (561)-495-0233 or go to www.morikami.org.
PARIS, Ark. — Two-lane roads snake up, down and around hills and mountains of Arkansas. They lead to more than 50 state parks and countless recreation areas and boat-launch ramps.
Along these roads, you traverse cattle pastures, forests and villages so small you wonder how they got incorporated. For example, there’s St. Joe, population 85.
The rolling hills are dotted by occasional trailer homes with an array of kids’ toys out front, by tidy farmhouses. Those with tumble-down wooden barns hint of both history and ultimately misfortune.
The gently leaning barn along a rural road in Arkansas implies there's a history to be heard
Every so often there will be a long driveway from the blacktop up to a magnificent, multistory estate. Some of these are owned by ranchers who have cashed in, while others are retirement manses for wealthy northerners. “Money from Chicago,” you hear the locals comment.
It’s only a two-hour drive through this scenery west from Little Rock to the state park system’s handsome lodge atop Mount Magazine, Arkansas’ highest point at 2,753 feet.
Opened in 2006, the 60-room, 13-cabin lodge is all rustic timbers and earth tones, with a patio behind the lodge lined with rockers to take in the view of the Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake below.
While the lodge has a restaurant offering continental takes on local food and an indoor pool, this is a destination for people who enjoy the outdoors.
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park has a variety of room sizes and pricing seasons.
The park has roughly 14 miles of trails and enough observation points that “You can see about a quarter of Arkansas and even a big hill over in Oklahoma, about 50 miles west,” notes Don Simons.
The slightly built Simons has been at Mount Magazine for about 11 of his nearly 30 years as a state parks interpreter. In that job, he leads visitors on trail hikes, but a walk with him actually is a combination botany-entomology-wildlife-history lesson.
“Most of the mountain’s slopes are covered by virgin timber,” he says, leading me up an easy slope, “because the sides were too steep to easily cut the trees. The tops were logged, and settlers were here after the Civil War, farming.
“Most stayed until the Depression, and finally the government bought out the rest” to create the park,explains Simons, who is a nationally Certified Heritage Interpreter.
Simons interrupts our walk every few yards to identify some living thing. A former president of the state Audubon Society, he cocks his head to listen, then names the birds he hears: “Squeaky wheel . . . Pee-wee . . . red-eyed vireo. (Later, at the visitors center’s indoor observation room, he points through the large windows at the American goldfinch, indigo bunting and various hummingbirds at the feeders.)
Along the path, Simons uses his decal-decorated walking stick to point out plants such as the fly poison, ginseng, wild yam, paw paw and sassafras. “Down in Louisiana, where I came from, they grind the sassafras leaves for file gumbo.”
Butterflies became the specialty he shares with his wife, Lori Spencer. She has a master’s degree in entomology and has published she a book on butterflies. She and Simons have identified more than 85 species of butterflies within Mount Magazine State Park.
But Simons says that most of what he knows of nature is from “years of self-teaching, getting on the trails, then learning what it is that I see.”
He admits he was never driven by education when he was young. “I had no ambition out of high school. I got a full-time job at McDonalds – I was one of those geeks,” he says, a smile breaking through his brown beard.
“I drove up to Arkansas (from his Louisiana home) and in a park I saw a ranger handling snakes, and I thought that was cool. So I went to college and got a degree in wildlife management. I learned to handle bison and bighorn sheep, because my teacher was from Utah and that’s what he knew.”
The smile grows larger.
The view from the tallest peak in Arkansas, Mount Magazine, overlooks Petit Jean River Valley and Blue Mountain Lake.
Having reached the summit of Mount Magazine, Simons stops to talk about the bill he and his wife had introduced in the legislature to have the Diana fritillary named the Arkansas state butterfly.
Almost on cue, a great spangled fritillary lands on me – “He wants to lap up the sodium in your sweat,” explains Simons – before it moves to the ranger’s hand.
Simons and his wife live a couple hundred yards from the multimillion-dollar lodge, which he sees as a mixed blessing, because it is expected to draw a half-million visitors annually to this park.
“It’ll bring the kind of people . . . who want to enjoy the beauty of nature,” he says. By their coming, “I know the peace and quiet I enjoy will be lessened.
“But I know where all the neat, secret places are, and I can go there.”
If you go
The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park offers four room types, plus 13 cabins that have fireplaces and kitchens. There are four pricing seasons.
For more, go to www.mountmagazinestatepark.com or call (877) 665-6343.
For more on all of Arkansas’ state parks, go to www.arkan sasstateparks.com.
Juneau, Alaska — Larry Stauffer’s job assignment the past couple of years has been pretty straightforward:
Figure out how to make the standard shore excursions in the busy Alaskan market so special that passengers aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s first-ever trips there this summer will buy its pricier versions.
