Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel. Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.
All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!
Lorraine is now posting weekly installments in separate blog posts. To see Lorraine's newest posts from 2021, visit the AFL Blog.
Baby blue eyes garden of Miharashi-no-oka in Hitachi Seaside Park
Credit: Σ64, CC BY 3.0
Contrary to my first impression, the dazzling blue display is neither natural nor remote: it is, indeed, located in a heavily-visited seaside park north of Tokyo where photographers might outnumber the flowers! Nor is the species native to Japan. The plants are Nemophila, commonly known as baby blue eyes, a native of North America that is most common in California. Each year, landscapers at the park plant millions of these annuals -- five million according to Better Homes & Gardens. At other seasons, gardeners install impressively large numbers of different species including tulips and red-hued kochias. The blue “flower carpet” is actually a garden, a landscape designer’s creation, and its effect is similar to agricultural fields of lavender or rapeseed: beautiful and uniform.
A comparable effect can be seen with bluebonnets. Several species of these native lupines grow throughout the Texas Hill Country, but they are also widely cultivated along state highways.
Texas Bluebonnets just south of Dallas, TX. March, 2012
Yet, there are places where masses of flowers carpet the landscape naturally, even in monochromatic sweeps. Here, for example, is a section of prairie in eastern Colorado through which I passed back in 2008.
Prairie, Eastern Colorado
The earth’s great wildflower displays occur in a variety of environments ranging from alpine, prairie, and desert communities. “Where in the World to See Wild Flowers from the Experts Who Know” offers a nice variety of regions and topography and it includes some less-traveled locales such as Kyrgyzstan. In this article from Gardens Illustrated, “Ten horticultural experts share their favourite places in the world to see wildflowers.” Which place would you like to visit? The dreamy valleys of Sichuan Province? The delightfully bizarre plants of Western Australia? Or maybe South Africa, a country with a mind-boggling 25,000 species!
© Richard Bloom
Not surprisingly, diverse plant communities thrive in areas where there is ample space for complex ecological processes and little human disruption in the forms of cultivation or compaction. That doesn’t mean that these hotspots are easy places for plants to survive. Heavy snow, drought, cold, and short growing seasons are among the challenges they face. Indeed, one might say that challenging environments lead to the intense flowering of these special locations.
The US is blessed with some extraordinary wildflower displays, ten of which can be viewed in this article in Jetsetter. In mountainous locations, such as Colorado’s Crested Butte, annual displays are pretty dependable. In contrast, desert wildflowers live on a different schedule: what has come to be known as the super bloom. During most years, the seeds of annual desert flowers wait beneath the parched soil. But in years when autumn and winter rains are abundant and temperatures and winds are ideal, the desert plants grow and blossom in unison during a brief, dramatic season. This, in turn, attracts pollinators, caterpillars, and the animals who feed upon them. Once every decade or so, these desert ecosystems overflow with activity and color.
2019 Wild Flower Bloom at Ocotillo Wells SVRA
This amazing transformation of apparently barren land into colorful oasis has become an eagerly-anticipated phenomena which attracts many visitors to parks and preserves in the American southwest -- so many that there have been major traffic jams and road closures. In some cases, the flowers are at risk of being “loved” too much by careless trampling or picking. I share the excitement and hope someday to witness this miracle myself -- with respect for the plants and some space between observers.
And if I don’t, then I’ve been fortunate to visit some extraordinarily wildflower habitats including our local Mt. Washington’s alpine garden. Here’s one last image of my favorite wildflower “garden” to date: the ethereal Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. An intact remnant of the once-vast American grasslands, Zumwalt is full of wildlife, flowers, and beauty.
Zumwalt Prairie, Oregon
The NYBG’s website includes “Virtual Garden Tours” of multiple collections including its crabapples, dogwoods, daylilies and more. Most, though not all, of these are short videos lasting about 60 seconds. Try the “Virtual Walk Through the Water Lilies & Lotuses” for a little atmosphere.
The NY Botanical Garden also shares great ideas. Check out the “Adult Education Lectures and Talks” where you will find outstanding speakers addressing the broader issues of design, sustainability and culture.
Similarly, the world-renowned Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show went virtual last year. Its website posted videos of expertly-led garden and nursery tours, potting bench demos, and Q & A sessions. How-to articles and videos cover diverse topics such as making a sundial, pressing flowers, growing succulents, and designing rooftop gardens. They even included a shopping section with links to “exhibitors,” though I suspect shipping to the US would be cost prohibitive. By combining all the components of an in-person show, the Royal Horticultural Society made a valiant effort to sustain enthusiasm. On an optimistic note, tickets are being sold for Chelsea’s 2021 show which will be held, for the first time, in September.
If you are seeking a colorful landscape, watch “The Gardens At Waddesdon Manor.”
Waddesdon Manor and Gardens
This National Trust property, created by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the late 19th century, exemplifies the Victorian style: formal beds of colorful annuals offset by lawn and walkways. As you will see in this 5-minute video, large numbers of plants are installed to update the designs seasonally. Some of the beds use color to create extraordinary patterns that resemble mosaics. These carpet beds are possible through the precise selection of plant colors . . . and very careful planning!
Locally, the Arnold Arboretum provides virtual tours which can be taken in person or online. Each “walk” highlights a set of plants with clearly-expressed botanical information, horticultural history, and great closeup images. The Arboretum is also open for socially-distanced visits. A walk at this time of year will highlight plant silhouettes, landscape patterns, and more subtle color palettes such as this paperbark maple displays.
Paperbark Maple Bark
Credit: Arnold Arboretum “Director’s Tour"
When I was a child my travel options were limited to vicarious experiences through books and movies. I learned a lot about the world this way, and these are still excellent options, especially when our real-world movements face serious limitations. This week, let’s go places through the movies.
A quick internet search yields no shortage of travel film recommendations -- from travel mags, movie sites, bloggers, and newspaper columnists. Condé Nast Traveler offers “The 50 Best Travel Films of All Time” which includes a variety of genres and special attention to films of the last twenty years. Rotten Tomatoes provides synopses of “15 Certified Fresh Road Trip Movies,” a subset of travel films. Try comparing several lists, for each writer or team of writers offers a unique perspective, and every list contains a few surprises. For example, blogger Nomadic Matt lists Nowhere in Africa, a German film about a Jewish family’s struggles to adapt to a new life in Kenya. Similarly, The Guardian article, “20 of the Best Travel Films,” lists several “historical travel” movies including “The Lost City of Z” about Amazonian explorer, Percy Fawcett.
What is most striking about the many travel movie lists is the way each writer/compiler defines travel. For some, it is enough that the film captures a time and place: the Russian countryside in Doctor Zhivago or Mexico City in Roma. The traveler in this case is the viewer who is transported to the film’s setting. By this definition, any film which is well shot in a vivid setting (or recreates one) could facilitate the viewer’s traveling experience.
A somewhat narrower category involves films where the protagonists adjust to life in a new land. With these movies, the viewer travels along with the characters and witnesses or empathizes with their experiences. Think Out of Africa or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Some films -- such as Murder on the Orient Express or Airplane call attention to the mode of transportation -- but most stress the journey. There are road trips, business trips, quests, and vacations, film journeys which reflect the entire gamut of human emotion from the slapstick of National Lampoon’s Vacation to the delicate melancholy of Lost in Translation. The quintessential theme of travel film is discovery, of one’s self and the ways of the world. After a long-distance hiker confronts her demons in Wild or Che Guevara discovers social inequities in The Motorcycle Diaries, their characters re-enter daily life changed. Their “hero journeys” repeat the age-old myths. Remarkably, just watching these journeys has the power to change us as well.
So, until you can enact your own journeys, enjoy and reflect on a few of these film adventures. All of the films mentioned in this post (and many more) are available on DVD through the SAILS catalog. Most are on the shelves of the Ames Free Library. Here’s a small sample of the travel-themed options:
|Into the Wild|
|National Lampoon's Vacation|
New roads attract travelers and the businesses that facilitate their trips. This seems to happen as a matter of course if the route offers a smoother path or the promise of reaching a new destination. But, just to be sure, roadside businesses make an extra effort to get noticed. This was especially true in the mid twentieth century, from the 1920s to the 1960s, when neon signs mushroomed along America’s expanding road system.
In the early 1900s, inventors were applying recent discoveries about electricity and atmospheric gases to experimental forms of lighting. The man credited with the invention of neon lighting, Georges Claude, filed for its patent in 1910. Soon after, his company was manufacturing lighted neon signs for Parisian businesses. By 1923, neon signs arrived at a Packard dealership in Los Angeles where they made quite a splash and inspired countless businesses to follow suit. The Science History Institute provides a concise summary of this period in “A Blaze of Crimson Light: The Story of Neon.” The authors describe how neon signs came to symbolize “the modern age” and how they became “an integral part of automobile culture” promoting “businesses that catered to motorists: gas stations, diners, motels, and roadside attractions.”
Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, NM
Credit: Marcin Wichary, CC BY 2.0
The Blue Swallow is a family-owned motel which still operates along historic Route 66. It opened in 1941 and added its distinctive neon signage in 1960. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During neon’s heyday, similarly striking signs lined American interstates and downtowns. As tastes changed and less expensive lighting alternatives became available, many of the classic bent-tube signs were neglected, demolished or replaced. “The Vanishing World of Neon Motel Signs” recalls these places through photographs, some of which are now 40 years old.
The movement towards preservation has extended to museums. The Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale, CA has a permanent collection of neon art and special exhibits. Unfortunately, the building is closed due to COVID restrictions and, like many smaller museums, is facing an uncertain future. Until last year, MONA offered popular “Neon Cruise” bus tours of LA’s classic signs. Socially-distanced walking tours are still available. This gate in Chinatown with its dazzling architectural neon was one of the highlights of the tour.
Chinatown, Los Angeles
The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati has a similar mission, to preserve “the art and history of commercial signs and sign making” through exhibits and educational programs. While its collection encompasses all forms of signage, many neon signs are represented including classics from McDonald’s, Chevrolet, Holiday Inn, and Howard Johnson’s.
