Quebec City Visitors in for Real Treat

June 3, 2015  
Filed under Travel

By John Blanchette

As I flew into Quebec City in late March, I thought of my father, who was French Canadian and born in the small town of Chateauguay in the province of Quebec. He was proud of his heritage and every few years would drive us 300 miles from our Massachusetts home, across into Vermont, through upstate New York, around Lake Champlain and across the St. Lawrence River to visit his boyhood home. I loved visiting the farm where he was born and, remarkably, the shed where he was actually born was still standing on the property.
We would feed the livestock and chickens, milk the cows, make cheese, tend the fields and dine on vegetables, eat the honey from the hives on our morning toast and marvel at the imperial quarts of milk delivered by horse-drawn carts through the streets of Montreal and Quebec City. They were bigger than those in the United States, with a bulging neck that would collect the cream for the adults’ coffee.
Then there was the delicious honey butter that came in crocks and also graced the toast when we dined with our big-city relatives in Montreal. The distinctive flavor of fresh-pressed cider from Macintosh apples and the maple syrup and candies have a special place in my memory.
My father loved hockey and golf, the major Canadian pastimes. He was good at them both and played on the Boston University team before World War II interrupted his education. The last time I had visited the city I was 16. College would interrupt my return for many more years.
When I landed, the city had just gone through a very mild winter and the previous week’s temperatures had reached into the 70s. Alas, when I arrived, temperatures plunged into the teens and brave new buds were shivering in the cold along with me. It even snowed on my final day in the city.
My memories of Quebec City were dim. I remembered wandering the narrow and enchanting streets of Old Town (Vieux-Quebec), now a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of Basse-Ville (Lower Town) and High Town (Haute-Ville). The period architecture dates back 400 years and reminds one of Europe, especially with the sounds of French floating in the air.
I remembered the Marche, where the local farmers sold their goods on the weekends, and the immensity and utterly stunning beauty of Hotel Frontenac, perched above the city wall (the only one still standing in North America) next to the cannons and gunnery placements that guarded this narrowing of the St. Lawrence River. This area was crucial in the fighting between the English and French for control of the Canadian Territory and entry into the Great Lakes and mid-America. According to local lore, it is the most photographed hotel in the world.
The British may have won the battle that ceded them the country, but they could not pry the language or the heritage from French Canada. The name Quebec is not French, however. It is derived from the Algonquin language and means “narrowing of the river.”
Mayor Regis Lebeaume has made revitalization of the working-class St-Roch neighborhood a priority, pouring money into redevelopment. New galleries, restaurants, clubs and shops have turned it into one of the chicest locations in town. Cirque du Soleil has set up headquarters here and offers free shows in the summer. St-Roch Church is the largest in Quebec City and the focal point of the community.
The best way to get a full view of this city of just over 500,000 is to take the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Levis. The ancient skyline reveals itself upon the promontory, and Hotel Frontenac’s full majesty is impressive. When I returned to the dock, I took a walking tour of Old Town, both lower and upper. For only $1.50 it’s possible to ride on the Funiculaire up to Haute-Ville, a relatively compact town that can be covered in a few hours at a leisurely pace. The buildings and town squares are distinct and lovely, and the narrow lanes make for great window shopping.
The Musee des Beaux-Arts is on the grounds of the Plains of Abraham battlefield (1759) that determined British dominion over Canada and the end of French colonization. In the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the territory was officially ceded to England for good.
I enjoyed La Korrigane brewpub on Dorchester Street (, where I asked for the five-glass taster so I could enjoy the range of beers from a fresh blueberry lager to a dark chocolate stout. And speaking of chocolate, the sweetest part of the city tour is a visit to 634 rue Saint-Jean and the Chocolate Museum (
One of the more unusual shops was Benjo (, a toy store on steroids with a staff of grown-up 10-year-olds who love teasing the customers. Here a zany train ride takes visitors around the store and through the tunnel into a back-room fantasy land. I was also surprised by the employee-operated flying sharks and darting toy helicopters as well as the 5-foot robot who loved to squirt water on shoppers.
The hockey-mad city is building a $400 million sports complex to try and lure a new club to replace the Nordics, who left for Denver a few years ago.
About seven miles northeast of Quebec City are the thundering Montmorency Falls, named by explorer Samuel de Champlain for his patron, the Duke of Montmorency. At 227 feet tall, the falls are the tallest in North America and nearly 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls, but far narrower. For the brave of heart, there is a footbridge that spans the falls with spectacular views. In winter, snowboarders make use of the spray from the falls that coats the nearby rocks with continuously falling powder snow. There are also a number of excellent ski resorts within an hour of town.
Visiting Quebec City again after so many years brought back a flood of memories to me, and first-time visitors are in for a real treat.
For lodging options, restaurant information, shopping tips, event listings, guidebooks, brochures and maps, contact the Quebec City Tourist Office 877-783-1608 or
I stayed at the new TRYP Quebec Hotel PUR ( in the St-Roch District. Pur is the French word for pure, and architect Caroline Lajoie has created a quality atmosphere that is innovative, minimalist, sleek and open. My favorite area was the spa, with a dry sauna, a large lap pool and exercise room.
Table, Bar Gastronomique is run by inventive young chef Francois Prive. The restaurant kitchen is in the center of the room surrounded by well-spaced tables that allow easy conversation. Food is eclectic, seasonal, creative and often on small plates.

