Blog Posts Tagged ‘Travel’
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.
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.
The people who take the time to catalog such things report that there are about 900 species of wildflowers in Grand Teton National Park. That’s good to know, because most of us are never going to look down while we are here: We are going to be looking up.
The Grand Teton range is a relentlessly spectacular, 40-mile-long series of serrated peaks. Jutting dramatically from the broad Jackson Hole (pioneers’ term for a valley), the Tetons may be North America’s most impressive mountain panorama. To stand awhile gazing at them is to ponder mankind’s tentative position in the planet’s scheme.
As with Yellowstone, just a few miles to the north, this park is the result of massive geologic activity: About 9-million years ago, two huge slabs separated, one rising to fashion the mountains, one dropping to form the valley.
While the tallest peak, Grand Teton, soars to 13,770 feet, it has to vie for attention with 11 partners that top 12,000 feet. Their jagged, gray granite faces are laced with patches of snow and with glaciers. Trees seem to quit their climb early on these slopes; even the valley’s green carpet abruptly halts to let the mountains rise.
Awesome yet approachable
But the Tetons can be approached and even scaled: There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails that wend around the sparkling lakes and up into the mountains.
For instance, you can circle pretty Jenny Lake in just six miles or take a turn-off at the south end to find the aptly named Hidden Falls, whose sound reaches the hiker’s ears long before the waterfall appears through the trees.
Two paved roads run north and south through the park, roughly parallel to the mountains on the west, and there are enough scenic overlooks to fill even a big memory card.
But for a languid look at the Tetons, get aboard one of the popular raft-floats on the Snake River, flowing about 6-8 miles from the mountains. The trip is calm, the young people handling the steering oars are full of history, corny jokes and naturalist lore. They are also quick to point out the eagles, ospreys, waterfowl, wading birds and beavers’ lodges on the river and its shores.
When people lived here
While several Indian tribes had migrated regularly through the flat valley, the first white settlers brought cattle herds here in the late 19th century. Just a trace of this pioneering effort remains, so it’s worth a stop at the Cunningham Cabin Historic Site, on the eastern edge of the park.
Pierce Cunningham had led the effort to have the area proclaimed a national park, which came to pass in 1929; more land was added in 1950, making the park 485 square miles.
Another remnant is the Menor’s Ferry Trail, where a half-mile path takes visitors to look at homesteading ways, including a replica of a turn-of-the-century ferry across the Snake.
Close by is the 71-year-old Chapel of the Transfiguration, a tiny church that features a special backdrop to its altar: a picture window showcasing the Tetons.
Horseback rides, lasting from an hour or so to overnight camping trips, are a special way to enjoy the back country, or you can pedal your bicycle along the paved roads – no bikes allowed on the trails.
For a brief foray on the water, check at the Colter Bay Visitor Center for the breakfast and dinner trips to an island in big Jackson Lake. The grilled steaks taste special amid the natural splendor. The wildlife enhances the meals: Rare sandhill cranes shatter the stillness as they call from their nesting area, and white-tail deer prance by the picnic tables.
Back at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, make time to visit the well-done Native American art. Creativity and craftsmanship are the focus. The center also shows films on wildlife and on Native American history.
Best of all, when you step back outside and turn around, those marvelous mountains are there, defining the horizon and encouraging you to dream.
If you go
Grand Teton National Park is on the western edge of Wyoming, just north of the city of Jackson, which has commuter plane service.
The park is open year-round, but visitor centers and concession services in the park close in the late fall through the winter. Snowshoe and snowmobiling trips are available in the winter.
For information about Grand Teton National Park, call (307) 739-3300 or go to www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm.
The park has five campgrounds with 865 sites, and five hotels that offer rooms and rustic cabins. For information on accommodations, contact the Grand Teton Lodge Co., (800) 628-9988 or go to www.gtlc.com.
For lodging in Jackson, a few miles to the south, go to the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce site, www.jacksonholechamber.com/lodging/hotels-motels-lodges.php.
A visit to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., is equal parts history, science and language lessons.
“We want the ladies to sit down first and if y’all don’t find enough seats, we want the men to hold on tight to the seat rails,” instructs “Goose” Baxter as tourists board a minibus at the distillery. ” ‘Cause last time out, the bus hit a little bump and one of our male visitors fell on the lap of one of our female visitors. We liked to never get them unstuck and off the bus.”
