Monthly Archives: December 2014

Capilano Road to Grouse Mountain


The first time I went to Grouse Mountain I was focused on The Grind.   If you’re young, fit and can run, it takes maybe an hour to make a one-way, boulder-hopping ascent straight up this 4,000 feet mountain.  It took Sebastian Salas only 25 minutes and 1 second to set the official course record in 2010.  It took me about 2 hours.  The 2nd time I went to Grouse Mountain I saw what else was there and learned why it’s one of the most-visited attractions in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Only 15 minutes from downtown, which is spectacularly visible from the summit, the Grouse Mountain complex is a year-round, busy playground.   There is skiing.  In fact, the world’s first double chairlift was installed here in 1949.  However, when the Winter Olympics came to Vancouver in 2010, major skiing events occurred at Whistler, one hour from Vancouver in more reliable snow.  So far this season, Grouse Mountain has had about 26 inches of the white stuff and people are using the snowshoe trails, enjoying the skating pond, mountain ziplining (“Soar with the snowflakes!”), etc.  The Grouse Grind is closed for the season and the Snowshoe Grind is temporarily down.  However, there are lots of Peak of Christmas (“Visit Dancer and Prancer!”) activities.  Rangers are giving reindeer talks.

When Ruth & I visited in September, 2014 with Australians John & Trish, we glided up on the Skyride, reportedly the largest aerial tramway system in North America, watched the very well-attended lumberjack show, and took pictures of the resident grizzlies.  Cubs Grinder and Coola were orphaned in 2001 and would not have survived without rescue, treatment, and transportation to this peak by the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife.  The views as we hiked the mountain top from the tram to the Eye of the Wind observatory (closed that day) were consistently awesome.  In the near distance, all of the city of Vancouver was spread below us.  In the far distance, Washington State’s Mount Baker could clearly be seen.



We didn’t begin to experience all of the activities–disc golf, guided eco-walks, helicopter tours, etc.–available on 5 Compass Grouse Mountain, which ensures return to the accurately self-named “Peak of Vancouver”, a natural theme park.



Ten Fine U.S. Towns


As I look back over 2014 U.S. travel, it has been, among other things, a year of new/old towns that Ruth & I have liked and lingered in.   The best were:

1.  Susanville, CA  There isn’t one particular reason why this town named for Susan Roop won us over.  Maybe it’s just because it’s prosperous and comfortable.  Star of Lassen County, it has a wide main street lined with local stores, not chains, where Ruth bought a chance on a unique quilt but didn’t win.   Not a tourist Mecca, its #1 attraction seems to be the Biz Johnson Trail.

2.  Ely, NV  Our 1st trip of 2014 took us here and I’m still thinking about this bedraggled, isolated town that began as stagecoach and Pony Express stops.   Maybe the Central Theater, Economy Drug Soda Fountain, and proximity to Great Basin National Park had something to do with it.

3.  Tonopah, NV  This central Nevada time-warp place, kind of a living ghost town, was a total surprise.

4.  Cedar City, UT  We accidentally hit this family-centered southwest Utah service-oriented community close to Zion National Park on a beautiful summer evening when almost everybody in town was in City Park for Groovefest.  The music was fine and the audience as much fun to watch as the entertainers.

5. Mason City, IA  This north central Iowa town invites visitors to “Experience the Art of Hospitality”.  We certainly did with our main focus on the only Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, the Historic Park Inn, still in existence and lovingly restored.  Meredith Wilson, the composer of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” who created The Music Man, was born and raised here.  You’ll enjoy this American musical chestnut much more after seeing his hometown.

6. Sturgeon Bay, WI  The largest community of vacation magnet Door County, Sturgeon Bay lures yacht fanciers, music lovers, gallery browsers, us, etc.

