Monday, January 26, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 1, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Nugget Point in the Catlins
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the first part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.

On a previous trip to New Zealand, I did a "grand tour" including both islands.  This was delightful.  New Zealand's small size and population make it ideal for self-driving, even for those unaccustomed to driving on the left.  New Zealand also offers great variety in the natural features on display.  Along with world-class thermal areas, these include snow-covered mountains, glaciers, beautiful beaches, and wonderful fiords. 

On my earlier trip, I was especially taken by Fiordland, the complex array of mountains, valleys and fiords that occupies the southwestern corner of the south island.  I promised myself that I would return there, both to do some of New Zealand's famous treks and to see more of the fiords.  This dream was realized in November - December of 2014, when I spent nearly three weeks at the southern end of the south island.  

To recover from jet lag after the long flight from the US, I spent my first few days exploring Dunedin, the adjacent Otago Peninsula, and the Catlins, a coastal area to the southwest.  Within Dunedin, I especially enjoyed the Otago Settler's Museum, near the well-known Railway Station.  The settlement of New Zealand by Europeans is surprisingly recent.  At the Settler's Museum is an impressive collection of portraits depicting many of the city's earliest European settlers, all arranged in order of arrival.  Many other exhibits also are well done, especially those that describe Dunedin's contributions to wars and other conflicts.

I also enjoyed my drives around the Otago Peninsula and through the Catlins. Highpoints were the views overlooking Sandfly Bay on the peninsula and Nugget Point in the Catlins.  In retrospect, though, I think that I would have been happier visiting these areas on organized tours.  I did manage to keep to the left on all of the narrow and winding roads, but the effort greatly reduced my ability to sightsee, especially when I was forced to drive in the rain.

(Continued next week: Part 2: The Milford Track and Routeburn)
Glacial Valley along the Milford Track

Monday, January 19, 2015

India: THE PINK CITY OF JAIPUR: from the Memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India
The following is an excerpt from the memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt, who traveled to India in the 1960s.

Jaipur, the third point of India’s “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur),  is India’s most colorful city, rich in palaces from another age, festivals, and handicrafts.  The foundations were laid in 1727. In ancient times under the rule of the Moghuls, the capital was built on a high rock-bound stronghold called Amber.  Today, the landmark of Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. It stands on one of the main streets and is elaborate with fanciful honeycomb designs. Built of rich pink sandstone, it is five stories high with octagonal overhanging windows, each with a perforated screen from which the ladies of the palace could watch the activities below.
Rickshaw, Jaipur, India
There is also the City Palace, now a museum containing rare manuscripts and other artifacts. The late Maharajah, who was incapable in old age of climbing steps, built ramps in many parts of the Palace so he could be pushed up in his rickshaw.
Amber Palace, near Jaipur, India
Amber Palace, built in the 17th century, stands about seven miles from the city of Jaipur. Now it is deserted and surrounded by high ramparts. The principal hall, known as the Hall of Victory, contains much decorative art such as panels of alabaster with fine inlaid work.  The Palace also contains the world’s best Chamber of Mirrors.
Elephant with Howdah
The approach to the courtyard on the lower terrace is through a great arched gate. Most visitors make the ascent to Amber on board a gaily decorated elephant, and so did we. Seated in a howdah, an open box-like structure high on the elephant’s back, we swayed to the lumbering rhythm of the monster, while the mahout (driver) sat on the elephant’s head between its flapping ears. 
We rode a mile up to the Fort, accompanied by the music of a dark, wizened old man playing a three-stringed instrument.  A simple tune was repeated over and over again as he walked beside the elephant all the way up the hill, grinning delightedly as we gave him a few coins.
Dismounting at the gateway, the guide bought admittance tickets for us. As he did so, he removed his leather belt from his trousers and checked it. I was reminded again of the sacred cow—that even a leather belt was not acceptable in many places.

In Jaipur we stayed at the Rambaugh Palace—a real one which is now used as a hotel. Some of the old Maharajah’s family still lives in one section. All the marble and huge rooms could not make up for the lack of air-conditioning, although a noisy fan in the window stirred up the hot air!

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.March 10, 2014.

Monday, January 12, 2015

CROATIA: MY FAVORITE MEAL, Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

Dubrovnik, Croatia

My friend and fellow children’s writer Caroline Hatton visited Croatia in May of 2012 and has graciously written this article about her trip. You can find out more about Caroline and her books and at her website, . She took all the photos in this post.

