Saturday, November 30, 2019

PORTUGAL: From Lisbon to Porto, Guest Post by Stephen Scheaffer and Karen Neely, Part 1

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal
My brother Steve and his wife Karen recently spent eighteen days in Portugal and have graciously agreed to share a few of their wonderful photos of the trip. Here are their pictures and a few notes from their itinerary.
Casa Miradouro, Sintra
We leave on September 1 and fly through Frankfurt then on to Lisbon. We stay the first two nights in Sintra. This is where the Royals escaped to get out of town. You may have seen some pictures of the castles there. We then go to Lisbon to join our tour. [Rick Steves, Heart of Portugal in 12 Days.] We end the tour in Porto on September 15 and then are staying in Porto for four nights before returning home.
Moorish Castle, Sintra
Neighborhoods in Lisbon, a walking tour of Lisbon’s colorful downtown neighborhoods.
Lisbon looking westward
Typical street scene, Lisbon
Fado art, Lisbon
Belem district of Lisbon, home to many of the city’s most historic buildings.
Monument to the Discoveries
Monastery of Jeronimos.

Historic Evora–history rich university town of Evora.
Corinthian columned Roman Temple, Evora.

Church of St. Francis, Chapel of Bones, Evora.
Olives, Oaks, and Obidos, a visit to a working farm and estate.
We are now in Obidos where it is much cooler. The last five days in and around Lisbon have been hot! Yesterday we went to a cork farm east of Lisbon in the dry southern region of Portugal. It was a fascinating visit and I thought of you doing a book about cork. This farm is known for being sustainable with their processes. They also grow wine grapes and olives. They served us a fabulous lunch with the family sitting with us talking about their history and their products.
Cork tree
Obidos Castle

Accordion player
Alcobaca and Nazare
Monastery of Santa Maria, Alcobaca
Sito neighborhood of Nazare, Our Lady of Nazare
Panorama of the fishing village of Nazare

Sitio neighborhood of Nazare with its sweeping cliff-top views

Part 2 will post next week.

Monday, November 25, 2019

A FALL TRIP TO THE DESERT: Anza Borrego State Park, California

Anza Borrego State Park, Palm Canyon Trail
In late October, Art and I spent a weekend at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, about a three hour drive southeast of Los Angeles, the largest state park in California and one of our favorites. When I first came to California more than forty years ago, I viewed the desert as a dry barren place. Since then I’ve learned to appreciate the wide variety of wildlife that makes its home there and the amazing adaptations of the many desert plants.
Cholla cactus. When it rains, the cactus absorbs water and stores it for later use.
Most of my many trips to Anza Borrego have been in the spring--when birds are singing, winter rains fill the seasonal streams, and flowers burst into bloom everywhere. This was my first visit in the fall. In contrast, the landscape was almost uniformly brown, the steam beds were dry, and there were many fewer birds– and not many people either.
The walkway between the Visitor Center and the campground is crossed by late afternoon shadows.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon and after checking in at our hotel, the Borrego Springs Resort, we headed for the Visitor Center where we looked at the exhibits and chatted with the helpful volunteers at the desk. We then took a short walk down the paved trail leading to the campground, looking for signs of life.
A bee getting nectar from a chuparosa flower.
We startled a rabbit that scurried away through the cactus and spotted a hummingbird getting its last sips of nectar from the red chuparosa flowers before the sun went down. But otherwise, it was fairly quiet.
Beginning of the solar system walk. "If the diameter of the Sun were 36 inches, the diameter of this steel sign stand, how large would Earth be? How far away? Follow the trail and find out!
Along the walkway we passed markers giving us a vicarious tour of the solar system. Each planet is a proportional size and distance away, giving a sense of the immensity of our universe. (Earth was just a tiny dot, not even a half inch across.)
The sun rises to the east, visible between the palms planted around our hotel.
The next morning we got up early to begin our walk to Palm Canyon before it got too hot. (Even in fall, desert temperatures can be in the 90s.) After parking our car at the trail head a park volunteer gave us a map and nature guide and made sure that we had packed plenty of water for the three-mile round trip hike. Even though the morning air was still cool, it quickly became much warmer.
Although we were unlikely to see them, signs warn hikers of mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
We followed the trail up the canyon, occasionally scrambling over boulders or climbing steps to get to the next level. As we approached the oasis we began to see spots of green, telling us that there was water not far below the surface.
The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is the only palm tree native to California.
At the oasis native California fan palms flourish, providing shelter and food for wildlife. Pools provide water for bighorn sheep, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels and other animals. If you are lucky you might spot the bighorn sheep (called borregos in Spanish) that live in the canyons and ledges. We saw footprints and scat, but no sheep.
After resting in the shade for a while and sipping some of our water, we headed back down to our car.
Tall rocky mountains border Anza Borrego to the north. Rain at upper elevations funnels down through the canyons.Flash floods carry boulders down from the mountain. Nooks and crannies underneath make habitat for desert wildlife.
The quiet atmosphere made the starkness of the geology even more striking and though we had to look a little harder for signs of desert wildlife, we knew it was still there.
The Verdin is a common desert bird.

