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.

World’s Longest Flight

Doha-Auckland an airborne marathon.

Qatar Airways’ inaugural being welcome with water at Auckland.

The first run of the world’s longest commercial flight — Qatar Airways’ 9,032-miler from Doha to Auckland — has been completed.  Flight QR920 landed ive minutes ahead of schedule after a  daunting 16-hour, 23-minute flight across 10 time zones — longer than the entire “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies that were filmed in New Zealand, the airline noted the airline. Bring on the compression socks.

Four pilots and 15 cabin crew members were aboard. The latter served 1,100 cups of tea and coffee, 2,000 cold drinks and 1,036 meals during the flight. I hope to food on Qatar is decent and the seats not too uncomfortable. In keeping with international tradition to welcome inaugural flights, the Auckland airport rescue service showered the plane with water cannons on arrival.

The Qatar flight replaces  Emirates’ 8,824-mile flight from Dubai to Auckland in the record books. Last year, I flew for 14 or more hours from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I watched four movies, read some and napped a little. By that measure,  Qatar Airways’ new flight would be good for five movies.

Revisiting Reykjavik

Iceland’s lovely little capital extends warm welcome in winter.

This was the third visit to Iceland since the fall of 2014 for my husband and me. In the dark depth of winter, we were sticking around Reykjavik and hoping to see the Northern Lights between landing early on Tuesday morning and departure late Friday afternoon. At this time of year, it gets light after 10 a.m. and twilight hits around 5 p.m. — enough time to do things. If you want to see our Northern Lights images, scroll to the end of this post.

Tuesday, January 23

On this cold, gray January morning, my husband and I landed at Keflavik Airport in the dark and wet.

Early morning arrival at Keflavik on a dark, drippy morning. The convenient FlyBus transported us to our hotel.
I can’t begin to pronounce the name Aðalheiður S. Eysteinsdóttir, whose distinctive, whimsical wood sculptures are features of this and other every other Icelandair hotel.

Fortunately,  our room at the Icelandair Hotel Natura was ready, so we checked in immediately and went to the SATT Restaurant where the abundant breakfast buffet was set up. Then, on this uninspiring day, we took a nap in our simple and unphotogenic room. The bathroom was so small that the bath towel could have served as a wall-to-wall carpet. But the beds were comfortable and  WiFi was included — as was a pass for the city’s extensive bus system.  Good thing, because the Natura is near nothing except the domestic airport.

We would have gotten our money’s worth if we had paid for the pass, because we took a long roundtrip ride the first evening. When we started getting hungry, we hopped on the No. 5 bus, which stopped right by our hotel. We had to change to the No. 14 at the Hjellmur station, which is under renovation. The station is on a triangular island, so when we asked on which side the bus stopped, we were directed to the wrong one, and the driver was one of the few Icelanders we’ve met who spoke no English.

 

After two lengthy “Reykjavik By Night” rides, we reached our goal, Reykjavik Fish Restaurant, a warm, cozy harborside restaurant that did not disappoint.

Two pieces of fresh, flaky cod that is well battered and crisply fried. It is served with OK but not great fries and a choice of good sauces. And there wine and beer are, of course, available.

Wednesday, January 24

Rested up and ready to roll, we took a morning bus to town. It was to be a cold, breezy museum day that started out clear but then clouded over.

The old perched in front of the new — a perfect snapshot of Reykjavik today.

On a previous trip to Iceland, we had visited the Icelandic Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur. I knew very little about the Norse sagas but was intrigued by this extensive museum that focuses on Njál´s Saga and the Viking era.

Reading the sagas is too formidable a task, but I did purchase a slim volume called Icelandic Literature of the Vikings, which helped me understand when we visited Reykjavik’s smaller, simpler Saga Museum. It depicts aspects of Viking life in a series of clearly narrated dioramas.
Continue reading Revisiting Reykjavik

Frommer’s Guides at 70

Lapsed lawyer’s travel guidebooks defined American travels.

An edition from the early ’70s. I think this was the one I toted around.

While Arthur Frommer was stationed in Europe during the Korean War, he published a slim guide to help nervous GIs navigate the mysteries of foreign travel with its mysterious money, food and customs.

The book sold out, and the inspired Arthur Frommer, a recently minted lawyer, returned to Europe to research and write what became Europe on $5 a Day. It was published in 1957, making this the 60th anniversary. When a college roommate and I toured Europe for three months several years late, inflation had not yet struck, and we managed on close to a $5 daily budget. That trip fueled my lifelong desire to cross oceans to see and experience new places.

There followed more guidebooks a magazine, a television show and a blog. In recent years, he has teamed up with his daughter, Pauline, to keep the iconic brand going. Thank you, Arthur, for kindling the travel lust in millions of Americans.

The Ski Train is Back!

Amtrak running the train, reborn as the Winter Park Express.

Amtrak-logoToday marked the happy return of the ski train between Denver’s Union Station and the base of Winter Park Resort. The operator now is Amtrak, and the weekend/holiday train is called the Winter Park Express. But the route is the same — and Coloradans are cheering.

Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort
Courtesy Charles Stemen/Winter Park Resort

With 550 passengers, including Governor John Hickenlooper, the inaugural train was sold out, as many that are to follow.

Vail Valley’s Lodge at Cordillera Closing

Posh lodge to become drug rehab center, if lawsuits don’t stop it.

cordillera-logoI first visited the Lodge at Cordillera when it was a construction zone — a small condo building of just a few units was the first to be completed– just 28 rooms and later 56. Somewhere along the line,  the fitness center became a fantastic spa, and the property changed its name to the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.

The restaurant initially was a fancy French eatery called Restaurant Picasso (and yes, there was a Picasso on the wall) that later became a modern American restaurant called Mirador. I don’t know what happened to the Picasso.  And a golf course, of course.

The Lodge at Cordillera is lovely on a winter evening, but sadly for skiers and snowboarders, itis several miles from the nearest lift.
The Lodge at Cordillera is lovely on a winter evening, but sadly for skiers and snowboarders, itis several miles from the nearest lift.

The surrounding development included more and more multi-million-dollar homes on something like 3,000 acres — all perched high on a plateau incongruously over a trailer park.  Look up “Kobe Bryant” if you want to recall Cordillera’s brush with infamy.

Now, comes the next chapter (and probably some work for lawyers).  Robert Behringer is a Texan whose Behringer Harvard investment firm is under contract to sell the lodge and some surrounding acreage that was once supposed to be a village center to the Baltimore-based Concerted Care Group that wants to convert it into a pricey drug addiction treatment facility. How pricy? Reports are that the cost would be up to $65,000  a month.

Cordillera residents don’t like it. Not one bit, claiming that the plan has already cost property owners $100 million in real estate value. They filed a lawsuit which alleges that Behringer sought modification of Cordillera’s Planned Unit Development Guide. It included 34 potential uses of the lodge and surrounding land, including office space, athletic facilities, an amphitheater and medical offices. Drug rehab was not  on the list. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the website does not say in so many words that the doors close for good on February 28.  It can only be inferred by the fact that every date from March 1 on is blocked out in red on the reservations calendar.

Toilet Tales from China

Modernizing fast, but not always well. One exploded recently.

dsc01064One of the things that distresses many Western visitors to China are the public toilets. Most are very clean (attendants are often on hand in public restrooms to make sure), but squat toilets still predominate. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, just don’t like them.

Even as China is building the tallest skyscrapers, the highest bridges, the longest tunnels and the most bullet trains, it is addressing more basic needs by modernizing public toilets, which in places other than tourist areas badly needed modernizing.

It doesn’t always go well. One person was killed and seven injured when a build-up of gas (methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide) in sewer pipes caused a public toilet to explode in northwestern China on New Year’s Eve.  A blast in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, caused a new toilet building to collapse. One person was killed and several were injured, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. Despite the inevitable jokes, it was no laughing matter.

Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.
Clean but not comfortable for many Westerners.

Chinese toilets in public buildings (including at highway rest stops) come in two basic styles, “squatters” and “seats.” Squatters are porcelain fixtures at floor level, with places for the user’s feet. Seats are closer to Western-style.

Except in fancy hotels and restaurants, toilet paper is not provided. BYO — or, if you are on a tour, be grateful that tour buses usually have a supply. In many places, there is a waste basket next to the toilet. That’s where the TP goes. Flushing might often clog up that delicate plumbing.

Perhaps the most bizarre toilet I encountered was a concrete trench near a historic fort not far from Wenzhou.  A waist-high “privacy” wall enabled two women to squat over different parts of the trench. A flow of running water flushed it. I didn’t have my camera so sadly could not take a picture. #SATWChina

Hotel Boulderado’s Upcoming Lobby Renovation

Boulder’s historic landmark hotel to upgrade main floor space.

boulderado-logoThe Hotel Boulderado, which opened its doors on New Year’s Day 1909, continues to reinvent itself, piecemeal. The restaurant was the Teddy Roosevelt Restaurant or Rough Rider Room (or similar) when I moved to Boulder in ’88. It was later Q’s at the Boulderado, and is now Spruce Farm Food Fish. The down-market Catacombs has been turned into a speakeasy-inspired cocktail lounge called License #1. The Corner Bar has been refreshed.

Now, the hotel at the corner of 13th and Spruce is about to embark on its most dramatic change, a makeover of the lobby. Beginning right after the enormous Christmas tree comes down on January 2, the four-month renovation will begin. The hotel initially said that the restaurants and rooms will still be operating, but it appears that Spruce Farm and Fish is, in fact, closed while the work is going on.

If I understand the plans correctly, the beautiful front desk will become a lobby bar and the gift shop will become a coffee bar operated by Boxcar Coffee Roasters. I’m not sure where the registration desk will go — or perhaps it will be replaced by several sets of tables and chairs. The beautiful staircase to the mezzanine, the stunning glass ceiling and the water fountain boasting of the Arapahoe Glacier as its source will presumably all remain.

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.