7.  Bryan, TX  Texas has more interesting small towns than most other states, and this year we added Bryan to our list of favorites.  Check out the LaSalle Hotel and the Carnegie Library across the street from it, go out to Messina Hof Winery and buy some shockingly good Tawny Texas Port, and explore Bryan’s nostalgic downtown shops before they change.

8. Abilene, TX  There’s a tremendous small city spirit here and some great attractions–Frontier Texas!, Paramount Theater, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, etc.

9. Beaufort, SC  One of the most beautiful small towns in the United States and definitely off the grid unless someone like R. Alan Stello Jr. takes the time to tell you not to miss it.

10. New Ulm, MN  Settle by German immigrants who still influence its culture, architecture, beer quality, etc., New Ulm is an unexpected treat best visited in the summer, unless you really like cold weather.




Celebrating a New Year


The year-end holidays, including New Year’s Eve, are fast approaching. Usually on December 31st, Ruth and I are near the end of travel.

Last December 31st, we were in Istanbul.  We decided to dine at our hotel because we had to leave for the airport at 2 am.  Yuk.  The hotel restaurant was serving a New Year’s Eve buffet.  Before dining we had a celebratory glass of wine in the hotel bar.  It overlooked an enormous, very traditional Christmas tree that was in my line of vision.  What really surprised me was the steady stream of Muslim women, but never men, who simply had to have their pictures taken with this tree.

New Year’s Eve in Turkey, I later found, usually begins with a large family dinner.  The main course, which really surprises me, is traditionally a roasted turkey.  People watch variety shows on TV beginning in late afternoon and play games until midnight.  The National Lottery promises a large holiday payout and many buy a New Year’s lottery ticket.  Just before midnight, State TV channels announce the winner.  At midnight many exchange small gifts.

Another year Ruth & I were in Dublin.  This time we had to leave for the airport at 3 am.  The only food available in the hotel, other than room service, was a buffet in the restaurant costing €75 per person.  We chose room service and headed for the elevator.  The lobby and bar were filled with men and women.   Most had had more than one drink and were upping the volume.  The atmosphere seemed more desperation than fun.  At 8 pm, the elevator door closed on this party scene.  Seven hours later the elevator door opened, and the scene had not changed.  It seemed as if the same partiers had been frozen in time since 8 pm.

New Year’s Eve customs vary around the world.  In the December, 2014, issue of National Geographic Traveler it’s noted that Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the year.  It’s called Nochevieja, or old night. Japanese Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times in a purification ritual. Like Turks, Icelanders watch TV, especially an annual satirical comedy show, before meeting neighbors at a large bonfire (brenna) and watching spectacular fireworks.

I just finished reading a fine book called Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen.  Last night for dinner Ruth and I had Russian hamburgers, Kotleti.  Yum.  On New Year’s Eve in Russia, people eat and drink, wade through snow to visit neighbors, etc.  In the morning, children find presents under the tree from Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, whose assistant is his granddaughter, Snegourochka.

This year Ruth and I will be in Berkeley, California, when 2015 arrives.   Happy New Year a bit early!


Savannah’s Telfair House-Museum


Even though it retains several of the Telfair family’s rooms, the Telfair mansion is not listed among Savannah’s historic homes like the Owens-Thomas House that it administers.

Edward Telfair, 4 time Governor of Georgia, was a member of the Continental Congress.  An important man in his day, Edward’s name is on the Articles of Confederation, the document that officially established the USA and was signed by reps from all 13 of the original colonies.  Born in Scotland, Edward emigrated to Virginia at age 23 and eventually moved to Savannah, GA, where he put down roots.  Twelve men reportedly received electoral votes for the first US President and Edward Telfair was one of them.

