WINE DINE &
TRAVEL APRIL-JULY 2014
LIFE & DEATH ON THE GANGES PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR BACKWATERS OF KERALA FOCUS ON RANCHO SANTA FE RENEWAL IN UTAH SIMPLY SCILLY
Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 1
Wine, Dine & Travel
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â€œAdventure Under the Tuscan Sunâ€? with authors Frances Mayes & Dario Castagno
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COVER PHOTO: I took this shot of a group of Buddhist monks at sunrise on the Ganges using my Olympus EPL 5 with a 20mm fixed lens. All of my photos in this issue were taken with this camera. ~ Ron James
NEXT EDITION | SUMMER 2014
canada /mexico LEAF PEEPER CRUISE TO NEW ENGLAND Normandy: A Visit to Omaha Beach A Photographer’s Guide to Bruges, Belguim NYC Dinner and a Broadway Show
COMING IN FALL 2014
THE LEFT COAST SAN DIEGO TO VANCOUVER
Wine Dine & Travel will explore one of the most beautiful and exciting coasts in the world. We’ll visit the fascinating cities of North America’s West Coast, discovering new destinations and enjoying world-class wine, dining and resorts. Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 3
Join award-winning author and acclaimed Lilian J. Rice biographer for the Diane Welch Celebrity Walking Tour of the historic village of Rancho Santa Fe
Up to a party of 16 people may book an exclusive two hour afternoon walking tour of the romantic village of the ranch, followed by a lecture and video presentation at the historic Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center where light refreshments will be served
Contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to book an appointment Group discounts for ten or more people
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oy, wonder, fear, confusion, anger, disgust, amusement, and curiosity – all are among the emotions travelers experience at one time or another. By definition, travel forces us out of routines and comfort zones. Strange cultures, customs, languages, foods, and situations contribute to our unease – and excitement. That’s why travel is an adventure, challenging the mind, exercising the body, and stimulating the soul. We feel vividly alive and part of something much larger and complex. This issue features stories that illustrate that range of emotions. From death on the Ganges River to the joy of renewal in Utah, the stories in this issue are entertaining and thought provoking. WDT takes great pride in our wonderful writers and gives them the rare opportunity these days to write in-depth length stores rich with information, detail and personality. Our many thousands of our readers have come to expect this kind of travel journalism and if you’re reading this, you probably do too.
Ron James is the "wine, food and travel guy." He is a nationally award-winning print and online journalist, designer., television producer and radio personality. The native Californian's nationally syndicated wine and food columns have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. He is passionate about great wine and food and enthusiastically enjoys them every day!
MARY JAMES publisher/editor
Mary Hellman James is an award-winning San Diego journalist and editor. After a 29-yearcareer with the San Diego Union-Tribune. She currently is a freelance garden writer and a columnist for San Diego Home-Garden/Lifestyles magazine. Mary and her husband, Ron James, travel extensively. Upcoming this year is a visit to the Holy Land, Istanbul, Morocco and a transatlantic cruise from Rome to Florida.
We’ve grown again with this issue, publishing more than 90 pages of solid editorial content. We’ve grown because WDT is fortunate enough to attract some of the very best travel and food writers in the industry. In this issue, the talented writers who have contributed since our inaugural issue last year are joined by some veteran talent making their WDT debut. Among them are two Brits, Mark Moxon and Amy Laughinghouse, evocative writers who can make you laugh out loud or move you with reporting on travels with a darker side. Another veteran writer, Lynn Barnett, offers her first perspective on family vacations in paradise in Costa Rica where the trick is to find something for everyone. And television celebrity Kathi Diamant offers a fascinating look into the world of themed vacations with her experiences at a literary festival in the wonderful Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. New in this issue you’ll find a fascinating story on the history of Rancho Santa Fe by historian-journalist Diane Welch. And Susan McBeth offers us the beginning of a unique series on literary books you should read that will make your travels even more special. Stories in this issue showcase extreme contrasts in destinations, with special reports on exotic India and kick-backed Rancho Santa Fe, California. As you read through this issue we hope you’ll experience the wide range of emotions the authors felt as they traveled and perhaps feel as if you’ve been on a great adventure - even if it’s from the comfort of your favorite chair. We wish you safe and memorable travels.
Ron and Mary James Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 5
THIS MONTH’S CONTRIBUTORS
Alison DaRosa Alison DaRosa is a six-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for travel writing, the most prestigious prize in travel journalism. She served 15 years as Travel Editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune. She was the award-winning editor of the San Diego News Network Travel Page. She produces and edits the San Diego Essential Guide, a highly rated and continually updated travel app for mobile devices. Alison is a regular freelance contributor to the travel sections of U-T San Diego, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Sharon Whitley Larsen
Sharon Whitley Larsen’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Los Angeles Times Magazine, U-T San Diego, Reader’s Digest (and 19 international editions), Creators Syndicate, and several “Chicken Soup for the Soul” editions. Although she enjoys writing essays, op-ed, and people features, her favorite topic is travel (favorite destination London). She’s been lucky to attend a private evening champagne reception in Buckingham Palace to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, to dine with best-selling author Diana Gabaldon in the Scottish Highlands, and hike with a barefoot Aborigine in the Australian Outback. Exploring sites from exotic travels in the Arctic Circle to ritzy Rio, with passport in hand, she’s always ready for the next adventure!
Carl H. Larsen Carl H. Larsen is a veteran journalist based in San Diego. He now focuses on travel writing, and is summoned to pull out his notebook whenever there’s the plaintive cry of a steam locomotive nearby. In San Diego, he is a collegeextension instructor who has led courses on the Titanic and the popular TV series “Downton Abbey.”
Mark Moxon is an avid traveler and freelance journalist who spent the first four years of his working life as a print journalist on various computer magazines. During the dot-com boom he had the job title of Editor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Earth Edition, and that probably sums up his career more than anything else – a mix of writing, humour, technology and travel. His extensive website, Mark Moxon’s Travel Writing ( www.moxon.net/ ) is a must read for any fun loving traveler or wannabe.
Susan McBeth is the founder and owner of Adventures by the Book ( www.adventuresbythebook.com ) which brings literature to life for readers through events and travels with authors. She is the founder of the SoCal Author Academy, providing workshops and training to help authors better connect with readers. She is a current member of the One Book One San Diego committee, and a former board member with the Southern California Booksellers Association.
Priscilla Lister Priscilla Lister is a longtime journalist in her native San Diego. She has covered a many subjects over the years, but travel is her favorite. Her work, including photography, has appeared in the U-T San Diego, Los Angeles Times, Alaska Airlines magazine and numerous other publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. She currently writes a weekly hiking column for the U-T, photographing every trail and its many wonders. But when the distant road beckons, she can’t wait to pack her bags.
Kathi Diamant Kathi Diamant is an actor, writer, broadcast professional and the author of the Geisel Award-winning biography, Kafka’s Last Love. An adjunct professor at SDSU, she serves as Director of SDSU Kafka Project, (www.kafkaproject. com ) the official international search for a missing literary treasure. This September she leads her “Magical Mystery Literary History Tour” to Prague, Krakow and Berlin.
Diane Welch An award-winning author, feature journalist and public speaker, Diane Welch is recognized as the world’s expert on master architect Lilian Rice who is credited with the design and development of much of historic Rancho Santa Fe and San Diego County landmark buildings. Last year Diane received Save Our Heritage Organization’s People In Preservation Award for her work on Rice. You’ll find her leading Diane Welch Celebrity Walking Tours of the village of Rancho Santa Fe on the last Sunday of the month. ( email@example.com )
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WINE DINE &
Photo by Ron James
PUBLISHERS Ron & Mary James EXECUTIVE EDITOR /LAYOUT & DESIGN Ron James EDITOR Mary James FEATURE WRITERS Sharon Whitley Larsen Carl Larsen Alison DaRosa Robert Whitley Maribeth Mellin Priscilla Lister Nancy Carol Carter Kathi Diamant John Muncie Jody Jaffe Susan McBeth Amy Laughinghouse Mark Moxon Diane Welch
WINEDINEANDTRAVEL.COM CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org
The only tiger we saw on our tiger photo safari in Ranthambore was this postcard I found in the local gift shop. My thumb, on the other hand so to speak, is real. ~ Ron James
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Visiting India isn’t for the faint of heart. Ron and Mary James share their recent month-long trip and give frank advice for future travelers to this chaotic and amazing country.
Priscilla Lister explores the more tranquil area of India. The state of Kerela in southwest India is worlds apart from the teeming cities of that country’s northern regions.
RANCHO SANTA FE
Mark Moxon offers a frank view of the city Varanasi and the sacred Ganges river.
BACKWATERS OF KERELA
Camels, camels and more camels rule at the world-famous Pushkar Camel Festival. The fair is exotic and exciting; the accommodations however, can be challenging.
PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR
LIFE AND DEATH ON THE GANGES
A special threepart feature on the historic community of Rancho Santa Fe -- the home of the rich and famous in the heart of San Diego county.
Carl Larsen offers a look into the world of slate production and tourism in Wales. Today there’s little slate mining but for visitors, the relics of the past provides a fascinating destination.
People are traveling with a theme, often with like-minded friends. Kathi Diamant takes part in a magical literary festival in historic San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
WHEN IN BEAUNE
Spring is the season for renewal – a time to blossom. It’s what brought Alison DaRosa to Utah. That and the promise that skiing is a heck of a lot easier these days than it was 20 years ago, when she last hit the slopes.
HEAVEN FOR BOOK LOVERS
SLATED FOR WORK
Sharon Whitley Larsen is charmed by St. Mary’s, the largest of five inhabited islands among more than 200 remote islands and rocks southwest of the English mainland.
RENEWAL IN UTAH
Wine and travel writer Robert Whitley always knows where to find a great hotel, a delicious meal and a fine bottle of wine. In his visit to Beaune, France, he had so many great choices.
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PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR Story & Photos by Ron James
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ur trusted Indian driver expertly navigated the twisty road taking us toward the final destination on our 17-day fall odyssey through India and Nepal. After experiencing such wonders as the Himalayas at dawn and the Taj Mahjal, our stop in the small town of Pushkar on the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan would likely be anti-climatic.
During any other time of the year, that may have been the case. But in November when the moon is just right, Pushkar hosts an unusual, but notable fair - one that celebrates camels - lots of them. Some 200,000 festival goers from around the world flock here, along with 50,000 groomed and decorated Indian camels sporting an equal number of humps since this is dromedary country. Before leaving the nearby city of Ajmer, we stopped for a few supplies, including a small bottle of vodka. Pushkar is a sacred Hindu town and booze is technically prohibited. The lack of affordable and palatable wine in India had changed our evening happy hour from wine time into martini time, a mandatory antidote to Indiaâ€™s insane traffic, noise and scenes of poverty and suffering. The drive from Ajmer through the Pushkar Pass was by most standards scary, but Gorgeous camels, groomed and decorated, waiting for a patrons wanting a ride through the dunes of the Pushkar Camel Fair.
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we took it in stride. Nothing competed with nightmarish rides up Nepal’s onelane mountain roads or through Mumbai’s narrow streets in a three-wheeled deathtrap called a tuk tuk. Nonetheless, we were relieved as the road flattened out at the outskirts of Pushkar. Just when you think things are going fine in India, you should know better. A barricade manned by a dozen or so young men stopped us from entering the town. Our driver argued with the grim young leader and then handed over a small wad of rupees. The barricade was lifted and we continued on our way. Welcome to Pushkar. Pushkar’s population explodes during the camel fair and prices increase accordingly. Accommodations include simple guest houses, desert tents, some tiny and very scruffy looking hotels in the town center, a few heritage hotels, and farm stays. If you plan to go, it’s best to line up reservations several months in advance or risk paying a high tariff for less than stellar accommodations. We didn’t book until a couple of months before the festival and paid the consequences. As we skirted the festival grounds we got a preview of coming attractions before turning down a dirt road that passed brightly painted concrete buildings before depositing us into a dirt driveway. Ahead we glimpsed a cluster of white tents amid a grove of small trees. We had arrived at Royal Rajasthan Camp where we would spend the next three days in a deluxe tent with its own bathroom facilities and dine at the camp restaurant, The Wild Rose (which would prove that a rose is not always a rose). The “front desk” was in a open large tent, where a less-than cheerful guy handled check-in and perfunctorily presented us with a lei of fragrant marigolds. Roughing it in a tent was appealing after two weeks of luxury hotel stays. Pushkar has several of these camps set up just for the festival, but this one came with a caveat from our tour master Sabu Ram of Icon Tours: “About Pushkar accommodation, it’s not so highly praised and just known as an OK accommodation.” “OK” ended up to be a quite a stretch. 12 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
Despite beautiful 80-degree days during our stay, the desert nights are cold. Even with a small portable electric heater Sabu had arranged, we froze on both nights. Festival and campground noise kept us awake, as did our uncomfortable, short bed whose hard support rails seemed to push its way through the thin foam mattress that was covered with a velveteen blanket and 12-count sheets made from pig bristle. At least that’s what it felt like.
Capping off our restless night, we had a perfectly awful breakfast at the Rose, which sported food-stained vinyl tablecloths coated with a fine layer of grit. You might think our accommodations at Camp Royal Gotcha-stan ruined our time in Pushkar – but they didn’t. In fact Pushkar was a highlight of our trip. The Pushkar Camel Fair was organized many years ago for local camel and cattle traders to do business during the holy Kartik Purnima festival, held around
Opposite top: Mary sits in front of our new digs while we explore the Pushkar Camel Fair. Opposite bottom: Royal Rajasthan’s Wild Rose dining room proved you can’t trust everything you read in Trip Advisor. Above: A trained monkey act draws a large crowd. It’s one of many street entertainers performing at the Camel Fair. Bottom: Mary sitting on the camp beds. They looked OK then but proved uncomfortable as the night wore on.
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the full moon during the Hindu lunar month of Kartika. In the last decade or so, the event has become a major tourist attraction -- a kaleidoscopic camelâ€“filled extravaganza that boggles the mind and assaults the senses.
into their fur. Then they are paraded in beauty contests, raced around an arena and, of course, traded. Interspersed are exotic acts out of Indiana Jones movies including snake charmers, dancing monkeys, magicians and acrobats. Anywhere a crowd circles, some street enterFor us, the this traditional Indian event tainment is underway. was like an exotic county fair with brightly painted people in colorful Rolling sand dunes abutting the fair robes, vendors hawking strange-looking grounds are dotted with tents and an food and drink, and dusty fields roamed assortment of RVs where herders, tradby camels, regal race horses and motor- ers and their families camp during the cycles. Amusement rides and evening fair. For some, the journey there has entertainment competed for attention taken over three weeks. Kids play while with hundreds of booths that line the women tend campfire and cook or wash streets, selling everything from wooden clothes in large pots of water filled at pitch forks in use in the region for thou- the troughs for livestock. In addition to sand years to colorful horse and camel camels and a few sheep and goats, the gear, rhinestone-studded bangles, tra- fair is a showcase for the stunning white ditional Indian dress and housewares. and black Merwari horses native to InMusic and motorcycle horns blared dia. These hardy creatures can be identified by the distinctive curve of their ears. above it all. In the surging crowds, different clans could be identified by their dress. Men wore turbans in fluorescent greens, oranges and other hues that linked them to a religion or geographical area. Women strolled by in elegant, rainbow-colored saris â€“ a look I love.