For Stauffer, that meant getting the lumberjacks, dog mushers, gold-panners, helicopter pilots, totem-pole carver, glacier guides, train conductors and fishing boat operators to come up with something distinctively better.
Disney passengers can dress in protective gear and get a helicopter ride to a glacier near Juneau, then set off with ice axes to explore.
To achieve that, the manager of Disney Cruise’s Port Adventures (the Mouse’s term for excursions) twice flew from Orlando to Alaska, sampling about 20 excursions, then meeting with the operators.
“I absolutely challenged them to come back to us with ideas that were different for Disney. I told them we would be coming with 1,000 kids, told them what we already do on our existing itineraries,’’ Stauffer told me as he led a media tour to the ports last fall.
The Disney Wonder begins the first of 18, one-week voyages May 3 from Vancouver. It will call on Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. Here’s a sampling of the Wonder’s up-market excursions it terms the Signature Collection:
Ketchikan – A popular tour visits Totem Bight State Historical Park, for a walkabout and explanation of the symbolism represented by its 14 totem poles. The Signature Collection touch takes place at the adjacent Potlatch Totem Park:
Youngsters help create a new totem pole, portraying a sea monster. Each child will be given paints and a piece of wood bearing a stenciled design – either feathers or gills for the monster. Each newly painted piece will be attached to the 20-foot-tall pole, to be finished by the end of the summer season.
For something flashier, the long-running Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is down-sizing logs and equipment, for shows performed just for Wonder passengers.
Youngsters get to try their hand at a special version of the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, in Ketchikan.
The lumberjacks will select about 10 children — as young as 5 – to take part in pint-sized versions of several stunts.
Skagway — The famed White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, an engineering marvel when built between 1898 and 1900, carried about 365,000 tourists in 2010 on its 27-mile, narrated, trip.
For those Wonder passengers selecting to upgrade, White Pass will form special Disney trains, carrying up to 120. They will get the standard trip as the train chugs up the mountain pass for about 100 minutes.
But Signature Collection passengers will stay onboard for the return trip, rather than getting into buses. On the downhill ride, kids will be placed in their own railcar. They will get special activity books, including an I-spy bingo style game to keep them checking the slowly passing scenery.
The White Pass & Yukon Route railroad climbs through the same passes as it did when built for the Yukon gold rush.
There also will be a costumed character – either a railroad figure or a prospector — spinning tales of the gold rush era.
The passengers are then taken to train the attraction named Liarsville. Here, Wonder passengers will watch an exclusive performance of a puppet show and listen to costumed staff explain that the gold prospectors had to carry about a ton of goods to help them survive the harsh winter.
The kids will be sent on a scavenger hunt for those supplies, in the tent village that is Liarsville. Next, the youngsters will try panning for gold flakes, with help from the Liarsville staff – and Donald Duck, resplendent in a traditional and matching ear-flaps hat.
Juneau — Perhaps the most-spectacular of the Signature Collection trips occurs out of Juneau, atop the Upper Norris Glacier.
In a typical summer, helicopter operator Tim Cudney (cq) and 16-time Iditarod musher Linwood Fiedler (cq) will haul about 10,000 passengers up to the glacier and put them on two-mile loops around the glacier in dog sleds. According to Cudney, “It is a life-changing experience … We have people (saying) this is on their bucket list.’’
And that’s without the tourists’ getting to put booties on the dogs to protect their paws – just one of the add-ons fashioned for the Signature passengers. They will also select the lead dog, then help harness the dogs to the sled.
Finally, these passengers can take the place of the professional musher – though youngsters will be just holding the sled’s handles while the pro stands behind them on the runners. The trips will be doubled to about four miles.
Also, Fiedler said, “We’ll show them how 150 dogs and 20 people can live on the glacier in a tent city, without flush toilets and light switches.’’
For more information
For rates, sailing dates and more information about the Disney Wonder, consult a travel agent or go to http://disneycruise.disney.go.com.
HARO, Spain—Juan Muga peers through his black horn-rims as he pours red wine into the tall stemmed glass, then swirls it about.
New to wine tasting and seated next to a part owner of one of Spain’s noted wineries, I presume that Muga (pronounced MOO-gah) is studying this sample for clarity or color.
But without so much as sniffing the wine, he pours it into a jug, then tilts the newly opened bottle to refill the glass.
Swishing the wine was simply to clean the glass “so there is no smell left from the dish washing,” Muja tells me.
This is one of the lessons I learned touring three wineries in Spain’s acclaimed La Rioja province. An hour in the educational Oenology Center in this busy city filled in a few blanks.
The simple sign on a balcony says wine is for sale here.
La Rioja boasts more than 200 bodegas, a generic word used to mean a winery’s production facility, warehouses and even retail stores.
Winemaking in Spain dates to the Roman occupation 2,000 years ago. La Rioja, in the northeast, is a huge valley between two mountain ranges and irrigated by three rivers.
