Monday, April 30, 2012


Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hilo
Last week, Art and I were on Hawaii’s Big Island.  Most of the week was in Kona, where Art was attending a conference, but before it started we wanted to spend a day on the Hilo side of the island.  The two sides of the Big Island, divided by mountains in the middle,  are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, completely different in almost every way. The Kona side is dry, gently sloping, and vast volcanic flows cover the ground with chunks of black lava. Most of the large resorts are on the Kona side along the coast. The Hilo side is your mental image of Hawaii, lush, wet, green, with steep coastal cliffs indented by narrow  gorges and spectacular waterfalls.
Waipio Valley, View from Overlook
On our way to Hilo from the Kona airport we passed the turnoff to the Waipio Valley and decided to make a slight detour.  It was a sunny day, which meant that we would get a good view of the valley from the overlook.  On a previous trip we had taken a hike to another supposed overlook but instead of a view of the 2000 foot drop to the valley floor, had seen nothing but clouds.  This time, we were rewarded with a sweeping view of the valley with its patchwork of taro fields, the black sand beach, and the cliffs beyond.  The road to the valley is so steep that only four wheel drive vehicles are allowed down.  We did not have a 4WD car, so we contented ourselves with walking a short distance down and then huffing and puffing our way back to the top.  On another trip in the future, we’d like to take a tour to the bottom. (You can arrange to go by car or by horseback.)

Hilo Bay, View from our Hotel Balcony
We then drove from Waipio to Hilo.  Hilo is built around a beautiful moon-shaped bay, famously susceptible to tsumanis.  (All around the island you see signs posted directing you to tsunami evacuation routes.)  After a powerful tsunami wiped out much of the bay front in 1946 and then again in 1960, it was decided to turn the low lying land around the bay into parks and hotels.  We were assured that our hotel (the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel), built at the edge of the water, was designed to withstand even a powerful  tsunami surge, with an open lower structure that would allow water to flow right through.  Our room, on the fifth floor, certainly had a spectacular view of the bay.

Bears' Coffee, Hilo
Most of Hilo’s large hotels, including ours, are located on Banyan Drive, a loop road lined  with huge banyan trees, each named after the famous person who planted it.  Planted in the 1940's, the trees now tower over 100 feet high and their hanging roots are like small fortresses.  That night we ate dinner at our favorite restaurant on the island, the Hilo Bay Café.  Located in a shopping mall, it doesn’t look fancy on the outside, but the food is fresh and creatively prepared. [Update in 2015: The Hilo Bay Cafe has relocated to a building right on the water with a spectacular view over the bay. The food is still delicious!]  In the morning, on the recommendation of our waitress at the Hilo Bay Cafe, we ate breakfast at Bear’s Coffee, a small café favored by locals where the food is fresh and inexpensive.

Hanging Lobster Claw, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
Our main goal for our day in Hilo  was to revisit the amazing Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which we had first seen on a previous trip.  The garden, nestled in a lush canyon just north of Hilo, features tropical plants from around the world, meticulously tended and clearly labeled. It is a photographer’s paradise.  We worked our way down the steep path from the garden entrance past tumbling streams and waterfalls, brilliant colored plants with names like hanging lobster claw, beehive ginger and cannonball tree, to a koi pond, a cage of noisy macaws, and finally to a rocky beach at the bottom of the canyon.  In an upcoming post, I will do a more detailed tour of the garden.

For a late lunch, we stopped a few miles up the road from the garden at What’s Shakin, where everything is made from locally grown produce.  We bought sandwiches, a smoothie, a pineapple muffin, and a deliciously sweet papaya.  We then headed for Kona, about a two and half hour drive to the other side of the island.

Note: Be sure you have a good guidebook and map for finding your way around the island.  There are almost NO signs to attractions to help you know where to turn.  Strict laws prohibit commercial signs except on your own property and then they can be no larger than 3 by 5 feet. Our favorite guidebook is Hawaii, The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty.

For my report on the Kona side of Hawaii's Big Island go to my May 13, 2013 post.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cologne, Germany: The Cathedral, Old Town, and the Rhine

Restaurant in Cologne's Old Town
In early March, my husband Art spent a few days at a meeting in Cologne, Germany, and has allowed me to share a few of his photos. Cologne (Koeln or Koln with an umlaut over the “o” as it is spelled in German) is located on the Rhine River, in western Germany.  It is one of Germany’s oldest cities and its fourth largest.  This was Art’s second visit to Cologne.  The first was when he was in high school and spent a year in Berlin as an exchange student and visited Cologne on a school field trip.