251 Club of Vermont Celebrates 60th With New Travel Journal

August 22, 2014  
Filed under Travel

VermontTravelJournal_251The 251 Club of Vermont, celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2014, exists to encourage members to visit all of the state’s 251 towns and cities. Now the task has been made more convenient and enjoyable with the publication of a new travel journal designed specifically for the Vermont explorer.

“This project is as purely Vermont as a quart of maple syrup,” says Sandy Levesque, club director and editor of the journal. “Vintage Vermont postcards from another century provide the design element and contemporary lists of travel resources, such as maps, books, and websites, are included. Every element, from editing to design to physical production, was handled in Vermont.”

All of Vermont’s 255 civic/geographic entities or “places” – 237 towns, 9 cities, 5 unorganized towns, 3 gores, and 1 grant – are listed alphabetically, along with their charter, grant or patent date, on 160 lightly-lined writing pages. Once completed, the book will be a unique and highly personalized account of the owner’s Vermont experience.

The 6” x 9” journal is a perfect traveling companion, deliberately sized to fit in glove compartments, purses, backpacks, briefcases, and totes. It has a durable cover and spiral binding to facilitate writing on-the-go. Printed on cream-colored, acid-free, archival paper the Vermont Travel Journal is designed to preserve memories and become a treasured keepsake.

With over 4,000 members, the 251 Club of Vermont is one of the largest membership organizations in the state. For information on the club, or to order a copy of the Vermont Travel Journal, visit or call 802-234-5039.

Motorcyle Safety

August 6, 2014  
Filed under Travel

August 2014

Bike travel

There are reasons police officers, firefighters and paramedics sometimes refer to two-wheeled transportation as “murdercycles” or “donorcycles.”
In Vermont last year, there were five of them — five motorcyclists killed on this state’s roads and highways.
But it’s possible to be relatively safe on a motorcycle — with a little preparation.
Studies are mixed on whether a motorcycle safety course reduces a motorcyclist’s risk of injury or death. Many experienced riders though (including this author) and Vermont Department of Transportation motorcycle safety instructor Patrick McManamon are big believers in motorcycle safety courses — and a federally certified crash helmet.
“Motorcycle safety education is extremely important. The basic course teaches you not only basic skills on how to ride, but also what you should be looking for,” McManamon said. “It teaches you crash avoidance by looking ahead and making decisions based on what you’re seeing that’ll help you stay safe.”
The courses also emphasize the proper safety equipment — both for the rider and on the motorcycle itself.
“You’ll learn about the riding gear you should be wearing that will protect you because unlike in a car or truck, you’re not in that steel cage, you’re out there exposed to the elements,” said McManamon, who has been a certified safety instructor for 10 years. “It’s extremely important to wear not only a DOT-approved helmet, but the proper riding gear to protect yourself.”
Many riders would argue that while worthy of considerable respect, a motorcycle in and of itself isn’t inherently dangerous. Some would say the most dangerous thing to a motorcyclist is an inattentive or inexperienced driver in a car or in a truck — particularly those who are distracted by eating, talking on the telephone or perhaps worst of all, by texting or surfing the ‘net on a cell phone or their vehicle’s “infotainment” system.
“Unfortunately, most car drivers are not looking for motorcyclists,” McManamon said. “Motorcycles, just because of their size, can be hard to see and with texting, cell phones and all the other distractions, people just don’t see us. I think all-around, it’s an extremely important class.”
Forewarned is forearmed and all would agree that learning basic and advanced operation and defensive driving skills cannot hurt even the most experienced motorcyclist. Some — including six states that require them for all riders and 19 more that require them for riders younger than a specified age, usually 18 or 21 years — would argue that certified instruction is a must for novice riders.
Most states and many motorcycle dealerships offer rider safety programs based on the standards set by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and those courses have been available in the Green Mountain State since 1990 at prices that are often lower or at least very competitive with commercial programs.
In Vermont, the state Department of Motor Vehicles offers comprehensive motorcycle and scooter courses under its Vermont Motorcycle Awareness Program (VMAP) and Vermont Rider Education Program (VREP) from April through September with weekday and weekend courses around the state in Highgate, Colchester, South Burlington, Berlin, St. Johnsbury, Pittsford, Rutland and Brattleboro. A schedule is available online at Sign up early because the courses fill quickly.

local courses:
• Basic RiderCourse (BRC)
For beginners, those with little or limited experience or those who haven’t ridden in a few years, this course teaches the basic skills needed to safely operate a motorcycle in traffic. The 18-hour course includes a minimum of five hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of riding exercises on a closed course.
To attend, a rider must be at least 16 years old, have a valid Vermont driver’s license (no motorcycle learner’s permit needed) and have a 3/4 or full-face helmet, protective eyewear, heavy duty long-sleeved shirt or jacket, heavy long pants such as blue jeans, full-fingered gloves and sturdy shoes (not sneakers) that cover the ankles. Cost is $175 and those who successfully complete the course are exempt from taking the written and riding skill tests to get a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license. Many insurers offer premium discounts of up to 20 percent for those who complete this course.
• Intermediate RiderCourse (IRC)
A one-day course for students who have completed the BRC but would like more practice time on the motorcycle. Same requirements as the BRC. Cost: $85.
• Experienced Rider License Waiver Course (ERC-License Waiver)
One-day course designed for riders who have basic motorcycle skills taught in the BRC but do not have a motorcycle endorsement on their license. Requires a valid State of Vermont motorcycle permit. Same requirements as the BRC with the addition that students can bring their own registered, inspected and insured street-legal motorcycles in good mechanical condition or use a DMV-provided motorcycle for an extra fee. Cost: $95; $105 with DMV-provided motorcycle.
• Experienced Rider Skills Plus Course (ERC-Plus)
One-day course for riders who are already licensed and frequently ride. Includes riding exercises and discussions on motorcycle safety including emergency braking, swerving, proper cornering techniques and slow speed maneuvers. Must use your own road-legal motorcycle and have same clothing and gear as required in BRC. Cost: $80.
• RiderCoach Preparation Course (RCP)
An 80-hour course that teaches experienced riders how to teach the MSF’s Basic Rider Course curriculum. Candidates must be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, a valid driver’s license with motorcycle endorsement that has not been suspended or revoked over the past two years, no convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs over the preceding five years and at least four years of experience riding a motorcycle over the preceding five years. Course completion requires a home study assignment, skills and knowledge tests and student teaching assignments. Those who pass will be certified as a RiderCoach and are eligible to work for the VREP. Applicants should call the program coordinator at 802-828-2068 for more information.