American Sign Montage
While demand for commercial neon signs has certainly diminished, artisans who love the media still repair existing signs and create new work for businesses and for gallery exhibitions. A Wisconsin neon sign designer has created Neon Library, a website that is an inspirational resource to neon designers -- and interesting for the rest of us! Its many images are divided into categories such as “animals,” "restaurants,” and “streetscapes.” Here’s one from the “iconic neon” section:
To develop a real appreciation for the art form, watch “The Making of Neon Signs.” In this well-made 11-minute video, craftsmen in Hong Kong demonstrate the painstaking process of creating neon signs and share their perspectives on the role neon has played in their culture. The film shows beautiful neon streetscapes and provides some historical background.
Credit: Ángel Riesgo Martínez (released under the cc-by-sa-2.0)
Indeed, neon signs have made such a strong impression on our memory that their meaning may no longer reside in their original, advertising function. As this Atlas Obscura piece contends, some neon signs have become landmarks which contribute to our sense of place and identity. The article offers a selection of images from the hundreds contributed by readers from across the US. How many of you recognize this Cambridge beauty from 1933?
Shell Oil Company “Spectacular” Sign
Back in August I described a drive on California’s Highway 1 along Big Sur. During that idyllic 2019 excursion, Lou and I stayed in the little hamlet of Lucia and hiked among the redwoods at nearby Limekiln State Park. How quickly things change! First, the Dolan Fire burned 125,000 acres before it was finally declared “contained,” though not out, on 12.31.20. In response, the park closed its hiking trails and campground. COVID set further limits. Then heavy rains fell on the burned hills and the area experienced a landslide which swept away a sizable chunk of roadway. If you follow the news, you may have seen the photos; if not, this drone video displays the scale of the damage.
“Drone Footage Shows Collapse of Highway 1 Near Big Sur”
Credit: San Francisco Chronicle
Fortunately, the area was already under an evacuation order, so no drivers were injured.
I was lucky to squeeze my road trip in between repairs: after the 2017 Mud Creek disaster and before this latest washout. These situations got me thinking about road construction: how roads are built, where, and why.
People have been doing road work for a very long time. According to Britannica’s “Roads and Highways” entry, “The first indications of constructed roads date from about 4000 BC and consist of stone-paved streets at Ur in modern-day Iraq and timber roads preserved in a swamp in Glastonbury, England.” Other cultures created remarkable roads and developed construction techniques. Yet the ancient Romans stand out for their systematic approach and vast road networks. Their early projects, begun in the 4th century BC, connected Rome to other cities on the Italian peninsula. The most famous, the Appian Way, is shown below.
Appian Way, near Casal Rotondo
Credit: Livioandronico2013, CC BY-SA 4.0
As the empire expanded, so did the road system until the network included Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Improved routes facilitated the movement of troops, goods, and Roman culture. This history is well told in “200,000 Miles of Roman Roads Provided the Framework for Empire.” [Note: give the page a moment to load and then scroll down.] The author of this National Geographic article describes the road building process: clearing, surveying, preparing the road base, applying layers that would support a smooth surface and shed water. Materials were carefully selected and prepared, and details such as drainage ditches, curbs and mile markers were included. Excellent in engineering and construction, the roads were meant to last . . . and to impress. As the Britannica author asserts,
“The typical Roman road was bold in conception and construction. Where possible, it was built in a straight line from one sighting point to the next, regardless of obstacles, and was carried over marshes, lakes, ravines, and mountains.”
Obstacles were not going to stop the Roman Empire!
Map of Main Roads in the Roman Empire
As I read the National Geo essay, I am amused by the parallels between Roman and contemporary road building ventures. Once a project was proposed, contracts were awarded. Funds needed to be raised -- through tolls, taxes, donations -- to support the costs. Experts planned and oversaw the construction; laborers accomplished the task (though, in Rome, that meant a combination of hired workers, slaves, and convicts). Once completed, the new route would often bear the name of the official who proposed it.
And, like roads everywhere, the Roman routes attracted services like lodgings, restaurants, stables and baths. If there were Roman “rest areas,” what about convenience stores and souvenir shops? Before you laugh, consider the takeout stand that archaeologists recently excavated in Pompeii.
Considering all the thought, ingenuity, resources and labor that the Romans devoted to road construction, it is not surprising that some of these routes endured and can be visited today. Their work also survives through its influence on successive generations of road builders. Now I wonder what they would do with a seacliff that is pounded by the Pacific ocean, topped by steep fire-prone hills, and faced with erratic weather. My guess: a few obstacles wouldn’t get in the way of rebuilding.
Construction at Mud Creek Slide, 2018
The long-range forecast for my local area includes several episodes of “snow showers.’’ I’m glad. While I don’t relish shoveling or a slippery commute, I prefer winters with snow and all the beauty, brightness, contrast, and joy it brings. Skiers, snowboarders, and other lovers of winter sports seek out locations that will support their pastimes, and some places do this very well. Think the Pacific Northwest, the Alps, the Sierra Nevadas, or coastal Alaska. Consider Valdez, Alaska, “the snowiest sea-level town in the world.”1 In an average year, 320 inches of snow falls on this town. Yes, that’s 26 feet. Nineteen fifty-three was above average!
Valdez, Alaska, 1953
See more great photos in “The Top Snowfall Events in Recorded History,” an article from snowbrains.com. For official stats, read “Where Does the Deepest Snow on Earth Accumulate?” by Christopher C. Burt, weather historian at Weather Underground. According to Burt, the Paradise Rainier Ranger Station in Washington has the greatest recorded annual average in the US with 680 inches and an astounding twelve-month total of 102 FEET.
Mount Rainier from Paradise-Longmire Road
TheConduqtor, CC BY-SA 3.0
When this much snow falls, it lasts well beyond what we normally call winter. My only experience of this was a visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park in 2017. The photo at the head of Travel Tuesdays came from this trip. It was late July when we drove through the scorching Central Valley with 100+ degree temps. Yet, upon arrival at Lassen, the road to some of its main attractions had not yet been plowed.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA, July 26, 2017
Such prodigious snows make Boston’s 2015 record-setting accumulation of 108.6 inches seem paltry.
Despite these impressive tallies, North America does not win the prize for snow depth -- the Japanese Alps of Honshu get that distinction. The region’s “average annual snowfall is estimated to be in the 1200-1500” range.”2 Coping with these extraordinary conditions is a challenge: roads, rail lines, and airports must be kept cleared for safety and commerce. In response, the region’s people have devised some special strategies. Some sidewalks are heated, some roads have sprinkler systems, and plowing is accomplished on a grand scale. Watch a few moments of “EPIC Snow Blower Removal Machines at Massive Snow Wall Walk in Japan” to understand the scale of the task. This 13-minute video was filmed on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in another snowy Japanese region.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Despite equipment and planning, sometimes things get out of hand -- like they did this past December. A “Massive Snowstorm Hits Japan, Trapping More Than 1,000 Cars On A Highway” recounts how unusually heavy snows paralyzed the roadway and frightened drivers. Now, that’s a traffic nightmare!
You might be surprised to learn that people do not avoid these areas. Aomari, a city in the northern, snowy tip of Honshu, has a population of nearly 280,000. And, tourists are drawn to the ski areas, the snow festivals, and the sheer volume of the snow itself. Who could forget a drive through one of those snow tunnels?
Yuki-no-Otani Snow Canyon, Honshu, Japan
Snow does have a way of bringing out the playful side of human nature. Recently, BBC presented a 1920’s film by Arnold Fanck, a man who pioneered mountain cinema. This 3½ minute short captures the joie de vivre of the skiers and, I’m sure, appealed to the curious public. I bet their descendants visited some snowy places.
Well, it’s time to call it a night. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Travel Tuesdays - January 19, 2021 - "Sacred Wonders"
The Golden Temple in Amritsar
Human stories are the focus of this series, with each place described through the efforts of individuals who sustain its traditions. Producer, Matt Barrett, describes one of his favorite sites, the Great Mosque of Djenné in this way:
“It’s made of mud, and the walls dry out and crack in the heat of the African sun. So the whole town comes together every year to re-plaster the walls. It’s a collective effort, faith brings people together to look after something that’s important to all of them.”
This segment is told through the experience of Baber Djennepo, one of the masons who participates in the effort.
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali
After you have read summaries of the “Seven Wonders,” watch the brief excerpts on the Clips page. There are a dozen clips, all under five minutes. A few of them provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the series was filmed. If you are short on time, these excerpts nicely illustrate the wonderful variety of sacred places and rituals. Among those featured are the gardeners of Angkor Wat and the blessing of the animals at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. If you have more time on your hands, watch all three hour-long episodes.
The BBC’s Travel section provides an in-depth look at another distinctive sacred site, Koya-san, a ninth-century Buddhist temple complex in the mountains of southern Japan. “Japan’s Hidden World of Temples” has been recognized as a World Heritage Site since 2004 when UNESCO honored the “tradition of sacred mountains” in this region where a fusion of Shinto (animist) and Shingon Buddhist beliefs developed.
Danjo Garan in Mount Koya, Japan
Credit: 663highland CC BY-SA 3.0
The area’s many shrines and temples influenced sacred architecture throughout the country. These buildings are at the heart of the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage network, one that still attracts up to fifteen million visitors per year. Visitors come to see the architecture, the history, the beautiful mountain scenery . . . and to worship. Koyasan is an active spiritual community where monks practice their faith and maintain the complex, and where pilgrims join them on visits -- just as they have been for the last 1200 years. This image of the forested Okunoin Cemetery illustrates its long history: over 200,000 tombstones are set among 500-year-old cypress and cedar trees.
Credit: Crystalline Radical, CC BY 2.0
If you’d like to learn more about the spiritual traditions of Koya-san, watch “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range,” a short video by UNESCO/NHK. If you’re considering a visit, The Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau has info on the pilgrimage routes, Shukubo temple stays, and more. Culture Trip has articles about the Kumano Kodo, the temples, and tours.