Left: A handsome camel surveys the scene at the fair. Top: A vendor roasting peanuts. Opposite top left: An ancient tea vendor takes a break in the shadows. Right top: Women in tribal colors look for bargains. Opposite bottom left: Turbaned desert tribesmen enjoy the fair with their families. Bottom right: Vendors sell hand-crafted pitch forks that were similar to ones used Like county fairs everywhere, the fes- in ancient times.
tival shows off the regionâ€™s agriculture and husbandry. Here camels are painted, dressed in colorful, fringed gear and decorated with geometric designs shaved 14 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
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As we strolled the fairgrounds, we were camel is getting on and off. As the camel assaulted with offers for camel rides rises or kneels on its front legs, the pason one of the extravagantly outfitted senger is jerked back or forward; but dromedaries – a bargain at less than with a firm grip on the saddle horn we 10 dollars for a 30-minute escorted did just fine, taking in the sights as the walk. Contrary to popular belief, cam- camels gently swayed walking into the els – especially females - are pretty dunes and back docile beasts. Mary and I settled on our After the camel ride, we made our way saddles with the camels in the kneeling through narrow crowded streets to the position. The hardest part of riding a 16 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
adjacent town center, the commercial and religious hub of the festival. With exception of horn-honking motorcyclists dangerously zooming through the throngs of people, the scene was exciting and stimulating to senses… about as foreign and exotic as travel abroad gets. Brightly dressed and painted “holy men” seemed to compete with each other for the most outlandish look hoping to at-
tract photographers and the money they would pay for the privilege of taking their picture. A river of pilgrims in their best dress streamed through the streets to the temples and to bathe in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake, which borders the town. Bathing in the lake during the days around the full moon would absolve their
sins. Street vendors sold religious trin- Left: Young camels getting topped off before going to work at the fair. Right: The authors enjoying the amusekets and flowers to honor the gods. ment rides at the Pushkar Camel Fair. Much better than
A young man who spoke English eagerly the Tilt-a-Whirl any day. tried to involve us in the religious goings on and led us through the streets to steps to the lake. He was a little too eager and got agitated when we told him we wanted to get something to eat. We escaped not knowing his motive, but it probably
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included a fist full of rupees for something. We were honestly hungry, so we began searching the streets for a likely place to grab a bite. One thing you learn quickly in India is to be very, very selective about dining. We settled on a small outdoor café with four or five tables. It was clean and three tables were filled with western tourists who seem very happy with the offerings, including pizza that looked good to us after weeks of Indian food. We ordered the pepperoni pizza, surprised to see it offered since most dining spots in town are vegetarian. The young man who took our order smiled when I wistfully mentioned my wish to wash it down with a beer. We settled for a bottle of water. About 15 minutes later our cheese pizza arrived topped not by circles of pepperoni, but round slices of green peppers. Two large coffee mugs followed. I was about to object when our server smiled again and pointed into the mugs. The contents were cold, refreshing and tasted very much like beer. The pizza was terrific and after another round of “coffee,” things were looking up at the Pushkar Fair. Opposite top: The sacred lake of Pushkar with the holy ghats in the background. Opposite bottom left: Color dress and turbans are the look of the day during the camel fair. Bottom right: The girl from Pushkar keeps on walking, sways so slowly and gracefully with a basket of veggies on her head. Top right: The dark smoky alleys lined with street food vendors cooking their dishes for the fair goers. Center: Ron and Mary James enjoying a cup of coffee that tastes curiously like cold beer while waiting on their faux pepperoni pizza shown below. Above Left: Vendors sell all varieties of fruits to fairgoers.
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CAMEL: ONE PREVIOUS OWNER BY MARK MOXON
‘Ello there sir..
You look like the sort of man who knows what he’s looking for, if I may say so. Let me be the first to say that you’ve come to the right place; here at Old Nick’s New and Second-Hand Camel Emporium we’ve 20 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
got ‘em all, from super-charged top-of-therange ships of the desert to more affordable economy models. Now what sort of camel were you looking for, sir? A new one perhaps? Let’s see, your baby camel starts at 3 ft tall, and all you have to do is to feed him cow’s milk until
he turns into one of the strapping young lads we’ve got over there. If you’re looking for a nice adult camel, we’ve got ‘em starting at Rs7000 and going all the way up to Rs20,000, depending on the strength and age of the model; I’m sure we can find something to suit your needs...
What’s that? Running costs? Well, you’ll get about 50km per day out of your average model, and all it requires in terms of daily consumables is 20kg of grass, which will cost you in the region of Rs100, and between 30 and 40 litres of water, depending on the weather. The beauty of your camel is his ability to go for a week without any water at all, so he’s great for the desert; if you don’t put any water into him for more than a week, the oneyear guarantee’s null and void, but even the driest desert will have filling oases dotted about that you can get to in a week, believe you me.
aintenance is simple; as long as you put in the food and water he’ll look after himself, chewing the cud at any available moment and parking himself for the night without a problem. We recommend you tie your camel up for the night, just as a precaution, but if you do decide to let him wander then he won’t run off, especially if you’re good and regular with the feeding. I know what you’re thinking: how on earth can something with all those joints and spindly legs not go wrong? Well, we get an average of 24 years out of each model, and I’m sure if you treat yours well he’ll give you even more years of satisfactory motoring.
him walking; they squash out like silicone breast implants, know what I mean sir? Beautiful work.
all you can think of is Marvin the Paranoid Android or Eeyore the Donkey, but Terry Pratchett reckoned camels were the best mathematicians in the world, and Johnny Morris just loved them, so don’t judge a book by his cover, sir. Besides, if your camel does develop a bit of an attitude, tie a rope between his two front legs and let him go off into the desert with a friend, and they’ll wrestle it out of their systems. Yes, wrestle. Has to be seen to be believed! There they are like two lanky diplodocuses, wrestling. They start by crossing their necks, just like swords in a sword fight, and then the fight’s on. The idea is to hook your neck behind your opponent’s front legs, forcing him to kneel down. There’s lots of playful biting of foot pads, necks and tails, and a heck of a lot of noise, but don’t let that worry you sir, it’s quite harmless. If you don’t let them have a wrestle every now and then they might end up picking on someone else; I saw a camel try to pick up a goat in its mouth as a joke, but the goat didn’t see the funny side, if you see what I mean.
Not as beautiful as the face, though. Look at those lines, with the sleek, aerodynamic head and long neck for reaching all those id I mention night-time? That’s tasty neem leaves; did I mention that you when your camel gets a lot of his can fill up for free by letting your camel find cud chewing in; camels eat their his own food? A nice optional extra is the food plenty of times, so don’t be set of long eyelashes that give your camel put off by the night-time noise. You’ll that extra bit of appeal, and along with the hear farts, burps, rumbles and the regular See those legs? Two joints and three parts flapping ears I have to say that almost evclock-like side-to-side chewing of his huge to each one, a brilliant bit of engineering, eryone chooses this option; a camel withteeth, and if you’re sleeping close by it’ll I must say. Looking from the side you’ve out pretty eyes is like a donkey without a stink like a dodgy food disposal unit in a got your front legs on the left that bend in tail, wouldn’t you say so sir? What’s that? blocked sink. But after a while you’ll find a Z-shape, and you’ve got your back legs No, you don’t have to worry about your it comforting, and it’ll be the nights that on the right that bend in an S-shape, and camel looking like a female; we only sell you’re not with your camel that you’ll have there are specially hardened pads of skin male camels for transport, because if you trouble sleeping. in the right places, especially the bits that take a mixture of females and males out rub against the ground when the camel’s into the desert, the males will fight over So, can I put you down for one? Or would sitting. Give the ‘sit’ command and they the females, so we leave the females back you like to take a test ride? There’s no manfold up in a beautiful way, one that you at home, just like you do in your life, sir, ual, but it’s simplicity itself; steer with the wouldn’t believe possible; the camel kneels if you’ll pardon my mentioning your wife. nose-rope, and learn the commands for on its front knees, then folds its back legs And on that subject, you don’t want to in- ‘stop’, ‘sit’, ‘stand’ and the speed controls. up, and finally tucks the rest of its front volve your camel with females without ex- Easy, isn’t it sir? I just know you’re going legs under its belly. You won’t find a sys- pert supervision, sir; with those legs, mat- to love it. tem so well designed outside of a Swiss ing is a sight to behold, I can tell you! You In fact, I’ve got one here that’s just perfect Army knife, but try to explain it in a bro- just bring him in for his regular servicing for you. One previous owner, low mileage chure and it’s like trying to explain how as per usual and we’ll look after the rest... and a personality that makes John Major a compact umbrella works to someone No, he’s not in a bad mood, he just looks look positively hyperactive. Would you who’s never seen rain. like it. Your average camel is a happy, doc- care to make a deposit now, or would you At the bottom of your legs you’ve got your ile beast; he just looks like he’s in a perma- like to pay cash...? foot pads. No, they don’t need replacing nent sulk. It’s the lower lip, sir, hanging either, or shoeing like your horse, and down like that all the time, as if somethey’re good for all sorts of terrain. Look at thing’s wrong. You look at the thing and
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LIFE & DEATH ON THE GANGES The incredible ghats of Varanasi BY MARK MOXON | PHOTOS BY RON JAMES
f you had to choose one city to represent everything that is really Indian, you would probably choose Varanasi. This means it is a fascinating place; it also means it's almost impossible to describe on paper.
The first area of Varanasi is the main business district, known as the Cantonment area. Almost every city has a Cantonment area; this was the Raj-era term for the administrative and military area of a city, and most cities retain the Cantonment name for the central part. Varanasi's core is also its least interesting area, so let's dispense with it quickly; if you want a train ticket or a bank, go to the Cantonment, otherwise you're better off hanging out in the two other main areas of town. Varanasi is built along the west bank of the Ganges, which, in an attempt to avoid the hills to the east in Bihar, turns north towards the Ghaghara River; this means that the river flows north at Varanasi, against all intuition, and Varanasi is perched on the west bank, facing into the sunrise. All along this bank is the second area of town, a long line of ghats stretching for some six or seven kilometres between the famous Benares Hindu University in the south and the large railway bridge in the north. Inland from the ghats, to the west, is the third area, the old town, where things start to get really interesting. It's the ghats and the old town that make Varanasi what it is. Arriving in Varanasi after a long train journey, your first experience is one of total confusion and disorientation. It is a guarantee that your rickshaw driver will totally ignore your instructions to take you to the hotel you've told him, and will instead stop outside a hotel that gives him a healthy Left: The faithful bathe and pray in the Ganges.
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commission; we just sat there and refused to budge until he started his motor up again and took us where we wanted to go.
was how one-sided Varanasi is; the east bank of the river is totally untouched by buildings, and the few shacks built by the water's edge are temporary to say the least.
This infuriated the hotel owner who pretended to take our snub as a comment on his The river is perhaps 200m wide in this, the hotel (“Rooms very nice sir, just five minutes' pre-monsoon season, but there's a very wide walk to the river, very clean”) but I'm not go- silt strip on the east bank that gets totally ing to fall for a rickshaw driver's trick this flooded in the monsoon, more than doufar into my Indian experience... so eventu- bling the width of the river. It's no wonder ally we found ourselves dropped somewhere the east bank is unpopulated if every year else entirely, though exactly where, we you lose your house, but it still surprised couldn't work out; the rickshaw driver told me that even on the permanent part of the us he couldn't drive right down to the ghats eastern bank, where scrubby trees line the (a lie, I later found out, as rickshaws ran over horizon, there were no houses at all. I would my toes right at the top of the steps) so we soon discover why Varanasi is perched on were left to fend for ourselves. It took us a just one bank of the river... long time to find what we wanted, but it was Ghats are central to life in India. As part of well worth the effort. their religion Hindus wash regularly – the The guest house I chose, Ajay's Guest House Indian version of “cleanliness is next to godoverlooking Rana ghat, was right on the riv- liness” – and the ghats are the place to wash er, and from its roof I got a bird's eye view of bodies, clothes, crockery and anything else the banks of the Ganges (Chris and Martina that gets dirty. But as I discovered in Hampi chose a slightly more luxurious hotel away during the tika-scrubbing of Holi, the ghats from the river). What surprised me most are not just communal baths, they're the In24 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
Top: Buddhist monks enjoying a sunrise boat ride. Opposite top: An inspiring experience for pilgrims and visitors - sunrise on the Ganges . Below: The ghats of Varanasi early in the morning..
dian equivalent of the local pub. Watching ghats through the day is instructive; they start to liven up before the sun rises, when those with early starts mingle with the particularly pious in a morning scrub to wake up the senses and rub off the smell of another hot, sweaty tropical night. The busiest time is after sunrise when everyone turns up for their morning ablutions and absolutions; kids frolic in the river, playing games with the tourist boats while their mothers start on the clothes washing and old men ponder how long it will be before they'll be floating down the river permanently. This is the essence of India. While the kids splash more water out of the Ganges than the monsoon puts in, a solitary man prays towards the sun, chanting Hindu prayers and scooping water up in his cupped hands, pouring the holy river out in a parabola in front of him and repeating the slow movement five or six times before he slowly turns round, holding his hands together in Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 25
prayer and immersing himself fully, all the while continuing his prayers, barely audible in their monotonic whisper. Suddenly his prayer is finished, and it is as if for the first time he notices the cacophony around him, the beginning of a whole new day in India. While the old man prays the women are bathing at another end of the ghat; in some ghats the division of men and women is so obvious it hurts the morning-sensitive eyes. One end of the ghat is covered in brown bodies, scantily clad in tightly tucked cloths tied round the midriff and leaping around like lizards on a hot tile floor, and at the other end is the shock of colourful sarees and dresses that Indian women have made their own. The reason for the division is the patriarchal society; men can strip down to briefs that would make tourists on a Thai beach do a double take, but the women have to bathe in full attire, showing nothing more than a bit of ankle and a strip round the waist. I watched women having full soapy baths 26 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
without removing a stitch, the expert slip- er that the men don't deserve their chauvinping of soap under the layers a result of rit- ist domination. ual and acceptance of the status quo. I can't After the morning rush hour the ghats calm imagine having a bath with my clothes on, down, for the sun has come up over the hoand I doubt Indian men can either, but they rizon and is starting to make sure that evmake their women put up with it; it's an ineryone knows it's summer. The stone steps dication of the strength of the female spirit begin to heat up, the hotel rooms overlookin India that, even during the morning wash, ing the river flood with sunlight, forcing the the women manage to retain their radiance occupants to get up and open their windows, and beauty to the shame of the dawdling and the boats start to return their sightseeand gangly men. It's also a poignant reminding punters back to shore. The men and some of the women disappear off to their jobs in town, and the remaining women settle down to another day of cooking, cleaning, washing, looking after the kids and catching up with the gossip from next door. People still come and wash at the ghats, and pilgrims still turn up to bathe in the healing waters of the Ganges, but until the sun has crossed the sky the biggest activity on the ghats involves catching and conning tourists, and the burning of bodies at the two burning ghats. Come late evening the men start to drift
back towards the river, now shaded from the sun by the buildings at the edge of the old city. Sitting on the steps with their portable stoves and socks stuffed with cheap tea leaves, the chai vendors make a killing as men come back from work and tarry a while before the evening meal, which is being slaved over by a hard-worked wife somewhere in the bowels of the city. At this time many people take another dip to remove the scum layer gained in the searing heat of the day, the kids jumping around as if to prove that even a long, hot day in the dusty atmosphere of the city streets isn't enough to dent their enthusiasm for life. Finally, as the sun goes down, the ghats have their last wind, and people come out to stroll along the promenade, to catch up on any Top and opposite top: Thousands of Indians crowd the ghats on the Ganges river celebrating life and death from dawn to dusk. Opposite bottom: Holy man praying as the sun rises over the Ganges river. Right: Rowers transport pilgrims and visitors for early morning rides up and down the Ganges.
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A celebration of life and death taking place on the burning ghats on the Ganges river. It’s expensive to be cremated in these ghats. Wood in India is an expensive and rare commodity. The dead are laid out wrapped in bright fabrics on bamboo litters waiting their turn for the fire.
gossip they may have missed, to have anoth- most have a specific function. Five of the the Mir ghat leads to a temple for Nepalese er wash and just to sit and watch the world ghats – Asi, Dasaswamedh, Barnasangam, worshippers; and others have special powgo by. Darkness falls, the lights come on, and Panchganga and Maikarnika – are the spe- ers, such as the Somewar ghat, which is parslowly people drift off to bed – a lot of them cial ghats where Hindu pilgrims must bathe ticularly good at healing diseases. sleeping on the ghats themselves – before each day, in that order; other ghats are where Easily the most infamous ghats are JalVaranasi finally falls silent, if you ignore the the Muslims hang out with their little skull sain and Harishchandra, at least as far as thousands of noisily territorial dogs that caps; others are used by the dhobi-wallahs to westerners are concerned, for these are the thrash the clothes they've got to wash, made plague urban India. burning ghats where cremations take place. easier by the flat rocks positioned at regular Varanasi isn't just a city with lots of ghats Each ghat has its function beyond being a intervals just in the water; yet another is for and temples, it's a seriously holy place, so social centre. There are over one hundred Jain worshippers, while the ascetics hang holy in fact that dying and having your body ghats in Varanasi, and while some of them out at the Dandi ghat, no doubt discussing dumped in the Ganges here is so auspicious are crumbling and obviously not much use, how long it is since they had a good meal; 28 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
that it's a guaranteed way of getting to heaven. This strikes me as one of the more bizarre aspects of Hinduism; if you can get to heaven simply by dying in Varanasi and making the correct arrangements, then why care about karma and caste and working hard all your life, why not just enjoy life and make sure you die in Varanasi?
wait until people have thrown enough money onto the body before they burn it; on the other hand, I was also told that there's a dump truck that goes around collecting dead bodies, but whatever the truth, the sleeping beggars probably get a swift kick in the ribs every now and then, just to make sure they're still with us.