The next 75 minutes with Goose – his real first name is Randy – is going to be like this. In a thick drawl from the hollows of southern Tennessee, he ladles out cornpone jokes laced with details of the history and preparation of the popular whiskey.
Indeed, the free tour, which draws about 250,000 visitors a year, begins with a no-nonsense disclosure about the size of this business.
“Y’all look up to the top of that hill,” directs Goose, pointing forward outside the large, modern visitors center.
“See the big building there – can’t hardly miss it, can ya?”
Looming perhaps 100 feet higher but a ways off is what appears to be the world’s largest tool shed, seven stories tall, plain as day.
“That’s a barrel house, and there are 75 of ‘em on Mr. Jack’s property,” he says, using the standard reference for the man who founded the distillery in the 1830s.
“And each one of them barrel houses can hold 1-million gallons of whiskey.”
Big business, little man
The number is much too large to grasp, of course, but he makes his point: Charming as Goose seems in his drawl and bib overalls, this is a multi, multimillion-dollar business.
During the brief bus ride up a hill to start the tour, Goose explains that each of the 600 or so employees is given one pint of Jack Daniel’s each month. Because the distillery is in a dry county – no bars, no liquor stores – this monthly occasion is known as Good Friday.
“They have 75-million gallons, can you imagine that?” says Goose, “and all they give us is one pint.”
The bus climbs a hill, and the passengers get off in front of tall stacks, called ricks, of lumber. It is sugar maple, grown and cut locally, then sawed here. This wood is burned to create charcoal, the fire aided by raw alcohol produced by the distilling process.
The charcoal comes into the distilling process later, so the group walks downhill to eye a statue of the pint-size Mr. Jack, who stood 5-foot-2, and to look at the cave spring from which the needed water is drawn.
Less than 10 yards away is a three-room cabin, the original office for the distillery. It is on the porch here where older men are photographed chatting in rockers, whittling or grinning by checkerboards: Southern-fried codger for the black- and-white advertising scheme for Jack Daniel’s.
Inside the cabin, visitors see samples of the three grains used to make the whiskey. It is 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye, and the distillery goes through about 19,000 bushels a day.
It begins as moonshine
Now it’s on to the processing buildings, where the grains, water and yeast are combined in copper stills that can each hold 40,000 gallons of what is called sour mash (for its taste). “First it is fermented, and it takes 5 gallons of mash to make 1 gallon of whiskey,” says Goose. “It’ll ferment up to six days.”
The resulting liquid is about 140 proof, or 70 percent alcohol – ” just moonshine.”
To mellow this, the liquid is pumped into massive vats that are packed 10 feet deep with the maple charcoal. The liquid filters naturally through the charcoal, which removes impurities. Trained “tasters” decide when to change the charcoal, and they also judge the whiskey.
The pricier version of Jack Daniel’s, named Gentleman Jack, goes through charcoal twice, but the vast majority of the whiskey is piped into wooden barrels, also made onsite.
“It’s the barrel that makes the whiskey. And in Tennessee, we use a barrel just once,” Goose says.
The inside is charred, and then the barrel is filled with the equivalent of 240 bottles and stored in one of the barrel houses. These are not temperature-controlled, Goose says:
“We have lots of extreme temperatures, from freezing to 100 and humid. The whiskey interacts and ‘breathes’ with the wood . . . This is what makes whiskey turn its golden color and gives it extra flavor, this interaction ‘tween the whiskey and the wood.”
The down-home tour is done, and Goose leads his new friends to the visitors center for a free glass of lemonade or cup of coffee.
Dry county, remember?
If you go
It would be wrong to say the distillery is in Lynchburg, Tenn. – it IS Lynchburg, pop. 361.
The village is about 75 miles southeast of Nashville, at the T intersection of state roads 82 and 55.
Tours are offered daily between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., except for major holidays. Tours last about 75 minutes. Several stops involve stairs; those with mobility challenges might have to skip some stops.
Reservations are not necessary. For information, call (931) 759- 6357. The interactive Web site is at www.jackdaniels.com.
A few hundred yards from the entrance to the distillery is the tiny, kitschy town square. I recommend the meat-and-three specials at the Bar-B-Cue Caboose Cafe. The distillery’s official store is on the square, but most stores have Jack Daniel’s merchandise.