And, lastly, the Koyasan community has a website (currently available in Japanese and French) which includes some nice photos. I’d recommend the YouTube videos of monks singing Buddhist hymns.
Last week, I referenced a report that declared global passenger travel was down 67%, back to 1999 levels. You may have thought my reaction would be “What a shame. Those poor airlines and disappointed travelers.” On the contrary, my response was shock: Had airline travel really increased 67% in just over 20 years? And, if so, what are the consequences of this increase? Imagine some other aspect of life increasing so rapidly, population for example, or spending. Now, flying can be fun, interesting, convenient -- if a little is good, more must be better. Right?
Well, this week’s dose of distraction contains, I’m afraid, more bad news. At least it’s different bad news! The benefits of flying come at a very high cost. The upshot is that jets require a lot of fuel to lift off, and burning this fuel increases carbon emissions. See this article by the David Suzuki Foundation for a clear and concise overview. To quote the website, “The total carbon impact of a single flight is so high that avoiding just one trip can be equivalent to going (gasoline) car-free for a year.” In this BBC chart that compares emissions from different vehicles, planes soar to the top.
What makes this situation especially concerning is that air travel is projected to increase dramatically, perhaps doubling in the next twenty years. As more of the world’s people can afford air travel, they too will choose to fly. In The Correspondent article “One Flight Is Worth A Thousand Big Macs,” the journalist describes increasing demand: “To date more than 80% of the world’s population has never flown, but rising incomes coincide with a clear trend in passenger flight: many people start to travel by air as soon as their budget allows.”
What can we do to reduce the damage? One response is to purchase “carbon offsets,” that is, “financial investments in projects and organizations that help reduce the impact of CO2 emissions.” This typically means planting trees -- but trees take a long time to mature and some don’t survive. While offsets can be a positive step, their benefits are delayed and the success rates of projects vary. Moreover, until recently, passengers shouldered most of the burden for pollutants. The travel magazine, Afar, describes recent efforts by the airline industry to purchase offsets. The article, which was written pre-COVID, seems a bit naive regarding the airlines’ efforts.
Then, there’s the hope of efficiency. The fuel efficiency of aircraft has been steadily improving, and newer models by Airbus and Boeing were designed with this goal in mind.
This chart by the German nonprofit, Atmosfair, illustrates the factors affecting emissions.
As you can see, the most significant variable is passenger occupancy. Unpleasant as they are, crowded flights improve fuel efficiency, thereby lowering carbon emissions per passenger. While passengers dream of nearly-empty planes with spacious seats and aisles, the fully-booked flight does less harm.
If you choose to fly, it’s possible to compare the efforts of various airlines.
Choosing a flight involves balancing multiple factors: goals, risks, costs, timing, and consequences. If you fly, there are some choices that will lower your carbon footprint.
Fly in economy seats, for the reasons noted above. Choose daytime flights because the vapor trails reflect heat better in the sun. And, lastly, choose direct flights, for much of a plane’s fuel is used in takeoff. Fewer takeoffs = less waste.
There are times when our desires and beliefs conflict . . . or they seem to, depending on how we pose the dilemma. An effort to “see” the world hardly makes sense when it undermines the earth’s health and the well being of other people, the very things travelers long to see. For all the suffering it has caused, perhaps the pandemic has shown us some new ways of conducting business and knowing our world. Faced with restrictions, people have shown a higher interest in local, outdoor, and family-based activities. When the health lockdowns end, perhaps we can improve upon “normal” by developing better ways to travel.
It comes as no surprise to hear that the pandemic seriously impacted air travel during 2020. According to Cirium, a travel data and analytics company, global “passenger traffic is estimated to be down 67% in 2020.” Such low volume has not been seen since back in 1999. Despite a surge in passengers during the holiday season, airlines have taken a financial hit and will be, at least to some extent, adapting their business practices. For more about the state of the airline industry, see this article in Business Wire.
Pre COVID, business was booming, with $14.8 billion in profits for US passenger airlines in 2019 and great expectations for 2020. But, as you can see from the chart below, profits took a nosedive last April.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Before you shed too many tears, realize that the federal government set aside $25 billion in assistance through the CARES Act and has just appropriated an additional $15 billion for airlines in the latest relief bill.*
One consequence of reduced demand is that passengers who are willing to risk their health (or their neighbors’ well being), can find some discount flights. Another effect is that these less-than-full planes have been flying freight -- all those extra packages that we’ve been ordering from home -- and, now, some of the planes are transporting Covid-19 vaccine. This 10-minute CNBC video shows how airlines are coordinating with pharmaceutical companies, freight carriers, and health facilities. You know the story, but it’s still interesting to see the process: boxes packed with dry ice, pallets surrounded by insulating blankets, freezers, and actual people moving all these supplies to and fro.
COVID vaccine prepared for transport.
The intersection of passengers and vaccines leads to our next topic: vaccine “passports.”
As tests and vaccines become more widely available, travelers and governments will need a way to communicate about results -- across languages, borders, and variations in healthcare systems, vaccine formulations, and entry requirements. While paper documents have historically been used for immunization records, the COVID passport will likely take the form of a phone app. This Travel + Leisure article describes several apps that are in development. To protect the passenger’s privacy, test and immunization records would be transformed into a QR code that could be shown to authorities at border crossings.
One such app, the Common Pass, is illustrated below. It strives to be global and to build trust “by giving both travellers and governments confidence in each traveller's verified COVID-19 status.” The app, which was tested this fall on United and Cathay Pacific Airways flights, will soon be utilized by other major airlines. CommonPass also verifies that “records (1) come from a trusted source, and (2) satisfy the health screening requirements of the country [the passengers] want to enter.” According to the organization’s website, CommonPass will soon be available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Of course, the great unknown is whether the existing vaccines reduce or eliminate transmission of the virus. Until we understand the impact on transmission, a vaccine passport will be one piece of the puzzle . . . along with masks, social distancing, and other protective measures. And, destinations will continue to impose limitations on activities.
If you are still feeling relaxed and confident about your upcoming air travel, here’s one more bit of news: with FAA approval, the Boeing 737 Max is back in action. On December 29, American Airlines resumed passenger flights with the Max on a run from Miami to LaGuardia. As this New York Times article describes, other major airlines will soon follow suit. The 737 Max, you will recall, was grounded for two years following crashes that left 346 people dead . . . and claims of pilot error. Based on the readers’ comments, it seems that Boeing and the airlines have lost the trust of many passengers.
American Airlines flight 718, the first U.S. Boeing 737 MAX commercial flight since regulators lifted a 20-month grounding in November, takes off from Miami, Florida, December 29, 2020.
Marco Bello | Reuters
Benoist flying over a boat in Tampa Bay. National Air and Space Museum Archives.
Start-up companies proliferated after the First World War. Imagine how exciting it would have been to fly on this airboat and then do a little fishing!
Passengers and crew on Pacific Marine Airways, operating between Los Angeles and Catalina Island, take a break to fish for tuna. National Air and Space Museum Archives.
These early airlines found eager passengers but not financial success until the Post Office supported the industry by forming the U.S. Air Mail Service. Subsequent improvements in aeronautical design and organization (such as air traffic control and modern airports) expanded the potential and popularity of commercial airlines.
During the 1940s and 50s, larger, four-engine planes could accommodate more passengers. These newer models flew quickly over long distances, thereby making transcontinental flights accessible to the public. In its “golden age,” air travel provided luxury in the form of fine dining, sleeping berths, attentive service, and leg room. Consider this comfortable observation area on a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
Passengers being served in the observation area of a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images
Did your last flight include a meal like this?
Food is served on a British Overseas Airways Corporation plane in 1960.
Touring Club Italiano | Marka | Universal Images Group | Getty Images
Of course, luxury had a price. According to The National Air and Space Museum, a “coast-to-coast round trip cost around $260” in the 1930s, “about half of the price of a new automobile. Only business executives and the wealthy could afford to fly.” Politicians and celebrities can be added to that list. With the introduction of coach class, service and comfort diminished, but air travel reached a larger segment of the population.
For more images from the 1930s to the 1970s, see this recent CNBC article, “Photos Reveal How Much Flying Has Changed Since Its ‘Golden Age.’” It includes vivid shots of cabin interiors and a concise history of commercial air travel. The article also addresses changing norms regarding smoking, safety (seat belts), staff credentials, and even staff uniforms. What are your memories of flight?
Southwest Airlines’ “stewardesses” in Texas, circa 1968.
Alan Band - Keystone | Hulton Archive | Getty Images
Next, let’s consider a beautiful landscape enriched by human creativity, the holiday light display at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. From the end of November through early January, this outstanding botanical garden dons a half million twinkling lights -- on trees, dancing fountains, lighted tunnels, and more. There are firepits, a miniature railroad, and, of course, impeccable seasonal plantings. This evocative 8 ½ minute video captures the magical landscape at that same time that it elicits nostalgia, an appreciation for the small, beautiful details of our lives.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
Conservatory, Longwood Gardens
And don’t forget the light show overhead. Weather permitting, the long, dark nights of winter can offer fine stargazing. If clouds spoiled your view of the “great conjunction” last night, you can still observe Jupiter apparently “near” Saturn on clear nights this week . . . and the moon, the stars, the Milky Way, and the rest of the heavens. Just step outside and let your spirit wander the universe.
Black is a respected, award-winning photographer who grew up and currently lives in California’s Central Valley, one of the nation’s poorest areas. His stark black and white photos convey the experience of poverty through images of people’s daily activities, their homes and surroundings, and the objects they own and use. Here are four images from different parts of the country. They speak for themselves.
Mendota has a population of 11,014 and 48.7% live below the poverty level.
Mendota, California, USA. 2016. © Matt Black | Magnum Photos
A woman in her kitchen. Sunflower County has a population of 29,450 and 35.5% live below the poverty level.
Rome, Mississippi, USA. 2017. © Matt Black | Magnum Photos
At a ranch house. Eagle Butte has a population of 1,318 and 51.5% live below the poverty level.