But not everybody can afford to die in Varanasi. The wood for the cremation costs money, quite a lot of it, and I was told that if someone dies in the street, the authorities
I was rather paranoid about approaching the burning ghats, not so much because of the many travellers' tales I'd heard about cons, hassles and rip-offs there, but because
I felt it was none of my business. What would you think if, just as you were standing in the graveyard watching your dearly beloved being lowered into the frozen winter soil, a bunch of yelping tourists came up and started taking pictures, saying things like, 'That's sick, man, check out that guy's burning hair!' and 'This place stinks worse than a butcher's shop!' I didn't want to get involved. But it's impossible to avoid the whole scene, and despite my misgivings, I wasn't going Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 29
A family makes a fiery offering on the steps of the ghat. Opposite top: Scavengers look for anything of value left over from the cremations. Opposite bottom: For the living, washing clothes is still necessary and, in this case, a business in the Ganges.
to miss out on seeing such a strange sight. a woman it's the hips, and for a man the Jalsain is the main burning ghat, and as the lower back (don't ask me why), and these are bodies are brought in by relatives on stretch- just chucked into the river for the dogs to ers, entirely covered in garish red and gold fight over. Meanwhile the ashes are sifted by fabrics, the clockwork efficiency of the sys- a man called the Watchman for gold and siltem seems at odds with the importance of ver, which he gets to keep, and then they're the occasion, for being cremated and scat- scattered on the water (or, rather, shovelled tered in the Ganges is the Hindu equivalent in for the river to wash away later, as there's so much ash). The whole process is surprisof being buried in Westminster Abbey. ingly efficient and hygienic; after all, cremaAfter the relatives wash the body in the tion is the cleanest way to dispose of a body. Ganges for the last time, simply by dipping the covered body in the river, it is placed on But there's a bit of Indian logic that makes top of an orderly pile of logs by the workers all this cleanliness irrelevant. Not everyone (untouchables, the lowest caste of all) who is burned at the ghats, oh no. Holy cows, neatly stack more logs on top before lighting children less than twelve years old and pregthe pyre. It doesn't take long for the fire to nant women are not burned because they catch, and at any one time you can see two are already considered pure (in the latter or three bodies burning steadily in the river case it's the baby who is pure) and the whole breeze, giving off a smell that's disturbingly point of the fire is to cleanse the soul on its way to heaven, so cremation isn't needed; reminiscent of a barbecue. also, lepers and people suffering from other A typical body takes three to four hours to diseases ('People with poisons in their body' burn, but there's always something left; for was how one chap referred to it) are not 30 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
burned, so along with the cows, children and pregnant women they're tied to a rock, rowed out into the middle of the river and dumped overboard. That sounds just fine, but Indian ropes being Indian ropes, these bodies soon find their way to the surface, and due to the gentleness of the current in the non-monsoon Ganges, they can hang around for quite some time before the birds and dogs finally get to them. During this time they tend to drift over to the east bank, which probably explains why there isn't a great deal of housing there, daily dead body delivery not being up there in the estate agent's list of desirable attributes. It doesn't seem to bother the locals, though. Despite the regular parade of dead humans and bloated cows floating past, everyone still bathes and drinks at their local ghat. On top of the obvious health issues raised by bathing with the dead, there are plenty of other hygienic faux pas, such as the man
bathing ten feet from another man who's pissing in the river, all of which is enough to make you more wary of the Ganges than you are about strangers calling you 'friend' and salesmen who offer you their 'best price'. This is a shame, because the Ganges in Varanasi isn't the mud-slicked quagmire you might expect from a river that has had to struggle its way through thousands of miles of Indians using it as a moving rubbishdump-cum-sewer; in fact it's a pleasant deep blue, and it's only on closer inspection you see all the rubbish collected on the banks and the human detritus piled up on the eastern side. Closer inspection was what I had in mind on my penultimate day in Varanasi. I've wanted to take a walk along the Ganges for some time, and not just because the Ganges is so famous; it's surprisingly elusive for such a long river, and most of the well-known cities in India have nothing to do with it. Setting out from my hotel, I walked south down the west bank to the rickety pontoon bridge that spans the Ganges during the dry season. One glance and you can see why it isn't used in the monsoon; it's got enough holes and leaks to make it a scary proposition even if the Ganges dries up. On the other side of the bridge, over on the east bank, is the Ram Nagar Fort, and being a sucker for forts, I made straight for it as the sun began to get serious. I fell into conversation with a well-spoken man called Ram who hailed from Andhra Pradesh. With his shaved head (apart from a tuft at the back) and tika mark he was obviously a Hindu, and he began to explain why he was in Varanasi. 'I have just committed the bones of my mother to the Ganges,' he said. 'That is why I have my head shaved; the eldest son has it done as a mark of respect.'
easily afford the wood, but I do wonder why The east bank of the Ganges is a false one; so many western tourists come to Varanasi. dry, cracked mud stretches for a couple of I offered my condolences, and asked him if What is the attraction for them? They are hundred metres back from the water's edge, being buried in the Ganges meant his mothnot Hindus, so it can't be for the pilgrimage.' until it reaches a gradual rise where the veger was now in heaven. etation can survive the monsoon without I didn't tell him that it was probably the being washed out. I spent the first part of 'Yes,' he replied. 'If a person's bones are bursick attraction of watching people like his my walk in this scrubland of trees, grass and ied in the Ganges at Varanasi or Allahabad mother burn, and instead waffled on about severe heat, a beautiful environment that is then, as long as the bones remain in the rivthe amazing streets of the old city, the serena total anathema to anything living. er, that person will be in heaven. And with ity of the Ganges and the multitude of cheap bones, they do not float, so he or she will hotels. The only drawback was the heat, I The sun beat down on my bush hat, pushremain in heaven forever. said, which is why the number of tourists is ing sweat out through my clothes, down the back of my daypack and into my eyes, and 'Many American Hindus come here to be far less in the summer. it wasn't long before I wistfully thought of cremated,' he added. 'I suppose they can Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 31
Noel Coward and his uncanny accuracy. I in flesh either â€“ and prepared myself for the Yes, the ghats are quite stunning, and make for some interesting walks. But behind evenjoyed it though, not having had a good worst. I wasn't to be disappointed. ery great man is a great woman, and behind dry scrub walk since Australia, and when I Unlike the dogs, the people on the east bank, the craziness of the ghats is the even more spotted the plume of blue smoke from the though few in number, were markedly intense insanity of the old city. Like all cities main burning ghat in the distance on the friendlier than the inhabitants of the city. I that grow up steadily and totally unplanned, other side of the Ganges, I headed towards suppose when you're surrounded by dead the old city is chaos, but it's a different sort the water to get a view of the city on the oprich people who have been washed up from of chaos from the more normal traffic and posite bank. heaven, you lose a lot of your bigotries; evpopulation clash of India's cities; in the old I soon reached the east bank, which slides ery day you're reminded that we are all dust city of Varanasi the streets are seldom wider into the murky water without ceremony or in the end, whatever our status in life. than eight feet, so there are no cars or rickembankment, and the first thing I noticed Every one of them said hello, and lots of shaws, and there aren't so many people. It was the smell, the familiar stench of rotthem tried to start a conversation in Hindi sounds like heaven. ting garbage and sewage, but this time with (though with little success); in the city all I But of course it's not. You can take the cars an added twinge, a sour odour of burned ever got was the usual chanting of 'Hello off the streets but you can't do anything meat; the burning ghats were in full swing, friend, you want cold drink/cigarettes/hoabout the cows, and with Varanasi being and the wind wasn't doing me any favours. tel/massage (delete as applicable)?' 'Hello such a holy city, it's packed with wanderI remembered a body that I'd seen from a friend' is an especially irritating phrase; ing bovines. Cows, being docile beasts and morning boat trip on the river a couple of 'Hello mister' is simply inane and faintly fairly slow-moving, are not much of a probdays before â€“ an upper half of the torso only, amusing, and the normal 'Hello sir' the Inlem as you can slide past them pretty easily, body still swathed and the face nothing but dians use is polite and fine by me, but 'Hello but 'slide' is the operative word; if you take a cleaned skull, not hollow but not covered friend'? 32 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
almost invisible under the thick layers of at least as far as traditional tourism goes. red paint smeared on it, chanting a man- Varanasi is not a tourist haven in terms of tra and holding smouldering incense sticks specific sights, it's a tourist haven in terms in his outstretched hands; on the steps of sitting and watching, and I did a lot of around a chai shop men sit and chat away, that. I wandered up and down the ghats their sticky glasses filled with sickly tea and staring at the scenes before me, and I visittheir plates smeared with the remains of yet ed temples, mosques, forts and all the other another dangerous-looking Indian snack; a buildings that appealed. At night the place is transformed, and not shopkeeper squints through his half-moon In the end, I sat amazed as the Varanasi sky just because nobody can tell what they are glasses at his books by the light of a keroburned around me, and in the morning retreading in. Frequent power cuts notwithsene lamp, adding up figures in his head and alised that if I had to pick one place in India standing, the ill-lit arteries of the heart writing down totals and stock levels with an to recommend to people to visit, this would of the city provide you with plenty to see: old pen; and all the time the atmosphere of be it. peering in through a half-closed door you Varanasi, an indefinable feeling that permecan see a father teaching his son the tools of ates these ancient lanes, makes it all seem his pan-making trade, the child's eyes wide Top: The bustling streets of Varanasi just off the worthwhile and strangely seductive, deGanges river. Opposite: Hindus flock to the Ganges with wonder in the flickering candlelight; spite the obvious squalor, smell and sufferwith fresh-cut sugarcane to celebrate Ganga smoke billows out of a dull red glow where ing. I challenge anybody to come to Varanasi Mahotsav, a major local festival celebrated in large pots of milk boil and men manufacture and not be moved. November. trays of sweets, silhouetted demons sweating in a man-made inferno; a man stands in As for what I actually did in Varanasi, well front of a statue of Ganesh, the stonework that's the funny thing. I did almost nothing, the number of cows in Varanasi and think how many pats they drop in your average day, you can understand why the streets of Varanasi are coated in the stuff. It helps to keep the dust down, but it means you have to keep your head down when you're walking, especially at night.
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A PERSONAL TRAVEL PRIMER & PHOTOS by Ron & Mary James
34 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
ndia isn’t for the faint of heart. Even experienced travelers and the country’s ardent fans admit that it’s a challenging destination - bustling, colorful and exotic, but also polluted, rife with corruption and even a bit dangerous.
Still our month-long visit was by far our greatest and most interesting travel adventure – one that we wouldn’t change one iota. We spent two weeks in Mumbai visiting family. The other 17 days were devoted to travel in Northern India and Nepal. Here are some tips for a visit to India based on our experiences.
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s India a destination for you? Most experienced trav- Research and plan your adventure elers will be able to cope – and even enjoy – the chaos As we do for any travel, we did extensive research about India that is India. But no matter how luxurious you make and Nepal using guidebooks, advice from friends and mostly the trip, you’ll be exposed to all the ills there - heartonline user-generated review communities like Trip Advisor. breaking poverty, extreme pollution, unsanitary From there we decided where we want to go. conditions, trash, crumbling infrastructure, vile odors, animal cruelty, persistent beggars and hawkers, crazy We didn’t rough it on our odyssey. For better or worse, we optdriving, corruption, deception, Delhi Belly, Indian food ed for comfort when we could. And unless you’re young and and worst of all – it can be a invincible, India requires the wine lover’s hell. support of a good tour company – or at the very least a great deal of planning and execution. On the other hand, India ofTrusted guides and drivers also fers true adventure, Indian are essential given the traffic food, caring friendly people, and chaotic cities. and fascinating destinations, and cultural traditions. For After extensive online research us the good far outweighed and contact with former clients the bad. But if you break we settled on a small company, into a cold sweat when venIcon Tours based in Jaipur. turing outside your comfort (email@example.com) zone, you may want to take The feedback confirmed the your next vacation in Switcompany was affordable, professional, and exceptionally relizerland. able. Icon arranged for drivers, 36 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
guides, accommodations and transportation for the tour for less than we could have ourselves. Owner Sabu Ram, it seemed, never sleeps and answered our countless e-mail almost instantly. We adjusted the itinerary several times - a benefit of designing your own private tour.
given one review on Trip Advisor), lived in Pushkar and wrote in very poor English. There were no veteran reviewers or any from Europe or America. So most likely the reviews were posted by the young guys at the camp carrying our bags or working in the restaurant – hardly an unbiased group.
You will need a visa, which can be obtained easily online through the government Web site. Fees depend on your length of stay.
So analyze the reviews, looking for a broad group from many locales with a consistent message. Then there’s a good chance you’re getting worthwhile information. Also as a rule throw out the very worst and sometimes best reviews. There’s always someone who dislikes most everything or a competitor pulling a fast one.
TIP: Using Trip Advisor or other user-generated review sites. Trip Advisor can be one of the best resources for travelers but a little common sense makes it even more valuable and reliable. A top 10 rank or four stars doesn’t necessarily make it so. For instance, the Wild Rose, our camp restaurant in Pushkar, was touted as one of the top 10 restaurants in town in Trip Advisor. A close look at the reviews revealed that all the commentators were one shot wonders (only had
Be Prepared If you’ve done your homework you’ll have a checklist of things to do and take. Here are a few that need attention. Opposite The teaming streets of New Delhi’s spice market streets. Opposite lower: The authors with Icon Travel’s Sabu Ram. Top: Muslim women washing in the pool of the The Great Mosque of Delhi, shown below.
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Health: Fortunately we didn’t have any significant ills on our trip other than an occasional GI upset due more to changes in diet and rigors of travel. But it’s good to be prepared. Obviously make sure you have prescriptions enough for the trip. Check with the CDC ( http://wwwnc.cdc. gov/ ) and talk with your doctor about necessary shots. Take over the counter products for the standard traveler ills. Chances are that any medicine you’ll need can be had in India, but it may not be convenient to find when you really need it. We also each carry an antibiotic in case we picked up something nasty. Use common sense when eating and 38 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
drinking. Drink only bottled water and make sure the caps are sealed when you purchase or obtain them. We often asked for sparkling water, which pretty much assured there wasn’t tap water in the bottles. Don’t drink anything with ice; the exception is some of the nicer hotels that use sterile water for ice and food preparation. Also don’t open your mouth in the shower and don’t use tap water when brushing your teeth.
areas, particularly in slums. An excellent Indian product, Odomos skin cream (www.odomoscream.com) smells good, is easy on the skin and effective. Find it at almost any Indian shop or store selling health care products or order online before you leave.
Money: The national currency is the Indian Rupee (Rs), which is divided into 100 paise. The Rupee exchange rate has been volatile recently, dropping signifiSunscreen and mosquito repellent are es- cantly against the Euro, Pound and Dolsential. We were in India during the dry lar. Visit www.xe.com for up-to-date curseason, which has a reduced mosquito rency conversions. population, but the disease-carrying Plan to use cash when shopping in the pests were still abuzz in rural and urban markets and bazaars. Keep small denom-
inations of Rs20, 50 and 100 on hand for purchases and cab and rickshaw fares. Many drivers and merchants are unable or unwilling to change Rs500 bills. Tourist hotels are good places to get change for larger bills. Credit cards are accepted in big outlets and most restaurants and hotels. There are ATM machines in the main shopping areas, but they are not always reliable. Shopping: Shopping is a joy in India where all manner of locally made crafts and goods are available and inexpensive. In some stores, especially official state souvenir stores, prices are fixed and higher. In general, if items donâ€™t have price tags, shopkeepers expect to barOpposite: Colorfully dressed farm women taking a break and greeting us from the roadside. Top: Typical street food stop in the slums of Mumbai. Right: The enormous and infamous Dharavi slums where parts of the movie Slumdog Millionaire were filmed.