For another great down-home meal in this area, stop in at the Bell Buckle Cafe, in the town of Bell Buckle, at the intersection of state roads 82 and 269, west of Interstate 24.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska — Time and the forces of nature will decide if Mount McKinley is immortal, but it’s so mighty that it seemingly decides when to display its 20,320-foot-tall majesty.
The mountain is also called by its American Indian name, Denali, meaning the Great One or the High One. Indeed, it is the highest point in North America and, because of its immense bulk, on a clear day it can be seen in Anchorage, about 150 air miles away.
But that isn’t often: McKinley creates its own mini-climate and usually is wreathed in clouds. Thus, at least two-thirds of the people who travel to the vast Denali National Park and Preserve — larger than Massachusetts — never get to see even the top half of the namesake mountain.
So when it does show itself — when the mountain is “out” as they say here — it inspires joy, and awe, in viewers.
Yet the same can be said for the much-easier sighting of wildlife that roams the park, including parking lots and roads. How many of us in the Lower 48 get within 20 feet of a female grizzly bear as it munches on berries? Or watch a moose cow with its youngster, grazing on a hillside, or see a caribou sitting in a patch of snow to get relief from insects?
I could have checked off all of these critters, and more, on my seen-that list during the free, narrated Tundra Wilderness Tour on my recent visit. But I also brought home pictures, and the memories.
Driver-guide Jeff Farragia took his busload of 47 on a graded but unpaved road 63 miles into the park, to Stony Hill Overlook. We were 33 miles from Denali, and clouds covered perhaps the top fifth, but it was still a spectacular sight.
I got the up-close-and-personal view, though, by plunking down $350 for a flightseeing tour. I made the one-hour flight in an eight-seat, twin-engine Piper Navajo. Pilot Dan McGregor took us within 2,000 feet of the Wickersham Wall, a 50-degree slab of snow-covered granite, at 12,000 feet up on Denali. It was dazzling.
I added to my mental scrapbook with a two-hour raft ride down the 11-mile Canyon Run of the Nenana (nee-NAH-nah) River. Class III rapids bounced us around as we sat bundled head to booties in rubber suits and life jackets.
You can also get a taste of the park by hiking or biking over dozens of miles of trails in the untouristed backcountry, by jouncing along on a Jeep safari, and by camping, visiting with the park’s sled dogs — used for ranger patrols in the winter — taking other narrated bus tours, strolling ranger-led nature walks, or just sitting in on films and live presentations at the Visitors Center. Many of the paths and the rides are wheelchair accessible.
Open year-round, Denali offers thrills and inspires awe, but most of all, it creates memories, mountains of them.
If you go
Denali National Park and Preserve main entrance is 237 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Entrance fee is $10 for individuals, or $20 per vehicle, for up to seven days’ visit. To learn more, call (907) 683-2294, or go to .
There are hotel rooms available just outside the park boundaries; call (907) 683-4636.
I flew to Mount McKinley on Denali Air, www.denaliair.com; (907) 683-2261.
I rafted with Explore Denali, which has several options, from challenging to less so; toll-free 1-800-276-7234.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This city has made its mark on America.
It gave us Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, Jesse James and Joan Crawford, Count Basie and Calvin Trillin. It’s where Rival created the CrockPot, where McDonald’s invented the Happy Meal.
Hallmark Cards and Applebee’s have headquarters here.
But none of that is likely to draw more than casual attention from a tourist. Nor are the 100 barbecue joints or 200 fountains the city boasts.
Rather, it’s the wealth of memorable museums that forces the visitor to split the available time, and maybe to regret not planning a longer trip.
To save you some of that angst, here is a guide to just four of the special museums.
Treasure under that field
Dressed in a plaid shirt, hands tucked into the pockets of his workday slacks, Bob Hawley clearly hasn’t let his find of treasure go to his head. He or one of his sons still greet visitors at the Arabia Steamboat Museum and tells them how they became sunken-ship salvagers – in the middle of a farm field in the middle of America.
“They say the Missouri River (he pronounces it Miz-ZURE-uh) is too thick to drink and too thin to plow,” said Hawley, whose family has a refrigeration repair business.
Son David had been on a service call at a farm on the Kansas side of the river when he heard a story that apparently had been making the rounds for more than 130 years, about how a steamboat was buried beneath the farm – more than a half-mile from the river bank.
David told his father and brother. They decided to dig up the ship and whatever treasure it had gone down with. (David sometimes lets on to the visitors he greets that, “We just wanted an excuse to drive heavy equipment.”)