To maintain quality of production, a powerful provincial agency that was Spain’s first for wine production establishes rules such as the maximum number of grape vines per acre and the maximum amount of wine (18.5 gallons) that can be produced from each 220 pounds of grapes.
There are three distinct sections of La Rioja: The best for grape-growing are Alta and Alavesa in the west and north, where Haro is; the other is Rioja Baja.
Production facilities range in size from that of a multicar garage to the multistory bodegas such as Muga’s, one of more than a dozen large wineries in Haro.
Before they are harvested, however, specific areas of grapes have been sampled for 15 factors, including acidity and sugar content, to determine when the grapes are ripe enough to be picked. Because Muga is a large producer (about 1.2-million bottles annually), only 50 percent of the grapes used come from its vineyards. The rest are purchased from farmers.
A worker rolls a barrel through the wine aging room at the Muga bodega.
The most commonly used grape of six varieties grown in La Rioja is the tempranillo, favored for its bold taste in red wines. The most common of the white grapes is the fruity-tasting viura.
When the harvested grapes are brought to the big wineries, the stems are removed and the grapes are placed for 10 to 14 days in oak casks to begin maceration, the dissolution of the grapes into liquid. This product is then pressed, and the skins and seeds are filtered (a high-alcohol form of schnapps or grappa is made from this). Yeast is added to the grape juice to boost its alcoholic fermentation.
A number of bodegas place this liquid, called must, in stainless steel vats, which are cooled to an optimum temperature by running water through exterior jackets to slow the pace of fermentation. But other wineries, including Muga, keep all the chemical activity in oak casks.
The smaller casks hold about 58 gallons, the big casks about 4,160 gallons. The oak comes from Kentucky and Tennessee or from France; the French wood is said to lend a spicy taste to the wine.
The advantage of oak is that the fermentation and aging occur more naturally (the wine is said to be breathing through the wood) and the liquid absorbs some flavor from the oak. To better maintain consistent tastes, barrels are discarded after about 10 years.
Traditionally, the Spanish aged their wines in oak much longer than other winemakers. The long time in wood and bottle made the wine easier to drink when it was released for sale. Today, there is more variety in aging.
Wine is 85 to 90 percent water, but it contains an astonishing amount of other ingredients: three kinds of alcohol, phosphate, chlorides, sodium, magnesium, several acids and even vitamins B1 and riboflavin.
As it ages, wine is shifted between smaller casks, to remove sediment. This transfer can be done by pump or by draining from a higher barrel to a lower one, which is called racking. “Racking takes much more time, but when it is aging, the wine does not like the pump,” Muja told me.
After some months, either a chemical or egg whites are added as the wine is pumped into the giant casks. Albumin in the egg whites bonds with the most bitter tannin in the wine and creates a sediment. After about 30 days, the wine is drained from the large casks, and the sediment is left behind. (Casks are regularly washed to flush sediment.)
Ultimately, the wine is bottled and kept in climate-controlled warehouses, another step in aging that varies.
In La Rioja, the wine-production agency dictates how long vintages must be maintained in cask and then bottle to qualify for one of the three classifications of red wine. Until the bottled wine reaches those requirements, the agency will not issue the labels that attest that each bottle has met the aging standards.
The basic requirement is at least one year in the cask, two in a bottle. This wine is classified as crianza. The aging increases, up to the requirements for the top of the line gran reserva: a minimum of two years in the cask, then three in the bottle before release.
Juan Muga’s father created the current winery in 1968. The narrated tour of Muga’s production facility stopped by racks of individual bottles behind a fenced enclosure—Muga’s cellar. The guide noted that “Wine is a living thing, and after so many years, it is softer on the palate and more complex in the nose.”
But he cautioned that there is a limit to its improvement: “After 40 to 45 years, (wine) is no longer alive. The best thing you can do with a bottle of wine is to drink it.”
Co-owner of a large winery his father founded, Juan Muga suggests ignoring the old adage about drinking red with meat, white with fish.
The temperature around the private stock is kept at 55 degrees, but Muga said that in your home, it is more important to keep the temperature consistent and the bottles out of light that can cause wine to lose flavor.
Nor is it mandatory to gently cleanse the palate between wines at a tasting; for our sampling, Muga and I munched on spicy sausage as well as bread.
As for the old standard of red with meat, white with fish, Muga said that “most people don’t like too complex a taste, whether the wine is with fish or chicken. Whatever tastes good is okay.”
If you go
The tourism office in Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja, has English-speaking staffers who can provide a list of 20 area bodegas, their locations and tour options. But even wineries that do not have tours usually welcome drop-in visitors and will sell bottles.
The tourist office also has city maps in English that locate the bodegas, prime restaurants and hotels, and major churches.