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gain. Do some comparison shopping first to assess going prices. When you start bargaining, offer 50 to 75 percent below the asking price. You may have to walk away to pull prices down. As a rule, don’t begin bargaining unless you’re really interested in buying; it’s bad form to waste a shopkeeper’s time and effort. As part of a tour, your driver or guide may take you to certain merchants. Be aware that he or she may get a commission for bringing you there. Let them know in advance if you’re not interested in shopping or would like to see specific goods. Communication: India has a relatively sophisticated telephone and Internet system and most hotels have decent WIFI systems. T-Mobile offers a monthto-month program that allows unlimited web access and reasonable phone rates for $50 a month. Most hotels also have business centers and executive lounges with Internet connectivity. Accommodations: From opulent suites fit for Sultans to spare hostiles for the back packers– all are available in India. Icon Tours booked us into mostly five-star which equal the best hotels in the States 40 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
and are a better value. The Nahargarht, our hotel in Ranthambohr, our base camp for tiger watching in vain, was particularly stunning, resembling a sultan’s palace. It also served the best food, with the outdoor BBQ dinner being the most spectacular. Check to see if your hotel offers an executive upgrade for an extra $25 to $30 nightly. The program usually includes an upgraded room, shuttle service, special meal service and a happy hour with complementary food and drinks. Given the high cost of wines, this easily pays for itself after a couple drinks. The Loo: Let’s face it, one of the top issues on every traveler’s mind is the facilities - the men’s and ladies’ rooms. And deservedly so. Public facilities in this country are challenging and in many cases disgusting. Most Indians lack indoor plumbing, which explains the countless men you’ll see pissing in the wind along the roadside. Opposite top: Shopping for stunning India textiles in Jaipur. Opposite bottom: All kinds of fascinating treasures to be found in Mumbai’s Thieve’s Market. Top: The amazing palatial resort Nahargarht in Ranthambore. Right: Mary shows off our humble room at Nahargarht.
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Of course, hotels and airports will have the most modern To avoid Delhi Belly, stay away from street food and cut facilities. If you’re on the road, rely on your experienced fresh fruits and vegetables. We usually enjoyed breakfast at guide and driver to know which stops will offer western toi- our hotel, which included western favorites. Dinner was oflets, whether gas stations, restaurants (including chains like ten snacks at the hotel’s executive club or restaurant, since McDonalds, Starbucks or KFC) or souvenir shops. When ex- we were too exhausted from touring for more exploring. In ploring urban area, hotels are a good choice for bathroom Mumbai, we discovered some superb fine dining restaurants breaks. These facilities, as well as those in some airports, and buffets with menus ranging from French to Asian that have a full time tender. A tip of five or 10 rupees is appreci- satisfied Western tastes. Before dining out, check with the hotel concierge or Trip Advisor. India also has a version of ated and even expected. Yelp that can be helpful in your search. Food & Drink: Wine, beer and spirits: We loved the Indian food for the most part, but after a couple of weeks, I would have traded my sunscreen for a taco. Beer lovers rejoice. Beer is the alcoholic drink of choice in Vegetarian food is the norm here; if there is meat in the dish, India and is available almost anywhere – even in areas with it’s usually chicken or mutton. Beef is rare in India since bans on alcohol. Kingfisher is a popular brand, but Heinekcows are sacred. But you’ll be able to find a steak or pork en and even some America brands were available in many cities. Hard liquor also is for sale throughout India in hotels chop in most hotel dining rooms. and tiny shops in almost every little town where it is legal. Chicken tikka masala proved to be one of our favorites. We To avoid bootlegged liquor being sold in brand-name bottles, also loved the fresh grilled flat bread called nan. Masala, we make sure the cap hasn’t been tampered with and is sealed learned, is not a sauce or preparation. Instead it’s a ground when you buy. spice mix that varies with the dish. Countless variations of packaged masala mixes are sold in spice shops in every Wine, our drink of choice, was a real challenge to enjoy in neighborhood. India. We found wine to be very expensive and often undrinkable. A local wine like Sula, for example, tasted like 42 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
The authors trying to keep their balance after a ride on a cute elephant at Amber Fort in Jaipur. Opposite An amazing outdoor feast at the Nahargarht in Ranthambohr..
Two Buck Chuck, but cost around $40 a bottle ( due to high- Rapes and worse in India have grabbed headlines recently. government tarrifs). Buying wine in small beverage shops While we found India to be safe, we had a driver and guide to is problematic, since most don’t have air conditioning and help keep us out of trouble. Use common sense while travwine suffers in the extreme heat. That’s why our wine time eling anywhere. Avoid walking alone and keep valuables secure in the hotel safe. turned into martini time in India. Traffic:
End of the road:
Traffic is a disaster in most Indian cities, with Mumbai tak- The advice and observations in this feature come from ing the prize for road insanity. Indian drivers communicate not only our India experiences but our many other travels with their horns – all the time. Stop signs, traffic lanes and around the globe. We hope they are helpful. As we noted in stop lights are mere suggestions unless there’s a police- the beginning, India is not for the faint of heart. But despite man in view. Indians drive on the right side of the road and the challenges and deep emotions travel here will engender, don’t stop for pedestrians as much as weave around them. If the trip is worth it. If you plan your trip and know what to you’re going to cross the street a good tip is to look for locals expect, a visit to this crazy, exotic land will be the highlight crossing the road and walk with them. of your travels as well. Namaste, my friend. Beggars and Cons: People hustling or begging for money are unfortunate facts of life in this country with its extreme poverty. In Mumbai, they were especially prevalent around the tourist-favorite Gateway of India. In general, don’t give in, even if a beggar with infant in arms follows you for blocks. The best strategy is to ignore them in silence and walk on.
Namaste: an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and Nepal. Roughly, it means “I bow to the God within you”, or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you” - a knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness.
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THE BACKWATERS OF
KERALA Easing into India on the M.V. Vrinda
photo courtesy Kerala Tourism
Story & Photos by Priscilla Lister
Traditional teak rice boats ply these waters to carry crops like basmati rice, coconuts and spices. Some of these boats simply harvest the empty oyster-like shells that cover the bottoms of lakes, which are then used to make local cement and This state in southwest India is another world from the teemgravel products. And increasingly these days, their distinctive ing cities of that country’s northern regions. It remains a woven-reed roofs made from coconut palms now commonly rich agricultural region that earned early fame on the Spice shelter floating inns. Trail, attracting traders from the West as long ago as the third century B.C. Its commercial The M.V. Vrinda is modeled afcapital, Cochin, known as ter these traditional rice boats, the Queen of the Arabian but adds significant elegance. Sea, possesses one of the It houses eight commodious finest natural harbors in the staterooms on one level, with world. And its scenic backdining and patio facilities on waters have been one of the the second level. On the outnation’s favorite getaways, door third level, the Vrinda’s which Indians call “God’s roof, we sat on cushions or own country.” chairs and simply watched this quiet tropical world drift by. Surely there’s no better way to ease out of jet lag and beEvery staff member on the intigin the journey to this fabled mate Vrinda was exceptionally subcontinent than on a rice boat, a popular vacation pastime caring yet unobtrusive. And the meals created in the galley in these southern waters. So we chose the finest rendition kitchen by an amazingly gifted crew began our adventure available, the Motor Vessel Vrinda, operated by Oberoi Howith Indian cuisine. The cuisine of Southern India is distinctels, which brings a new level of luxury to cruising these cative from that in the north, and naturally features abundant nals. fish, coconut and those famed spices.
e eased our way into India by cruising slowly on the backwaters of Kerala.
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Kerala specialties include prawns cooked in a coconut curry sauce; searfish (a local freshwater fish) cooked in coconut sauce with turmeric, ginger and curry leaves; fried pearlspot, another local freshwater fish, marinated in ginger and chilies; and raw bananas sauteed with garlic, onions and crushed chilies. Appam, a traditional rice pancake, is a common accompaniment. Masala dosa, a crisp rice pancake filled with mildly spiced potatoes and served with coconut chutney, is a favorite breakfast dish. Our first night on the Vrinda gave us a spectacular sunset. And just before dinner, we were given a Mohiniattam recital in the open-air lounge. Mohiniattam is a classical dance distinctive to Kerala. Also called the “Dance of the Enchantress,” this performance featured a trio of musicians and a narrator describing the stories behind the dances performed by two beautifully costumed young women. Even though we didn’t understand the language, the exaggerated expressions on the dancers’ faces left no doubt as to the meaning of the stories -- love and loss are indeed universal. The next day we transferred into a smaller rice boat, also built by Oberoi for this activity, so we could enter even narrower waterways. A local guide, Joyce, joined us onboard that day to tell us about life in this region. As we’d meander through the narrow waterways, viewing the brightly painted, tidy homes, children would run along the paths as our boat cruised by, smiling and waving with gusto. The most exciting thing we saw was a snake boat. Manned by 100 oarsmen, four helmsmen and several singers who yell out the pace, these traditional 130-foot-long snake boats are raced today in what’s called the largest team sport in the world. We didn’t see a race, but we did see the amazing sight of a fully manned snake boat. When we landed back in Cochin (also known as Kochi), we spent the day sightseeing with Ajitha, an excellent Cox & Kings guide, who told us that since the 15th century, the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British have all left their marks on Cochin. Cox & Kings is the world’s largest-running travel company that has been designing and leading luxurious worldwide journeys
since 1759. The company began in India and its guides are easily among the best you can find throughout that entire country. Local experts provide insights and experiences that are simply illuminating in a way that you couldn’t achieve on your own.
Another fascinating fact about Kerala, Ajitha told us, is that many of its industries were nationalized in the last 25 years by a democratically elected communist government, which has resulted in one of the largest middle classes in India.
In the 1500s, Ajitha told us, Cochin became home and a safe harbor to Jews, especially after the Iberian inquisition. In Jew Town, we visited the Jewish synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Asia, which was built in 1568. Sadly, its roster today is down to 11 people, dwindling each year as the population of Jews decreases. We also saw the St. Francis Church, the oldest church in the country, built in 1510. The Dutch palace at Mattancherry was built here in 1555.
She said proudly that virtually everyone in Opposite top: The people of Southern India’s Kerala region still practice traditional forms of agriculture and fishing. Opposite bottom: The M.V. Vrinda is an elegant vessel owned and operated by the Oberoi Hotels to ply the fascinating waters of Kerala in southern India. Top: Traditional dancers backed by a trio of musicians entertained us onboard the M.V.Vrinda in Kerala. Bottom: The food aboard M.V. Vrinda during our cruise in Kerala was consistently excellent. Even the finger bowls were works of art.
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Kerala has a cell phone and Internet connection, and its literacy rate (90.92 percent for all people there) and life expectancies (68.23 for males and 73.62 for females) are well above all India levels. We stayed at the Trident Hilton in Cochin, an excellent hotel with beautifully landscaped gardens on Willingdon Island, about 20 minutes from the city center. One of its finest features is its Ayurveda Centre that offers many single or multipleday treatments. Ayurveda is an ancient healing tradition that began in India about 600 B.C. It seeks to achieve an optimum balance between mind, body and spirit. Ayurvedic procedures are done either to detoxify the body or to help strengthen its immune system. I experienced the rejuvenation massage and steam bath wherein two masseurs massaged my body with special medicated oils before securing me in an herbal steam bath. It was a unique massage experience. The Kerala experience was surely the most relaxing way to begin a journey to India. IF YOU GO Check availability at Oberoi Hotelsâ€™ web site for its M.V.Vrinda: http://www. oberoihotels.com/oberoi_vrinda/. A two-night, three-day cruise is about $750 for two people, all meals and excursions included. The Trident Hotel, Cochin: http://www. tridenthotels.com/cochin/hotel.asp. A single night begins at about $100 in this elegant, contemporary hotel with 77 rooms and eight suites. To hire local guides throughout India, including Cochin, go to http://www. coxandkingsusa.com and find the best local experts available. Top: We transferred to a smaller vessel to cruise the narrow canals of Kerala, where we got really close observations of the traditional ways of life there. Middle: The 100-man crew in a snakeboat gets ready to race on the waters of Kerala in southern India. Bottom: Traditional rice boats are common sights on the waters of Kerala in southern India.
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Susan McBeth’s TRAVEL BY THE BOOK
Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
ou may not be familiar with the Bengali word for oleander, but the sub-tropical korobi is instantly recognizable for its fragrant and showy pink blossoms enveloped in long, leathery, dark-green leaves.
for lying to her for seventeen years is compounded when Korobi has a particularly disturbing dream in which her dead mother appears as an apparition and points at something beyond the horizon. Korobi interprets this as a message that she must travel to the United States in search of her true roots.
Believed to be native to India, the korobi is known for its three legendary characteristics: hardiness, beauty, and toxic- Korobi explains to her fiancé why she must delay the wedding ity. Tough enough to withstand extreme heat and tolerant of to travel to America. However, Rajat and his family are not drought and poor soil, it seems ironic that this toxic shrub as understanding as she hoped they would be, which makes was the first floral to bloom after the decimation of Hiroshi- her second-guess her decision to marry at all. Determined ma. Not surprisingly, it quickly became a symbol of hope and more than ever to make the trip unchaperoned, her plans are beauty, symbolism which is deftly utilized by bestselling au- thwarted when her grandfather dies unexpectedly, revealing thor Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in her most recent book, Ole- another secret about the state of the family’s finances. Comander Girl (Simon & Schuster: March 2013) pounding Korobi’s grief is her guilt that she caused her grandfather to suffer a We are introduced to Divakaruni’s eponyfatal heart attack. mous protagonist Korobi Roy at age seventeen as she is about to celebrate her engageMeanwhile, Rajat’s family-owned busiment to the handsome Rajat. As the sole ness is struggling with its share of wildheir to his family’s seemingly successful art cat strikes, picket lines, violence, and gallery business, he is the ideal match accordfear of bankruptcy. Without an investor ing to the tradition-bound grandparents who to help them ride out these challenges, raised the orphaned Korobi. they may lose everything, but they believe an investor they are courting will An only child being reared by her grandparbe more inclined to help if Rajat and Koents in a distinguished Kolkata household robi marry. They thus place undue presafter her father was killed in an automobile sure on Korobi to abandon her trip to crash and her mother died in childbirth, KoAmerica and immediately wed their son. robi nevertheless enjoys a relatively carefree life until she stumbles upon an unfinished Utilizing the strong roots inherent in love letter written by her mother to her fathe botanical for which she was named, ther that was hidden inside a book of poetry. Korobi makes the difficult decision to undertake the trip despite objections Although Korobi is anxious to marry, she senses the letter from all her loved ones. She will need much courage when her holds the key to the secrets she has always sensed that her search quickly uncovers more poisonous secrets, challenges, protective grandparents have not disclosed to her, and she and will ultimately require her to make the most difficult deciis hesitant to marry before she discovers the truth. Korobi sion of her life. questions her grandparents and, unable to withstand her guilt any longer, Korobi’s grandmother divulges to Korobi that her Divkaruni’s trademark lyrical prose paints a beautiful backfather, an American, is actually still alive. drop of Indian culture through which the reader explores one young woman’s coming-of-age journey through secrets, love, The love letter, together with this shocking new development, betrayal, the caste system, religion, and ultimately the underawaken in Korobi the drive to finally unveil the toxic secrets standing of who she is and why her mother named her after being kept from her. She dreams of one day sharing the pure the beautiful, strong korobi. love expressed in the letter her mother wrote to her father, but doesn’t feel she will be able to achieve that without dis- Whether you are planning a trip to India, or perhaps just covering her true identity. dreaming of one, Oleander Girl will provide an enjoyable read that melds the past and present of this fascinating culture. Korobi’s confusion, betrayal, and anger at her grandparents ~ By Susan McBeth
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THE ENLIGHTENED TRAVELER
WHY YOU SHOULD SAY NO TO BEGGARS
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nyone who’s taken a Caribbean cruise or visited one of the world’s less affluent countries has been approached – sometimes even mobbed – by children begging for money. Many are dirty and obviously hungry. Some are disabled and/or disfigured. It’s hard to resist dropping a few coins into their small hands, but Pakistan native and child advocate Zulfiqar Rashid says we must. “Crime rings around the world traffic in children for use as beggars, and they will starve or maim the children to elicit more sympathy – and money,” says Rashid, who writes about a particularly cruel form of this in “The Rat-boys of Karalabad,” (www. zulfiqarrashid.com). The title refers to children in Indo Asian countries whose heads are tightly bound when they’re very young resulting in stunted brains and terrible disfigurement. The children are then put to work as beggars. “When you give money to child beggars, it may well help fund the perpetuation of this industry – more kidnapping, more children starved and maimed,” says Rashid. “Even if the children are not working for mafia types, giving them money or gifts gives them incentive to stay on the streets instead of going to school, which is the only way out of poverty.” Instead, consider helping those children with a gift that can truly save their lives through one of these charities. Each has a four-star rating – the highest possible – from Charity Navigator, a non-profit that provides objective evaluations of charities: • Save the Children helps children and their families help themselves by fighting poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease in the United States and around the world on a daily basis. It also responds to disasters, providing food, medical care and education, and staying in ravaged communities to help rebuild. This charity spent more than 91 percent of its revenues on its programs and services in 2011. (Charity Navigator finds most charities spend 65 to 75 percent on the programs they exist to provide.)
