All posts by Claire Walter

Beijing’s Summer Palace Revisited

Crowds, crowds and did I mention crowds?

We are en route from the U.S. to Tibet with a day in Beijing — my third visit to China’s capital. The first was in 1999, and even superficial changes since then are stunning. Built into the Road Scholar itinerary was a couple of hours in the stunning Summer Palace, a grandiose and  elaborate treasure from the old Chinese Empire. It was crowded when I first visited , but now, there are mote people, more photo and video stops, selfie sticks that did not exist then.

The standard route through the palace remains unchanged — a walk through the gates, across a courtyard or too, a walk with an artificial lake on one side and a lovely arcade on the other, a look at the famous stone boat and a ride across the lake to a landing near the exit. Here are some pictures from my visit. As you can see from the entrance image. Taking any without a lot of people was a challenge. Taking them with a crowd was as simple as pointing the camera anywhere.

 

 

Easter Island ‘Discovered’ 245 Years Ago

Mid-Pacific island now a bucket-list destination.

According to the “on this day in history” tidbit, Easter Island — though inhabited — was “discovered” on the Tropic of Capricorn by European seamen. The indigenous people called it Rapa Nui. The short version of the story is:

On this Easter Sunday, 3,000 miles from the nearest continental land, Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen finds a 63-square-mile island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Towering stone statues mystify these first European visitors and others for centuries to come.

Now Chilean territory, its famous monolithic statues continue to intrigue visitors. Archeologists have restored some of the nearly 900 moai. A visit to remote the Rapa Nui National Park is indeed a bucket list experience.

Norwegian Air Inaugurating Denver-London Flight

Low-fare carrier to start service in mid-September.

Norwegian Airlines announced is adding low-fare non-stop transatlantic flights from Denver International Airport and one from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to London’s Gatwick Airport. Denver eastbound service begins on September 16 with flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays. There are plans to increase to three weekly flights in November.

The carrier is also debuting from Seattle-London service on September 17 with flights on Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Sundays. With these new routes, Norwegian serves  from 13 U.S. cities with a total of 48 non-stop routes to Europe,  both  seasonal and year-round. According to reports, Paris is next.

The very low inaugural fare is attributed to  increasing transatlantic competition.  Air France and British Airways have indicated plans  for low-cost international flights. Stay tuned.

U.S.to Put Out Unwelcome Mat for Foreign Visitors

Administration establishes tough and intrusive border regulations.

I started this blog more than a decade ago to celebrate the joy of travel and to offer occasional useful information for travelers. Sadly, travel has become increasingly less joyful, what with punitive airline experiences, fears of violent incidents in some of the world’s most appealing destinations and now, border hassles. Below is a digest graph from  the WTFJHT daily E-blast over the latest news to discourage inbound visitation to the U.S. — and we don’t now what the counter-policies might be.

The Trump administration is considering steps for “extreme vetting.” Foreigners entering US could be forced to disclose contacts on their mobile phones, social media passwords and financial records, and to answer probing questions about their ideology. (🔒 Wall Street Journal)

i have to wonder whether it will have a domino effect on travel to countries that previously were easy to enter. Will those with U.S. passports or arriving from U.S. flights now be diverted from the green customs light line when entering other countries?

‘Food on Foot’: A Book that Strikes a Chord

True tales of adventurous travel and adventurous eating.

A month from now, we will be in the Himalayas, visiting Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. I’m beside myself with happy anticipation, and every book around the house that is ready to pick up is about one of those countries.  I nibble at old guidebooks, even though this will not be an independent trip but a Road Scholar itinerary, and out-of-print Traveler’s Tales anthologies of Tibet and Nepal (none on Bhutan). Still, the upcoming publication of Food on Foot penetrated my pre-Himalayan haze. The publicist’s description intrigued me:

World traveler, mountain climbing enthusiast, and scholar Demet Güzey introduces readers to the vital connection between food and human expedition in Food on Foot , the next installment in the Food on the Go series. From pilgrims to pioneers, soldiers to explorers, the only limit to humanity’s reach is the food they can find along the way, and Güzey examines the myriad ways we have approached this problem over the centuries and across landscapes.

From tinned foods to foraging in the arctic wilderness, worm-infested hardtack to palate-dulling army rations, loss of appetite in high altitudes to champagne and caviar at base camps, Güzey gives a thoroughly researched and insightful account of how we manage food on foot, and how disaster strikes when we fail to manage it well.