When Edward died in 1807, his son Alexander was 18.  At the age of 29 Alexander, now the head of the family, decided to build a mansion for himself, his 3 unmarried sisters, and his mom.  Completed in 1819, it’s now on Telfair Square but transformed.  Alexander’s sister Mary, who never married, was the last surviving Telfair by 1875.  She left the house her brother built to the Georgia Historical Society to become a museum, which opened to the public 11 years later as the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, now the oldest museum in The South.  Its German born architect, Detlef Lienau, removed staircases, added 2 museum-size galleries, etc.  The upstairs bedrooms are art display areas, but several rooms that the Telfairs would recognize remain.  My favorite was their dining room, which gave me a genuine glimpse into their elegant 19th century lifestyle with its Monuments of Paris wallpaper, Duncan Phyfe sideboard, etc.

The art in Telfair’s Rotunda and Sculpture Galleries is just, well, fair.  Lots of what’s permanently on view are the works of artists with unfamiliar names who are often identified as friends of major artists.  In the Sculpture Gallery are also copies of major European statues, like the Dying Gaul and the Belvedere Hermes now in the Vatican Museum.  I really did like 2 paintings in the Sculpture Gallery: Julian Story’s epic “The Black Prince of Crécy” and the Ashcan School’s George Bellows amazing “Snow Capped River”.  In a highly narrative Prince-Valiant-like scene from the Hundred Years War, Edward Prince of Wales, the Black Prince, kneels in frozen tribute to the fallen blind King of Bohemia, who lies dead on the battlefield.

About 6 blocks away, the Owens-Thomas House that The Telfair Museum of Art operates, is an excellent example of Regency architecture that somewhat reminded me of Charleston’s Aiken-Rhett House Museum because it has been left mostly unrestored.  The tour of it was also only fair.


Eight Newtowns Exist


There aren’t as many Newtowns as I expected to find, and the only one I’ve been to is in Australia. The New York Times calls it “a slightly offbeat suburb that brims with energy….”

I asked the man behind the desk at the big visitors’ centre in The Rocks if there was anything new to explore in Sydney since I hadn’t been there in 2 years.  He looked blank so I walked away.  He called me back and asked if I was interested in trendy neighborhoods.  I said maybe and he said, “Newtown”. He gave me a brochure that called it “Bohemian by Nature” and told me that it was still a somewhat affordable neighborhood in an increasingly expensive city.

The next day Ruth & I went to the mass transit office under Town Hall, and I said to the ticket seller, “We want to go to Newtown.”

“No, you don’t,” he replied.  I told him that one tourist brochure called it the “Pulsing Heart of the Inner Western suburbs–vibrant, bright, and buzzing.”  He looked disgusted but sold us tickets anyway.  It wasn’t very far, between Macdonaldtown and Stanmore on the Green Line about 10 minutes away.

We emerged from the commuter station on King Street, the main thoroughfare that snakes through Newtown, and strolled it from one end to the other, poking our heads into several shops. Many were trendy female clothing stores with not-so-PC names like Million Dollar Babe.  The fashions displayed were mostly 1950s retro or sex-for-sale.  The early afternoon human street traffic seemed mostly to be young men walking dogs and young women, often pregnant, pushing strollers.  The older citizens were sitting outside coffee shops.  We passed a bike seller named Hell on Wheels and lots of temporary-looking stores like Reclaim selling cheap furniture.  It looked like the kind of decaying inner city neighborhood where tattooed males and females with green hair and wearing look-at-me jewelry live for a few years until they get bored and move away.  I read that Newtown was the kind of place where you could dress in the style of any decade and hold anyone’s hand you like.  I took Ruth’s.

Newtown is also the name of the historically African-American community in Sarasota, Florida.  Many came to the area generations ago to work the groves, the rails, or the circus.  Newtown, Wales, original name Bettws Cedewain, has been around since the 13th century.  Newtown, MA, is a thriving community 7 miles from Boston.  In 2012 Money magazine named it America’s 4th best small city to live in.  There are also Newtowns in New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

But the Newtown really on my mind is in Connecticut.  In December 2012, 20 children and 6 adults were murdered there in Sandy Hook Elementary.  To promote healing, construction of a new school to replace the scene of the crime has occurred.