Eagle Butte, South Dakota, USA. 2016. © Matt Black | Magnum Photos
Shuttered train terminal. Buffalo has a population of 261,310 and 30.7% live below the poverty level.
Buffalo, New York. USA. 2015. © Matt Black | Magnum Photos
“We’re surrounded by facts; what we’re not surrounded by is meaning. That’s what I feel photography does best.” To see more of Matt Black’s photography, visit his website. The sections on “The Black Okies” and “Kingdom of Dust” expand upon the images above. In this brief video from 2015, the artist describes the “Geography of Poverty” project in its early stages. While it is only natural that a photographer would prefer to show than tell, this interview, “Poverty and Mythologies in America,” offers insights to Black’s work and his views on place, opportunity, and social power.
Black believes Americans have a blind spot: the inability to see the “visual, street-level reality” of their country. “From a ground level, America looks very different from the stories we like to tell ourselves." Despite American poverty being a common and widespread phenomenon, it remains “hidden” from our consciousness: it’s something that happens to other people in other places.
While I’m not familiar with all corners of the US, I can honestly say that there has been no trip, not local or distant, that didn’t bring me near poor towns or neighborhoods. From rural Maine to small town Idaho, old industrial cities to hardscrabble farms; whether a trip to work or a visit to my mother, my movements put me close to poverty. And, perhaps like you, I try not to see or think about it. It cuts too close to the bone and forces uncomfortable questions. To improve my life, did I disown my past? Does my current life make the situation worse?
At this time of year when many people practice traditions of giving, perhaps the best gift to offer our 45 million poor neighbors is the act of seeing them as they are and as they live.
As some of you may know, I am a naturalist -- by temperament, training, and, for a good long while, by profession. Prior (and concurrent) to that, I was a student of literature. These two passions, which may seem unrelated, have many common traits including the need to be observant and the ability to synthesize, to see connections. Practicing either endeavour, at least in my practice, also required a shared habit: walking.
For me, walking is fitness, peace of mind, interaction with the world, and a catalyst to creativity. I can’t think or write well when I’m sitting still. This experience is nicely explained in The New Yorker article, “Why Walking Helps Us Think.” This week’s Travel Tuesdays post is devoted to walking, especially walks in urban areas. Don’t worry, wilderness walks will get attention at a later date.
My impetus for this week’s topic was the discovery of City Walks, a modest website that offers virtual tours of international cities from a pedestrian’s perspective. Here’s a screenshot of Rio de Janeiro which instantly sweeps the viewer off to a balmy world of palm trees, swimsuits, and beachside fun.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Once you arrive at City Walks, close the greeting message. This opens the menu. Choose one of the 52 cities that currently have walking tours. You should also click on the “eye” symbol in the lower left corner to open a “quick facts” information box. These options are shown below in a scene from Malaga, Spain.
The menu also includes a few viewing options, and an opportunity to make a small donation to the creators through PayPal (“Buy me a coffee”). Turn on “City Sounds” to hear local language and to improve the ambience.
Night views can be equally interesting. Some places, like Las Vegas, take on a different character at night. Here’s a shot of Hanoi. Just a moment in this view reveals the bustling crowds, the motor bikes, the neon lights.
Of course, the menus can be closed to watch an unobstructed view of the streetscapes.
Realize that high resolution 4K videos capture a city’s vitality far better than these still images. Because the video loops last a fair amount of time, they give the impression of live footage -- and they focus our attention as if our eyes are seeing these sights. As in life, some scenes are lively; others are uneventful; but the movement of people through this world creates endless variations. This Moroccan market, for example, offers a kaleidoscope of people and their creations.
If you crave more 4K walking tours, YouTube has much to offer. While most of the selections are filmed in Europe, there is a smattering of other cities such as Cairo and Havana. A particularly pleasant tour in the US is the RiverWalk in San Antonio.
By definition, the adjective “pedestrian” means uninspired or dull. Yet the experience of walking boosts creativity and helps us engage with the world.
Detail from Hereford Mappa Mundi from themappamundi.co.uk
This map, unlike many later charts, was not intended for navigation. It certainly contains geographical features such as rivers, oceans, cities, and routes for trade and pilgrimage. But, as the detail above demonstrates, its illustrations extend beyond landmarks to include flora and fauna, Bible stories, mythology, and peoples of the world. These features are arranged like a diagram of the known world, both physical and spiritual. The map vividly depicts a medieval Christian perspective, with Jerusalem at the center of the world and Christian beliefs pictured along the map’s border. In that regard, Mappa Mundi is similar to murals and frescoes that are at once beautiful art and lessons in history or religion.
Another good overview of this subject is the short film “Mappa Mundi -- A Medieval Vision of the World.” If you’d rather examine the map’s details, visit Hereford Cathedral’s interactive gallery. And, once the pandemic subsides, you could visit Hereford Cathedral and its treasures in person. Please consult the cathedral’s website for current information.
From camels, angels, and labyrinths, we jump 700 years to a set of maps that reflect a very different world and priorities: indoor maps of airports and malls that can be found in the “Maps” app of Apple devices. While I doubt that Apple intends these charts to form a cosmography for their users, it’s sobering to consider how familiar we are with navigating these worlds and seeing life in these terms. Nevertheless, they are handy, so here’s a brief user’s guide.
Once you open “Maps”, search for the airport of your choice and select “indoor map.” Not all airports have indoor maps; here’s a list of those that do. The screenshot on the left shows Dallas/Fort Worth.
Swipe up and you will be presented with options including terminals, restrooms, and bag claims.
I choose “food” and find a BBQ restaurant. The map on the left shows me the location; the screen on the right offers contact info, photos, and reviews. If the airport is unfamiliar and time is short, these maps could make flying easier and more enjoyable.
The same principle applies to indoor maps of shopping malls. You can check in advance whether your preferred mall has an indoor map by consulting this list. Otherwise, simply enter the mall’s name in “Maps” to see if there’s an “indoor map.” I tried Emerald Square Mall in North Attleborough. Once I select “indoor map,” the app provides a floor plan. When I swipe up, I can search by store type.
The concept is good even if the number of maps is currently limited. If you get disoriented in large, busy buildings, you’ll appreciate this service.
The Hereford Mappa Mundi and Apple’s airport maps not only look very different from one another, they also make different choices about what to map, what to include, and what their “audience” needs to know. These choices are the subject of an article in The Correspondent, an online news website that is member-supported, ad-free and focused on in-depth articles rather than breaking headlines. The article, “How Maps in the Media Make Us More Negative About Migrants” which is translated from Dutch, addresses immigration in the European Union. With this example, the journalists demonstrate the ways that mapmakers make choices, decisions that appear to be neutral facts once in map form. The authors contend that “Every map projects its own worldview.” In a world full of information, the way that it’s organized matters.
From The Correspondent, 2 September 2020
Maps have been ubiquitous this year: maps of weather, climate, drought, wildfires, and hurricanes; maps that chart the economy, international affairs, and the election. And, of course, there are the ever-changing Covid maps, THE map of 2020.
From Nytimes.com, 12.1.20
Travel Tuesdays, November 24, 2020: "Teraanga"
Trust, tolerance, and security sound rather appealing right now. I am not implying that life in Senegal is all love and joy. Poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, inadequate educational systems and other problems challenge the nation. All the same, a culture that strives towards mutual acceptance might be onto something.
On this recording, Maal’s powerful voice combines with the bluesy sound of his friend, Mansour Seck’s acoustic guitar. Listen to “Lam Tooro,” a lovely, hypnotic cut from the album. Other recordings by the artist are available with your library card through the Hoopla app. You may already be familiar with Baaba Maal through his vocals for the film Black Panther. His vocals, by the way, are in Pulaar, a Fulani dialect.
The music of Orchestra Baobab, a big band with an Afro-Cuban sound, can be enjoyed on their Made in Dakar CD. While this band included musicians from different regions of Senegal and from other African countries, the Wolof culture provided a strong influence. Here’s a sample cut entitled “Nijaay.”
This and other Orchestra Baobab recordings are also available through Hoopla.
Hopefully, this music brought you to another place and time . . . all from the safety of your home. I wish you a little more teraanga in the coming week.
As an Apple product owner, you’ve probably used the “Maps” tool to get directions. If, like me, you enjoy studying maps, you may have tried satellite view as well. The next step is to combine satellite with 3D. By swiping and pinching, you can explore whatever areas of the world interest you . . . and there are plenty of options from Bhutan to Tonga. “Maps” offers good coverage. Here’s an ordinary 3D satellite view of Miami.
Satellite view of Miami on iPad
There’s an extension of satellite 3D called “Flyover Tours” that you really should check out. These aerial 3D photo tours give the impression that you are touring a city from a very quiet helicopter. The tour begins with a distant overview of the chosen city, then the perspective zeroes in on a particular feature. The traveler zooms back out and onward to several more landmarks before ending with a long view.
Approaching Downtown Miami, FL
The glistening shallow water, the cluster of high rises and the barrier islands evoke a distinctive place. Moreover, the Flyover Tour’s simulation of movement captures the excitement of approaching a new destination. Tours last two to three minutes and spotlight local landmarks such as stadiums, churches, performing arts centers, historic sites, etc. Here are typical landmarks from other tours: Hoover Dam and Albertsons Stadium.
Hoover Dam, AZ/NV
Albertsons Stadium, Boise, ID
Flyover Tours are available for many cities in the US and around the globe. A list of options can be found in the Feature Availability section of Apple’s website.
Here’s a brief “How To” for these tours:
- On an iPhone, key in desired location (from Feature Availability list), tap “Flyover,” then tap “Start City Tour.” It’s possible to pause and resume the tour.
- On an iPad, after keying in a location, you will be given a choice of “Directions” or “Flyover Tour” on the information card. Press and hold one finger on the screen to pause.
- On a MacBook, if the option for “Flyover Tour” doesn’t appear at the bottom of the screen, click on the info button (i), then select “Flyover Tour.”
Be aware that images may load more slowly depending on the age and power of your device. I had the best success with my iPhone.
If Flyover Tours recreate the drama of entering a new city, they also capture the distinctive style of a place within just a few moments. Consider the differences between these two Old World cities.
Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower, Florence, Italy
If you happen to own a newer Apple device, you might try yet another feature in “Maps.” It is called “Flyover.” Just “Flyover” not “Flyover Tours.” Here’s the difference. Flyover Tours are “animated” and pre-designed. You go along for the ride, and it’s a fine ride indeed. In contrast, Flyover lets the traveler decide the route and the length of this virtual reality trip. So, grab your phone, choose “Flyover” and start walking! Yes, hold your phone as you walk and the 3D aerial view will respond to your direction. I just “walked” across the Boston Common to the State House. Here’s a little tutorial on making the most of Flyover . . . and, off you go!
Another online chat option is italki. This platform connects learners and instructors through Skype. Like Verbling, it offers a choice of teachers, customized lessons, convenient scheduling, and a pay-per-lesson format. There are a few differences, though. One is that italki’s selection of languages is HUGE. When their website advertises “any language,” it’s not much of an exaggeration. Offerings include Akan Twi, Luo, Mingrelian, Papiamento and more languages that are unfamiliar to me. Another attraction is that the lessons are very affordable with an average price of about $10 per hour. While learners can choose from a large number of professional language teachers, they can also hire community tutors, native speakers “who can help through informal tutoring or speaking practice.” This opportunity to interact with native speakers might be italki’s best feature.
My last suggestion is to savor the language of the United States, that is, its regional differences. If you have traveled around the country, or even watched some television, you will have noticed that we don’t all speak alike. Variations in vocabulary and pronunciation add vibrancy to American English and interest to American road trips. To illustrate my point, try this dialect quiz from the New York Times: “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk.” Do you drink soda or pop? Have you been to a rummage sale? Or eaten a po-boy? And, how do you say “aunt”? The basis of this quiz is the “The Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes” which contains over 150 questions related to American dialect. The answers are keyed to maps which illustrate regional frequencies. You can delve deeper into this subject by ordering the book, Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide by Josh Katz which is available through the SAILS network.
Once you are out in the field, Merlin may help identify the birds you see. This app offers two methods of identification. The first choice asks three basic questions about the mystery bird’s size, color, and behavior. For the second option, submit a photo and receive a list of likely candidates. Both require your date and location.
At the end of your birding adventure, eBird can help you organize your records and share the results with other birders. Managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is a large-scale citizen science project that has created a huge database with “more than 100 million bird sightings contributed annually.” All of this information helps birders understand distribution patterns, make conservation decisions . . . and find more birds.
Now that your list is updated, it’s time to dig deeper. All About Birds is a fundamental resource that describes the life histories of “over 600 North American species.” It includes range maps, audio recordings, great photos and descriptions of habitat, diet, nesting and behavior. It will keep you busy for a while. If that feels a bit overwhelming, try BirdNote. These “daily two-minute stories about birds, the environment, and more” provide a gentle expansion of one’s knowledge. Listen online or subscribe to the daily podcasts.
When you really need a change of scenery, one option is to check out live cams. Here are three that offer some variety. Neotropical species are active at the Panama Fruit Feeder while boreal birds such as pine grosbeaks and common redpolls visit the Ontario FeederWatch Cam.
Perhaps the most spectacular choice at this time is the Mississippi River Flyway Cam at Brice Prairie in Wisconsin. Tundra swans, sandhill cranes, and many, many waterfowl gather at this staging area. There is a lot of activity even at night!
Another possibility is to take a guided tour online. In response to travel restrictions, the guides of Tropical Birding, an international tour operator, have created virtual tours of Ecuador, Uganda, Borneo and many more destinations. Though not “live,” it’s comforting to see your guide and to hear anecdotes from past trips. A small donation is requested for attending each tour.
If you are able to adapt to COVID-style birding, there is another option: during November and December, Mass Audubon is offering a series of in-person birding tours at several Southeastern Massachusetts locations. Participants should arrive with a mask and binoculars and be prepared to walk approximately two miles on a socially-distanced hike. If interested, call 781-837-9400 to preregister.
Both veterans and newcomers alike might enjoy Birders: The Central Park Effect. This one-hour documentary, which observes NYC’s migratory birds and bird-loving people, depicts the joy and camaraderie of birders as they encounter the spectacular world of birds. It is available through the library’s Hoopla app and on DVD at several SAILS locations.
Some libraries include nods to the past; others adopt a futuristic style:
Some emphasize preservation; others focus on visitors. The library may have a specific user in mind.
The Picture Book Library, Iwaki, Japan -- National Geographic
They are constructed of every conceivable material including bookcases:
Musashino Art University, Tokyo -- Iwan Baan
This slide show, compiled by National Geographic, features the work of Massimo Listri whose photographs illustrate The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries. His images are outstanding, though the collection seems to be rather Eurocentric.
The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, Taschen, 2018
Conde Nast Traveller offers its take on the subject with this photo essay. While a few of the choices (and photo selections) are odd, the list offers a wide range of styles, periods, and cultures.
A very good resource is available at the Ames Free Library: The Library: A World History by James Campbell is a beautiful and interesting study which may be ordered here.
When travel restrictions are lifted, you can visit some of the world’s many beautiful libraries. For now, consider what appeals to you about a library building. In this case, I’m referring to the building itself, not its collection, staff, or programs. Do you prefer a “blank slate” that allows you to focus or daydream? Or, does fine art and ornament inspire you? Cozy or grand? Subdued or flamboyant? Formal or comfy? Cutting edge or historic? Open or sheltering? I’ll leave you with a set of images that reflect the breadth of possibilities. Which is your style . . . and why?
Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan -- Iwan Baan
Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve, Paris -- cc Marie-Lan Nguyen
Admont Abbey Library, Austria -- Imagno/Getty Images
Liyuan Library, near Beijing, China -- cc ArchiMedia
Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -- Getty
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland -- cc diliff
This year has been no kinder to California’s vineyards. First a pandemic and lockdown, then an unprecedented barrage of lightning strikes, the Glass fire, more fires . . . over four million acres burned in the state. The impacts are wide ranging: on buildings and equipment, crops and cellars, air quality, the health of farmworkers, and the loss of tourist dollars are among them. A good overview can be found in this National Geographic article which asks: “Will California’s wine industry survive?” If fire season now coincides with harvest season, the future looks precarious for some vineyards.
In the meantime, wine lovers who can afford it might support the growers and enjoy a pleasant at-home experience by participating in a virtual tasting. An online search will yield many options. One place to start might be wine.com. The online wine store offers free wine tasting events which include interviews with leading winemakers and chefs. Registration is required for these weekly Zoom sessions. The company also sells the wines that will be assessed during a tasting. They aren’t free. Their prices reflect the demand for high-quality vintages. If you miss the tasting for your favorite varietal or region, wine.com posts videos of past tasting events.
Many individual wineries also offer virtual tastings such as the “Meet the Maker Happy Hour” at Inman Family Wines. These Zoom sessions allow participants to chat with each other and to ask the winemaker questions. Set at California wineries, these online events provide atmosphere and sometimes include tours.
Another approach is to patronize your local vineyards. The Coastal Wine Trail represents thirteen wineries in Southeastern New England. This region is, in fact, a designated “American Viticultural Area . . . distinguishable by geographic features.” There is still time to visit Westport Rivers Winery for wine and beer by the glass, served outdoors at their idyllic Westport, MA farm. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and there is a food truck on site. Beer from their sister company, Buzzards Bay Brewery, is served as well. They hope to resume events such as hayrides, concerts, and guided tours by next year.
Westport Rivers Winery
Wine lovers who wish to dig deeper can enroll in online courses such as “Wine Appreciation” offered by Purdue University. This “trip around the world of wine” visits nine wine-making regions with a winemaker/professor of enology. The course, which may be taken in segments, covers winemaking principles, tasting suggestions, and the history and economics of the wine industry.
I realize that visits to wine country offer more than wine: there is the setting, the climate, the terrain, the towns, the lifestyle. None of the many videos that I watched captured this feeling, but here is a short aerial video that shows the loveliness of a California vineyard in autumn. Cheers!
Thanks to the internet, it is much easier to find and to market unusual lodgings, and the choices have proliferated. There are plenty of tree houses like this lovely Hawaiian retreat.
Similarly, rental listings for lighthouses, windmills, and houseboats have become rather commonplace. Even ice hotels have entered the public consciousness, if not the average traveler’s itinerary.
But there are other options you may not have considered like Dog Bark Park Inn B&B - Cottonwood, Idaho, a themed lodging.
Or, if you want to get close to real animals, you could book a visit to Stable Stays in the Lake District, UK where half the lodging is for you and the other half is for your equine friends.
Maybe you’d prefer to vacation in a drain pipe at Das Park Hotel.
If you yearn for an immersive experience, Karostas Cietums might be right for you. This former prison in Latvia provides an “extreme adventure” complete with bare cells, guards, and drills. Here’s your chance to “Live the part of a prisoner for a dismal night.”
These and many more options can be found at quirkyaccom.com, the “Directory of Unusual Places to Stay.” This website is divided into helpful categories such as “Holiday Cottages” or “Stay on a Boat.” Many, though not all, of the lodgings are in the UK. I have emphasized listings from “The Quirkiest” section which also includes accommodations in a helicopter, a jumbo jet, a silo, a wine cask, an oil rig, a crane, a silver mine, and a bubble. I will let you ponder the attraction of these eccentric places; for now, I’ll just relish their outrageous diversity. Here’s one last lodging in a class of its own: Hotel Casanus. Guests can stay inside this Belgian art piece which is in the form of a large intestine.
Image from BoingBoing.net
Thanks to my colleague, Alyisha, for suggesting this week’s topic.
Delacorte Theater, Central Park
In contrast to The Public’s civic activism, the Fireside Mystery Theatre recreates the vibe of old-fashioned radio. This theatrical group would normally perform its original macabre tales before a live audience in NYC. Yet its performances which mix dialogue, sound effects, and musical interludes are well suited to home listening . . . in a dimly-lit room. Most segments run 30 to 45 minutes. The one I sampled, “All Aboard the Smoking Car,” was a modern take on the Faustian pact. Its mix of melodrama, music, current values, and bygone style gave it an otherworldly feel.