Firsthand accounts, authentic artifacts and photographs, expert opinions, and recipes reveal new perspectives on lesser known as well as more famous expeditions, such as the disastrous end of the Donner Party, the stranded men of Shackleton on Elephant Island, and the first successful summit of Mount Everest. An extensive bibliography provides ample opportunities for further reading.

This culinary history book by Demet Güzey is geared to adventurous food lovers and food-loving adventurers. Publication date is April 8, the day we leave on our own trip,  but I hope to get to it after I return. Publishing  details: Rowman & Littlefield; ISBN: 978-1-4422-5506-7; Hardcover $38; 236 pages.

Alaska’s Multiple 2017 Celebrations

Festivities from the state’s sesquicentennial to a Fairbanks park’s 50th.

The Society of American Travel Writers’ Western Chapter was supposed to meet in Fairbanks next month, but that’s sadly not happening. Even without an SATW presence, there’s a lot happening this year in Alaska.

State Sesquicentennial.  Various communities celebrate the 150th anniversary of the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia. Heritage includes Native, Russian and American threads. Sitka National Historical Park in Southeast Alaska is the epicenter of commemorations that kick off on Seward Day, March 30.

University of Alaska Centennial. Located in Fairbanks “America’s Arctic university” turns 100. More than 10,000 students take a variety of courses and participate in a wide spectrum of research opportunities. Centennial programs and activities reflect the variety of academic and cultural offerings. The official ceremony takes place on May 3, 1 to 2:30 p.m., at Centennial Square (near Wickersham Hall).

Driving the Alaska Highway (aka, the Alcan Highway) is one of North America’s epic road trips.

Alaska Highway 75th anniversary.   Expedited by the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, construction on this remarkable route through some of the most remote, most rugged terrain on earth began about three months later. Also called the Al-Can Highway, it is 1,680 miles from Mile 0 at Dawson Creek in northeastern British Columbia to its terminus at Delta Junction. Upgrades and improvements have reduced its length to 1,390 miles. It continues to the Richardson Highway to Fairbanks.

Pioneer Park at 50. This 44-acre historically themed Pioneer Park, along with the Fairbanks Arts Association, celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year. The park, which bills itself as a “historic theme park,” features museums, historic artifacts and log cabins moved to the site that are into summer-time shops and eateries. Fairbanks Arts, located in the park, is the oldest community arts council in the state. It supports local artists, organizations and audiences via programming in performing arts, literary arts, visual arts and arts education.

EU Set to Require Visas of U.S. Citizens

Response to Trump administration immigration crackdown.

The saying, “What goes around comes around” applies to international travel. In response to deportations, border stops and  other crackdowns on foreign visitors to the U.S. and immigrants too, the European Parliament voted to end visa-free travel for Americans within the EU.

The U.S. government could not  bring itself to agree to visa-free travel for citizens from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania), so American citizens will be required to obtain visas. The vote urges the revocation of the scheme within two months, meaning Americans will have to apply for visas. The intricacies are complicated and may end up before  the European Court of Justice.

Current policies have become known as the “Trump slump.” The U.S. Travel Association has said the administration’s immigration policies are hurting tourism, citing  “mounting signs” of “a broad chilling effect on demand for international travel to the United States.”

Then again, there are a lot of people, including VIPS, whom the U.S. seems to discourage from visiting. Heavy-handed airport detentions of visitors from abroad do nothing to encourage inbound visitation. Consider that in the few weeks since the inauguration, the following are among the high-profile visitors help up at the airport:

  • Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister of Norway was detained for an hour at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. His “crime”: visiting Iran in 2014 for a human rights conference.
  • Mem Fox, a 70-year-old children’s book author from Australia on her 100th visit to the U.S., was detained at Los Angeles International Airport for two hours and treated so rudely that she collapsed in tears in her hotel room and vowed never to come back.
  • Henry Rousso, an Egyptian-born French Holocaust historian, was detained for 10 hours at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport en route to give a talk at Texas A&M. He was told that he would not be permitted to receive an honorarium for his talk on a tourist visa. He had frequently visited over the last 30 years.
  • Celeste Omin, a software engineer from Nigeria was detained in New York when coming to work at Andela, a startup that connects the top tech talent in Africa with employers in the U.S. Andela accepts less than 1% of applicants into its program and is backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

A former head of state, a renowned author, a renowned historian and a top software engineer! There are doubtless more, but these four come to mind.