Cologne Cathedral
I have never been to Cologne, but I remember learning about its most famous landmark, the Cologne Cathedral, when I studied northern European art history in college.  Soaring above the city, it seemed to us as students to be the Gothic version of a giant wedding cake. In Art’s photo, you can see how the enormous structure completely dwarfs the people on the sidewalk. (The people in white standing on boxes are mimes.)  The church, started in 1248 and completed in 1880, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The spires of its two towers reach 157 meters high! For some music and a glimpse of the interior click here .

Besides visiting the cathedral, Art enjoyed walking the narrow cobblestone streets of Cologne’s Old Town, savoring traditional food (sauerbraten and spaeztle) at local restaurants, sampling the local beer known as “koelsch”, and walking along the Rhine.  Someday I would like to go there myself.

Cologne:  Bridge over the Rhine

Monday, April 16, 2012

Have Laptop, Will Travel: England's Lake District and More with Gretchen Woelfle (Guest Post)

Derwent Water, Lake District, England
My friend Gretchen Woelfle is spending three months in England this spring, beginning with a writer's workshop in the Lake District.  I think you will enjoy reading about her adventures!  Gretchen is a children’s book author whose newest books are Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren and  All the World's a Stage, A Novel in Five Acts.  Find out more at .
 One of the best things about being a writer is our portability, which can incite mobility. Long ago when I was an MFA student at Vermont College, I met a visual arts MFA student who complained about the mighty costs and problems of shipping artworks to the twice-annual residencies.  We writers only had to pack our floppy disks – and now our laptops.
Nonfiction writers aren’t quite as portable as our fiction-writing cousins.  Speaking for myself, my desk is littered with loose papers, file folders bulging with notes and photocopies, books piled high on said papers and stuffed into overflowing bookcases.
Sheep in the Lake District
But the lure of mobility forced me to rethink my portability in March 2012 when I flew off the England to attend the twentieth anniversary retreat of the Kindling Words writing workshop in the Lake District. Fourteen of us spent a week at a four-star hotel, eating four course meals each night, hiking along the lake, into the woods, and up the hills (but not enough, I fear, to work off those four-course meals.) 
Castlerigg stone circle, Lake District
Highlights:  Venturing forth to local literary haunts of Wordsworth and his reputable and disreputable Romantic cohorts. Circumnavigating a Neolithic stone circle. Me alone, finding a local pub to watch a Saturday football (soccer) match featuring my beloved team, Chelsea. Indulging in an Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow at the hotel spa. (I can describe it, but it will be just as intriguing for you imagine the sensuous pleasure of it.) And, yes, attending workshops and writing. 
Seven writers, headlights shining, about to descend into the subconscious of their protagonists, or was it the Honister Slate Mine?

Though I wasn’t the only nonfiction writer there, many were tapping away on fantasy novels. As they retreated to their imaginary worlds by the fireside in the lounge, I time-traveled back to eighteenth century Revolutionary America, to meet my biography subjects.  As others were drawn by guided meditations into the subconscious minds of their protagonists, I tried to do the same, but was interrupted by an annoying inner voice whispering, “Document your sources.”

When the luxurious week was over, I took off for East Yorkshire to visit old friends, including a writer, who live by the sea.  One of the world’s biggest offshore wind farms will soon arise off the Yorkshire coast, but not soon enough to be pictured in my next book, The Wind at Work, a history of wind energy.  So here, instead, is a picture of the local beach with dog Libby chasing a seagull.
 One evening, Marvin Close, my writer friend, arranged an interview on the local radio station, BBC Humberside. The topic of the interview: how a children’s writer from southern California came to be an obsessed fan of English football in general and Chelsea Football Club in particular. I tried to mix it up with writerly talk, but not having many people to discuss football [soccer] with at home, I was happy to talk about the sturm und drang of the current Chelsea season.