Fireside also offers some short pieces, such as the hilarious “Anita’s Pandemic Advice: Astral Distancing.” In this four-minute feature, fortune teller Anita reminds us of how and why ghosts need to socially distance.
Unlike the previous two organizations, the L.A. Theatre Works has extensive experience producing audio plays. Since the 1990’s, the group has been recording both classics and contemporary plays for distribution to radio stations nationwide. The play I heard, Stick Fly, is a 2006 comedy-drama about two African American brothers who bring their new girlfriends to Martha’s Vineyard to meet their affluent parents. In addition to the expected personality conflicts and family secrets, there is both playful and serious consideration of class, race, and gender relations. The extensive roster of podcasts includes works by new and underrepresented playwrights as well as box-office hits like Steel Magnolias. LATW also produces the Relativity Series of science-themed plays such as Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
Enjoy your “night out”!
Every so often I visit a place with dark skies: the unpaved Denali Highway south of Fairbanks, parc national de la Gaspesie in eastern Canada, parts of the American West. And each time, my childhood delight in stargazing revives. Unfortunately, this simple joy is inaccessible to many of the earth’s people. According to the website AirPano, “Italian scientists determined that 80% of the human population does not see the real sky!”
A quick glimpse at DarkSiteFinder’s “Light Pollution Map” shows why.
So, while you plan your next journey to view starry skies, enjoy the “Milky Way above Sahara Desert,” a 360 video filmed in Algeria. Let it remind you of “the greatness of the Universe.”
I intended to delay this post until winter when the night skies are generally clearer. Then I started reading news articles about a new solar cycle, Cycle 25, and its implications for the night sky. As this is not an astronomy column, I will offer an ultra-concise explanation. The sun’s magnetic activity -- manifested through sunspots, solar flares, and ejected charged particles -- follows an eleven year cycle, one that has been observed for centuries. Last December marked the “solar minimum”; activity will increase until it reaches “solar maximum” sometime in 2025. Periods of high solar activity can have impacts on electric power, radio communications, satellites, astronauts, and the aurora borealis. Let’s consider the latter.
When charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, the reaction produces the colorful displays of the northern lights. This week, a burst of aurora activity has garnered attention in Forbes, The Washington Post, Thrillist, Travel + Leisure, and other publications. Fans of the northern lights are excited. The displays have been so powerful that they have been visible in “southern” locations . . . like the northern tier of the United States. In the northern hemisphere, the best and most frequent views of the aurora are seen in the high latitudes of Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, and Alaska -- places that are close to the north pole.
Webcam in Abisko, Sweden, September, 28, 2020
I have seen the aurora only once, in a remote part of Alaska, in early September, which was the very start of the viewing season. Given a heads up by our lodge keepers, we set an alarm to wake us in the middle of the night, tossed on warmer clothes, and observed the sky with cold bodies and high spirits. I would love to see a full-blown display.
While a foray to the Arctic would provide the best viewing opportunities, residents of the northern US can stay alert to aurora forecasts such as those found on NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Its website offers a 3-day forecast of geomagnetic activity, an indicator of aurora potential. The most recent forecast predicted several days of minor (G1) or moderate (G2) activity.
And for those of us who are homebound, there are webcams. Recently, I’ve had the most luck with “Lights Over Lapland,” a webcam in Abisko, Sweden which is updated every five minutes. Just remember that aurora watching requires a special combination of events:
- An active point in the solar cycle
- Very clear skies
- High latitudes, close to the Arctic circle
- Minimal light pollution
- Little moonlight (new moon is best)
- An unobstructed northerly view
- The right time of year, i.e. between fall and spring equinox (September and March)
- The right time of day (remember to convert those time zones)
- And LUCK!
To learn more, visit SeeThe Aurora, an informative site that includes links to webcams around the world, advice for tourists and photographers, data from NOAA, and clear scientific explanations.
Just don’t blame me when you get to bed late!
The experience of travel is rich and varied, much more than a checklist of destinations. On the other hand, it does help to know where things are! So, today I am recommending a few at-home games to keep you amused and to build those geography skills.
Let’s start off gently with World Geography Games, a website that includes over 50 games to test your knowledge and memory of places. Some like “Capitals of the World” are multiple choice quizzes with a correct answer for every round. Other games like “Islands” ask you to click on the correct map location for each feature listed. While this website seems primarily designed for students, it’s also a good review (introduction?) for adults. Do you really know your straits and archipelagos? Or, even the countries of Africa? I particularly like the fact that many locations are accompanied by striking photos. These images, connected to a name and a map, help the traveler retain the information.
For a more challenging experience, try one of the hundreds of matching games on Seterra which describes itself as “The Ultimate Map Quiz Site.” To play these timed challenges, you must quickly click the correct place on the map for the named site . . . or keep trying until you find it! After several unsuccessful attempts, you can continue the game with fewer points. Some of the many options include “Most Populous Countries,” “Mountain Ranges,” and even “Major Airports.” Here’s a screenshot of “World Deserts.”
My final suggestion is not really a game though it could be played as one. It is Random Street View, a site that presents a different Google Maps street view with each click. Each view offers 360 degrees of coverage, and you can travel further along the road by clicking the arrows. The basic view includes the name of the location and a miniature map which can be enlarged. If you prefer to guess the street location, simply minimize the map, make your guess, then click the info icon to get your answer. Identifying these locations will be very challenging. Start by guessing the correct continent! These views include everything that can be seen from a road -- construction sites, farms, litter, traffic, dense forest, massive fields, shopping plazas, and every kind of structure. Perusing the views exposes an entirely different world than one finds in travel guides. Whether it takes you to a previously unknown location, or it makes you see a familiar place with new eyes, seeing the world through these glimpses is fascinating.
Here’s a roadside view in the Canary Islands:
. . . and another road in South Africa.
Enjoy these games, learn about your planet, and daydream about those trips down the road.
The first is quite obvious: the organization formerly called Plimoth Plantation, recently renamed Plimoth Patuxet. Its living history exhibits have reopened with additional health measures in place. The museum, for those who are unfamiliar with it, has several components: the Mayflower II, a full-sized replica of the original ship; the Wampanoag Homesite; the 17th century English village; and the Plimoth Grist Mill. The museum’s website includes information about each of these topics as well as recommended reading lists. There are resources for classroom teachers and “Virtual Field Trips” can be arranged for scouts and homeschool groups. The event calendar also lists some workshops for families. And, don’t forget, the Ames Free Library has a pass to this museum.
Plymouth, Massachusetts is not alone in recognizing the historical significance of this anniversary: there is “Mayflower 400 UK,” an ambitious effort to bring together the US, the Wampanoag Nation, the UK, and the Netherlands to reconsider the history and to commemorate the experiences of the participants and their descendants. This organization’s website lists numerous “Virtual Voyages” to significant locations in the Pilgrims’ story: the UK port of Plymouth, other cities in England, and Leiden in the Netherlands. There are also biographies and personal perspectives in the “My Mayflower” videos. One is about The Man Who Built the Mayflower II; another on the Wampanoag experience, We Are Still Here.
Now, this website contains a lot of video footage. Some of it is corny; some of it is promotional. Many local citizens and experts are interviewed. Yet, it’s still worth a look. The participants seem genuinely committed to remembering, reflecting, and applying their insights to a better future. And, the videos give life to the significant places of this story.
The Mayflower II, the replica completed in 1957, has undergone a major restoration at Mystic Seaport, with nearly 75% of its timbers replaced. This brief segment of Weekends with Yankee describes the work through an interview with the marine preservationist who coordinated the effort. Once completed, the ship headed home -- with some celebrations along the way! Take a look at the Mayflower Homecoming Livestream videos which capture some disconcerting juxtapositions of the historic and modern, such as this image of the Mayflower passing beneath Sagamore Bridge.
It’s time for a walk in the park . . . not just any park, but New York City’s heavily visited and highly influential Central Park. From the start of its construction in 1857, Central Park’s size, style, and goals set it apart. Its 843 acres were intended to provide relief from the stresses of urban life and, at the same time, to encourage the city’s diverse residents to mingle in a common space. One of its designers, Calvert Vaux, described the undertaking as “translating democratic ideas into trees and dirt.” Vaux and his co-designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, guided the transformation of the property into a pastoral landscape replete with rolling meadows, water features, woodlands, and structured gathering places. The seemingly natural appearance of the park was, of course, an artistic creation: trees and soil were imported, dams created tranquil ponds, and explosives reshaped the land.
The virtual walk that I offer today is guided by the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit that has been managing the park since 1998 and has been responsible for significant restorations. Our tour begins at West 72nd Street and moves east across the park. It highlights ten features along the way, each of which is interpreted by the guide’s pre-recorded audio, by panoramic views, and by a collection of photos of the given location.
As with all virtual tours, you will have a better experience if you explore a bit.
The complete list of features can be found by hovering over the left side of the screen.
Clicking on the arrows at the base of each location simulates walking to the next attraction.
This simple but effective tour includes history, significant features, and some info on the plantings, architecture, artistry, and materials.The pre-restoration photos are particularly impressive. If I hadn’t visited the city prior to these improvements, it would be hard to imagine the transformation.
If you’re still curious, here are a few links to related topics. Seneca Village: African Americans in early New York is a short YouTube video that explores the history of free Blacks who were evicted when the park land was taken by eminent domaine.
I’d also recommend New York: A Documentary Film, a production of the American Experience series which was directed by Ric Burns. Episode 2 includes a 15-minute segment on the development of Central Park. This title is available through the SAILS network or through the library’s free Hoopla app.
Lastly, take a look at the PBS dvd, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America for some background on this pioneering landscape architect.