A wall map in the museum shows the sites of 162 steamboats sunk between St. Louis and Kansas City in the mid-19th century, when the way to move goods to the frontier was by riverboat.
The fact that the Arabia was now under farm land was one of those peculiarities of the Earth’s constant reshaping of itself. The Missouri had carved a new course through the farmland and then through recurrent flooding, covered the land with what turned out to be a 45-foot-deep layer of rich silt.
A film relates that the pdaddlewheeler Arabia, 171 feet long, 54 feet wide, was loaded in late August 1856 with about 220 tons of goods to be delivered to 54 merchants as far north as Nebraska.
But the ship hit a submerged tree trunk and sank. All 130 passengers got off; the only fatality was a mule, tied on deck.
The Hawley team had to sink 20 wells to drain enough of flowing underground water to accomplish the recovery.
A film shows the men pulling odd items encased in mud. Cleaned and restored, thousands of everyday items that pioneers needed to live on the frontier are now in floor-to-ceiling display cases:
Here are whale oil lamps, 1,200 shoes, ink wells, mirrors, cuspidors, schoolroom slates, utensils, gun parts from Belgium, beads from Italy.
ut the salvors did find money: a coin purse that held 25 cents, and also a single penny.
War to end all wars
Hundreds of thousands of doughboys passed through Kansas City’s huge Union Station railway hub after the United States entered World War I. Within two weeks of the Armistice in November 1918, the area’s populace agreed to contribute $2.5-million to build a Liberty Memorial to the soldiers’ sacrifices.
In 1926, President Coolidge dedicated the imposing hilltop plaza and its 217-foot-tall Memorial Tower.
After taxing themselves for a multimillion-dollar refurbishment in 1998, residents passed a bond issue to raise $102-million to construct, and acquire artifacts for, a World War I museum.
Built beneath the memorial, the National World War I Museum opened in December 2006, designated by Congress as the nation’s official WWI museum.
Visitors enter by walking on a glass floor above 9,000 artificial red poppies, each representing 1,000 dead soldiers. Presentations range from newsreels to recordings, from interactive exhibits (make your own propaganda poster and e-mail it home) to more than 50,000 artifacts.
An opening film explains the shifting power, disparity of wealth and erosion of monarchies throughout Europe. In booths, visitors can hear American fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker describe a dogfight, or listen to period music.
Visitors can pass through a clever, if chilling, series of life-sized constructions showing how wretched trench warfare became.
On the walls are quotations, including:
“It cannot be that 2-million Germans should have fallen in vain . . . No, we do not pardon, we demand – vengeance.”
– Adolf Hitler, 1922
“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
– H.G. Wells, 1935.
About six blocks from the intersection of 12th Street and Vine, made famous in the rock ‘n’ roll song Going to Kansas City, is a pair of museums enshrining Americana:
- The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum utilizes period photos, uniforms and equipment to explain a facet of segregation that probably escaped the notice of most whites, then and still.
From the late 19th century past the middle of the 20th century, thousands of young black men played baseball, for money, on hundreds of teams. Except for the rare exhibition game, even the best of these men never played against whites.
This compact museum recounts the long journey to equality via a film and 12 galleries that roughly circle the clever centerpiece – a mock baseball field with life-sized statues of legendary players, in action poses at their positions on the field.
- Popular music has long transcended the nation’s racial divide, and no part of popular culture is more uniquely American than jazz.
When the Depression shuttered much of the nation’s nightlife, political “Boss” Tom Pendergast simply decided he wouldn’t let it close down his city. He ordered public works projects to keep people employed and he ignored Prohibition to keep them content. More than 100 nightclubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses featured blues and jazz.
Bands were formed and legends made. Regulars included Louis Armstrong, Big Joe Turner, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and a local fellow, Charlie Parker.
Within the Jazz Museum, visitors can listen to Armstrong, Ellington, Fitzgerald and Parker, each of whom has a separate gallery. One of Parker’s special saxophones is on display.
The museum shares the building with a nightclub, the Blue Room; the Baseball Museum is just up the block.
If you go
- The Arabia Steamboat Museum, 400 Grand Blvd., in the River Market. Open daily except for major holidays. (816) 471-4030.
- The National World War One Museum, open Tuesday through Sunday except for major holidays. (816) 784-1918.