View of Notting Hill Gate
Now I’m in London for three months, thanks to my latest travel adventure: home exchanging. Sitting in a top-floor flat in Notting Hill Gate with sun streaming in on all sides -- I brought it with me from LA! -- I’ve got several manuscripts in progress, a few file folders stuffed with research, just a couple of books I need to work with, and – since yesterday, a brand new card from the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Library system. (They’ve got all sorts of wonderful Dickens programs scheduled in this, his bicentennial year, and since he is my #1 favorite author, I’ll be there.) 

I’m still immersed in the American Revolution, which has a whole different significance from where I sit now. And I’ll be on the lookout for a new subject to research on the ground here. Something about English football perhaps?

More anon on the joys of a writer’s portability and mobility.
Derwent Water, Lake District

Monday, April 9, 2012

Window Seat: One Year Anniversary of The Intrepid Tourist

Wetlands of Northern Canada
One year ago this week,  I launched my first post on The Intrepid Tourist, a report on our family’s visit to the Battle of Gettysburg in 1997.  Since then, I have posted a new article once a week (actually sometimes two) for a total of 54 posts, on trips both recent and in the past.  I have been gratified by the response–more than 5000 views in the past year!  When I decided to create the blog, my first choice for a name was Window Seat, but a quick web search revealed that it was already in use many times over, so I had to choose another name.  Nevertheless, I will always be a window seat traveler.

Alaska: Meandering River in Winter
When I travel by car, I like to look out the window and watch the passing scenery.  In an airplane, I love to look down and try to identify the features in the landscape below.  (I also like planes where there is a real-time map screen on the back of the seat in front of me labeling the towns and cities along the route.)  While you can have somewhat the same experience simply by sitting at your computer and clicking on Google Earth, it’s not the same as being there yourself moving through space and time.  Even on routes that I travel frequently, the view constantly changes depending on weather, season, and time of day.  Winter often produces some of the most dramatic scenery.

Midwestern U.S., Crop Circles in Winter
I am frequently tempted to take photos from my window seat to try to capture the drama of the view or the pattern on the ground. In celebration of the one year anniversary of this blog, and to launch a second year of posts, I am sharing a few of my favorite window seat photos, the last one taken by my husband Art just a few weeks ago.   

Art's photo of Greenland from 35,000 feet
There is nothing like changing your point of view to gain a new perspective.  That’s one of the reasons I like to travel.  I hope you enjoy my photos and will keep reading The Intrepid Tourist as I add more articles in the second year.  I'll post some more window seat photos along the way.
I’d love to hear what you think!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Shanghai Zoo: Giant Pandas, Red Pandas, and More

Giant Panda enjoying a roll in the grass
Whenever I travel, I always like to visit zoos.  On both of my trips to China, in 1995 and 2005, I went to the Shanghai Zoo.  Here is what I wrote in my diary in 1995 and a few of my pictures from 2005.
We set off for the zoo, showing the taxi driver the Chinese map with the picture for the zoo. [The Chinese name for zoo sounds like “Dongwa Yuan” but when we tried to say it or any other Chinese word, our pronunciation was wrong and no one understood us. Chinese is a tonal language and we had a hard time knowing the right intonation for each word. Using pictures and maps turned out to be the best way to communicate.] At the zoo we paid at the booth and entered with another Westerner, the only one we saw all day. 

We came first to the reptile house (also fish and amphibians) which required another payment and went in to see an extensive display of fish–large and small–turtles, frogs, snakes, and caimens.  Next we went to the birds.  (The zoo is organized by animal class.)  Only after spending about an hour at the birds did we realize we’d seen just a fraction of the zoo. 
Outside a new flight cage Art interacted with a crested crane, which bobbed up and down with the camera as Art changed positions to get a good angle–much to the delight of the Chinese zoo visitors.  Later we decided that the crane probably thought the red visor on Art’s baseball cap was the very large bill of a female bird!  The zoo also had a huge Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a petting zoo and animal show, which we passed on our way to the mammals.
Red Panda
At the mammal section we found a red panda and giant panda–both displayed quite nicely with glassed in cages inside and a grassy, shady area outside. On our way out we passed the elephants, which were chained in a large open area.  One mother had a very young calf, who was free to roam but never wandered far from the protection of the mother’s body.

Note: Our trip in 1995 was in July.  In 2005, I visited Shanghai in March and went to the zoo on a day when the animals seemed to be enjoying the mild early spring weather.  On both visits, I went during the week and the zoo was not very crowded with people. 
Rare animals of China