This form of correspondence, which evolved gradually throughout the 19th century, reached its height of popularity in America during the period from 1905 to 1915 when a variety of factors -- technological, artistic, economic, and cultural -- converged to support a veritable postcard craze. While it may be difficult to imagine now, there was an era when postcards were “the text messages of their time” -- inexpensive to purchase and to mail; quick to write and send. They were used for daily communications, advertising, recording events, and as souvenirs and collectibles. This brief history nicely summarizes the postcard’s rise in popularity, its golden era, and its decline.
It has been a while since I’ve written and mailed a postcard while traveling, though I sometimes purchase them as fine photographs or as stationery to mail at a later date. I can’t deny that they are fun to give and to receive. It would have been interesting to look back on those I’ve received through the years but, alas, I didn’t recognize their value at the time.
In the article, “Are Postcards Obsolete?”, a Washington Post contributor compares the experience of receiving a postcard vs. an image shared via social media. What stands out to me is the way the postcard duplicates the experience of the traveler: it makes a physical journey from a distant place (recorded in its postmark) and is somewhat altered by the trip. In 1894, a London journalist remarked that the postcard “has secretly delivered us from the toil of letter-writing.” * Ironically, we now look to digital communication to relieve us from the toil of postcards!
While the usage of postcards has changed -- with fewer printed, sold, and mailed -- interest has by no means disappeared. Consider Postcrossing, a website that enables members to “to send and receive postcards from all over the world!” With a membership of 794,567 from 206 countries, the site is booming.
And, let’s not forget collectors. One place to shop for vintage postcards is CardCow which, according to their website, has over 600,000 items available in every category imaginable. Here you will find thousands of hotels, restaurants, views of US states and towns, and scenes from foreign countries. You can also find more specialized topics like mosquitoes, barbers, and oil wells. Like all antiques, prices depend on rarity, condition, artistic quality, and demand, but many are available for $15 or less.
So buy (or make) a postcard to celebrate World Postcard Day which is coming up soon on October 1. Then, of course, you’ll need a stamp. You can learn all about those at the National Postal Museum. Yes, there really is such a place. It is part of the Smithsonian and normally open to the public. In the meantime, check out its virtual exhibits of stamps, postal tools, and historic photographs.
Wish you were here!
Many travel articles spotlight where to go and how to get there. Maybe what to bring and what it will cost. Today’s Travel Tuesdays concentrates on the how and why by examining the magazine, AFAR. I was, until recently, unfamiliar with this publication which was launched in 2009 with a focus on experiential travel. Like similar resources, the magazine’s website offers travel guides to destinations around the world, tips and news, and an “Inspiration” section. But there’s a difference, one that can be found in its weekly “Travel Tales from AFAR” podcasts. These are “stories from people who took a trip -- and came home transformed.” Let’s consider two examples.
First, listen to the award-winning story, A Blind Man’s Trip Will Change the Way You Think About Safaris. Journalist, Ryan Knighton, arrives at Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve wondering how he can derive meaningful experience from an activity that prioritizes vision through animal sightings and photography. But the author is open minded and is blessed with a guide who is as well. Safari guide, Alan, is committed to providing his visually-impaired guest (and all his guests) with a richer experience and deeper understanding of the region’s ecology. By the time Ryan leaves Africa, his “mind’s-eye image of where we were grew clearer and clearer, and more alive, than ever before.” By developing “a way of guiding that begins with the animal’s own sensory experience,” Alan enriches the safari experience for all travelers and does justice to the world he interprets. His approach is not kindness shown to a “handicapped” person; he respects Ryan’s abilities and incorporates them into the trip. Alan’s teaching style “effectively communicates the reality that everything around us is a living, working system of taste and tactile strategy for survival, not just a view.”
Photo by Cait Opperman
The podcast is 14 minutes long. I would recommend reading the online, illustrated article as well. And, if you’re curious about the African wild dogs that Ryan describes, here’s a short video for you.
I can relate to this article because experiential education, including an emphasis on sensory experience, was an integral part of my years as an environmental educator. Perhaps more importantly, the author is challenging the view of travel as commodity: destinations aren’t just scenery; local people and wildlife aren’t entertainments.
Another podcast episode, The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo, undermines expectations in a similar fashion. When traveler Chris Colin arrives in Japan, he speculates that the rent-a-friend business will be another expression of “Japanese wackiness,” a fad, an entrepreneurial lark. He proceeds to hire three professional friends by the hour through an agency that usually serves local clients. These people, he discovers, believe in the value of their work and are skilled at their jobs. They help him navigate an unfamiliar city and offer insights into their culture and the nature of friendship itself. Their typical clients “just want basic, uncomplicated companionship” which might not come easily to those lacking social skills, or who have become too dependent on technology, or who are reluctant to let down their guard in the company of familiars. Free of the stresses and doubts of long-term friendship, the author found himself able “to focus on just having a nice time, on connecting in that very moment.”
Photo by Landon Nordeman
This 23-minute podcast can also be appreciated in written form.
If you have liked these “Travel Tales by AFAR,” you can subscribe to the weekly podcasts. Seven episodes have been released thus far. Be aware that the podcasts include brief ads for the series’ sponsor.
Travel writing often emphasizes the discovery of new places, cultures, and perhaps value systems. These podcasts and their companion articles encourage a kind of self discovery within a world of others. They urge us, as the publishers do, to “step outside of the familiar.”
State Route 1 is over 600 miles long, running from the town of Legget in Northern California’s redwood country to Dana Point, a little north of San Clemente. Some sections have been given different names (Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway, and Coast Highway), and some sections merge with other roads. This matters little to me. There is a road that hugs the west coast including most of California and Oregon and parts of Washington . . . and the segments that I’ve seen are glorious! Read this brief article by the publishers of Moon Travel Guides to get an overview.
The route was built piecemeal starting in the early 20th century and gained momentum during the Great Depression. Everyone has a favorite itinerary: north to south; south to north; Seattle to southern California; SF to LA -- and favorite stops. For a taste of the numerous possibilities, take a look at this piece in National Geographic.
I must say that I’m amazed when some travelers describe their trip in hours! The sections that I’ve superficially explored (Mendocino thru southern Big Sur) have absorbed weeks. Then again, motion sickness does lessen the appeal of non-stop drives for me, especially on windy roads. If you have more time, linger and explore . . . restaurants and vineyards, amusement parks and roadside attractions, museums and aquaria, surf shops, mansions, Spanish missions, hiking trails, wildlife, artist colonies, and magnificent beaches.
Spectacular beaches west of the route . . .
. . . redwood forest east of the road
To experience the journey from a driver’s perspective, watch Freeway Jim’s video highlights of his drive along Big Sur. The winding road, sea cliffs, summery music, and forward motion convey feelings of freedom and discovery; you can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. If the condensed pace is a little too frenetic, you can adjust the playback speed to .75 in YouTube’s setting wheel.
For a wider perspective, try this 4K drone video of the same area. This clear aerial video captures the drama and loveliness of the Big Sur area: it’s hills, beaches, sea stacks, and the roadway weaving along them.
If you are planning a drive on California Route 1, check road conditions in advance. Erosion and mudslides necessitate frequent road work. In 2017, heavy rains caused landslides that undermined the Pfeiffer bridge north of Big Sur and buried a segment further south at Mud Creek. Some areas were cut off for 14 months.* The scale of damage can be seen below in this 2017 image from Google Street View. Repairs caused only minor delays in fall 2019 when I traveled to Big Sur.
It may be a difficult and expensive road to maintain, but what a treasure.
*Thanks to articles on SFGate and KQED
Flow Country stretches across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland (Credit: Eleanor Bentall)
Until last week, I had never heard of this place, but through the years I have sought out bogs in my travels. Indeed, I’ve traveled just to see bogs! Yes, now you know the truth.
My first encounter was at Norwell, Massachusetts’ delightful Black Pond bog, a classic kettle hole formation with concentric rings of vegetation. Then there was Hawley bog in Western Massachusetts and the coastal bogs of Maine. And, on a grander scale, there were peatlands along Alaska’s Denali Highway.
Each place supports an interesting plant and animal community: some have insectivorous plants like sundews; others have dazzling orchids. Berry-producing plants thrive: cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, broom crowberry, and even baked-apple berry! And, of course, there’s moss -- lots of sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum capillifolium, small red peat moss
The starkly beautiful terrain of the Flow Country supports species such as wispy Cotton Grass, the Red Deer, and the Eurasian Curlew with its outrageously long bill.
A fine introduction to Flow Country can be found in this BBC Travel article which summarizes the ecology and human history of the region.
Gaelic-speaking people inhabited this area for thousands of years, their populations declining when small tenant farmers were forced off the land in order to establish more profitable sheep ranches. The region continues to be sparsely populated.
Worldwide there has been widespread abuse of bog ecosystems, from massive peat extraction projects to “conversion” projects like tree plantations which disturb the soil, the flow of water, and the dependent species. But this outlook appears to be changing as people discover the remarkable ability of peatlands to store carbon. Sizable chunks of the Flow Country have been preserved for conservation and as a carbon sink to offset climate change.
But so much for words! To get a real feel for the region, watch this video. If time is short, try the “The Flow Country in 5 Minutes.” Both are found at The Flow Country, a highly informative website that includes resources for teachers, conservationists, and tourists. Travelers will find boardwalks, bike trails, visitor centers, and local accommodations.
Until a flight to Europe is possible, you might visit Ponkapoag Bog in Blue Hills Reservation. While this property doesn’t possess the openness and panoramic sweep of larger peatlands, it will introduce you to some of the species that prefer acidic wet conditions.
Completed in 1908, Unity Temple is constructed of reinforced concrete, an innovative material for a public building of that era. The substantial, windowless ground level reduces street noise. To compensate for the lack of first floor windows and views, Wright flooded the upper reaches of the church with stained glass skylights and a clerestory, and chose a sunny yellow for the interior walls.
You will find more videos of Wright’s architecture at the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation website and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. You might also enjoy the 3D tours of Taliesin West and Los Angeles’ Hollyhock House.
Helpful tip: unmute the sound on these videos to hear the experts’ narration. Also, you’ll need to poke around the 3D excursions to utilize the highlights, narration, and 360 degree views.
We begin our descent to the Emerald Pools during our Tongariro Crossing journey.