-The American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum share the address 1616 E 18th St. Both open Tuesday through Sunday except major holidays. The Jazz Museum is at (816) 474-8463; www.americanjazzmuseum.com. The Baseball Museum is at (816) 221-1920; www.nlbm.com.
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — “Just about gotten warm enough to doze, huh?” the tall, thin man asked the fellow whose height could not be determined with certainty because he was slouched in a comfy-looking, antique office chair.
“Yep,” said the sitting man, “and as few shoppers as I’ve had, I might as well doze. Or maybe close.”
Perhaps hoping he could make both of them happier, the standing man said, “Got any early Floridian, anything with citrus?”
“If I do, I don’t know of it,” responded the man in the chair.
But chances are, the situation changed shortly for both, because their conversation took place at one of the Southeast’s largest markets for collectibles and antiques.
It was during the annual, mid-February event known as a Renningers Promotions “extravaganza”. These sprawl across 117 acres of former pasture in January, February and November. More than 1,000 dealers display their merchandise on everything from commercial shelving to banana shipping cartons to blankets on the grass.
The result: If you want a sample of some consumer good that was manufactured in the past 150 years or so, you can probably find it here:
/ Fancy a shipping crate with its contents label – in German – pasted inside and containing the original enamel sterilizing dishes for medical use? There are three crates, next to the stack of unused bedpans.
/ Need a heavy copper box decorated with gobs of colored glass and stamped on the bottom “Tiffany Studios, New York, N.Y.”? The price tag says $1,200, but ask the seller. the usual gambit for bargaining: “Can you do any better on this?”
/ Wish that Grandma had saved that stack of magazines in the attic, like the one from May 1892 headlining the story behind “Boy industrialist Leland Stanford opens a new college out West?” It is in the carton just in front of the 1901 book William McKinley, Our Martyred President.
/ Want an unused wooden washboard or galvanized zinc pail? Right over there.
/ Decrepit outboard motors? Lacrosse stick? A package of 100 brochures ($60) promising “What You Should Know About George C. Wallace”?
All are here, along with arrowheads, ice cream scoops, imprinted ashtrays (“Danny’s Hideaway, Across From the Dogtrack”), other people’s wedding photos and baby photos — even funeral photos.
Concerned that your supply of Smurf drinking glasses is low? Here’s a set of six for $21.
If you agree that FDR was the Man of the Hour, you’ll want to make an offer on the foot-tall electric mantle clock that bears that legend beneath a sculpture of the (standing) president grasping a ship’s wheel.
“Is that harpoon real? How-much-is-it-where’d-you-get-it?”
“Well, the metal tip is real, but we made up the shaft and attached new rope to it. These came from Nova Scotia, off old whaling ships, ’cause you can’t whale no more.”
The extravaganzas – that’s the official name – are operated by Renningers Promotions, long-established in this collectibles/antiques/flea market niche. The company also stages major events in Pennsylvania, in Kutztown, King of Prussia and Adamstown.
On the hilly land just outside Mount Dora, about 40 minutes north of Orlando, the company rents enclosed, air-conditioned space year-round to about 200 dealers of pricier items. Every weekend, even more dealers set up their wares for a flea market/farmers market.
And every third weekend, about 400 vendors come to Renningers’ pasture for an “antiques fair’’, held under covered pavilions and spilling onto the grounds.
But it is the extravaganzas that make visiting an experience.
If you come looking for something specific — antique toys, fancy dinnerware, militaria, lapel pins from the former USSR – it takes stamina, just to walk up and down all the aisles, up and down all the hills.
If you are a comparison shopper, you would need to draw yourself a map — none are handed out at the site — to help you return to favored booths.
For serious shoppers, Renningers sells three-day passes; otherwise, you can buy admission for any single day. Tickets are cheapest on Sunday, when some stuff is gone, some vendors pack up early to move on.
While many sellers are amateurs, maybe staging an estate sale, an untold number of shoppers and vendors are professional dealers. Many come south in the winter for the numerous weekend markets and evening auctions. Then the pros head back north, to set up booths there.
Overheard, a conversation between two vendors:
“I don’t know what it is all of a sudden with champagne (ice) buckets, but last fall I was buying them as fast as I could. I was selling them for $50, and I made $5,000.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: Renninger Promotions’ Florida site is on U.S. 441 just east of Mount Dora and north of State Road 46, about 30 miles north of Orlando. There is an exit for 441/92/17 on Interstate 4 in Orlando.