• Kids Around the World provides safe play equipment for children in areas where, because of war, natural disasters and poverty, it’s hard to be a kid. The faith-based charity also trains and equips churches and Sunday school teachers around the world to visually share the Bible with the children in their communities. More than 90 percent of its budget went to its programs and services in 2011. • Invisible Children, Inc. rescues and rehabilitates children who have been kidnapped and used as soldiers or sex slaves for the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, in Central Africa. By Invisible Children’s count, more than 30,000 children have been abducted. Many are forced to commit brutal atrocities, including killing their parents with machetes. Invisible Children says it “exists to bring a permanent end to LRA atrocities.” In the 2011-12 fiscal year, it spent more than 81 percent of its budget on programs and services.
• Feed My Starving Children provides MannaPack meal formulas, developed by food scientists to reverse and prevent malnutrition, to missions and humanitarian organizations in more than 55 countries. The food is then distributed to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs. In 2012-13, the faith-based charity delivered 163 million meals with the help of more than 657,000 volunteers. Countries served include Haiti, Nicaragua, the Philippines and North Korea. More than 87 percent of revenues go toward programs and services. About Zulfiqar Rashid Zulfiqar Rashid was born in Pakistan and now resides in southern California. As a regular contributor to various newspapers, Rashid has written extensively, recounting his travels to Pakistan, and about major figures in the Pakistani artistic and cultural scene.
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GREAT AMERICAN COMMUNITIES
rancho santa fe
The Covenant at 92067
Story and Photos by Ron James
hat do Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sean White, Bill Gates, Janet Jackson, Phil Mickelson and Beach Boy Mike Love have in common, other than wealth? The answer is all are a part of a very select gang who live or have lived in one of the 1,700 households in ZIP code 92067 – Rancho Santa Fe.
The countryfied community fills 6,200 acres just six miles from the Pacific
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Ocean in San Diego’s north county. In 2011, Forbes magazine named it the fourteenth most expensive ZIP code in the United States with a median home sale price of $2,585,000. Locals have their own name for the enclave, including, “The Ranch” and “The Covenant”; those who wish they could live there dub it “Rancho Smancho.” The core of Rancho Santa Fe is governed by The Covenant, kind of a high-end
homeowners association that also rules the golf course, tennis facility, riding club, garden club, library guild, book club and 50 miles of riding trails that are available to members. “The Covenant” of Rancho Santa Fe is registered as a California Historical Landmark for its status as a historic planned community. Visitors driving in to see how the rich and famous live usually are disappointed. Mansions on minimum two-acre es-
Photo courtesy of Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club
Photo courtesy of Rancho Santa Fe Country Club
tates are tucked away behind trees, tall The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, also dewalls and gates. The few you can see are signed by Lilian Rice. The landmark hosimple ranch or Spanish-style homes, tel sits atop a gently sloping lawn that many reflecting the style instituted by connects it with the main street of the architect Lilian Rice during the Ranchâ€™s village. At one time, shops there offered development in the 1920s. What non- a wide array of merchandise for visitors residents can enjoy is the charming and the locals. Today the village is domvillage in the center of the community inated by real estate offices of every that serves residents and those who stripe, banks and financial services, a want to be a part of it. couple of small galleries, jewelry stores, styling salons and several restaurants. The centerpiece of Rancho Santa Fe is If like me, you like to explore real es-
Opposite top: The sloping garden pathway from the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe leads to the heart of the Village. Top: Polo players from the Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club get ready for a match. Above: The greens of the exclusive Rancho Santa Fe Country Club.
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tate opportunities everywhere you go, you’ll be greatly entertained by photos of grand estates covering storefronts throughout the village. If you’re in town from May through October, you can catch the jet-set action at the San Diego Polo Club situated on 60 acres of land in Rancho Santa Fe. The organization even offers a free polo lesson for aspiring players. Polo matches are presented to the public every Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. ( www.sandiegopolo. com. ) History buffs will want to stop by the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society located in the historic La Flecha house, one of Rice’s first designs. The society offers a free walking tour map of historic buildings around the village. (www.ranchosantafehistoricalsociety.org ) A drugstore/liquor store carries low-to mid-level mostly domestic wines while a fair-sized gourmet market displays $100-plus wines on aisle ends, instead of Pepsi. There are about a half-dozen first-class eateries in town that cater to locals and tourists alike. As the heart of the community, the village draws locals who come to pick up mail, gather at Thyme in the Ranch for breakfast or lunch or enjoy happy hour cocktails and dinner at the local dining spots. For visitors it’s a great place stretch your legs and people watch, or try one of the fine restaurants in town. If you have a really fat wallet and like the looks of the ranch, you may want to check into the Inn for a week or two. There’s no shortage of realtors to show you around.
Top: The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society located in the historic La Flecha house. Center: Colorful flower pots line the window at Thyme in the Ranch. Right: The village of Rancho Santa Fe dominated by real estate and financial offices. Opposite top: Mille Fleurs Executive Chef Martin Woesle and Tom Chino, owner of Chino Farms tasting strawberries. Opposite bottom: The elegant dining room at Mille Fleurs.
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ranch food & drink
hile the community of Rancho Santa Fe certainly has a high profile in Southern California, its restaurant scene is pretty much under the radar.
Thatâ€™s too bad, because from my experiences the eateries in the Village and immediate surrounding area rank in the top tier of dining clusters in California. The Rancho Santa Fe residents know what they have. They are successful, know value and are pretty restaurant savvy, and you can find them filling the dining
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rooms here almost every night. Talented chefs, beautiful restaurants and incredibly fresh source ingredients make for a food lover’s paradise. During our recent stay at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe we had an opportunity to experience three of the highest profile dining spots in the area. Each was terrific and each had its personality and highlights. We had a grand prix fix lunch at Mille Fleur, a stunning dinner at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe’s Morada and a fun and tasty happy hour evening at Delicias. You can’t beat this happy hour, great finger food and drinks, including martinis for five bucks. One thing they all have in common is sourcing their produce and protein from local sustainable farms and ranches. And most go down the road a mile or so to world famous Chino Farms for justpicked produce for their daily menus. Here’s a short list of restaurants we would recommend in the Village. Mille Fleurs Restaurant $$$$ French 6009 Paseo Delicias Phone (858) 756-3085 Morada $$$ American (Traditional) 5951 Linea Del Cielo (858) 381-8289 Delicias Restaurant $$$ American (New) 6106 Paseo Delicias (858) 756-8000 Veladora $$$$ American (New), Italian 5921 Valencia Circle (858) 759-6216 Dolce Pane E Vino $$ Italian, Wine Bars 16081 San Dieguito Rd. (858) 832-1518 Thyme In The Ranch $$ Breakfast & Brunch, Sandwiches, Bakery 16905 Avenida De Acacias (858) 759-0747
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Opposite top: The dining room at Delicias restaurant. Opposite bottom: Delicious chicken wings at Deliciasâ€™ happy hour. Top center: Country sophisticated dining area at Thyme In the Ranch. Top right: Deviled eggs with blue cheese at Thyme in the Ranch. Left: The Bistro at Rancho Santa Fe.
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Comfort &Character The inn at rancho santa fe
By Ron & Mary James
e love a hotel with character. When we travel, we avoid the ubiquitous chain, whether itâ€™s five-star or not. So we were very excited as we drove the winding, eucalyptuslined, two-lane road into Rancho Santa Fe to check into The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, a Southern California icon with character to spare. Our destination was just 30 minutes north of San Diego International Airport and minutes from the beaches and the upscale seaside towns
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of Del Mar, Solana Beach, and La Jolla. Everything about this fabled hotel was fascinating, from its architect, Lilian Rice, to the rich and famous who walked its grounds and resided there over the course of 90-plus years. This was the temporary home for hundreds of stars and celebrities such as Bing Crosby, America's Sweetheart Mary Pickford, Hollywood hero Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and even Bill Gates and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The stories the walls could
...The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, a Southern California icon with character to spare.
tell – and now we would be a part of the hotel’s history. The newly restored Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is located on 21 acres of landscaped grounds including flowering gardens, lush lawns and winding pathways between cottages, guest rooms and suites. Although it’s a luxury hotel with all of Opposite top: A row of the Inn’s Spanish-style cottages. Bottom: Cocktails at The Inn’s pool. Above: Country casual and cozy living area of one of the Inn’s suites. Right: The dramatic entrance to the Morada restaurant.
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Top: One of the elegant but comfortable rooms at The Inn . Left: The peaceful courtyard of the Innâ€™s spa. Right: A couple begins an evening of celebration at the original entrance to The Inn.
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the trimmings, it has an unpretentious and easy-going character that instantly made us feel at home. Cottages scattered through the gardens made it feel like a peaceful enchanted village rather than a hotel. After a quick and friendly welcome, we settled into our home for the next three days. The spare Spanish-influenced architecture of the exterior of our room belied the country-inspired sophistication of our large suite, complete with a full-sized kitchen, a large bedroom, two desks and a spacious living room highlighted by a working, wood-burning fireplace and balcony. We also enjoyed speedy WIFI that worked without a password, two large, flat-screen TVs, and a professional-looking espresso machine that needed a professional to
figure it out. Complimentary wine and cheese fortified us before we set out to explore the hotel and grounds. The interior design of public areas of the hotel is impressive, reflecting the same casual ranch elegance as the room with a little more contemporary feel. A giant fireplace with a roaring fire and impressive paintings anchored the main lobby and entrance to the Morada restaurant, a hidden culinary gem. The recent major renovation included enhancing The Innâ€™s arrival experience at the front parking area, constructing a new meeting space, adding new private dining rooms and planting event lawns, herb and produce gardens. Mary enjoyed a treatment at the recently opened The Spa at The Inn, a new
3,000 square-foot full-service spa and relaxation courtyard that offers guests and residents a place to relax and be pampered. Private walking tours of the village, with Lilian Rice biographer Diane Welch, may be booked through the Spa. One highlight of our stay was our leisurely dinner at Morada. Its elegant, softly lit interior further embraces the Inn's past with historic photos of famous guests featured on one great wall. The dining room is large but cozy, with comfortable seating and acoustics. Patio dining, perfect for warm days, fronts the wide green lawn and village. Executive Chef Todd Allisonâ€™s take on California cuisine was fresh and inspired. His signature sea bass dish blew Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 59
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Photos courtesy of The Inn at Ranchos Santa Fe
me away. The plate included local honey and white soy glazed fresh sea bass, braised pak choy, ruby grapefruit and kaffir lime polenta. All of the dishes we sampled reflected the seasonally fresh ingredients from local sustainable farms and farmers markets as well as from an edibles and herb garden on Inn property.
The wine and food service was professional and friendly and the wine selections for each course were spot on. Allison and Morada should be on everyoneâ€™s list, for visitors here during Del Mar racing season or locals seeking a relaxing night out. We canâ€™t stay every month at the Inn but we sure plan a return to enjoy the restaurant. Our three days at The Inn didnâ€™t disappoint. Accommodations were infused with charm and character. The staff was friendly, professional and kickback ranch. And Morada restaurant was world class. But it was the feeling that we were there in spirit with giants of another era that made this experience one to remember and savor. Opposite : Honey and soy glazed sea bass with grapefruit and kaffir lime polenta. Top: Wall of the Morada dining room covered with historic photos of celebrity guests and events. Left: Flat-bread pizza with just-picked veggies and pepperoni. Above: Morada Executive Chef Todd Allison.
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“THE ranch” By Diane Welch
The Star-Studded History of Rancho Santa Fe
ajestically appointed The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe represents the gateway to the Ranch. Constructed on a gently sloping knoll, the sole hotel in Rancho Santa Fe was once the nerve center for prospective buyers to purchase large lots of land in the newly forming community. Marketed as “gentlemen ranchos” these large acre lots attracted visitors, who traveled from distant locations like New York, Chicago and Pennsylvania, into investing their fortunes in the former Spanish Land Grant rancho. Visitors were comfortably accommodated at the newly constructed Guest House as The Inn was first known in 1923 when it officially opened for business in March.
Fe. They purchased several hundred acres in the ranch and over 2,000 acres of the adjoining Lusardi Ranch to create Rancho Zorro. That area is now known as Fairbanks Ranch. Other stars would make Rancho Santa Fe their home, choosing to leave the hustle and bustle of Hollywood for the quietude of rancho life. Silent movie star Pauline Neff and her aviator husband Frank Coffyn purchased a prime hillside lot on Linea del Cielo; movie director Joseph Schenck and his wife actress Norma Talmadge owned an estate home and acreage on Las Colinas; Bing Crosby purchased the former Osuna hacienda on Via de la Valle in 1933. It served as a summer home and a safe haven for his four young children during the fearful period when Charles Lindberg’s son was kidnapped.
the Rancho Santa Fe village and who engineered the winding roads that run like veins through the ranch, also wore Less a hotel, more a home-away-from- the hat of salesman and manager of the home, the hotel was tastefully decorat- Guest House. He was aided by a hostess, ed in a restrained Spanish style to cre- Florence Cheyne, who greeted guests Other notables residing in the ranch ate an ambiance of casual elegance that and acted as concierge, as noted in early included movie directors King Vidor was reminiscent of a European hostelry publications of the Endless Miracle, the and John Robertson, actor Victor Maor bed and breakfast, a far cry from the community newspaper. ture, opera diva Amelita Galli-Curci, and luxurious, often ostentatious hotels Howard Hughes who rented a home The marketing was successful. The ranch usually associated with an affluent and with his wife actress Jean Peters. A attracted corporate millionaires like fastidious clientele. story is retold that they were so enambank barron George A. C. Christiancy ored with the ranch that when the lease Leone G. Sinnard, the engineer who from Massachusetts, and movie stars was up Hughes paid his landlords large designed the initial concepts for the like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickamounts of money to travel more. civic center, or the downtown area of ford who fell in love with Rancho Santa 62 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
With an advertising campaign through AAAâ€™s Touring Topics magazine that reached coast-to-coast, prospective buyers came from points afar. On arrival the long-distance travelers were initially housed in the Guest House, which was renamed Hotel La Morada during this initial selling phase to suggest a Spanish character. There were 12 guest rooms arranged in a side wing to the north of the main structure. Through the entry door an impressive room designed to create an old-world Spanish ambiance, with massive exposed wood roof beams, archways at one end and a large fireplace at the other, welcomed guests. The area was known as the Living Room, and had comfortable furnishings that created a relaxed, informal atmosphere. This concept is still in place today. Comfort and hospitality were paramount. Hotel guests would be chauffeured through the winding roads of the ranch in a state-of-the-art Cadillac opentop touring car to view prime locations strategically located on hillside lots with panoramic vistas of the ocean to the Left to right: Famous stars who have lived in Rancho Santa Fe include Mary Pickford , Douglas Fairbanks , Robert Young, Bing Crosby, and Milford Stone who played Doc in Gunsmoke.
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west and the mountains and canyons to the east. The approach worked seamlessly and sales were brisk; many deals were cemented inside those simple walls that were constructed using adobe bricks, manufactured on site, to recreate an authentic rustic look. Glenn A. Moore, resident landscape architect developed the lush gardens and Lilian J Rice resident architect designed the building and supervised the construction.
am Hamill, who later designed and built the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the San Diego County Administration Building, helped Rice with the drafting of the architectural drawings. In his recollections with historian Harriet Rochlin, Hamill noted that the exterior of the guest house originally reflected a Southwestern style favored by Sinnard who had a fine collection of rare southwestern potteries and for that reason some of the initial buildings were “quite the type of New Mexico,” said Hamill. The earth-toned adobe was repainted an off-white color years later to harmonize with the majority of the buildings in the village.