Monday, November 18, 2019

VIENNA, AUSTRIA: Art, Food and Music

Vienna, Austria. Saint Stephen's Cathedral
Why go to Vienna? The answer is easy--the food, the music, the art and architecture. Vienna, center of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, is still one of Europe’s great capital cities. The glory of its powerful past is reflected in the magnificence of its churches, public buildings, and surrounding parks and plazas. Large and impressive, they form the heart of the city center. Most are constructed of white stone and they tower over plazas and courtyards. In typical Baroque fashion, every ledge, parapet and rooftop is decorated with some sort of statuary.
Ceiling in the foyer of the Vienna Opera House
In early October we spent two days in Vienna with our friends from Berlin, who had been there before and showed us around. (This was our first time in Vienna.) We enjoyed great music ( La Boheme at the sumptuous Vienna opera house, the Haydn Quartet playing in the Brahms Hall at the Vienna Musikverein, and a concert of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.)
Vienna is famous for its pastries, most notably Sachertorte, a chocolate cake originally made at the Sacher Hotel
In between, we toured the historic sights of this beautiful city and feasted on schnitzel and other Viennese delights. At our last supper together on Saturday night, I ordered marmeladepalatschinken--a very close relative of the egg pancakes made by Art's grandmother, and just as delicious.
One of the many buildings of the Hofburg Palace complex
Our first day was bright and sunny (although crisp!)--perfect for a walking tour of the city. We joined a small group with an English speaking guide at the Vienna tourist center, and she led us through the labyrinth of streets of the inner city, filling us in on the historic significance of the buildings.
The Baroque Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles)
We woke up to rain on our second day in Vienna, but since our main activity was planned for inside--a trip to see the Red Vienna exhibit--the rain didn’t matter, except that, instead of walking, we took a trolley around the “ring” to the museum. The Ringstrasse is a circular grand boulevard that serves as a ring road around the historic inner district of Vienna. The road is located on sites where medieval city fortifications once stood, including high walls and the broad open field ramparts, criss-crossed by paths that lay before them.
For our visit to Vienna we stayed in the Beethoven Hotel, conveniently located just outside the center of the city. (Vienna's musical history was evident everywhere--we ate breakfast at the Mozart Cafe (coffee, fresh rolls, hard boiled egg), saw statues of Wagner and other composers at the opera house, and visited the church where Haydn performed.) Our stay in Vienna was short but full and we saw a lot. Here are pictures of a few of the many highlights:
Augustinerkirche. In 1634, the Augustinerkirche became the parish church of the imperial church. Many Habsburg weddings took place there. The hearts of 54 members of the royal family are held in special urns in the Herzgruft, or “Heart Room,” in St. George’s Chapel of the Augustinerkirche
One of the Lipizzaner horses going to morning exercise and training for performances in the Winter Riding School at Hofburg Palace.
Royal crown on display at the Emperor's Treasures Museum, a collection of the Habsburg family jewels and other treasures. My favorite treasure was a giant narwhal tusk, once believed to be a unicorn's horn.
The Virgilkapelle, dating back to 1220-1230, was discovered when digging for a new subway in 1973. It has been preserved and has a small museum.
A sampling of delicacies at Meinls Gourmet Nacht, a delicatessen. Upstairs is a restaurant where we had a delicious lunch overlooking the center promenade of Vienna's commercial area.
Inside Saint Stephen's Cathedral at night.
Das Rote Wien (Red Vienna) documents the period of time of social reform in housing, education, health and community life, beginning with the first free elections in 1919. The Social Democratic Labor Party emerged with an absolute majority, creating the possibility to implement many of their ideas from before the First World War, helping to improve the living conditions of the working class.
One of the exhibits at the Vienna Museum. For more about the exhibit click HERE. The photographs, models, books and other objects in the exhibit are all well labelled in both German and English.