Beyond the Rutas del vino de la Rioja pamphlet—three routes to dozens of bodegas in the province—the tourism office can also provide maps for visiting historic church structures, castles, small towns and the areas in which Europe’s greatest collection of dinosaur footprints are found, more than 5,000 tracks. For this last, you will need some command of Spanish to find the tracks.
For more on the province, go to www.beronia.org/pueblos.htm, which is in English. Also look at the national government’s site, www.tourspain.org.
For the province’s wine information, go to www.lariojaturismo.com/turismo_enologico/index.php. The Muga site is www.bodegasmuga.com/eng/home_eng.html.
VENICE — Oversized, languorous figures in the richest of colors and reaching toward Heaven are splashed across the ceilings and walls of the Doge’s Palace in this beguiling city. What space is not covered with Renaissance masterpieces is gilded, or it erupts in sculpted plaster flourishes.
It was good, a few centuries ago, to be a resident of the rich city-state of Venice.
Good, indeed, as long as you were behaving in a manner approved by the all-powerful figures who controlled commoners, kept a suspicious eye on each other and even had their watchdogs matching strides with the head of state, the appointed-for-life doge (pronounced DOHzh).
But if three of your fellow citizens were willing to give secret testimony about your morals or activities, you would see a part of the Doge’s Palace that Venetians and visitors learned to dread. The decorations were far less grand, though one room had a unique feature: a rope hanging from the ceiling.
Unlike those who lived for centuries near the Palace’s secret rooms, today’s visitors can leave when they want to.
The “Secret Itinerary of the Doge’s Palace” is a 75-minute guided tour that starts in the sun-splashed courtyard but moves quickly through back stairways into the darkest places, not merely of the palace but of the mind and heart.
Your guide begins innocently enough: She says you will learn about the “administration of justice” from the early 1300s until 1797, when splendid Venice fell to Napoleon’s ambition.
The Palace of the Doge held offices of the bureaucracy, the courts and the doge’s residence. The Palace presents to the throngs in the Piazza of St. Mark’s an almost delicate, lacelike facade of arches and tracery that belies the iron grip the presiding merchant/nobles had.
As the tour moves away from a second-story loggia, or arcade, the guide capsules the intricate overlap of departments and councils created by Venice’s governance by suspicious aristocrats.
Much of the ultimate decisionmaking was held by the Council of 10, so powerful that it dictated the political and moral behavior for the citizens.
Council members decreed, for instance, that no one could even meet with a foreigner without first seeking permission. Then, debriefings were held after such meetings.
As moral watchdogs, the city’s judges and bureaucratic rulers decreed how much jewelry was too much and also decided that the one-upsmanship in lavishly decorating the nobles’ gondolas would stop: Henceforth, gondolas would be painted a simple black. They still are.
Climbing four stories of back stairways, the Palace tour participants step on treads worn from seven centuries of use.
One of the tour stops is in the Secret Archives, an airy, wood-paneled room. Here, scribes copied reports from the government’s spies, from the willing citizenry and from those persons who had not volunteered information the rulers considered pertinent.
Crime and punishment
Another room on the Secret Itinerary is not much bigger than the bedroom of a modern house but is two stories tall.
On two walls, doors have been cut in the wood, with a metal grate in each door at about eye level. These are the doors to the cells for suspects. At one end of the room is a table on a raised platform and behind it, chairs for the inquisitors, for this is the Torture Interrogation Room.
There is no chair for the suspect facing the inquisitors. Instead, hands tied behind his back, the suspect stood facing the inquisitors. Through his arms would be passed a rope, which had been fed through a hook on a beam overhead.
First the prisoner was raised off the floor by pulling on the rope. Then the inquisitors would put a question to him, and the suspect would be lowered, to answer. If there was no answer, the rope would be yanked again and the prisoner raised up.
Another question, another release of the rope and a pause for an answer. If need be, there would be another yank on the rope. And another . . .
This was simply the trial, not the punishment. Those who were found guilty of repeatedly stealing would have their right hand cut off. Those who lied had their noses cut off. Those who blasphemed had their tongue cut out.
Not every guilty party was mutilated. There were jail cells for the lesser offenders. And that is where perhaps the most famous Venetian of all, Giacomo Casanova, was sent.
After spying on him for eight months, the government did not charge Casanova with what was to gain him fame: his romantic conquests of the married and unmarried (he is said to have had more than 140 lovers).
Instead, Casanova was imprisoned for cheating at cards and for speaking against the church. He was sentenced to five years in an attic cell.
A plan, of sorts
One day when Casanova was taking his exercise in the palace attic under its lead roof, he found a metal tool, which he was to hide in an armchair a patron had provided. He began calculating an escape.
And on the night of Oct. 31, 1756, Casanova made his move to join the merrymakers out that Halloween night.
He and another inmate went up, through the roof of his cell. But while they were able to get down into hallways from the attic, they found themselves locked inside the sprawling palace.