The name of La Morada also changed over the years. In the late 1930s it was known briefly as the Hacienda Hotel, when it was in the ownership of George Roslington and Paul Avery, then it was renamed The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe by the Richardson family who purchased it in 1940. Alterations were also made over the decades. In 1939, a swimming pool was built, as was a cocktail lounge, and tile porches were added to the front of the building, “for the purpose of dignifying the structure,” according to archives at the Rancho Santa Fe Association offices. From the 1960s through to today improvements have been made, but The Inn’s original character remains intact. Perhaps a lesser known factoid about The Inn was when worldrenowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright secretly arranged to be married to his beloved Olgivanna Lazovich in the hotel grounds at midnight, August 25, 1928, exactly a year to the minute following his divorce from Miriam Noel Wright. Rev. Charles Leonard Knight presided over the ceremony by the light of the moon. Unable to find childcare for his only daughter, Evelyn, she was taken along with Mrs. Knight for the occasion. They were the only witnesses to the ceremony along with Iovanna, the Wright’s three-year-old daughter and the hotel’s hostess, she said. In 1958, The Inn changed hands again. Stephen Wheeler Royce, who formerly owned the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, became its innkeeper. The Royce family owned The Inn at Rancho Santa for more than 50 years then sold it in 2012 to JMI Realty, the current owner. After a multi-million dollar make-over The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe stands as gracious and as proud as it did over 90 years ago, attracting guests from around the world, and still commanding a noble presence as the fitting portal into the historic village of Rancho Santa Fe.
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Top: Early photo of the entrance to The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, then called Morada. Right: Lilian Rice (left) poses with three young women who worked on selling lots and homes. Opposite top: Movie star Victor Mature lived on the Ranch. Opposite center: Howard Hughes rented a home in the Ranch for several months. Opposite bottom: Frank Lloyd Wright married Olgivanna Lazovich at the Morada in 1928.
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SIMPLY SCILLY Visiting England’s Charming Isles of Scilly
By Sharon Whitley Larsen
’ve been in the dungeon for 24 years!
Thus proclaimed Briton Dave Huddy, explaining to me how he came to live on tiny St. Mary’s (pop. 1,600) on the Isles of Scilly, inhabited since the Stone Age.
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Known as “Dungeon Dave,” his first visit The unique, walled Star Castle, built in 1593 to Scilly (pronounced “silly,” which means for Scilly’s defense during Queen Elizabeth I’s “blessed” or “holy”) was for his sister’s wed- reign, has been a hotel since 1933. ding in 1986. Barely three miles long and two miles wide, Hailing from Liverpool, Huddy recalls spot- St. Mary’s is the largest of five inhabited isting the island’s beauty as he arrived by ferry lands (with a total pop. about 2,000) among “for just the weekend.” Now he bartends at more than 200 remote islands and rocks the popular, 400-year-old Star Castle hotel’s southwest of the English mainland, 28 miles Dungeon Bar, which once housed prisoners. off the coast of Land’s End.
Photo by Peter Kiss
It’s hard not to be charmed by this gorgeous, and those staying several days, I hopped daffodils. I even spotted rainbows. green area with flowers, vivid blue seas, color- a 16-passenger Skybus prop plane for the “It’s a very different life here,” pointed out Robful sunsets and fresh air. The islands thrive 15-minute flight to St. Mary’s. (Flights from ert Francis, managing director of the familyon a temperate climate, the warmest spot in several other cities in England are also availrun, luxurious Star Castle hotel, as he drove Britain. able.) me from the airport. “We don’t lock our I had just arrived for my first visit--after tak- It was a perfect day—a magic carpet ride as houses, we leave keys in the car, children can ing a relaxing 5-hour train ride from London we left the mainland, flew over the dramatic run around.” to Penzance, then 20-min. taxi ride to the sea, then arrived on St. Mary’s: lush, green Sounds like paradise to me! Land’s End Airport. Joining Day Trippers farmland and meadows with bright yellow
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Photos courtesy of Scilly Visitor’s
“Scillonians are fiercely independent,” he con- noticed some older men lined up on a street tinued. “Most of life here revolves around corner, wearing jackets, hands in pockets, boats rather than cars. Everybody gets patiently waiting for the news agent to open. around by boats and walking—we just love They were there to buy newspapers--which the peace and tranquility. Visitors from arrive from the mainland every day but Sunoverseas tend to do London; this end of Eng- day, when there are no flights. (There’s also land—Cornwall, Scilly—really is unknown. no ferry service during the winter months— It’s a special place. There’s no pollution here which, prior to regular air service and the Internet, could make the islands especially at all; the water and air are so clear.” isolated.) As we drove through the narrow streets In 2011 a new primary-secondary school of Hugh Town, the capital and city center (which boasts some dozen shops, a post of- was opened here by Queen Elizabeth II. It fice, museum, one co-op grocery store, two has some 200 children, ages 3-16, including hairdressers, two banks, three police, three secondary students who come by boat from churches, four pubs, several restaurants)—I the other islands (and board here during the 68 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
Photo by Rachel Lewin
Top: Kayakers at Tresco beach. Opposite top: Bird’s eye view of St. Mary’s looking towards St. Martin’s. Right: Father and son walking on beach. Above: Local Scilly lobster.
Photo by Rob Lea
Photo by Bob Berry
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Photo by Amy Laughinghouse
Photo by George Torrode
Top: Scenic view of St. Mary’s. Above: “Katie” the tour bus. Opposite top right: The Peninnis lighthouse at St. Mary’s. Opposite middle: The Star Castle Hotel overlooks the bay at sundown. Opposite lower right: A duo of puffins.
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week; there are three primary schools on “Part of the St. Mary’s magic is the successful three other islands. Those ages 16-18 attend blending of past and present.” school on the mainland, where they board). Here visitors can relax, sunbathe and read— There’s also a health center, three doctors, or engage in various activities, including one dentist, one vet. camping, bird-watching, fishing, golfing, But no McDonald’s, no shopping malls, no snorkeling. Gig-racing (six-oared boats develcinema! oped in the 19th century) is a popular sport. Tourism comprises 85 percent of the econoSt. Mary’s is dotted with artists’ studios, my; more than 125,000 visit between March vacation homes, B & Bs, and guest houses. and Oct. and, since island accommodations Tourists can’t rent cars here—but “Scilly are limited, it’s important to book ahead. cars”—golf carts—and bikes are available to traverse the nine miles of narrow country Scilly celebs over the centuries have included roads. Walking trails are also a popular way various royal family members, including to get around. Queen Victoria—and John Wesley (who preached here); Alfred, Lord Tennyson; I rode on colorful character Fred Elms’s 1948 Prime Minister Harold Wilson (who’s burschool bus dubbed “Katie”—which is availied here) and, more recently, actor Jude Law, able for an hour-long tour around the island. who described it as “the best place on earth.” “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” said Since the 14th century the Duchy of Cornfast-talking guide Elms, occasionally stopwall has owned most of the land, and Prince ping the bus so we could jump off to take Charles occasionally visits. photos of the postcard-perfect views. Nearby inhabited islands—visited via interOriginally from London, he’s lived here 35 island boat service--are St. Agnes (and the years. “I was fed up with traffic jams on the connected Gugh, accessed by foot when low mainland!” tide), Bryher, Tresco, St. Martin’s. Visitors We passed by several cars, a Royal Mail van— can also do day trips to the uninhabited isand people walking their dogs. lands—such as the largest, Sampson--for a Robinson Crusoe experience. “A pair of walking boots is all that is needed to savor the essence of St. Mary’s,” wrote Glynis We took a bumpy (but fun!) boat ride to St. Cooper in her book, “St. Mary’s—History Agnes: “It’s really going back in time,” noted and Legends.” Francis. “Fewer than 100 people live here.” After a morning walk around the area, we
Photo by Peter Kiss
stopped for lunch at the Turks Head pub (try the local pasty), filled with locals on a Sunday afternoon. Then we hopped aboard another boat to Tresco. This island, the second largest—with 150 full time residents—is especially unique, with its world-famous sub-tropical Tresco Abbey Garden, started in 1835, featuring an array of flowers, plants and trees from all over the world—which thrive here due to the warmer climate. I did a double-take, seeing palm trees in England! Even Queen Elizabeth II has visited. “There’s no other garden like it anywhere in Britain,” proudly said Mike Nelhams, Garden Curator, as he showed us around.
If you go:
“This is a fantastic place to live,” he added. “I’ve never locked my house in 20 years. If I’m out for a walk I can pop into a neighbor’s house and make a cuppa tea.” One evening before a delicious dinner at Star Castle (with fresh ingredients grown here, seafood locally caught), I chatted in the Dungeon Bar with Pippa and Henry Creed of Sussex. “This is our sixth time here,” Pippa told me. “We first came here 25 years ago. We love the hotel, the islands, the people—everyone is so friendly. We like to take it all in: walk, relax, enjoy the peace and quiet, get away from everything.” I agreed—I didn’t want to leave. But I knew I’d be back!
Photo by Pender
For more information on the Isles of Scilly: www.visitislesofscilly.com www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk www.ios-travel.co.uk/ Star Castle Hotel: www.star-castle.co.uk/ Tresco Abbey Gardens: www.tresco.co.uk/enjoying/ abbey-garden Duchy of Cornwall: www.duchyofcornwall.org www.visitengland.com www.visitbritain.com Photos courtesy of Scilly Visitors Bureau
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Renewal in Utah By Alison DaRosa
pring is the season for renewal – a time to blossom.
Shorter, fatter parabolic skis make a world of difference, skier friends promised. Boots aren’t the torture tools they used to be; today they’re custom molded to fit your feet It’s what led me to Utah. That and the – and even can be equipped with battery promise that skiing is a heck of a lot easier powered heaters. Ski instruction is better these days than it was 20 years ago, when too, pals pledged: kinder, gentler and not I’d last hit the slopes. taught exclusively by teen-age dare devils.
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There are 11 ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the Salt Lake City airport – and they get an average of 500 inches of snow annually, plenty for good spring skiing. I planned a couple of nights at three different resorts – Alta, Deer Valley and Sundance – figuring I’d have plenty to keep me happy if skiing didn’t work out.
High on Alta “If you’re going to re-learn to ski, why not go to Alta, where all they do is ski?” said Joe Johnson, a social media friend and expert skier. “It’s been that way for 75 years.”
No glitz. No snowboarders. There are With its base at 8,530 feet elevation at no chain hotels or mega resorts here – the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon, just a few condos and five lodges that Alta is high and ultra-dry. When the sun include breakfast and dinner in accom- blazes here, snow doesn’t turn to slush; modations packages. Room amenities it evaporates. Visitors get 2,200 skiable include humidifiers and boot warmers. acres of what locals boast is “the greatThe place is about skiing – not nightlife. est snow on Earth.”
Alta is old school – a skiers’ classic.
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Above: Skier near the top of the Deer Valley slopes. Left: Deer Valley chairlift. Below: Skier crashes and burns.
Photos courtesy: Dear Valley Lodge & Alison DaRosa
It's the ideal place for a born-again skier. The snow was perfect on the sunny spring morning I skittishly hit the slopes. Instructor Art McNeally was gentle. And friends had been right about the changes in skis.
5-year-old Aubrey Peterson practicing chair lift. (Alta is for serious skiers, but her “pizza” (my generation called it a 65 percent of runs are designed for besnow plow) and her “french fries” (paral- ginners and intermediates.)
“Imagine carrying a 12-footlong 2-by-4 down the road, “ said Carson Wolfe, who fit my rental skis. “Now imagine carrying a yardstick. Which one would you have more control over?” Wolfe gave me a pair of skis only 142 centimeters long – about 4 feet, 8 inches, a halffoot shorter than I am. “With a lot less lel skiing). underfoot, you’ll have a lot more con“Let’s go,” McNeally smiled, taking off. trol,” he promised. With no time to think, I followed. It was McNeally started me out on the rope tow. easier than I’d expected. After a couple At the top of our bunny hill, I watched more rope tow runs, we headed off to a
The snow was even better up top – and before long I was gaining confidence, carving tighter turns, feeling great about my progress. By the time I traded my ski boots for a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers provided at the mid-mountain Collins Grill, I was giddy with exhaustion. So was Marybeth Bond, a Bay Area visitor savoring her first day on skis in two years. “Oh, I’m such a good skier,” she giggled. “It’s the snow. It’s perfect.” Lunch was perfect, too: fresh local trout sautéed in lemon dill butter. Dessert was another glorious run down the hill.
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guides offer free mountain tours for intermediate and expert skiers. Deer Valley has one employee for every three guests. With a base elevation of 6,570 feet, Deer Valley doesn’t get as much snow as Alta – only about 300 inches a year. On a typical day, it gets about 6,000 skiers. (Lift ticket sales are limited to 7,500 a day, but the resort seldom sells out.) Lifts can transport more than 50,000 skiers per hour; their playground covers more than 2,000 skiable acres. Beginners can ski five of the six peaks here. And, like Alta, it’s one of only three U.S. ski resorts that does not allow snowboarders. (The other is Mad River Glen in Vermont.) Deer Valley’s ski school has 560 instructors; classes sold out during the spring break week I visited. Next stop: Deer Valley
between the drive-up drop-off area and the main lodge. There’s hand lotion in all What Alta is to the serious skier, Deer public restrooms; heated floors in most Valley is to the skier who wants to be resort bathrooms. Tissue boxes are staspoiled rotten. tioned everywhere, including at chairSeriously. They’ve got ski valets here – lifts. There’s free overnight ski storage strapping men who ferry visitors’ skis at the main lodge – and four times a day,
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Luckily, I’d been forewarned and reserved early. I had a date with 62-year-old Rex Frasier, who was in his 23rd season of teaching wannabe Bode Millers. “Skiing is a game of stance and balance, much more than strength and agility,” he told me. “If you can dance, you can ski.”
here – and they range from really good to superb. Readers of Ski magazine rank I love dancing – but I don’t do it with 4½ Deer Valley the best ski resort in North -foot boards strapped to my feet. Pretty America for dining (also best for service, soon I was gyrating out of control. Ingrooming, lodging and family programs.) stead of smooth, rhythmic moves, I was a Zagat rates Deer Valley’s Mariposa the 60-something lunatic diving into a mosh best restaurant in Utah. pit. Others on our snowy dance floor gracefully whirled around me. My confi- Twenty years ago, ski resort meals meant overcooked pre-fabbed burgers, limp dence melted like summer snow. greasy fries and canned chili. At Deer Frasier had seen it before. Often. Valley, fries are hand-cut and burgers are “Half of what we do as instructors is work made to order with prime Niman Ranch to give you the confidence that you can organic beef. Skiers can get chili – but it’ll slow down and stop,” he said. “Surmount- be wild game chili, made with bison, boar, elk -- coffee and beer; locals call it the ing the fear factor is just repetition.” protein bomb. Fear had made me a fan of slow dancing. Frasier was patient. Encouraging. “The The Skiers Brunch at Stein Eriksen Lodge two most important tips for having a is a foodie’s fantasy – a belt-busting feast great day on the slopes,” he finally said: of locally sourced, highest-quality, all“Know when to stop – and know where to you-can-eat cuisine. There’s a stunning buffet of fresh salads, abundant shelleat.” fish, numerous carving stations, endless Knowing when to stop was the easy part. selections of made-to-order dishes and a 14-foot-long display of desserts to die for. Gold medal dining He had me. I was ready to rock.
Deer Valley has revolutionized ski resort dining. There are 11 restaurants
But if I could return to only one Deer Valley restaurant, it would be Fireside Din-
Above: A perfectly seared scallop at the Mariposa restaurant at Deer Valley. Top right: A quartet of lamb legs cooking the old-fashioned way. Top left: The dining room at the Mariposa. Opposite top: A seafood mini-feast at the Mariposa.