It’s a strenuous trip through alpine scenery, old lava fields and steam, not to mention all manner of weather in one epic 6-8 hour journey.
This journey is not for the faint hearted.
My daughter and I made the trek during a January 2017 trip to New Zealand. Of all the hiking my daughter and I have done, this one is a favorite for both of us.
My daughter, Kelly, as we climb one of the many steep sections of the trek.
Getting up as the sun is peeking above the horizon means a pretty chilly morning, even in the summer. Layering clothes on and off seemed normal after the first hour. Dealing with wind, scree, hiking poles and pushing ourselves to keep going to meet our ride back to our hostel on the other side were all part of the experience.
Looking back at the distance we have covered since we set out at 6:30 a.m.
Waking up for a 6:00 a.m. pick up may not sound like a vacation to you. Oh, but the payoff. Other worldly scenery and unbelievable views will more than make up for the early rise. There are plenty of other days to sleep in but not today. The call of these mountains will draw you to the crossing.
One of the many amazing views along the Tongariro Crossing
Planning to hike Tongariro Crossing? Watch this video by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council for help with your plans.
Click here for the history of the park and the Ngāti Tuwharetoa tribe’s involvement with preserving the area.
Vue Generale de la vieille ville de Chinguetti en Mauritanie
Next, let’s consider the chained library in Hereford Cathedral, England. In this library, the front covers of the books are attached to their bookcases via a chain. The reader would sit at a desk in front of the chained book. Much of the Hereford collection dates back to the 12th century, with some older volumes. Hand-written and -bound, these irreplaceable manuscripts predated the printing press . . . and were extremely valuable. Medieval libraries needed to balance the accessibility of their collections with effective security. Hence, the chains. As books became less costly to produce, chained libraries all but disappeared.
Chained library in Hereford, England: medievalfragments.wordpress.com
These short films are part of the BBC’s “Incredible Libraries” playlist which includes several more remarkable “institutions.” Let’s end with a contemporary library in the Philippines, where one man, Nanie Guanlao, transformed his home into a place where local children and discarded books connect -- 24 hours per day! From a modest beginning, his library now overflows with donations that supply a mobile school that offers outreach to rural towns.
Don’t be put off by the technical language describing climbs at the beginning of the article, or by the scary photo on slide #2 showing a fellow dangling off the cliff. Overall, the text and images are accessible to a general audience and offer a nice overview of the mountain and its people: geology, weather, animals, plants, equipment, views, history, safety, etc. Chart the progress of your “climb” with the inset map and the elevation and distance icons on the bottom left.
And, in some situations, the home is the work of art. Henry Chapman Mercer - archaeologist, collector of artifacts, ceramicist - designed and constructed his totally unique, concrete Fonthill Castle . . . then adorned it with thousands of tiles of his own creation.
As a group, the studios enrich our understanding of the individual artists, the process of transforming ideas into art, the working conditions, and the historical and cultural environments.
Each of these sites is part of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, a coalition of 44 independent museums “that have come together to celebrate and investigate creativity.” The museums, which range across the country, preserve the studios of well-known artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Frederic Church, as well as those of less-familiar artists like sculptor, Elisabet Ney.
Nearby, one can visit Chesterwood in Stockbridge, MA or the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish NH. That is, one can currently visit the grounds. Many of the buildings remain closed until health conditions improve. Until that time, you can expand your interest by reading the newly-published Guide to Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios by Valerie Balint, available as a downloadable book through the library’s Hoopla app.
Few forms of media capture the grandeur of a place better than aerial photography, especially high-quality, 360 degree panoramas. And that is exactly the mission of AirPano, a team of Russian photographers who utilize drones, helicopters, and other “flying machines” to document wonders around the globe. Their subjects, which span all continents, include cultural sites and celebrations as well as spectacular natural areas. Some are familiar; others less so such as this video of the Uzon Caldera in Kamchatka. The Kamchatka peninsula is a remote, wild area in eastern Russia that is renowned for its volcanoes, rivers, snowfall, and wildlife -- especially brown bears and salmon.
AirPano has a number of videos of this area (a commission of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve) including some fine footage of “The Land of Bears.” But these folks get around. In fact, they publish a new 360° video every 10 days. So if you’d like an overview of Petra or Victoria Falls or some other place before your trip, take a look at their selection.
Note: these are short videos, averaging 5 minutes in length. You have the time!
Along with videos, AirPano publishes thousands of 360° photos such as this image of the lovely Detian Falls, on the China/Vietnam border. Just remember that you can rotate these views with your mouse or keyboard.
Chronicle produced a nice 4 ½ minute overview of the Bay Circuit project. Next, explore a brand new “story map” called Welcome to the Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway. This is a virtual tour created by the Appalachian Mountain Club with tabs for history, nature, indigenous experience and stewardship. It’s one of those elegant presentations (based on ArcGIS) that combine, maps, photos, text and multimedia.
If you want to see the trail as a walker experiences it, try the YouTube videos by Chris Rich. Each one shows a section of the trail, along with some laid-back commentary. Here’s a clip from the Hockomock.
The Bowery Boys is available through many podcast services but, if you start at their website, you’ll also be able to access the companion blog that augments each topic with text and archival photos. Be warned: once an episode whets your curiosity, you might be hooked.
Two technical details to note: one must click on the title of each episode to see both the blog and the podcast; and, upon clicking the podcast, wait a moment for the recording to begin.
Next, let’s tour the otherworldly Borobudur Temple, in Java, Indonesia. This famous Buddhist temple built in the 8th and 9th centuries was rediscovered in the early 1800s after centuries of abandonment. Cleared of vegetation, excavated, and renovated, the temple can now be seen as a three-tiered structure that reflects the stages of Buddhist cosmology. Google Earth’s directional arrows and 360 views allow the virtual visitor to walk the terraces, descend stairways, and view the stories communicated through the extensive low reliefs. Find a quiet corner, pause at a Buddha statue enclosed in a stupa, and absorb the misty mountain setting.
If you enjoyed these “trips,” be sure to visit UNESCO’s website for complete descriptions of each of its 1121 properties, along with maps, photo galleries, and videos.
The first is a “Train Journey to the Norwegian Arctic Circle” on the Nordland rail line. Savor the beautiful countryside, small villages, and snow-covered evergreens -- from the unimpeded view of the train’s cab.
If you’re not fond of snow, try an adventure on the Ferrocarril Central Andino, the world’s second highest railway, running from Lima into the central Andes. This 19th century engineering marvel offers tunnels, bridges, deep river gorges, sheer cliffs, and thrills. There’s a station at 15,673 feet above sea level, and, according to a Fodor’s review, oxygen is available for passengers with elevation sickness!
The videographer split the adventure into four sessions, each running less than one hour. Part 3 ends with this scene.
I was particularly taken with A Glimpse Inside the Secluded World of A Georgian Convent, which vividly portrays an unfamiliar place and set of people. Set on a stark, high-elevation plateau, the Phoka Nunnery looks like an archaeological site. Yet it houses a small group of determined women whose hard work is benefiting the local Armenian population. Both highly-educated and down-to-earth, they have restored the church, started a school, created a cheese-making business, and revived local handicrafts. The photographer’s fine black-and-white images are otherworldly.
And, then, there is Reveling in the Enigmatic Beauty of Easter Island which portrays the moai, the ancient statues for which the island is famous. The photojournalist, to his credit, also observes the local population and the impacts of tourism.
Here’s a link to five more essays in the series.
Or, for pure over-the-top extravagance, visit Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai where Islamic architectural motifs meet theme park entertainment. Here you will find waterslides, palm trees, light shows, ziplining, celebrity chefs, and underwater suites!
Like any good explorer, you will need to poke around: click on the “bubble” symbols to move to the next topic, click on the circular “speaker” to hear the narration, and don’t skip the extra photos and video clips available for your pleasure. Like other Google Earth experiences, this tour provides a 360-degree view simply by dragging your cursor. Now that’s not nearly as strenuous as donning a harness and descending by rope!
Then, watch this very atmospheric short on The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island. This preserve for tropical plants began as a restoration project undertaken by one determined man with vision. Savor his “garden in a valley on the ocean.” Who can resist a tree fern?
This week’s Travel Tuesday suggestion requires thought: yes, let’s keep those brain cells working! GeoGuessr is a game that tests your knowledge of geography and your memory. For each round of play, you are shown a “street view” of a particular location. Your job is to discern where this location is and to pin a map with your guess. The closer your guess is to the correct answer, the more points you earn. It’s not easy.
One can choose to play “World,” “US,” “Famous Places,” “Ghost Towns,” “Where’s that McDonald’s?” and many more.
You do need “sign up” for a free account which lets you play one five-question round per day. If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can purchase the “Pro” option for $2/month.
For years, I’ve played my own version of this game: guess the location of scenic calendar photos. GeoGuessr is more challenging and really interesting because it requires very close observation. This ability to notice small details will make all future travel more rewarding when we can, once again, explore the world.
Their new fynbos exhibit highlights these endangered (and very cute) birds that live south of Capetown. They are active and gregarious which makes for lively viewing. The zoo’s website provides good information in the “learn more about” section.
Next, take a virtual safari at Tembe Elephant Park, a wildlife reserve near the border of Mozambique. This morning, an elephant, giraffe, and birds were at the watering hole. And, the camera rolls day and night. Just remember to account for the time difference.
This time let’s try some indoor entertainment: visiting some of the world’s best museums. Start with “10 Top Museums You Can Explore Right Here Right Now.”
With the help of Google street view, savor Dutch masterpieces at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Or see this dazzling installation at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art:
Or, perhaps, visit the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, whose distinctive building floats above ground and whose prestigious collection appears to hover in mid air:
And, if that’s not enough to quench your thirst for fine art, Google Arts & Culture provides tours of 1,200 other international museums -- slide shows, interpreted exhibits, and more.
‘Til next week, happy travels!
Check out the photos below of Wind Cave National Park, courtesy of our own intrepid traveler, Lorraine Rubinacci.
‘Til next week, happy travels!