Monday, November 11, 2019

BEAUTIFUL LAKE COMO at the Base of the Italian Alps

View of Lake Como from Villa Vigoni, Menaggio, Italy
More than two hundred years ago, Heinrich Milius, son of a German banking family, came to Italy and established a successful business manufacturing silk in Milan. Like other wealthy Italian businessmen of the time, he built a summer home at Lake Como, one of the several large lakes filling the narrow valleys at the base of the Italian Alps. There Milius and his family could enjoy the cool fresh air and mountain scenery and walk in the surrounding gardens. A patron of the arts, he filled his home with elegant furniture and paintings and sculptures by the leading artists of the time.
Portraits of the Milius family
When Milius' last descendant, Ignazio Vigoni, died in 1983, he bequeathed the family property to the Federal Republic of Germany, with the purpose of creating an intercultural meeting place. Today, the estate, Villa Vigoni, is a conference center dedicated to promoting cultural and scientific interests.
In early October, I spent two days at Villa Vigoni when my husband Art was attending a conference. While he was at his meetings, I explored the Villa gardens and the nearby village of Menaggio. The early fall weather was sunny and warm, perfect for walks down to the lake shore.
Cobblestone walkway to the village
Following a cobblestone path downhill, I passed the walled gardens of other hillside homes. Far below I could hear the rushing water of Fiume Senagra, the river that tumbles down the steep gorge from the mountains above. Rather strangely, the banks were covered with stands of bamboo, a plant that evidently grows quite happily in the northern Italian climate. Fall wildflowers bloomed along the rock walls lining the path from the villa to the town.
At the bottom of the gorge the Fiume Senegra rushes toward the lake.
Near the bottom of the gorge was a small waterfall before the river emptied into the lake. Like other towns along the shores of Lake Como, Menaggio is a vacation destination for tourists, with restaurants and hotels lining the main street.
Promenade in Menaggio
An elegant promenade along the lake is popular for strolling or bench sitting to enjoy the lake view. A monument honoring silk weavers has been erected at one end of the promenade. For families there is a playground for children, and a miniature golf course. Although there is a small swimming beach, the water in Lake Como is too cold most of the year for swimming.
Monument to the silk weavers by Francesco Somaini
Menaggio is a picturesque town. As one walks along its streets, one feels transported back to another century, when time moved more slowly and was marked by the church bells ringing out the hour.
For a short history of Menaggio, click HERE. Guided tours to Villa Vigoni and its extensive park are available every Thursday afternoon from March to October (except in August). They must be booked in advance.
Villa Vigoni

Monday, November 4, 2019

DUBLIN CELEBRATES THE IRISH, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

The Irish Influence: Display at EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin, Ireland

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle loves to travel and recently visited Ireland, where she spent a week in Dublin and went to both the Irish Emigration Museum and the Icon Factory. Here is her report:
Two very different sites in Dublin celebrate the Irish--those who left and those who stayed behind. 
Neville Isdell, former CEO of Coca Cola and founder of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, declared, “My own experience of being an emigrant has always stayed with me. And as they say, I left Ireland but Ireland never left me….My career took me all over the world, to 151 countries. I’ve always believed that the story of Irish people around the world was one worth telling, and so, I founded EPIC in 2016.”
How they left Ireland.
And epic it is: a vast gallery of cutting edge technology -- video, audio, interactive exhibits, and artworks – that tell a 400-year old story of Irish diasporas all over the world.  
Transportation to Australia.
When, how, and why they left Ireland; where they ended up; and what they and their descendants accomplished are revealed as visitors wend their way through the lower floor of a 200-year old warehouse on the banks of the River Liffey. (Twenty-two U.S. presidents claim Irish heritage, from Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama.)
The first rooms dramatize events that forced millions to leave.
Swiping right for Irish writers.
The Irish in Tin Pan Alley.
Later rooms focus on famous Irish and Irish-heritage musicians, actors, artists, writers, athletes, scientists, politicians, and outlaws who made their names all over the world. The Irish Family Heritage Center helps visitors discover their Irish roots.
The Icon Factory.
Not all the talent sailed to Boston, Liverpool, or Melbourne. The Icon Factory and Icon Walk offer low-tech, up-close experiences of home-grown celebrities. The Factory, an artist cooperative with a studio and a shop displays paintings, posters, and sculptures of Irish artists working today.
Seamus Heaney
Some of those same artists transformed the nearby dingy alleys into a brilliant mural gallery that celebrate Irish achievements in art, entertainment, sport, and the long struggle for independence.
The writers are known world-wide, including four Nobel prizewinners*. (Answer below.) Other figures filling the walls – comedians, athletes, musicians, and “oddballs, crackpots, and assorted genius” – were new to me.
Irish rock stars.
A caption under a mural of The Play Writers: The Pen Versus The Sword” offers a brilliant example of Irish wit.

Around 1610 Shakespeare wrote The Tempest and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1616. Queen Elizabeth I, having completed the conquest of Ireland, was dead. The last of the Irish leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain, and Ulster planted with Crown subjects. Between 1616 and the War of Independence in 1922 which won back selfrule for most of Ireland, no play of any real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer. Now riddle me this, who conquered who?

For more information: The Irish Emigration Museum The Icon Factory and Icon Walk

* William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney