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 were 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 more people, more photo and video stops, plus selfie sticks that did not exist then.
The standard route through the palace remains unchanged — a walk through the gates, across a courtyard or two, a scenic 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, taking any without a lot of people was a challenge, but taking them with a crowd was as simple as pointing the camera anywhere along the standard route.
Located 9 miles from downtown, this is the largest and best-preserved royal park in China. Construction began in 1750 as a setting for royal families to rest and entertain, and many of its features of combining natural and enhanced landsscapes have served as a model for Chinese gardens. Heavily damaged, it was twice rebuilt and In 1924, it was opened to the public. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a leading attraction for foreign and domestic visitors.
The basic walk-through tour at lake level and boat ride are standard on most city tours, but it is possible to reach the Summer Palace by public transportation and visit are leisure. Click here and scroll down for details.
More than 3,000 sites remain in Australia from their 19th-century use as places where British convicts were kept for offenses as mild as stealing some chickens to as serious as murder. Eleven of these sites were chosen as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as the best examples in the country. Two of them, the Brickendon and Woolmers Estates, are large farms that are along the same rural road near Longford in Tasmania. Both were holdings of the Archer family. Woolmers is no longer in family lands, but Brickendon Estate, settled in 1824 by William Archer has been continuously operated and lived on by his direct descendants.
We stayed in the quaint Gardener’s Cottage on the glorious Brickendon property. We were welcomed by Louise Archer, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guardian of seven generations of her husband’s family heritage. Brickendon comprises the beautiful Georgian manor house that remains family home, magnificent heritage gardens, a farm village with heritage structures from the convict era and a working country estate. Volumes have been written about Australia’s convict era, so I’ll just add some images and a recommendation to visit, should you ever have the opportunity.
Brickendon Estate’s farm village is open for group tours and independent visits. We didn’t have a chance to do it, but it seems that the Brickendon and Woolmers Convict Farm walk would be a great way the open spaces and beautiful English landscape translated on Australian soil. From photos I’ve seen, the gardens are a sensational wedding venue.
Supertide phenomenon covers causeway to French coastal community.
Once every 18 years, a supertide turns France’s famed Mont St.-Michel into an island — a visitor attraction that never gets old. Very high tides are part of the reality along France’s entire northern coast, the periodic supertide is especially dramatic. One such tide occurred yesterday. Legend has it that the supertide comes in the pace of a horse’s gallop. It briefly turns into an island, while the day’s low tide allows people to walk on the expansive flat seabed off the coast of Normandy. Mont St.-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some 30,000 people reportedly came to Mont St.-Michel to witness the first supertide of the 21st century.
Actually, the supertide effect is evident elsewhere as well, including the Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic Coast between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of South America, the northern coast of Australia and the Bristol Channel in Britain.
Classic Spanish sauce reminds me of a long-ago visit to Spain
A message from Peter Guarino caught my eye for two reasons. First, it is a new local food purveyor, and second, the food he currently purveys is Romesco sauce, an intriguing and complex sauce whose origins are in the seaside town of Tarragona in the Catalonian (or Catalunyan, as it is now spelled) region of eastern Spain. Tarragona is known for its Roman amphitheater by the sea, its remarkable double aqueduct and its beautiful cathedral.
A lifetime ago, my first husband and I went to Tarragona on what was to be a day trip from Barcelona, where in a café, we met another couple from the US with whom we had a lot in common. I worked at Swissair at the time; she was with Air India. My heritage is Austrian; she had been born there. Our husbands had both served in the US Navy. They were renting a house in Tarragona and invited us to spend a couple of nights. My strongest food memories are of the fig tree growing outside the kitchen door and of her gone-local cooking. I had my first, unforgettable tastes both of aïoli and of Romesco.
Traditionally, fishermen from that region would bring in their catch, sell off the best fish for maximum profit and then concoct a stew of what was left in Romesco sauce as a base. I’ve since tried my hand at both, and they turned out well. At heart, I am a from-scratch cook, but sometimes I am happy to be able to shortcut the process and serve a quality prepared product.
Peo’s Romesco sauce is very Boulder, being a product made from organic tomatoes, organic spices, organic olive oil, organic vinegar and nuts that are free of chemical pasteurization. Also, It is vegan-friendly, and this version his also gluten-, dairy- and GMO-free. Sometimes I think I’m the only person in Boulder with no food allergies or sensitivities, but avoiding GMO foods is one of my hot buttons.
Guarino recommends his complex sauce both for dipping and cooking. He calls it “the Queen of Spanish Sauces.” If you are intrigued, click here for Colorado stores that currently carry it.
The quartet of adjacent national parks set along the backbone of the magnificent Canadian Rockies (Banff and Jasper in Alberta, and Yoho and Kootenay in British Columbia) include s handful of commercial islands: two real towns (Banff and Jasper) and three major ski areas (Lake Louise and Sunshine Village in Banff National Park and Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park). Jasper and Banff National Parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and this United Nations cultural agency sees no disconnect between natural and careful man-made wonders.
A prime example of an attraction that most likely would never be approved in a US national park but works so well in Canada is Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. It was developed years ago with walkways to enable winter visitors to safely view the magical landscape of frozen waterfalls, surreal ice formations and frosted limestone walls. Several Jasper tour companies lead guided walks down into the canyon. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I loved it.
Now comes the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park scheduled to open to the public in May. The immense powers of glaciology are on breathtaking display from a fully accessible, cliff-edge walkway that leads to a glass-floored observation platform suspended 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. With the new awareness of climate change, more people are interested in glaciers and their impact on the land, and this Skywalk provides an easy and again safe way to gain some insights. Brewster Travel, the concessionaire that, among many other services, operates park transport as well as the Ice Explorer vehicles that travel over the surface of the astounding Athabasca Glacier. This popular summer excursion directly off the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff also includes information about the glacier’s history and surrounding area.
In the US, the Grand Canyon Skywalk opened several years ago, providing a comparable experience but over a deep desert canyon. A major operational difference is that unlike the Glacier Skywalk in a national park, the older Arizona version is on Hualapai Nation land.
Every year, Destination Germany, the marketing and promotional arm of the German National Tourist Board, comes up with themes that showcase a particular aspect of this varied and vibrant country. The key theme for 2014 will be Germany’s world heritage sites and world natural heritage sites. Of the 962 UNESCO sites around the globe, just under half are in Europe, and 38 of those are in Germany. They include churches, abbeys and palaces, parks, historic towns, industrial monuments and natural landscapes. These range in time from the pre-historic Messel Pit Fossil Site to the early 20th century Bauhaus centers of Dessel and Weimar. Germany will position all 38 sites under the banner “UNESCO World Heritage – sustainable cultural and natural tourism.”
I never would underestimate the importance of validation by UNESCO in international tourism. It not only attracts foreign visitors, but it also adds a layer of protection, since countries are disincentivized from messing with heritage sites. Not that Germany is likely to do anything other than maintain, restore and protect. After all, this is a country that rebuilt after World War II with one eye on restoring the best of the past and the other on the future.
Petra Hedorfer, GNTB’s chief executive said that “For 34 percent of cultural tourists visiting Germany, the UNESCO designation represents an incentive to travel.”
This was my fourth visit to Venice — the first in too many years. It is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, and as such, attracts unbelievable crowds. Unless you go out very early, stay out very late or get off the well-traveled paths, the hordes are unbelievable. At one point, I tried to count the number of guides’ flags and furled umbrellas within my line of sight, but I couldn’t.
Fortunately and serendipitously, my husband and I arrived for a short stay in the wee hours of the morning, long before our small hotel was unlocked. We hung around the Rialto, watching a woman sell beer to teenagers through the security gate of a café. When we were able to leave our stuff at the hotel and stroll to St. Mark’s Square at daybreak. We visited some of the main attractions, including hyper-touristy Murano and Burano, but I tried hard to focus on the details — the close-up charmers that make Venice so captivating, crowds or not. Here’s a random selection of very personal images of people, places and things that caught my eye:
Fantastic 17th-century site gains additional international recognition
Germany’s Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe has been added to the prestigious UNESCO list of global cultural sites considered internationally significant. I’ve never been to the hillside park near Kassel, but I hope to see it one day. It is known for its arresting, intricate water features and the Hercules statue atop the hill as an expression of the ideals and power in the era of European Absolutism, along with the park’s successful blend of landscape design from both the Baroque and Romantic periods.
Landgrave Karl of Hesse-Kassel started the construction of the park in 1689. Unlike the flat Baroque gardens of the day, he decided to have it coming down a hill, overlooking the city of Kassel. This is another feather in Kassel’s cultural cap. The city is best known today for dOCUMENTA, its international exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every five years. But its traditional renown was as a place of work at the Prince Elector’s court for the Brothers Grimm, where they collected many fairytales.
Water displays were all the rage at Europe’s 17th-century courts, the more spectacular and intricate the better. Landgrave Karl bested them all, starting his with a spectacular waterfall cascading over the edge of the 1,640-foot-high park ridge with no apparent source, captured in a succession of intricately designed basins that descend toward the castle at the bottom, to be caught in front of it in a lake featuring a geyser spewing to heights never seen before.
The Landgrave also adorned the edge of the hill with an 26.9-foot tall Hercules statue mounted on a 97.1-foot pyramid-style obelisk, in turn standing on a 107.1-foot octagonal base pavilion. This monumental ensemble itself measures more than 236 feet. Adding the waterfall cascade below with its basins brings the total height of the Baroque spectacle to just under 590 feet. Some three hundred years later, the water displays still work as they did in the old days — manually operated to create choreographed optical effects to light and music on a schedule, or per occasion, on certain days of the week, depending on the season. Later rulers added to the hillside park, resulting in Romantic-period gardens and English-style landscape architecture descending a steep hill with more follies and more waterways now total 7.45 miles today.
Other attractions in Germany’s 38th UNESCO WHS Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe include the Prince Elector’s residential castle, with its mixture of grand building styles a stately site unto itself. It served as home to Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jérôme I, from 1807 to 1813, when Kassel was capital of Bonaparte’s Kingdom of Westphalia. Exploring the Löwenburg (Lion’s Castle) was built in the same period as the Elector’s residence, it is a replica of a medieval castle ruin. Click here for more information on Kassel and Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, and here for information on other German UNESCO World Heritage sites.
75th anniversary of the first climb of the Eiger North Face
Mountains hold great allure for me. I like to look at them. I like to hike up them. I like to stand on summits and survey the world below me. But I’m not a climber, so the mountains I have “climbed” are those accessible step by step — no ropes, crampons of bivvy sack required. Still, I admire those with true climbing and mountaineering skills, none more than the men who made first ascents using boots, clothing and other gear that was long relegated to museums.
The last few weeks have seen anniversaries of other pioneering climbs — real climbs, not hikes like my ascents. I previously wrote about the centennial of the first climbs of Mt. McKinley and the 60th anniversary of the Hillary-Norgay duo summiting Mt. Everest. There are claims that those were the second successful climbs of each, but previous ascents, while credible, are unsubstantiated because in one case (Everest) the purported first ascenders did not live to document the tale and in the other (McKinley), there were factual discrepancies.
Not so of Switzerland‘s fabled and frightful Eiger North Face, one of the greatest north walls of the Alps, was successfully climbed for the first time 75 years ago. In the 1930s the Eiger North Face was considered to be the “last problem”’ of the Alps, and conquering it was the dream of many mountaineers from all over Europe. It was a not only a challenge, but it was a diversion from the storm clouds of war. After numerous attempts that ended in tragedy costing 9 mountaineers their lives, a German-Austrian rope team made it. Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg, Fritz Kasparek and Heinrich Harrer reached the top on July 24, 1938 at 2.30, becoming the first men to successfully climb the North Face of the Eiger — and that climb really is a climb.
Everest and McKinley are remote and topographically complex. Not so with the Eiger, smack in the middle of Switzerland’s Jungfrau region, a landscape of soaring peaks, mountain valleys, rushing rivers and villages populated with people familiar with and knowledgeable about their mountains. The North Wall is a near-vertical face rising nearly straight up 5,900 feet — more than a mile — above the village of Grindelwald. No way to fabricate that success. While the “Eiger-versary” is one month from now, the village of Grindelwald will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the First Climb of the Eiger North Face from July 9 to 12 with mountaineers and journalists from all over the world will meeting at the foot of the wall to commemorate this monumental feat.
The Eiger North Face was the backdrop for the most exciting climbing sequences in a commercial feature film — “The Eiger Sanction” starring Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy that was released back in 1975.
New Eiger Attraction in the Grindewald Museum
The Grindelwald Museum will exhibit five of the most important events in the history of the Eiger being on July 2. A newly designed exhibition enables visitors to relive the successes and tragedies of the Eiger through historic pictures, files and articles that document over 150 years of its history. Did I mention that also like mountaineering museums?
3D film captures this awesome journey plus tour operators that enable visitors to see it
I recently attended a screening of “Flight of the Butterflies,” a captivating IMAX 3D film, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science at the invitation of the Mexico Tourism Board. Other than a little anthropomorphism (giving a name to one particular monarch butterfly out of the millions millions photographed) and an audience-pleasing dramatization of researchers’ efforts to discover where the monarchs’ annual migration route led, this film is a dazzling documentary that follows the life cycle including the 2,500-mile migration undertaken by four generations of these beautiful insects .
The monarchs who live east of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in the 200-square-mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to hibernate in dense clusters hanging from oyamel fir trees. In spring, they migrate north through Texas where they lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and finally to the northern United States and Canada in the warm months. The 2,500-mile migration of these fragile insects is the longest of any insect in the world. The film captures each of four-generation life cycle, which is also explained on an illuminating monarch butterfly website. (Monarchs west of the Rockes overwinter in California’s eucalyptus forests, in case you’re wondering.)
Recently, there have been reports that this winter’s population in Mexico had dropped precipitously from just last year. “Mexico monarch butterfly population smallest in years, study says,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “The amount of land occupied by the migrating creatures shrank 59% from a year ago, scientists say. The decline could hurt tourism and the ecosystem.” I have to add: To say nothing of hurt to the butterfly hordes themselves, which suffer due to weather incidents and expanding human populations and with that, loss of habitat and disappearance of critical host plants. The most recent major decline in 2010 was attributed to severe storms. Unless monarch butterflies are close to being eradicated, recovery can be rapid — in theory anyway — because females all lay several hundred eggs. Conservation efforts therefore are concentrated on milkweed that the monarchs need.
Neverthess, the World Wildlife Fund, which knows a lot more than I do, has declared the monarchs an endangered species. The organization recommends two particular week-long tours whose highlight is butterfly viewing: The Kingdom of the Monarchs (“Witness the amazing migration of 300 million butterflies. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 6-day tours) andMonarch Butterfly Photography Adventure (“Capture photos of one of the world’s most remarkable natural phenomena. Itinerary highlights Angangueo, Valle de Bravo and Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. 7-day tours”). Other tour operators that do or did offer monarch tours include Interlude Tours, Mexperiennce, Mich Mex Guides and Top Travel, Monarch migration season is about over for this year, but try to catch the film in Denver of elsewhere and think about it for next year. S&S Tours already as an escorted, small-group trip scheduled for 2014.
Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.