At the first hotel where my husband and I stayed, the room price included a hearty breakfast. We had omelets cooked to order, skipped the ham and salami, and admired the mystery packets of what looked like vanilla or chocolate pudding, liverwurst, cream cheese, jam, and butter. While exploring Croatia with a couple of American friends for two weeks, room prices included similar breakfasts, except for rooms rented out by private citizens.

For lunch, we shared a sampler of typical Croatian food, i.e., meat:
The finger-sized sausages were the famous, delicious, vigorously seasoned ćevapčići. The spiral sausage was the chef’s specialty. The meat chunks were chicken, pork, and beef, the standard components of the ubiquitous “mixed grill” menu item. The beans, we never saw anywhere else, a noteworthy fact for vegetarians. The red delicacy was ajvar (a red bell pepper and garlic relish that most Croatians are crazy about).

Fortunately for our waistlines, we walked for hours through the old Zagreb, up and down medieval stone stairs and streets. By dinner time, we could fathom trying another meat dish:
This was punjena pljeskavica (cheese stuffed ground meat, enthusiastically seasoned). The grilled vegetables were available as a separate item on most menus, and often included carrot, eggplant, bell pepper, onion... whatever looked good at the market.
Stuffed pork came in different varieties. The above “Šibenik wallets” were stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, and named after their hometown. There, the medieval pedestrian center was a captivating place to walk off calories.

Fish and seafood were widely available, often with a side of mangold (Swiss chard) and potatoes, as seen in this sea bass entrée:
Below: a mussel; the closed and open pair was kunjka (Noah’s Ark shellfish) found only in the Adriatic and Mediterranean; and the clam was brbavica or šarga (warty venus).
For picnics on long mountain hikes, we loved to buy bùrek (filo pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, or ground meat) from bakery shops. Lightly sweetened varieties contained a smear of fruit mush:
We saw many garden-shed-size roasters outside of food shops, for whole pigs, but we never saw any roast pork, perhaps more common in the high summer season.

For vegetarians, commonly available proteins were eggs for breakfast and cheese any time. Beans, we saw only once on our first lunch plate, in Zagreb.

My second-most favorite meal in Croatia was in the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik on the Adriatic. Stone-paved pedestrian streets were lined with restaurant tables, leaving only a narrow lane for waiters and passers-by.

Octopus salad was on my must-try list. We saw it on the menu for the first time on our trip. We ordered it.

Before letting our waiter, a man perhaps 18 years old, walk away, I asked him to take a photo of my husband and me. As I handed him my point-and-shoot digital camera, I said, “Press this button to turn it on.” He said, authoritatively, “I know. I am young.”

Then he brought the octopus salad:
A minute later, the restaurant owner, a man perhaps 50 years old, brought a serving spoon and said, “Excuse my son. He is young.”

The octopus was tender, delicate, and distinctive. The balance of tomato, lettuce, and onion, and the small amount of vinaigrette and herbs, was perfect. This gourmet dish was offered at Konoba Nava in Dubrovnik Old Town.
My favorite meal in Croatia was on the Adriatic island of Mljet, in the hamlet of Soline, a row of about six contiguous stone houses. Between the one-lane road and the shore of the salt water lake, Veliko Jezero, the locals had set up tables and chairs on shaded patios. We were told that the lady “in that house” (I forget if it was number 3 or 4) served dinner.

We poked our heads in her open door, into a kitchen with a jolly group at a table. The lady greeted us. We asked about dinner.  She bent down to pick up a plastic bucket, from which she lifted freshly dead fish, one at a time—the day’s catch. There was only one of each kind, each one a different mottled grey.  The eel wasn’t our friends’ idea of food. So we pointed at two other big fishes, which the lady identified as škaram (barracuda) and cipal (mullet).

She brought local wine to the patio table. While we enjoyed the balmy evening, she got busy chopping a little wood for her outdoor brick barbecue, getting a fire going, preparing the fish, and grilling it to perfection. She also served a tomato salad, boiled potatoes, bread, and homemade goat cheese, and put the customary bottle of local olive oil on the table.

This was my best meal in Croatia because the fish, friendship, and serene setting were exquisite, and also because I love how the cook presented the menu choices!

Caroline is working on a horse story set in Croatia at a location similar to Linden Tree Retreat and Ranch where she went on an unforgettable horse ride with owner and guide, Bozidar Bruce Yerkovich.