So the two simply waited near the main door for the guard to unlock it the next morning. They bolted past him, ran through St. Mark’s Square, grabbed a boat and rowed to the mainland. Casanova was not to return for 18 years.
If you go
Tour prices for adults start at about $25. To book, go to www.tickitaly.com/tickets/itineraries-tickets.php. Specify the English-language tour.
The Trek truck brings you within a few yards of Animal Kingdom's herbivores.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Acclaimed anthropologist Jane Goodall was a consultant as Walt Disney World Resort was building its fourth and largest theme park, Animal Kingdom. When the media previewed the park before its April 1998 opening, I asked Dr. Goodall what she thought when she was first contacted by the entertainment conglomerate. She answered:
“I wondered, what took them so long?’’
I was thinking the same thing when I went on the park’s new, three-hour experience, the Wild Africa Trek: What took them so long, to provide the customers a more up-close view of the critters?
The Trek is pricey — $129 until Feb. 26, then $189 – but it is fun, educational and at times, thrilling. On the two hours of walkabout, you will be leaning over the banks of a river to get within15 feet from hippos and from crocodiles so large they look like leathery minivans with pointy teeth. A lot of teeth.
Saving you from becoming someone else’s very special memory of the trek is a snug-fitting vest. It has harnesses around your upper thighs and a sort of industrial-strength bungee cord attached to its back. The two Trek guides help you hook a carabiner clamp at the end of this cord to brackets that slide along metal railings. This allows you to lean over the river banks, as well as to cross two swaying suspension bridges.
Your snug vest and bungee line keep you tethered when crossing the bridges.
The bridges, too, cross the river, and while you grasp the cables that hold up the netted sides of the bridges, you’ll be looking down for the irregularly spaced wooden planks on which to step. Looking down is good, because you’ll again be eyeing the crocs or the hippos, more than 20 feet below.
The guides alternate leading/narrating the walk and photographing the participants, limited to a maximum of 12. At the end of the trek, each person is given a card with password information that allows them to view all the images taken and to then order a photo CD, which is included in the fee.
Also included is a charming picnic lunch served at an observation post providing great views of elephants, giraffes and various types of antelopes. The lunch, served in an ingenious metal container, includes appetizer-sized items such as prosciutto ham, shrimp, salmon and hummus.
This lunch stop occurs in the last third of the trek, which is made by open-sided truck. It follows the same roads used by the often-crowded Kilimanjaro Safari trucks. But your truck benches have plenty of space, and binoculars are provided for the frequent stops to better view animals.
My truck paused within 15 feet of a young giraffe and an adult, within 30 feet of a rhino and her youngster. We also watched three cheetahs on a nearby hillside, a lion and lioness looking relaxing in the sun, plenty of hooved stock, and several adult elephants and a predictably cute young one.
The Wild Africa Trek provides up-close views on a three-hour trip.
All of these were pointed out and described to us by the knowledgeable guides. We heard them over ear pieces that attached to portable radios receiving their commentary.
The Wild Africa Trek offers especially close-up views of creatures we otherwise might never get. On the Kilimanjaro Safari trucks, you could be in the middle of a row, with other passengers blocking your camera. Not the case on the Trek, and we never left a stopping point until everyone was satisfied with their view through the provided binoculars or their cameras.
If you go
Because Wild Africa Trek steps off just six times a day and is limited to 12 people, reservations are recommended; call for (407) 939-8687. It is limited to those at least 8 years old and weighing less than 300 pounds – participants step on a scale before they are allowed to don a vest, though the scale’s read-out is seen only by a staffer.
Also before being outfitted, each participant must empty their pockets into their own locker, lest anything fall out during the trip. Cameras that have a neck strap can be retained.
A ticket to Animal Kingdom is required in addition to the Trek fee, which is $129 through Feb. 26, when it rises to $189. In addition to the walk and truck ride, participants receive lunch, a metal water bottle to keep, and a CD of photos of their experience.
It’s getting so a cruise passenger can’t even stroll the 1,115-foot-long ship in private without launching interactivity.
Which is exactly what the creative gang at the Walt Disney conglomerate, the Imagineers, has been planning for years.
The venue is the company’s first new ship since 1999, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream. It began sailing from Port Canaveral, Fla., on Jan. 26. And aboard this vessel, technology rules, in clever and entertaining ways.
For instance, in 22 places along the corridors of the Dream, framed images from classics such as Bambi and Fantasia are actually LCD screens. They change — thanks to motion detectors — from a static image to several seconds of the film when passengers approach. Soon, facial recognition software will insure that individual guests see a different loop the next time they approach the frame.
A dad helps his son solve one of the mysteries that play on the Enchanted Art frames in public spaces aboard the Dream.
Passengers can even play detective, solving different mysteries by passing a special card in front of some of those frames, which read a bar code on the card and then display a clue.