A British Peek at North Korea

Observations from the rare Western tour group.

The Chinese city of Dandong has the easternmost section of the Great Wall. It also enables curious tourists to glimpse the formidable, secretive country North Korea just across the Yalu River. “Want to see North Korea? Head to Dandong, China,” a CNN Travel report on this curious spot, reports on the contrast between the two on-and-off friends.

It is, of course, almost impossible for Westerners to set foot in North Korea, and Americans would be wise not even put it on their bucket lists. But Hilary Bradt, founder of the highly regarded Bradt Travel Guides, visited with Regent Holidays and filed this blog report called “Hilary Bradt in North Korea.” I’m not sure when she made this guided and controlled excursion, but I just stumbled on it toady and wanted to share it.

Colorado Springs’ Presidential Connections

Ties are relatively tenuous, but they exist for those who look.

Namesakes of the nation’s first president are legion, from the country’s capital and the Lower 48’s westernmost state to the famous bridge connecting New York and New Jersey, plus countless smaller sites. No other presidents have their names on so many places and landmarks. Colorado, in fact, has relatively few. The Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau has come with a few in the Pikes Peak Region to consider visiting this Presidents’ Weekend or beyond.

This sign affixed to the Royal Gorge Bridge railing helps visitors spot the late president’s horizontal profile.

Near Cañon City, take a sky-high walk across the Royal Gorge Bridge, North America’s highest suspension bridge. Look to the horizon and find John F. Kennedy’s silhouette along the mountain range. A sign on the bridge guides searching eyes to what appears to be his profile lying down.

In the box canyon known as the “grandest mile of scenery in Colorado,” visitors hike the road through the Broadmoor Seven Falls flanked by all manner of various rock formations. It doesn’t require a long trek to spot George Washington’s profile, which be seen in stone just inside the entrance.

There are Ronald Reagan Memorial Highways in several. states. Colorado’s picturesque portion is a section of Interstate 25 in El Paso County toward the Royal Gorge Region and Cañon City.

Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, at least one of the Bushes and Obama are presidents who addressed the graduating classes of the U.S. Air Force Academy just north of Colorado Springs.  The visitor center, sculpture garden and impressive interfaith Cadet Chapel are open to the public.  A six-mile stretch of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail running through the base opened yo civilian cyclists and pedestrians last year. Click here for details on visiting this military site in this high-security era.

Cuba Getting First Five-Star Hotel

Kempinski to open Havana property.

If you are one who is planning to visit Cuba “before it changes,” you’d better hurry. Even with diplomatic normalization, American companies are not permitted to build in Cuba yet, so the Swiss hotel firm, Kempinski, will be the first with a five-star property in the island nation’s capital. The will reportedly be Cuba’s first true five-star hotel, described as “one of the country’s first significant steps into the modern Western world. ”

The hotel will be housed within the historic Manzana de Gómez building, a grandiose five-story structure dating to 1890. It was Cuba’s first European-style shopping and business center with more than 500 stores, business offices, law firms and notaries. It is located at the heart of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), that portion of Cuba’s capital city that was founded in 1519 and is now a a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Flanked by Bacardi rum’s art deco bell tower and the National Museum of Fine Arts, Manzana de Gómez is part of the city’s lifeblood. It overlooks the Capitol, the Great Theater of Havana and El Floridita, the infamous fish restaurant and cocktail bar that Ernest Hemingway frequented.

Exterior restored to five-star elegance.

Hotel guests can easily walk to Old Havana’s main interconnecting artery Calle Obispo (which is packed with art galleries, shops and music bars). The monumental Castillo del Morro lighthouse, which has guarded the entrance to Havana Bay since 1589, is a 10-minute drive.

Rooms are planned to exude contemporary elegance in tropical white.

The press release about the hotel raves that “inside the restored neoclassical building, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski Manzana La Habana will offer 246 rooms and suites. Ranging in size from about 430 to 1,615 square feet, each offers a crisp contemporary white color palette with vaulted ceilings, large French windows, and fun pops of bright colors that feel inherently Cuban. Amenities include an approximately 10,765-square-foot Swiss Resense spa, three restaurants, a lobby bar, a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, and free internet in every room—which is huge considering Cuba is one of the least digitally connected countries in the world. Naturally, there is also an in-house cigar lounge.”

The hotel appears to be targeting a late 2017 opening.