For information about VREP, VMAP or other safety programs offered by the State of Vermont, log on to or call 1-800-529-2535.

Were You ‘Born to Be Wild?’

August 6, 2014  
Filed under Travel

August 2014

2013 Honda CRF250L

2013 Honda CRF250L

By Ron Maloney

Like to “experience” the world with all of the senses — and not just your eyesight — when you travel through it?
Then there’s nothing quite like traveling on a motorcycle, whether it’s going out to get the groceries, getting back and forth to work or getting up close and personal with one of the world’s most wonderful landscapes, which everybody in Vermont enjoys.
That pastoral landscape and those twisty, hilly roads that make riding such a heart-pumping experience don’t come without their costs, though, in safety and in a shortened summer riding season along with “shoulder” seasons in spring and in fall best suited to the most adventurous, best-equipped and skilled riders.
Tom Hanson lives in Middlesex and has ridden motorcycles for 42 years. Today, he rides a highly customized Harley Davidson 1200 c.c. Sportster, but he started out as a kid on a 1966 Honda 50.
There’s nothing like riding in Vermont, Hanson says. And he should know: he was once in the U.S. Navy, and he’s seen a good chunk of the world — in particular the area around the Mediterranean Sea.
“Without a doubt, you’ve got to love the switchbacks and the mountains and valleys,” Hanson said.
Gear up, walk out the front door and the opportunities are as endless as the wrinkles and folds of the state’s hills and valleys.
“It depends on what you want to do,” Hanson said. “If I’m looking for just a short ride to cool off on a hot day, I can head north or I can head south and I can go out through Worcester woods and you get into those nice, cool shady pockets and the switchbacks. You go over to Stowe and then back down through into Waterbury and then back home.”
If he’s looking for a little bit longer run, Hanson will turn left at the old Larry Westover place in Middlesex, now the new Route 100B bridge, and head down into the Mad River Valley and on to Granville Gulf on Route 100 south.
“Then, from Granville, you pick up 107 and you can hammer up through into Bethel and back out and around through Randolph and that’s real nice,” Hanson said.
But safety, Hanson says, must be foremost on Vermont’s back roads.
“You’ve got to watch out for the ‘swamp donkeys,’” he said.
If a motorcyclist strikes a whitetail deer, or worse still a moose, it can ruin his whole day — his last day.
There are plenty of other rides Hanson enjoys, including Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch between Stowe and Jeffersonville and Route 17 from Waitsfield and Fayston over toward Bristol. But he’s especially careful on 17 because it’s become a mecca for sportbike riders who can be reckless, he said.
“We’re not going to go up over 17 on a Harley or another cruiser at speed,” Hanson said. “At speed, you’re going to be a lot slower in the ‘ApGap’ than those guys. They read their magazines, which have done a lot of write-ups about seeing how fast you can go over it. You’ll be putting along, enjoying the scenery, and all of a sudden, some organ donor comes up behind you doing 70 mph and goes around you in one of those switchbacks.”
For Hanson, a retired Middlesex Assistant Fire Chief who did racing stints in his youth as a motocrosser and flat-tracker, that kind of riding belongs on a racetrack — with the proper safety gear and after taking basic and intermediate motorcycle safety courses. (See sidebar page 24.)
It’s especially true with the distractions drivers face today, Hanson says.
“Over the last five years, I’ve almost got hit probably six or eight times and in the years I’ve ridden, I’ve been down probably three times,” Hanson said. “I was lucky my dad taught me when I was young that if you lose respect for a motorcycle, it’s going to rear up and show you who’s boss.”
Motorcycle evolution
Motorcycles have evolved into several styles or types, each suited in different ways to different kinds of riding. Some are more suited to new riders than others.
Your dealer or your riding coach or instructor (see sidebar) will offer the best advice about what kind of motorcycle to buy.
Frank’s Motorcycle Sales and Service in Essex Center is a full sales and service BMW, Triumph and Yamaha dealership that sells new and used motorcycles, accessories and clothing and offers beginner and advanced motorcycle safety courses.
“You have to do a little bit of probing to find out what the usage is going to be and then you can make some recommendations,” said dealership owner Lester Pelkey.
Someone who hasn’t enjoyed the feeling of having his or her knees in the breeze or the less-savory feeling of having to pick bug exo-carcasses out of their teeth might well ask what the best type of motorcycle is.
The short answer is that it all depends on what you’re going to do with it. You’re not likely to want a pure road bike if most of your riding takes place on old logging roads or in the woods and pastures between the house and the back 40. You’re not going to want an off-road bike if you never or only rarely leave the pavement. Likewise, the expensive extra bits and baubles on a touring bike and the hundreds of pounds of weight they bring to the riding experience aren’t very useful if the purpose of having a motorcycle is to ride to and from work or be seen while hopping between bars on Friday and Saturday night.
“We ask the potential customer investigative questions — how they’re going to use the motorcycle,” Pelkey said. “Are they going to use it for two-up riding, are they going to use it for solo riding, are they going to take long trips? Are they going to just use it for a back-and-forth to work commuter? It really depends on what their image of what they’re going to do is going to be. If they have a good sense that what they’re going to do is ‘I want to be able to go to Florida or California, I want to tour the United States,’ then it’s kind of senseless to put them on a small, non-touring motorcycle.”
Relatively lower repair and maintenance costs, light weight and middle-of-the-road performance that help build confidence might be best for an inexperienced rider. Being able to place both feet on the ground when stopped isn’t bad, either. Like with any other skill, though, as the rider becomes more adept, demands on the machine are likely to increase. But that’s what trade-ins are for, right?
Anybody thinking about buying a motorcycle should talk to riders, do a lot of reading and see several dealers before reaching for the wallet. Almost any dealer would add, even for an experienced rider: take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-approved basic or motorcycle safety course — and an advanced course isn’t a bad idea, either.
“There are enough motorcycle courses now that riders can increase their experience level through various motor courses,” Pelkey said. “They’re great courses.”