Speaking of animation, a starring role aboard the ship goes to Crush, the surfer-dude sea turtle from Finding Nemo. A few years ago, the Imagineers introduced an interactive version of Crush to the theme parks: Youngsters face a huge LED screen, onto which the animated turtle swims. He asks specific kids their names, jokes with them, answers their questions.
On the ship, Crush reprises this act on a 103-inch plasma screen in the Oceaneer’s Club, hangout for the 3- to 10-year-old set. But Crush is also the headliner in the Animator’s Palate, one of three restaurants passengers use on a planned rotation for dinners.
When diners enter, the 696-seat Palate is decorated as a studio where Walt Disney and his colleagues might have worked in the 1930s. Giant pencils and paint brushes stand upright in the room, while wallboards hold notes and character sketches.
But during the meal, the room changes, seemingly submerging into the waters occupied by Crush and his undersea pals. On more than 100 TV monitors of varying sizes, these creatures flit about, and Crush visits with diners in nine sections of the room.
While youngsters pick up on Crush immediately, adults unfamiliar with him are sometimes caught off-guard when he questions them directly: “Yo, dude in the red shirt! How’s it going, man? Where are you from? … Dude? Red-shirt guy?’’
The technological innovations are not all child’s play aboard the Dream:
/ Seven large “windows’’ of the Skyline bar each day show a different cityscape – New York, Rio or Paris, for instance – though the ship sails to none of these places. Light or shadows play out in real time during the day as the sun crosses above that city, and sharp-eyed viewers can see cars moving on the streets. The windows are actually LED screens.
In the District, the bar Skyline features LED monitors displaying video of city skylines such as Rio
/ Inside cabins, which have no actual window on the world, do have a live view of the what’s happening outside the hull, courtesy of five high-definition TV cameras. The playful Imagineers also have arranged that one of three dozen animated images randomly flashes on to the real picture. You might see Peach, the starfish from Nemo
, or characters seeming to trot around the inside frame of the “porthole.’’
Those LED screens were a clever plan by cruise executives: “Ordinarily, inside cabins are those least-desired by passengers,’’ Karl Holz, cruise line president, told me onboard in mid-January. But when word spread over the Internet about the “virtual portholes,’’ the inside cabins quickly sold out.
What’s likely to become the Dream’s icon is hard to miss: the 765-foot long, enclosed waterslide named the AquaDuck.
A line of passengers winds up the stairway to the entrance of the AquaDuck, as a raft shoots through the 765-foot-long water coaster
Mounted 150 feet above the waterline and passing down both sides of the ship, the water coaster is a transparent tube, 54 inches in diameter, through which pumps force more than 9,000 gallons of water. Passengers sit on two-person rubber rafts and are immediately thrust into a 360-degree loop that carries them over the side of the ship for about 12 feet, before returning them to the first long, straight part of the ride.
They pass through the forward funnel, then again parallel the hull for another 335 feet, before ending about 46 feet below where they started.
The general design of the Dream avoids the current boxy look of mega ships, with a pronounced prow and an added curve of metal sweeping down several decks of staterooms, near the stern.
Interiors blend touches of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and of course, Disney whimsy. There’s no chance passengers will forget that the parent company grew from cartoons to beloved, full-length animated films.
There’s plenty to amuse adults, too, such as four themed bars – a sports pub, a champagne bar, etc. — plus a disco, grouped in the area termed The District, and adults-only fine-dining restaurants, one Italian, one French.
The Italian restaurant is the 118-seat Palo, already a fixture on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. This venue alternates rich fabrics on its banquettes, displays its wines in custom-made leather holders, and its private room has a window on the kitchen. Dinner here is a $20 surcharge per person.
Custom-made leather wine bottles holders are a fixture in Palo.
More upscale is the French room, Remy, which seats just 65 for once-a-night servings designed to last three hours. It boasts a pair of five-course dinners on a menu designed jointly by a French chef with two Michelin stars and by the American chef responsible for consistently earning five AAA diamonds and five Mobil stars for the Victoria and Albert restaurant, in the Disney parks’ Grand Floridian hotel.
Said V&A chef Scott Hunnel, Remy’s kitchen eschews gas for electricity, because open flame is not allowed on the ship. This changes some cooking times but, Hunnel added, “Some of the apparatus is better than we have in the landside kitchens.’’
Remy offers appetizers such as langostino and smoked bison.
Though Remy takes its name and even some deft design elements from a rat who is the leading character in the animated film Ratatouille
, there’s no kidding around about the price: $75 per person for just the food, $99 if you also want the wine pairings.
Still, the purposely limited capacity of the gourmet restaurants means relatively few members of the average shipload of passengers is going to leave the Dream happily recalling a meal there. Instead, it is the clever gadgetry, big and small, that they’ll be telling friends about.