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ing at the Empire Canyon Lodge. Various European-Alpine-style courses are offered from five blazing hearths. For guests, it’s a deliriously delicious adventure: Start at the fireplace where huge wheels of melting Swiss raclette ooze nutty cheese wonderfulness for spreading on thin slices of fresh baguette; accessorize your plate with house-made accompaniments such as strawberry-tarragon jam, zippy pickled onions and house-cured salami. Move on to another fireplace to choose from stews simmering in heavy cast iron cauldrons hung from oversized hooks in the hearth – or perhaps try a little grilled local trout or spit-roasted quail, and don’t forget the crisp, buttery potato rosti. At the next fireplace, find slow-roasting whole legs of lamb, ready to be carved to order – and served with Dutch oven specialties such as Vidalia onion bread pudding. Dessert? Swiss fondue, of course: Pots of bubbling dark chocolate, caramel and white chocolate hang in the lobby
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fireplace beside a table laden with fresh fruits, cinnamon-spiced pound cake and airy meringues for dipping. Bliss. The downside of Deer Valley dining: There’s a scale in every lodging unit. Savoring Sundance With only 450 acres for skiing and snowboarding and about half the snowfall of Alta, carving down hill runs isn’t the endall, be-all here – especially in spring when daytime temps average 50+ and snow turns to slush and melts into bare spots. This Robert Redford-owned resort is as much about arts and culture as anything. I could learn to make pottery, jewelry, prints or soap here – or learn painting, photography or glass blowing. I could go winter flyfishing, see a movie in Robert Redford’s own screening room, get a massage – or take another ski lesson. Instructor Bruce Giffen, who has been teaching skiing for 40 years, was my early morning taskmaster. “You’re skiing so ladylike,” he scolded.
“Get out there and grit your teeth like a man. Be mean with the hill.” I was more concerned about the hill being mean with me. Even short, fat skis snag on bare spots – and anticipating those spots ate at my confidence. Still, I reasoned, I was more confident and having way more fun than I would have had 20 years ago using less forgiving equipment – and besides, it would soon be afternoon. I’d signed up for a printmaking class and then a late-afternoon “sage and sweet grass ritual” that promised a 90-minute trifecta of indulgence: dry brush exfoliation, followed by a Great Salt Lake organic mudpack and then a sage-oil massage. In the meantime, there was just no way I could grit my teeth.
IF YOU GO Equipment: Rent at Ski ‘N See, which has locations near most major Utah ski resorts. Premier packages run about $25 a day if booked in advance online: www.skinsee. com; (800) 722-3685. Alta: Check out lodging packages at Alta Lodge: www.altalodge.com. Learn more about skiing Alta at www.alta.com. Deer Valley: Learn more about Deer Valley Resort at www.deervalley.com. Sundance: Learn more at www.sundanceresort.com. More info: www.skiutah.com; (800) 7548824.
Above: Skier having fun on the Deer Valley slopes. Left: Deer Valley ski instructor Rex Frazier demonstrating the flexibility of today’s skis. Opposite top: The Empire Canyon Lodge at Deer Valley. Opposite lower: Aubrey Peterson, 5, from Phoenix, getting her skis adjusted by Alta instructor Matt Frieda.
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Eco Exotica Costa Rica’s got it all By Lynn Barnett
ive me a good book, a lounge chair by the pool and a tall gin and tonic and I’ve got all the vacation I need. Trouble is, that doesn’t fly as a vacation with my son Jack or my daughter Chelsea. They seem to need a little more excitement than that. And my husband Joe, well, all he needs is surf and he’s a happy chappy.
What to do when the family can’t agree on how to spend a week off together? Fly to Costa Rica, like we did, and discover a world of adventure, waves to ride and poolside peace. We chose a one-week stay at Fiesta Resort & Casino in the little village of Puntarenas, a two-hour drive from the San Jose airport. Here, Joe could surf with his buddies at Boca Barranca (a left-point break in front of a river mouth where 80 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
200-yard-long rides are a possibility), I could lounge around my choice of three pools, and the kids could play in the game room or join club activities. There were plenty of other amusing things to do, too. At the top of the adventure list (apart from gawking at the crocodiles while tourists fed them chickens from the hotel’s adjacent river bridge) was a Tarzan-like ride through the jungles of the rain forest. With my fear of heights, I was surprised that I was able to stand on platforms as high as the treetops and whiz above the forest canopy, rigged into a harness that attaches to a clothesline-like 1 1/2-inch steel cable. Guides caught us at each tree platform, then pushed us off several hundred feet above the tundra where we found ourselves gliding through the air for a hundred yards or more before reaching the next tree.
By the third tree I was flying through the air with the ease of, well, Jane. The kids had a blast and the platform tour was fun for all, but it’s not a learning experience. If you’d rather see the animals than act like the animals you can take a canopy tour by tram or sky-walk the suspension bridges and platforms while learning about nature. Another way to see the rain forest’s flora, meet the monkeys and three-toed sloths is on horseback. Our trail guide, a French ex-pat named Dominic, was an accomplished rider who selected specific horses to meet each of our needs. Chelsea got a little painted Indian pony with short legs and albino blue eyes. Jack rode a huge stud of a horse, and Joe got the bolter. As a non-rider (and a little scared of horses, to boot) I got the gentlest horse of the bunch, but still got a little hysterical at the first open run. The horse trail took us to a grove of little creatures called white-nosed coatis, long-tailed members of the raccoon family, who were happy to run around between the horse’s legs and beg for food. The kids were thrilled to feed them bits of fruit provided by Dominic. We also saw some white-throated capuchin monkeys, cute little guys shaking the treetops and unafraid to show us their sharp teeth. When the horses were at slow pace, Dominic told us interesting facts that made Costa Rica sound like Central America’s jewel: 27 percent of Costa Rica is conserved through a national park system; there are 850 bird species, 220 reptile species, 1,000 butterfly species, 9,000 plant species, 34,000 insect species (which I tried not to think about); elevations go from sea level to 12,529 feet; and there are 112 volcanic craters. She said that Costa Rica is so diverse, we could hike a smoking volcano, raft the rivers, surf the ocean waves, visit a butterfly sanctuary or go on a jungle safari during our week there. We passed up the volcano and the butterfly park but Opposite: Lush Costa Rican tropical rainforest waterfalls. Top:”Roca Bruja”, Santa Rosa National Park and Boca Barranca beach. Middle: Rainbow beaked Tucan .
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opted for another jungle safari — this time on foot to Manuel Antonio National Park’s Punta Catedral trail. The forest here is thick with massive ficus trees but the path is well groomed — except for the occasional iguana, which likes to sun itself right where you are walking. It’s about a 30-minute round-trip hike that gets a little steep in places and has a stop-off at a 1/2-mile-long pristine, white-sand beach called Playa Manuel Antonio. We wished we had brought our snorkeling equipment, but instead took a leisurely dip in the warm water of this tropical paradise, tucked into a deep cove, and bordered by palm and mango trees. On our last night in Costa Rica we watched the sunset’s orange hues settle over the ocean while sipping Guaro y Fresca. Hmmm, think I’ll pour a shot or two of that Guaro rum into a glass of Fresca and ice right now and do a little vacation reminiscing.
If you go Costa Rica has a tropical climate with average annual temperatures between 71 and 81 degrees F. The dry season runs from January through May; wet season from May to December. The wettest months are July and November with a dry spell in August or September. Unless you are a surfer, you probably want to visit during the dry season. Trails can be muddy when it’s wet. If you are taking a canopy tour, take it on a sunny day. If it’s cloudy you won’t see anything and tour operators may not refund your money because of weather.
Photos courtesy Costa Rica Tourism
Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast by Panama. It is mostly coastline and has a Caribbean coast that is characterized by sandy beaches, mangroves and swamps, and a Pacific coast that has more rugged, rocky terrain. Costa Rica has an abundance of plant and animal species. Among the best places for tourists to see the diversity of wildlife are Corcovado National Park, Tortuguero National Park and the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Fiesta Resort & Casino: Agoda.com is an online hotel discount site that offers bookings for Fiesta Resort & Casino. Top: The fabled Quetzal bird found in the rainforests of Costa Rica. Visit: www.agoda.com/fiesta-resort-and-casino/hotel/punMiddle: Crocodiles lazing in the heat. Bottom: The pool at the Fiesta tarenas-cr.html Resort.
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Fear and Loathing in the Sky
--and Why You Should Marry the Girl in the Middle Seat
have a confession to make. I don’t like to fly. I love going places. It’s just the getting there I’m not that fond of.
That might seem like a strange admission for a travel writer— but then again, maybe not. I mean, the more often you're required to shoehorn yourself into a seat that wouldn’t comfortably accommodate a malnourished hamster, the less likely you are to look forward to it. If I actually enjoyed crumpling my body into a defeated wad of human origami, I'd take yoga, and at least I'd have the skull-cracking thighs and sixpack abs to show for it.
You’re not even awarded the privilege of painful bodily contortion until you’ve already been through the soul-sapping process of submitting to airport security. Shuffling sock-footed through the metal detector, grasping at your unbelted trousers to keep them from falling down around your ankles, you still have to run the gauntlet of heaven-knows-wherethose-hands-have-been rubber-gloved officers who might randomly pull you aside for a pat-down. Every time this happens, I’m tempted to ask them to at least treat me to dinner and a movie first...but somehow, I doubt they would be amused. I think you can tell a lot about a person by where they like to sit on an airplane. The obvious answer, of course, is “at the front. In First Class.” But given the intolerable lack of a winning lottery ticket, you'll usually find me in cattle class, which can be just about bearable when I snag an aisle seat. Why do I prefer the aisle? Because I have a very optimistic bladder. That is to say, it’s always half-full, and I like to be able to make a quick escape to the (tin can-sized) loo without having to give a lap dance to the other folks in my row. (Although, come to think of it, there might be a few bucks to be made there). More unfortunately still, I seem to have some perverse Pavlovian response to the "fasten seatbelt" sign. No sooner does that dreaded light go on than my bladder pings my brain, signaling that it would quite like to have a wee. RIGHT. NOW. This makes me very popular with flight attendants, as you can imagine, who seem to regard me jettisoning from my seat as a sign of civil disobedience--or worse, terrorism. Other people prefer to be ensconced beside the window, of course-presumably so that they’ll be the first to spot an engine fire. Fair enough. But can we all agree that the middle seat is basically Dante’s seventh level of hell?
Personally, I would sell both my ovaries to avoid being stuck in the middle, sandwiched like the creamy, compact filling in an Oreo cookie. You can’t lean against the window, checking the condition of the engines and marveling at clouds that look like Jerry Garcia or Carrot Top or penguins on pogo sticks. (Did I mention I take full advantage of free booze offered on international flights?) Nor can you stretch your legs out in the aisle, thereby incurring the wrath of whomever is piloting the drinks cart. It’s very likely you will be denied even the small solace of an armrest, as the people who requested the aisle and window seats are almost certainly far more selfish than you and have already claimed them with pointy-elbowed defiance. This is based on my observation that only the nicest people end up in the middle—a conclusion supported by a highly scientific survey of one. That is to say, I’ve only ever met one girl who actually likes the middle seat, because she says it makes her feel safe and cozy. Miss Middle Seat is also among the sweetest people I know, which makes me wonder if perhaps this should be a standard question in Match.com profiles. If you happen to spot someone with a preference for the middle, don’t even wait to arrange a first date. Just bang out an e-mail asking them to marry you and order the wedding invitations. They’ll probably be too concerned about hurting your feelings to turn you down. Only once in my life have I boarded a plane and thought, “You know, 14 hours just isn’t going to be long enough.” This was while flying in business class on Singapore Airlines. The lay-flat “seat” was approximately the size of a football field. The alcohol flowed like an IV drip, and the food was superb—although I was surprised that they served us chicken satay on wooden skewers. (One unexpected air pocket, and you’ll put your eye out). I have no idea what blessed nirvana must await their first class passengers. Probably a 90-minute hot stone massage, caviar facial, complimentary bag of gold and diamonds, and a lovely flight attendant to read you a bedtime story, stroke your hair and sing you to sleep as you wing your way to the Land of Nod. Hey, we can all dream. Until then, I’ll see you in the back, in line for the loo. You can find Amy at WWW.AMYLAUGHINGHOUSE.COM and on Twitter @A_ LAUGHINGHOUSE.
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SLATEd for work
Discovering The Rich Story Of Slate Mining In Wales By Carl H. Larsen
n the shadows of Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, there’s a perplexing and disturbing aspect to the outstanding countryside that is so popular among hikers, climbers and anglers.
Photo by Iain Robinson
ripped open, with flat landings or at the end of the Ice Age valley…I deep galleries carved into the jagged was confronted with the mighty slag rock face every few feet. At the base, heaps deposited by the Industrial massive heaps of slag create a barren Age,” he wrote in a guide to Wales. landscape. The contrast is startling. Men toiled and died here in a quest Author Peter Sager was unprepared for a commodity that once was nearly for the sudden change. “There I was, as important to Wales as were its rich In some places, you can find a plunfresh from the nature trail of Snow- deposits of coal. Here, in northwest dered landscape. Mountainsides are donia National Park, and suddenly, Wales, it was slate they were after. 84 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
The miners are nearly all gone now. In the foothills, their equipment rusts while roofless stone barracks and work sheds testify to the scope of the abandoned operations. But the story of their industry lives on in the National Slate Museum in Llanberis and at palatial homes that once were the refuges of their bosses -- the “slate kings.” The most extravagant is Penrhyn Castle, a grandiose confection overlooking the Irish Sea near Bangor. “The importance of the slate industry has been generally underestimated,” noted Sager. At one time, Wales led the world in slate production, bringing immense wealth to the mine owners. Much of that fortune ended up with two English families that held vast landholdings in North Wales -- the Pennants of Penrhyn and the Assheton-Smiths of Dinorwig. The slate industry was focused in locales near formerly hard-to-reach towns: Bethesda, Blaenau Ffestiniog and Llanberis. There, in deep quarries and in mines, thousands were employed (and went on to suffer from lung diseases) and vast damage ultimately was done to the environment by an industry that helped define Wales. To expand their market, quarry operators opened the remote mining areas by building rail lines to bring the finished slate to ports on the Welsh coast. When you think of slate--but who does--you realize how important a product it once was. Output from the quarries of Wales roofed the homes of Britain and other countries. Billiard tables relied on slate for a smooth surface. And what schoolhouse in years past didn’t have a slate blackboard? While slate was used in everyday life, it also defined in death thousands whose burial headstones are made of the rock. Opposite page: Looking out of the abandoned Pen-y-Brynmine tunnel. Top: Remains of the slate quarry at Dinorwig. Center: Penhryn Quarry . Bottom: Early photo of slate workers . Photo courtesy: WIKI commons
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Photos courtesy: WIKI commons
Today, slate production is just a blip part of slate produced in Wales came in Wales’ overall economy. A few firms from these two “bookend” quarries. still produce the “best in the world,” Dinorwig opened in 1787 and by the but in a much more responsible way. 1870s it employed more than 3,000 The home of the National Slate Muse- men, working jobs that ranged from um is Llanberis, a town known more as blasting open the slate seams to manua holiday resort and a place to start the ally cutting each roofing tile to size. In hike to the top of 3,560-foot Mount July 1969, Prince Charles was invested Snowdon. There’s an easier way to the as Prince of Wales in nearby Caernartop: the Mount Snowdon cog railway fon Castle on a dais made of Dinorwig starts here as well. Within walking slate. A month later the quarry closed distance of the museum are two other down, a victim of competition and notable attractions, the Llanberis Lake non-slate roofing products. Railway, one of the “Great Little Trains After viewing a video entitled “To Steal of Wales,” and Electric Mountain, a visa Mountain” about the quarry opitors’ center for one of the largest hyeration, visitors can take a short walk droelectric plants in Europe. Tours take to the nearby base of the mountain, visitors deep into Elidir Fawr Mountain where they can see how it all worked. to see the massive turbines and pumps. As author Sager described, “When the At the base of Elidir, the museum rockmen had finished the blasting, the couldn’t be better placed. It occupies rubbishers brought out the slate and the Victorian workshops of the former the slag, and then the splitters and Dinorwig Quarry. Along with its near- dressers went into action. The former by twin, the Penrhyn Quarry, the two split the blocks of slate, and the latter quarries were the largest in the world, broke them up into standard sizes.” and employed approximately 6,000 Demonstrations at the museum show workers. For many years, the better how the slate was sized. “The splitter 86 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
sits cross-legged on a low stool, the block propped up by his knee, and with a miner’s hammer and chisel he chips over very thin slices. Out of a good quality piece two inches thick, an expert could conjure up to sixteen slates.” Before the advent of electric energy, the shops were powered by a huge water wheel still in working order that was attached to machinery by a system of shafts and belts. Pattern makers working in a foundry could fashion any part used by the quarrymen that may be needed, including the bell on a tower clock. Just 12 miles away from the jagged slate outcrops of Elidir Fawr Mountain stands the coastal retreat of Penrhyn Castle, the ancestral home of the Pennant family, who owned the massive Penrhyn Quarry. Operated today by The National Trust, the home was designed in the Norman Revival style by architect Thomas Hopper and was constructed from 1820-1832. The Pennants, owners of the estate, became rich from sugar plantations in Ja-
maica worked by slaves. Their profits were reinvested closer to home in the booming slate industry nearby and the family became even wealthier.