How to Pay Half as Much for Your Next Vacation

August 6, 2014  
Filed under Travel

August 2014

Lynne und Tim Marten / US. Amerikaner die um die Welt reisen, und alles verkauft haben. In ihrer kurzeit WG und auf einem Spielplatz in der Lehrter Straße. Copyright: Reto Klar Viverstrasse 26 21614 Buxtehude 0171/3333553 Blz. 20750000 Sparkasse Harburg-Buxtehude Kto. 755132 + 7% MwSt.

Lynne, shown with husband Tim, is the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere, How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World.” (Photo by Reto Klar)

By Lynne Martin

My husband Tim and I sold our home, got rid of most of our possessions, stored the things we treasured most and hit the road three years ago to live internationally without a home base. Naturally, our family was astonished when we made such a radical move, but they’ve come to embrace our exciting new life and celebrate the notion that older people can choose to do more now than any earlier generation.
We certainly don’t recommend our lifestyle for everyone, and many are content to just read about our first year on the road in my memoir, “Home Sweet Anywhere.” It was well received and we have had hundreds of letters of encouragement, for which we are so grateful. We’ve had hundreds of questions, too, the most prevalent being about money. People are fascinated about how we can possibly afford to live in London, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, Dublin — nine countries in three years— without completely going through our savings and ending up on our children’s doorsteps.
First, we aren’t wealthy, but we have an excellent financial advisor who gives us a monthly stipend from the proceeds our reasonably sized portfolio generates. That money, plus our social security checks, provides us with enough to live almost anywhere as long as we do it carefully.
We have learned by doing, and in over three years we have not needed to ask our financial guy for more than we agreed upon when we started our adventure. Our biggest costs are transportation, food and lodging, and when we devised the plan to spend our remaining active years on the road, my husband Tim set out to become an expert in finding ways to control our expenses in those areas.
Tim learned quickly that “repositioning” cruises were our best bet for getting ourselves to a part of the world where we wanted to spend several months. Most cruise lines move their equipment from one part of the world to another twice a year, and passengers who come along enjoy all the benefits of a regular cruise at about half the price. All the same shows, abundant food and activities are available to repositioning passengers, and since most of the them are retired, it’s a great place to meet new friends who share our interests. These cruises are generally in the spring or fall, which is not prime travel time for those with jobs or children.
Staying in hotels is not only cost-prohibitive, but it also isn’t the best way to get to know a city. Being able to live like the locals was one of our original objectives in setting out to live a home-free lifestyle, so being cooped up in a hotel was obviously not the answer. We discovered and early, having owned property vacation rentals ourselves several years ago in Mexico, so choosing them to supply our havens on the road was a natural for us. At about half the cost of hotels, we enjoy a living room, a kitchen and, most of all, the opportunity to live in a real neighborhood in the places we visit. We try to stay no less than 30 days in any location, and sometimes longer, which allows us to bargain a bit with the owner. When we’re visiting off-season, Tim has sometimes structured some truly amazing deals. Many of the owners and neighbors we have enjoyed through the years have become our really close friends, a benefit we never anticipated.
Vacation rental houses and apartments allow us to shop in the local markets and cook as many meals at home as we wish. Almost every city in the world now offers farmers markets, and we make a real effort to find them. Not only can we save money, we also get much better products and have more of an opportunity to understand the culture we are visiting.
We’ve found that having lunch out and a light meal in the evening at home is not only healthier for our bodies, but it also improves our budget.
Although most people don’t want to live full time on the road, these methods can work just the same for a three week vacation as they have for our three year excursion. For more travel tips, visit

Lynne Martin is the author of “Home Sweet Anywhere, How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World.”

Remembering the Southwest’s ‘Indian-detour’

June 19, 2014  
Filed under Travel

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, N.M., where ‘Indian-detour’ tours originated, retains its character while offering modern amenities. (Photo courtesy of Jim Farber)

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, N.M., where ‘Indian-detour’ tours originated, retains its character while offering modern amenities. (Photo courtesy of Jim Farber)

By Jim Farber

“Words are futile things with which to picture the fascination of this vast enchanted empire, unspoiled and full of startling contrasts, that we call the Southwest.”

So proclaimed a 1926 brochure produced by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Fred Harvey Co. to promote multiday tour packages known as the “Indian-detour.”

“It is the purpose of the Indian-detour,” the flowery text declared, “to take you through the very heart of all this, to make you feel the lure of the real Southwest that lies beyond the pinched horizons of your train window. … The Indian-detour affords a glorious motor break in the transcontinental rail journey.”

A master of marketing and organization, Fred Harvey (1835-1901) turned the American Southwest into a tourist adventure. His grand hotels, such as the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon; the La Posada in Winslow, Ariz.; and the La Fonda in Santa Fe, N.M., were designed to enhance travelers’ experiences by immersing them in a totally unique atmosphere — and they still do.

The grand scale of the architecture and the bold details of the interior spaces conceived by the great American architect Mary Jane Colter (1869-1958) emphasized a mixture of colonial Spanish, Navajo and Pueblo motifs. The public spaces and bedrooms featured craftwork by local painters, woodcarvers, tile-makers and leather and iron workers.

Southwest Indian silver work, pottery, weaving and kachina dolls were exhibited and sold in the hotel’s gift shop. And it was not uncommon for guests to come upon a group of Navajo women working at their looms in a corner of the hotel lobby.

Then there were the Indian-detours and the “Harveycars,” special 12-person motor coaches designed to take visitors to see ancient ruins, Spanish colonial churches and the New Mexico pueblos of Taos, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Jemez Springs, Laguna and Acoma — visits often timed to coincide with tribal ceremonial dances. It was exotic travel in 1926, when most people (especially from the East) had never seen “a real live Indian,” let alone ventured into a pueblo to witness a Corn Dance.

The young women who accompanied the tours as “hostesses and guides” were known as the Courier Corps. As the 1926 brochure states, “The Harveycar Courier Corps is comprised of young women, attractive and refined. Many were born in New Mexico and speak Spanish fluently. The majority are college graduates. … Couriers’ friendship with representative Indians in many pueblos assure their guests of intimate glimpses of Indian life not otherwise obtainable.”

There were those, however, who saw Harvey’s marketing of the Southwest and its native peoples as exploitive and intrusive. The American artist John Sloan (1871-1971) produced a scathing series of etchings on the subject. One, sarcastically titled “Knees and Aborigines,” depicts a Hopi ceremonial dance observed by a nonchalant group of cigarette-smoking dandies and their Gatsbyesque flapper companions.

To his credit, Harvey (a transplanted Englishman) and his company did try to stress education and cultural understanding as a part of the Indian-detour’s mission statement. And while it may have been demeaning, the sale of souvenir Indian crafts to tourists provided much-needed income to Native Americans who had very few opportunities to earn money.

The beautiful irony is that the Harvey Hotels and the Indian-detour gave rise to the first great generation of Southwest Indian artists, most notably the two pueblo potters Maria Montoya Martinez (1887-1980) and Iris Nampayo (1860-1942) whose work today fetches enormous sums and is treasured by museums and collectors.

With the possible exception of movie director John Ford, who showcased the panoramas of the Southwest in classic westerns like “Stagecoach,” “My Darling Clementine” and “The Searchers,” no one ever did more to promote and market the region and its native peoples than Harvey. It’s a legacy that continues to this day, as anyone who has ever attended the dances at the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon or Indian Market in Santa Fe can attest.

One of the crown jewels of the Harvey system was La Fonda (now known as La Fonda on the Plaza), which opened in Santa Fe in 1922. The beautiful interior, designed by Colter, features rough-hewn wood, Mexican tile, stenciled wall designs and hand-painted glass panels.

Today, La Fonda on the Plaza is gleaming as never before after undergoing a multiyear, multimillion-dollar restoration that was designed to re-create the hotel’s original artisan character, but with all the amenities of a modern five-star hotel. The sky-lit Plazuela Cafe with its charming painted glass panels has been restored, and a lavish set of 14 rooftop deck suites has been added.

Striking art from the Santa Fe Railroad era dominates the lobby along with work by contemporary artists. There’s even a small Georgia O’Keeffe behind the check-in desk. And although most visitors may not appreciate its significance, the original hand-carved sign for the Indian-detour still hangs gloriously over the hotel’s concierge desk.

The Indian-detour may be gone with the wind, but the points of interest to which it transported visitors in the 1920s still hold their attraction. To visit Santa Fe is wonderful. To visit Santa Fe and not venture into the countryside, however, is to miss the remarkable experience that is northern New Mexico.

Visit the pueblos. Meet the people and learn about their craft tradition. Take the back road (New Mexico 76) from Santa Fe to Taos through the picturesque villages of Chimayo, Truchas and Las Trampas. You never know, maybe the ghost of one of the Indian-detour motor coaches will pass you by.


Why Take a Cruise?

March 31, 2014  
Filed under Travel

Passengers relax aboard the Celebrity Century. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen)

By Sharon Whitley Larsen

I love cruises. I have cruised the Arctic Circle, the Australian Gold Coast, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean and even crossed the Atlantic twice. My shortest cruise was five days (Greek Isles), the longest 27 nights — a celebrity cruise from San Diego through the Panama Canal that ended in England.

And I have friends who would love to cruise if only they could talk their spouses into it. Some reluctant ones think they’d be bored floating on the high seas for days. But the fact is, passengers can do as little — or as much — as they wish. Some days there’s nothing better than sitting on the balcony, getting some sun, hearing the sea splash against the ship, spotting some dolphins and reading a good book.

My husband, Carl, on the other hand, once took a Zumba class and loves to attend the ship’s lectures, which have ranged from “Behind the Scenes at the Clinton White House” to marine biology. During our Panama Canal cruise, “Uncle Marty” (Marty Harrington) kept the ship’s theater packed with standing room only for his fascinating lectures on the canal’s history. Passengers rose at the crack of dawn to watch the incredible sailing through the engineering feat of the famed canal locks — a journey that took some five hours. The massive ship had just 2 feet on either side of the narrow canal to spare.

And we love attending the evening entertainment, where we have seen some fabulous singers, dancers, comedians and acrobats. And, of course, it’s fun to participate in the many shore excursions offered or venture out on our own.

Barbara and Dale Burke enjoy cruising with their two sons.

“One of the things we enjoy most about a family cruise is having dinner in the formal dining room every night,” Barbara said. “A meal averages an hour and a half. Outside of a cruise, we don’t find the opportunity to spend that much quality time together where we sit and talk without the interruption or distraction of phone calls, text messages and TV in the background.

“We also enjoy the variety of activities planned throughout the day. No one is ever bored. There is something for all ages, including a DJ and dancing for young adults into the wee hours of the morning.”

I met Carolyn Goltman during a Royal Caribbean Alaska cruise. She has flown halfway around the world to take several cruises by herself. Her last one was an Eastern Canada cruise on Royal Caribbean.

“Cruising is the ‘no fuss’ way to travel,” she said. “Once you are aboard your cruise ship, you can unpack your bags in your more-than-adequate cabin and relax for the duration of your trip. No packing and unpacking of suitcases — and you travel from one destination to another in the comfort of a luxury cruise liner sipping cocktails.

“My first cruise was to the Caribbean, and from there I decided this was the way to travel. I have now cruised the Med (France, Spain and Italy), and the cruise still to beat — Alaska. Cruising is such an addictive form of travel that you start planning your next cruise whilst still on your current one. Although traveling solo, as I do, I am ‘penalized’ by having to pay a single supplement (I essentially pay double rate as I am occupying an entire cabin on my own). However, don’t let being single put you off cruising. There are ‘singles and solo traveler’ gatherings almost daily, and you are pretty much guaranteed to meet a ‘cruise buddy’ along the way. I have made some amazing friends on my cruises with whom I still keep in touch. So if you are looking to travel, cruising is definitely the way to go.”

One of the most fascinating cruises we have taken was exploring the Norwegian fjords on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage (Hurtigruten). As the captain expertly maneuvered the ship within a narrow fjord — seemingly where we could reach out and touch the cliffs — he smiled and waved to acknowledge the applause from admiring passengers bundled up on the outside deck below.

We always fly into our departure city a few days early — both to explore the area and to catch our breath before boarding the ship. Once we left from our home port to sail to Hawaii and back. Some passengers barely made the sail time because they had flown in that same day from the East Coast. A connecting flight had been canceled and they arrived breathless.

The Hawaii Celebrity cruise especially appealed to me since we didn’t have any airport hassles. After we were driven 15 minutes to the pier, we boarded the ship, had a leisurely buffet lunch on deck and received “bon voyage” calls from several friends.

For five days, we were at sea participating in classes (ukulele, hula, lei-making) and lectures on Hawaiian history and culture. Then we toured three islands for five days and spent the next five days sailing back.

One Australian couple we met on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Sydney takes two 12-night cruises each year. The husband confided to me that he’s a homebody and not a fan of traveling, but since his wife loves cruising so much, he lets her choose where she wants to go and he willingly tags along.

“It’s only a few weeks out of the year,” he said. “And if she’s happy, I’m happy.”

New Website Offers Disabled Vermonters Dining, Shopping and Recreation Accessibility Info

March 31, 2014  
Filed under Travel

Wouldn’t it be great to know about all the accessible places to go in Vermont? The SILC and other disability advocates agree and have launched an online service that will allow advocates and businesses to share information about the accessibility of dining, shopping and recreating in Vermont.

Accessible Adventures is an online peer-to-peer review resource of accessible places to go. Originally begun as an idea in the MS Government Relations Committee (GRC) entitled, “The Rolling Gourmet,” the idea quickly spread beyond reviewing restaurants to reviewing the accessibility of other types of activities such as shopping, recreation and worshiping. In addition to being a tool for use by the entire disability community, the application will allow the business community to respond to reviews as well as to promote the accessibility of their facilities. Committee members on the GRC representing the Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) and the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL) felt that this type of two-way communication between the disability and the business communities would lead to improvements in accessibility, both in practice and in policy.

This service is intended so that the disability community can share peer information about experiences that are accessible and those that are not.  The SILC hopes that Accessible Adventures will serve to educate the public and the business community about the ADA and the shopping experience for the disability community, while affording members of the disability community the opportunity to learn from one another about the accessibility of public facilities in their community.

The public is invited to use the application, fill out reviews and enter businesses that are not already in the database. For instructions on how to fill out a review, see the homepage of, call 802-233-4908 or email

Behind the Scenes at ‘Downton Abbey’

February 7, 2014  
Filed under Travel

As the set for the PBS series "Downton Abbey," England's Highclere Castle has become the country's best-known stately home. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen)

By Sharon Whitley Larsen

When the lovely, statuesque young woman opened the door and greeted me with a warm smile and handshake, I momentarily thought she was a public relations assistant. It took me a few seconds to realize that this was Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith Crawley — the middle of three daughters in a well-to-do family — in the wildly popular PBS series, “Downton Abbey.”

Only if you’ve been unconscious for the past three years do you have an excuse for not knowing about this British period drama, which begins with the sinking of the Titanic and includes women’s rights, World War I, inheritance laws, politics, fashion, and the trials of love and life both upstairs and down in a luxurious estate called Downton Abbey.

In real life it’s Highclere Castle in the Berkshire countryside, which has been the ancestral home to the Carnarvon family for more than 300 years. Coincidentally, Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter for the series, is friends of the present Carnarvon couple — the eighth Earl and Countess of Carnarvon — and hence draws his script ideas from the real-life dramas of the family’s previous generations. Art imitates life.

Season four recently aired in the United States, and season five begins filming soon in Britain.

I was lucky enough to interview Carmichael, 27, and Lesley Nichol, 60, who plays the flustered but lovable Mrs. Patmore, the cook. She doesn’t look like Mrs. Patmore in person (she’s younger and thinner), yet her distinctive voice gives her away.

Charming and relaxed, the two actors sat on small sofas in a Southern California hotel suite as they chatted about their roles in this high-class soap opera, which airs in more than 100 countries. Carmichael discussed her role as poor Edith, the daughter who is rather plain (and, until recently, unlucky in love) compared to her suave, beautiful older sister Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).

“Edith has evolved a lot,” she observed. “She’s had a lot of hard knocks (like abruptly getting left at the altar). “Some she brought on herself, some were brought on by life being cruel. I think she would have been the most conventional of the three daughters. (Younger sister Sibyl died during season three.)

“Edith wasn’t going to sit back and let life pass her by” after these heartaches, she added. “She has ambition, conflict with Mary, she’s a fighter. Playing a lady is really fun — she has the confidence of being an aristocrat.”

“They are feisty women,” interjects Nichol of the characters in the series, which also includes Elizabeth McGovern as the girls’ American mother and Dame Maggie Smith as their witty paternal grandmother.

What was the most challenging scene they have faced so far?

“It was after Sybil died, the scene with (Tom) Branson (Sybil’s widower) and Mary,” recalled Carmichael. “It was such a complicated scene.”

It took eight hours to film.

“We couldn’t speak afterward, we were crying so much,” Carmichael explained, noting that since both she and Dockery have sisters, they could really relate to the grief that would follow the sudden death of a sibling — in this case one who had just given birth. “That was probably the toughest …

“Then we went to the pub!” she said with a smile.

Since Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil) was leaving the cast — and it couldn’t yet be announced to the public — they had banners displayed in the pub that said “Happy Birthday” instead of “Goodbye, We’ll Miss You!”

“Since we were still in tears, the patrons looked at us like we were crazy,” recalled Carmichael. “Like, it’s only a birthday, why are you so sad?”

Both Carmichael and Nichol express amazement and respect at the tremendous attention to authentic period detail apparent on the set, the work of costume designer Caroline McCall and historic adviser Alastair Bruce.

“Like putting our hands on hips — he doesn’t like that,” said Carmichael, grinning.

Nichol added that “the kitchen is Mrs. Patmore’s domain — I’m king of my little world!”

Diehard “Downton” fans can make the pilgrimage to Highclere Castle, which is about an hour southwest of London and is where the “upstairs” scenes — the great hall and staircase, the library, drawing room, dining room and some bedrooms — are filmed. (The downstairs kitchen scenes, as well as bedroom replicas, are filmed at Ealing Studios in London.)

My husband Carl and I visited Highclere in April 2011, two days before the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are fans of the series. In fact, the queen (who is also said to be a “Downton” fan) had just visited Highclere two weekends earlier. After all, she’s the godmother of the current Earl of Carnarvon (whose mother is American) and was a close friend of his late father. There’s a framed photo of her in one room.

Carl and I took the train down from Yorkshire (coincidentally the venue of “Downton Abbey”) to Highclere. Since we didn’t have a rental car, we hopped a taxi at the Newbury station, then took a 15-minute ride to the Carnarvon Arms Hotel (a former coaching house near Highclere, where the cast stays). We were planning to spend the night at the charming, 23-room hotel, which is within walking distance of Highclere. (Since public transportation is sporadic in this remote area, we asked that the taxi driver pick us up at Highclere the next day at 3 p.m. so we could retrieve our luggage from the hotel, then be driven back to the train station.)

The next morning we walked for about 40 minutes down a two-lane highway, then around the winding, gorgeous drive on the peaceful, scenic grounds of Highclere, past tall trees, green meadows and grazing sheep, to the front door (no, Carson wasn’t there to greet us). After touring inside as well as viewing the King Tut exhibit in the basement (the fifth Earl of Carnarvon bankrolled its 1922 discovery), we then had tea with Fiona, Countess Carnarvon, who was casually dressed and very down-to-earth.

The tea wasn’t held in the 5,000-book library with the famed red velvet sofas as I had hoped it would be. Since tourists were traipsing through the rooms, we sat with the countess for 45 minutes at the little outdoor cafe area, where no one recognized her. An accountant and book author, she was charming, gracious and enthusiastic about “Downton Abbey” being filmed here. It’s obvious that she and her husband have much pride in the property, which was in serious disrepair before filming began.

“I don’t want to present a museum,” she pointed out. “I want people to know that we reside here. It’s a living history.”

After chatting with her, we toured the exquisite gardens and inside rooms again. Since the tour buses had departed, we had the place to ourselves except for the guides posted in each room who patiently answered our questions. The family resides here most of the time, and we could check out their reading material and medicine bottles on the master bedroom nightstand.

Promptly at 3 p.m. our taxi arrived and we reluctantly departed.

Who would have guessed that three years later Highclere Castle would remain such a huge tourist draw, becoming England’s best-known stately home, and that “Downton Abbey” would continue to be such a huge hit?

As Nichol summed up the cast: “We’re like a family — we know each other well, we’re fond of each other.”

Then she and Carmichael posed for a photo, warmly hugging each other, and that said it all.


For information on summer 2014 tours, visit the Highclere Castle website at For 2014 PBS summer tours to Highclere Castle, visit or

For other “Downton Abbey” tours, visit

For Viking River Cruises tour of Highclere Castle:

We stayed at the Carnarvon Arms Hotel: For additional information, visit, and  – CNS

Vermont Camping Staycations

August 9, 2013  
Filed under Travel

Camping is an excellent and affordable ‘staycation,’ and a great way to enjoy time with family and friends. (Contributed photo)

By Becka Gregory

Vermont has long been the ultimate “nature lover’s getaway” with its expanse of pristine countryside and breathtaking scenery. There are more than 100 campgrounds sprinkled throughout the state, inviting Vermonters to spend a little time getting to know the landscape of the Green Mountains. Camping is an excellent and affordable “staycation,” and whether tent camping or travelling in an RV, exploring Vermont through the outdoors is a great way to spend the warmer months.

When picking out a campground, consider the amenities it offers and who those amenities might attract. Seasoned RVers know to look for necessities such as hook-ups and electricity, but the type of atmosphere you’re aiming to find is important, too. If you’re looking to relax without the presence of children and off-leash animals, steer clear of places that offer pools with waterslides and those that allow off-leash dogs. Generally, quieter sites can be found at places where fishing is the biggest attraction and where there are fewer amenities geared towards families with young children. If you are travelling with the family and want to be able to sit and relax while the kids or grandkids explore, make sure to look for a campground that has a playground and/or game room.


More than a quarter of the towns in Vermont have farmers’ markets during the summer months (see pg. 15), which are a great stop to break up the drive to the campsite and pick up some locally grown produce. Most farmers’ markets run weekly throughout the summer, and have locally made crafts and baked goods in addition to produce, meats and cheeses. RV campers have the advantage of having a kitchenette to prepare food, but tent campers need to think more about what they’re bringing, as cooking methods are different on an open fire. Pre-planning your meals and supplies is especially important for those that are going to partake in outdoor recreation such as hiking or kayaking. Keeping your pack light will make long hikes easier and reduce the amount of waste you bring in and out on your excursions. Vermont has a reputation for great hiking, and outdoor enthusiasts should make sure to hit the trails while vacationing (see story pg. 5).

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has made camping easier and more affordable for seniors by offering “Senior Passes” that provide discounts for some fees associated with using national parks. Good for camping within the national park network, these passes encourage seniors to get out and explore (see pg. 11).


Camping in the Burlington area allows you to feel like you’re in the deep woods while still being close to the heart of the city. North Beach, a popular summertime destination with stunning sunsets and ample sandy shores, offers more than 100 campsites within walking distance of the Lake Champlain waterfront. The campgrounds are RV-friendly and located on the bike path that traverses Burlington. Bike from the campsites down to the base of College Street and you’ll find a free shuttle that will take you up the hill and onto Church Street for shopping, food and street performances.

Rutland County

Rutland County offers scenic camping experiences such as Lake St. Catherine State Park in Poultney. Known for fishing and boating, this park is great for a more low-key trip and has 50 tent/trailer sites and 11 lean-to sites. Lean-to sites are a great way to explore camping without having to really “rough-it,” and provide more protection from the natural elements than tent camping.

Close to Middlebury is the Waterhouses Campground & Marina in Salisbury, which offers a more “modern” camping experience. Complete with a restaurant and bar, high-speed Internet and hotel-style rental suites, this site embodies the hikers slang term “glamping” a.k.a. glamorous camping. These sites are ideal for an off-the-cuff trip — with so many amenities available there is little need for the careful planning and packing that camping typically requires.

The Islands and NEK

Northern Vermont offers many great camping opportunities, especially in the two geographically distinct areas of the Champlain Islands and the North East Kingdom (NEK). The islands are a picturesque snapshot of Vermont’s fusion of lush greenery and lakeside simplicity, ideal for a camping getaway. Grand Isle State Park is a great place for an extended camping trip, as there is so much to explore. Over 4,000 feet of lakeside access and more than 100 campsites including four cabins and 36 lean-tos make this Vermont’s second largest and most visited campground. International destinations like Montreal are just a quick drive away and the park is in close proximity to Isle La Motte, where the Chazy Reef, a 480 million-year-old reef deemed a National Treasure, is located.

A great low impact daytime supplement to a camping trip is a driving tour. With gas prices remaining high and the occasionally patchy roads found in areas like rural parts of the Champlain Islands and the NEK, it’s best to tow a car for this trip if you’re taking an RV and plan on roving outside of the campground. Remember to practice driving elements such as backing in to the campsite with a tow to make sure that you’ve mastered all the skills necessary to ensure safety and fun.

Book in advance

No matter which campground or state park you plan to explore this summer or fall, make sure to book your camping weekend (or week!) in advance as sites fill up quickly. Creating a checklist of needed supplies a few days before you plan to embark will make packing a breeze and cut down on lugging around unnecessary items. It’s always a good idea to call the campground the day before and make sure they have your reservation, and to look at your planned route before take-off. With the car or RV packed, the kids and/or grandkids buckled in, and a Senior National park pass in hand, there is nothing keeping you from making this your best ‘staycation’ ever.

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