Just as the Disney executives planned:
“The best part of having designers and Imagineers working at our parks is being able to bring their knowledge to the ships,’’ said Bruce Vaughn, executive vice president of the Imagineers told me. “We have to pack it differently onboard because of space considerations, but we have the guests with us longer.’’
Added the company’s senior president for creative services, Joe Lanzisero:
“We’re creating the future – things never seen before.’’
If you go
For more information or to make reservations, contact a travel agent or go to http://disneycruise.disney.go.com.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Every night, tourists in this farming community, site of the bloodiest battle ever fought in North America, stroll city streets on commercial ghost tours.
But visitors don’t need to pay to hear about ghosts. They only need to walk the 6,000 acres of battlefields, or simply step inside the brilliant new visitors center. Ghosts are everywhere.
These ghosts are the sad, soulful memories of the more than 34,500 young Americans killed or wounded by other young Americans on the first three hot – and horrific – days of July 1863. Anything beyond a casual reading of that bloody to and fro causes you to mourn the victims, almost 150 years later.
More than 1.8-million people come each year to Gettysburg National Military Park, a swath of rolling Pennsylvania countryside, to roam the land. A visitors center opened in 1974, but it could accommodate less than a fourth of the tourists. Its technology in displaying just a fraction of the million artifacts – diaries in fading ink, soldiers’ Bibles, rifles and cannon – was out of date.
Cemetery Ridge, the objective of the ill-fated Pickett's Charge.
Worse, though, was the realization that an adjacent parking lot and a building housing a deteriorating 1880s wrap-around painting of a famed battle sat atop the land where an estimated 971 soldiers had been killed.
After years of planning and construction, in 2008 a $103-million museum and visitors center replaced it, on land that saw no major combat.
The financing came from an unusual blend of public and private funds, with nearly three-quarters of it from individual and corporate donations.
“We have absorbed all the operating costs of the visitors center and museum,” said Dru Anne Neil, director of communications and marketing for the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, “freeing the Park Service to spend its dollars to interpret this place to the visitors.”
That interpretation includes more than an hour of films that explain not just the battle but also the history of America, from the Revolution to contemporary times.
A 22-minute film has a few scenes with costumed actors, but largely depends on the filmmaking techniques that Ken Burns made so familiar in his PBS series The Civil War.
In this introduction, narrator Morgan Freeman gently intones, “Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”
Deftly, his closing lines repeat one of the phrases from President Lincoln’s immortal speech, delivered a few hundred yards away: “Now, we are met on a great battlefield of this war . . .”
Beyond twin theaters showing this film are 12 galleries covering about 24,000 square feet. Each gallery uses a phrase from the Gettysburg Address as its theme.
But first, a sign tells those entering: “The Civil War was fought over three issues – survival of the Union, the fate of slavery and . . . what it means to be an American.
“The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day.”
Strokes of lightning
The museum makes strong use of writings from the period. Some of these are audio narrations, most are presented as signs by various displays.
Nowhere is this more effective than at the entrance to the galleries:
“The South is determined to . . .make all who oppose her smell Southern (gun)powder and taste Southern steel.”
— Jefferson Davis, in his inaugural speech upon becoming president of the Confederate States of America, in February 1861.
“Every name (of a dead soldier) is a lightning stroke to some heart and it breaks like thunder over some home, and it falls a long black shadow upon some hearthstone.”
— The Gettysburg Compiler newspaper, four days after the battle.
I found a couple of galleries distinctive. One features actor Sam Waterston, the museum’s voice of Lincoln, reading the Gettysburg Address in a raspy tenor.
Lincoln didn’t give that brief speech until more than four months after the two armies had withdrawn. The Confederate wagon train carrying the wounded stretched an estimated 17 miles.
But left behind in the fields, orchards, rocky clefts and forested hillsides were 7,708 dead or dying soldiers, and thousands of dead horses and mules. So another memorable gallery describes this unimaginable aftermath thrust upon the 2,400 residents of the crossroads town.
See their faces
The display of artifacts is imaginative and helps the visitor understand facets of war or a soldier’s life:
- Gen. Lee’s camp cot, writing desk and small stove show how simply the Confederate commander lived.
- Three vertical plastic cases filled with shell fragments front a timeline and explanation of Union weapon efficiency at the famous Pickett’s Charge.
- A small wooden slat bears the scrawled name of a dead Union soldier. It had been tied with a leather thong to his wrist, identifying him for burial. Around it are letters written to his father by the soldier’s colleagues.
Tied to a dead solider's wrist, this tag named the victim.
Wall displays hold rank upon rank of rifles from among the 28,000 recovered on the battlefield. About 23,000 of them were still loaded — and had not been fired by their wounded or frightened owners.
One wall is covered with photographs of 1,000 soldiers, 500 from each side. Each of these men was killed, wounded or captured. They represent all who fought here.