If You Go For information on travel by rail through Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom: www.britrail.co
The interior resembles a cathedral in the Grand Hall with vaulted ceilings and a Guide Amanda Whitehead: grand staircase of limestone and grey firstname.lastname@example.org sandstone The house was designed to Getting around North Wales impress, and indeed it does, even if it‘s can be tricky. It’s best to stay in considered the best example of a “fantaa larger town and hire a guide, sy home“ in Britain. Beyond the architecsuch as Amanda Whitehead, tural pedigree, the castle estate includes with a car who can shepherd a lavish garden, a major art collection, you through the back roads and doll museum and a railway exhibit. explain the sights. I took a highThough slate is used extensively in the speed train from London and house for decoration, one visitor was not stayed in Llandudno, a Victorian impressed. It’s said that Queen Victoria, seaside resort on the coast. One on a visit in 1859, refused to sleep in a of the better hotels is The Impefour-poster bed made of the rock. rial (www.theimperial.co.uk). Whitehead took me Opposite: The Welsh National Slate Museum. Above: on the short drive to Penrhyn Penrhyn Castle, the ancestral home of the Pennant Castle and on to Llanberis, the family, who owned the massive Penrhyn Quarry. heart of slate country.
Electric Mountain, Llanberis. Tour one of Europe’s largest hydroelectric power stations. www.fhc. co.uk National Slate Museum, Llanberis. Free admission. www.museum. wales.ac.uk/en/slate Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, A National Trust property, admission is charged for entry to the grounds or castle. www.nationaltrust.org. uk. Search “Penrhyn Castle.” The Welsh government’s tourism site, the place to start for travels to Wales: www.visitwales.com For additional information touring Britain: www.visitbritain.com
Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 87
Heaven For Book Lovers SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE by Kathi Diamant
eople are traveling with a theme, often with like-minded friends. Theatre tours are offered to New York and London. Anthropology, archeology, and geology buffs participate at in situ digs in remote locales. Celebrity chefs lead international culinary adventures, and eco-tours offer alternatives for environmentalists and those who wish to tread lightly.
like Berlin, London and Prague to quaint out-of-the way places, like Hay-on-Wye in Wales, where the “Woodstock of the Mind” is held annually. These literary festivals are designed for readers who love to travel, writers who wish to improve, and for those who simply want cultural enrichment.
Try this: Google “literary festival” and the city you want to visit next. From Shanghai Book lovers have it best of all. Literary festito Spoleto to Stockholm, literary festivals Byron LaDue and Kathi Diamant enjoying free-flowvals and writers conferences are held around are populating exotic landscapes. Booking ing tequila. Top: Bird’s-eye view of San Miguel de the world, in sparkling international capitals a trip during a literary festival or writing Allende. Opposite: Attendees getting to know each other at the festival reception.
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to speak. Two friends from San Diego decided it sounded like fun, and came with me. Talking about my passion for solving the mysteries surrounding Franz Kafka was rewarding, but the highlight for me was the intellectual stimulation, the feast of fascinating people, international authors, playwrights and poets. It was an immediate inclusion into a cultural community, and allowed me to absorb the charms of Paris in an authentic Parisian milieu. It was the best ten days of my adult life.
Photo courtesy WIKI commons
conference offers benefits. If the festival or conference is headquartered at a hotel, it’s often an iconic one, comfortable, safe, and perfectly situated to enjoy the city, with room discounts, tickets to events, and meal plans that can offset the cost of registering for the festival. My first literary festival experience was in 2003, in Paris, hosted by the legendary bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. My biography, “Kafka’s Last Love” had just been published in the US, and I was invited
arrive, you won’t want to leave. The steep, narrow winding cobblestone streets are bathed in color, lined with well-preserved colonial-era buildings that house private homes, restaurants, shops, art institutions and galleries. Solitary burros, laden with bags of grain or straw, stand motionless for hours, apparently untended. According to readers of Conde Nast Traveler, San Miguel de Allende boasts “great atmosphere, excellent restaurants, culture and ambiance galore. The lack of street lights and billboards make the region romantically and historically beautiful,” and “offers a traditional feeling of a small town in the heart of Mexico.” It is a magical place.
So it was with that impossibly high expectation that I accepted an invitation to speak at the 9th Annual San Miguel de Allende Literary Festival and Writers Conference, held in February 2014. I had every reason to believe this would be an even more dazzling peak experience. This time, Billed as the “Creative Crossroads of the Byron LaDue, my husband and the father Americas,” the San Miguel Writers Conof my book, could join me. I spread the ference and Literary Festival grew from word via social media, and a dozen friends humble origins in 2006 to the largest biand fellow San Diegans signed up for the lingual and bicultural writer’s conference conference package. It was already a party. in Latin America. My favorite writers had preceded me. Tom Robbins wrote that if Located in Guanajuato, in the high des- “Dante had spent more time in San Miguel, ert mountains north of Mexico City, San he would have written more about heaven Miguel de Allende is the new must-visit and less about hell.” After the legendary destination. ChoFriday night Fiesta, sen by Condé Nast Barbara Kingsolver Traveler as the said, “it’s one of the number one city ten best parties I in the world for have ever attended, 2013, San Miguel and I don’t rememis a UNESCO World ber the other nine.” Heritage City, a harmonious comThe Festival is headmunity comprised quartered at the of Mexicans, nalovely Hotel Real de tive Indians, and Minas, where the expat Americans extensive grounds and Canadians, who comprise about ten provide a peaceful respite from the hubpercent of their adopted city. Blessed with bub of activities. The sparkling pool and near perfect weather, SMA (as the locals shaded green lawn, dotted with pillows call it) is a thriving center of art, culture, and blankets, present inviting spots to and history. As early as the mid-1500s, lounge, sip margaritas, nap and read San Miguel de Allende was an important between the seven keynote and general stop on the road between the silver mines session speakers, workshops and classes, in the north and Mexico City. Today, it’s open mic sessions, and individual conmore out of the way. sultations with agents, editors and other seasoned experts. Inside the cool lobby, From Mexico City, it’s a 4-hour drive. people meet and compare notes. As Susan The closest airports are Leon, Gua- Page, executive director of the Festival najuato and Querataro, which require a says, “Above all, it is the conversations 1- to 2-hour drive to SMA. Shuttles cost between sessions that are sometimes the around $50-$60 roundtrip. But once you most important part of all.”
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Party animal and cowboy join the fiesta. Below: Salsas for the feast. Opposite top: Poet David Whyte presented an afternoon keynote address and taught a half-day workshop. Here he chats with fans and writing students. Opposite below: Author Yann Martel (“Life of Pi”) meets young readers after his keynote address.
Millie McCoo, a writing student at the rubbed elbows in Paris in 2003, and we SDSU Osher Institute for Lifelong stayed in touch. In 2009, she moved to Learning, encountered “many cre- SMA, and joined the San Miguel Literative minds at the conference.” She ary Sala, the umbrella organization that was “inspired and encouraged to runs the festival. A retired professor of continue writing, especially by the creative writing, she helped the conferwomen who were so generous in shar- ence grow from one keynote speaker and ing their knowledge and experiences. 67 registrants to its current dimensions of almost 300 registered conference at“We are keeping in touch," she reports. Nikki Symington, who accompanied me to Paris and San Miguel, also took advantage of the full conference package. She is working on a book of short stories and wanted advice about prompts for creativity, writing techniques and publishing advice. "I was hoping for help with character development and dialogue. I got more than I asked for, more than I realized I needed. The workshop leaders were fabulous and I left armed with tons of information.” Mary Katherine Wainwright and I 90 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
tendees, with 64 faculty members and 63 workshops, and more than 5,000 people in attendance for the keynote speakers and panels. A veteran of many national and international literary festivals, workshops and conferences, Mary Katherine lends her expertise as one of more than five dozen local volunteers who run the SMA festival and lend the conference a personal touch. While clearly a group effort, everyone I spoke to praised one woman, the executive director, Susan Page, for her “boundless energy and enthusiasm for driving this conference forward.” The February 2014 keynote speakers included Yann Martel (Life of Pi), Calvin Trillin, New Yorker columnist and author of almost three dozen books, Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), PEN Faulkner Award winner Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Ellen Bass, an exquisitely
to do and see. Mexican arts and crafts, blown glass and silver jewelry can be found at bargain prices in the connecting alleys of the Mercado de Artesanias. The El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden extends over 167 acres, featuring remarkable biodiversity. Benches await the weary in the El Jardin, San Miguel’s central square, in the shadow of the soaring cathedral, La Parroquia. At night, fireworks, dancers, singers and strolling families fill the Jardin, making it the place to be. Excursions and special events are organized for festival-goers, with guided tours of San Miguel’s elegant homes, visits to neighboring villages, mining ghost towns, and recently uncovered ancient pyramids. Byron and I spent a heavenly morning at La Gruta Hot Springs, about 10 km from SMA, soaking in a series of increasingly hotter pools, culminating with a man-made grotto featuring a powerful waterspout. Poet Sandra Cisneros, a keynote speaker in 2012, told me the waterfall “will slap you silly.” She was right, and it was wonderful. On the Beat Afternoon Cantina Crawl, we watched the bartender at La Cucaracha Bar make the best margarita I’ve ever tasted. It was a masterpiece of simplicity: a tall narrow glass filled with ice, rimmed with salt, consisting only of tequila, Cointreau and one squeezed lime. A special event organized for the festival, the Cantina Crawl will return for the third time in 2015. For $15, you visit three of the oldest cantinas in town and learn the history of the old taverns and writers who frequented them.
lovely poet whose work is frequently read by Garrison Keillor on “The Writers Almanac” on NPR. I attended every talk, and each gave grist for inspiration for years to come. My talk on Valentine’s Day went well, and that night we partied at the legendary Fiesta.
Festival photos by Charlotte Bell
The afternoon culminates at La Cucaracha, the new location of the seedy joint where Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac once drank. The bar comes to life with actors portraying the Beat stars, including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, reading their poetry in a performance cleverly written and directed by another of the SMA Literary Sala volunteers, screenwriter Frank Gaydos. On our last night in SMA, Byron and I returned to La Cucaracha to dance to the weathered juke box and drink one last perfect margarita.
out quickly. Set in the historic plaza of one of San Miguel’s grand colonial buildings, revelers are greeted by dashing mustachioed caballeros and floral-bedecked burros. The tequila is free and free flowing. Exhilarating singers, Folklorico and Aztec dancers entertain on the stage, as The Friday night Fiesta is appropriately towering papier-mâché puppets dance legendary. My friends had great fun, some through the crowd. Fresh abundant local even more than others. The locals, used dishes are grilled and served in several to an annual schedule of parties for which locations. Fireworks cap the evening. Looking back, we agree. It was the best SMA is famous, take advantage of this shinten days of our lives. dig, buying up individual tickets, which sell Outside of the festival, there’s much
Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014 91
WHITLEY ON WINE
When In Beaune BY ROBERT WHITLEY
nside the largely intact ramparts of this relatively sleepy village of 20,000, there are four restaurants with at least one Michelin star. Outside the city walls there are several more.
a taste for the most sought-after chardonnay and pinot noir in the world. Surrounded by some of the most famous wine villages in France, Beaune is more than the
Beaune has other superb hotels, including the elegant and relatively new Le Cedre and the conveniently located Hotel de la Poste. Le Cep, however, is eclectic and charming, an Old World period piece, with a warm and friendly staff; and it's an easy walk to my favorite haunts.
The center of the village, around Place Carnot, is lined with shops pedaling gourmet food products, as well as the latest fashions from Paris, a couple of hours to the north. From early spring through the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction in late November, the cobblestone streets are clogged with tourists, particularly on Saturday, which is market day. On most weekends in the high season, hotel and restaurant reservations are a must. Once the bastion of the Dukes of Burgundy, Beaune is now the center of the wine universe for some, particularly wine aficionados with
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the village center, and immediately celebrate with a glass of Cremant de Bourgogne or Laurent-Perrier brut rose Champagne, usually by the grand fireplace just off the lobby, especially if there is a chill in the air.
When in Beaune, this is what I do.
None easier than the few steps to Loiseau des Vignes, a Michelin one-star next door to Le Cep. A diner could easily spend $300 in one sitting at Loiseau, but on a recent visit I ordered the four-course menu decouverte for 59 euros, which is about $80, including tax and tip.
I arrive at Hotel le Cep, a four-star hotel near
Dinner was, as expected, innovative and spec-
commercial center of Burgundy; it is its heart and soul.
tacular, but the greatest attraction for me is the Loiseau approach to wine. It is one of the few restaurants or wine bars in France where it is possible to enjoy grand cru Burgundy by the glass. I indulged and ordered a magnificent 2009 Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru for 20 euros. I also took the wine pairings for each course, chosen by the sommelier, for an additional 45 euros. On the same visit, I had dinner one evening at Le Beneton, another Michelin one-star, and ordered a la carte. Le Beneton was equally innovative and dazzling, but twice the price. Michelin stars aside, my favorite restaurant in Beaune is Caveau des Arches. It is listed in the Michelin guide without a star, but the cuisine, perhaps a bit more traditional than Loiseau and Le Beneton, is exceptional and the wine list one of the finest in the village (though that distinction may be held by the small, charming Ma Cuisine). Caveau des Arches recently added a casual dining space upstairs from the main dining room in the "cave." The menu is limited, and reserva-
tions are not required, but it is well worth a visit. If budget is of concern, the modest but well appointed La Grilladine, a half-block from Le Cep, offers several menu options that are attractive. I recently chose its 23-euro dinner that included salmon tartare, beef bourguignon and a cheese plate. With a half-bottle of Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru I got out for less than 50 euros, including tax and tip. I've also had similar experiences at the modest Le Conty, which, like the others, is mere steps from Place Carnot in the center of the village. And a bit further from the center of the village on Rue Faubourg Madelaine is Cave Madelaine, serving up the ultimate in Burgundian comfort food paired with an extensive selection of wines from Burgundy and the rest of France. Of course, no visit to Beaune would be complete without a stop at one of its better wine bars.
This homey wine bar, which serves excellent bistro faire, offers more than 20 Burgundies by the glass, most of them village wines, ranging anywhere from 4 to 12 euros per glass, which is a four-to-five ounce pour. On a recent visit I also enjoyed a 1972 Armagnac for 10 euros. On the other side of Place Carnot you will find the hip, modern La Part des Anges (the Angel's share) with equally good prices on the wines by the glass, and an array of tapas that pair nicely with the wines. La Part des Anges also steps outside the Burgundy box occasionally. The bar was pouring a South African Sauvignon Blanc and a dry red blend from Portugal on my last visit. So, when in Beaune, do as I do, and you will neither starve nor go thirsty. Top: The restaurant Caveau des Arches housed in ancient walls. Opposite top: The H么tel-Dieu, with flamboyant glazed roofs, lined with geometric figures. Opposite below: Hotel Le Cep dining room.
My favorite for lo these many years has been Le Bistrot Bourguignon, near Place Carnot.
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JOIN US FOR THE 2014
Ber S e p t e m4 , 5 -1 2014
An Eastern European Adventure. Be a Part of Literary History. Help Solve a Literary Mystery.
A KAFKA PROJEcT TOUR Led by the author of Kafka’s Last Love And Kafka Project Director, Kathi Diamant
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94 Wine Dine & Travel Spring 2014
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This issue features stories that illustrate a range of emotions. From death on the Ganges River to the joy of renewal in Utah, the stories i...
Published on Apr 16, 2014
This issue features stories that illustrate a range of emotions. From death on the Ganges River to the joy of renewal in Utah, the stories i...