“We want people to get out and walk the battlefields, experience it and leave wanting to learn more, to come back.
“This place is so special in our history.”
If you go
The Museum and Visitor Center is open daily, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Entrance to the museum is free. Timed tickets to the 22-minute A New Birth of Freedom have varying fees for different age groups.
BURANO, Italy — A few minutes after stepping off the ferry to this island, you start looking for the people with clipboards, the ones asking your opinion of the brilliant colors into which every house and shop has been dipped. This must be where paint manufacturers challenge the sun to fade their most audacious colors.
Wonder what a 40- by 25-foot wall of raspberry looks like? Look at the house over there, between the tangerine and lemon, just across from the chocolate. You want to lick this village.
Brilliantly painted Burano houses.
? Take the big
boat, over there,” advises the water-bus ticket-seller near Venice’s famed St. Mark’s Square.
He is indicating the two-deck boat that is headed first for the beach island of Lido, then the little-visited island of Torcello, and 70 minutes after the lines are first pulled in, Burano.
This Sunday morning the boat is crammed with couples pushing strollers, people carrying fold-up beach chairs, pretty young things and too-cool guys wearing the darkest of shades and bobbing to the beat coming from earbuds plugged into iPods. There are tourists, too, clutching maps and guidebooks.
The boat docks at Lido, and almost everyone gets off, but we head toward the sherbet-colored island.
“Boo-RAH-no! Boo-RAH-no!” shouts the muscular young deckhand on the boat as it docks. The men living here have broad shoulders and thick forearms from hauling in fishing nets. Their wives and daughters operate tourist shops or embroider or, much less frequently now, make lace.
For centuries, Burano has been distinguished by its contrary signatures: loudly colored houses and dainty needlework.
Small fishing boats are tied along one of the narrow canals that criss-cross Burano.
The island is all narrow streets, tinier alleys and canals just wide enough to tie up narrow boats on each side. The houses are built in rows, with precious little space for privacy.
That’s what caused one resident to reach across the alley this morning and pound a broom handle against the wooden window shutters of a neighbor, protesting the volume of the rap music pouring from that house.
Bam bam bam, went the broom handle, without success. Bam BAM BAMMM!
However, that is the only jarring note in this ice-cream parlor of a village, as lunchtime arrives.
Dozens of residents, and more than a few visitors, set up small tables in the dockside park for picnics. The maitre’d of the well-regarded Al Gatto Nero-Da Ruggero cheerfully turns away would-be customers because the entire canalside restaurant, short blocks from the tourist-filled main square, is reserved for lunch.
That means more business for Da Romano, which for more than 60 years has been on the plaza. Operated by the fourth generation of its founding family, Da Romano has a menu that is an eye-opener as much for its illustrations as for its dishes:
Reproduced on the menu are the autographs of such customers as Ernest Hemingway (“To Romano, a friend of the arts – too few of them now”), Charlie Chaplin, Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, Giorgio Armani and Federico Fellini.
The shrimp risotto, for about $20, is pretty impressive, too.
Colorfully painted homes frame the leaning campanile of Burano's main church.
Just around the corner from the restaurant, and across the plaza from the old church with its dizzily leaning bell tower, is the Scuola del Merletti. For 98 years, it was the School of the Lacemakers
, a government effort to preserve a once-legendary skill and to rejuvenate the island’s sagging economy.
In the 16th century, the lace made in and around Venice was so prized throughout Europe, it was known as punta in aria, points (or stitches) in air. But there was much competition to decorate the finery of the well-to-do. And by the early 19th century, machine-made lace and embroidery reduced the area’s share of the market. Handmade lace, exquisite but time-consuming to create, became too expensive to support any sizable number of artisans.
In 1872, the government created the school to teach again the graceful art. The school was closed in 1970 and was later converted to a museum. Now, village women demonstrate the work to tourists in the museum, where cases display marvelous pieces of handiwork dating nearly 400 years.
Though shopkeepers say vaguely that “hundreds” of islanders still sew, most of them are embroidering, which is quicker and far easier on the eyesight. Prices in the shop L’Orchidea demonstrate the commercial value of the two skills:
A standard linen tablecloth with colored-thread embroidery is about $195; the same cloth with an insert of Burano lacework is about $1,200. And an all-lace tablecloth, which took four groups of women three years to make, is about $7,100.
A visit here fills no more than a half day, and then it’s time to catch the ferry. The boat moves slowly from the dock, which is a few hundred yards from the square, the leaning church tower, the lace museum, Da Romano.
Visible for several minutes, though, are the houses, painted so many vivid colors: That visibility, the story goes, is to help fishermen spot their homes as they motor in with their catch.
Some less-charitable people, allof them living in glamorous Venice, say the full-palette treatment has been utilized simply to brighten dreary winter days on Burano.
Either way, it would seem to work.