WOSU - Open Line

Nicki Chodnoff --- Roving Travel Reporter

Family Fun in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida - July 20, 2004 Broadcast

Tuolumne County, California - June 22, 2004 Broadcast

Taos, New Mexico - February 24, 2004 Broadcast

Barbados Jazz Festival - January 27, 2004 Broadcast

Art in the Hocking Hills - December 16, 2003 Broadcast

Castilla y Leon, Spain - November 4, 2003 Broadcast

Freeport, Maine - September 16, 2003 Broadcast

Florida's Space Coast - September 2, 2003 Broadcast

History in St. Augustine, FL - June 10, 2003 Broadcast

Richmond's Houses and Gardens - March 4, 2003 Broadcast

Family Skiing in Utah - February 11, 2003 Broadcast

Where's Waldo County Maine - November 5, 2002 Broadcast

Barging in Burgundy - October 22, 2002 Broadcast

Scary Northern Kentucky - September 17, 2002 Broadcast

Amarillo, Texas - August 13, & 20, 2002 Broadcast

Traveling in Northwestern Michigan - July 2, 2002 Broadcast

Family Fun in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida - July 20, 2004 Broadcast

Weather and water have been drawing visitors to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area since the late 1800s. The 26 communities and more than 35 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico make up the peninsula southwest of Tampa. Parts of the peninsula are little more than fingers of land on the barrier islands a block or two wide.

Variety is part of the reason St. Petersburg/Clearwater have been hosting families over the years. Kids can happily romp on the beach, at water parks or in resort pools for hours. In addition to those tried-and-true activities, here are a few family-friendly things we enjoyed during our June 2004 visit. These activities barely scratch the surface of what’s available.

Fort DeSoto Park -- The 900-acre county park has seven miles of beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and is consistently rated as one of America's top 10 beaches. Comprised of five pristine islands, the park includes the #1 beach in the continental United States in 2003 as ranked by Dr. Beach, Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University. Not only is the park family-friendly, with a sheltered lagoon for little swimmers and a campground, it’s pet friendly. Dogs can run unleashed in their own enclosed beachfront park, the “Paws Playground.” Think of Fort DeSoto as beachfront accommodations for the budget minded. Camping (either in an RV or tent) and picnic areas are staggered under lush live oak trees. Whether picnicking, finding a site for your RV or pitching your tent, many of the areas are waterfront. Visitors can swim, sun, fish from two piers, sail, kayak, canoe, roller blade, hike along nature trails or bird watch. The park includes a stone and shell fort built in 1898 to protect Tampa Bay area during the Spanish-American War. Free guided history and fort tours are offered by park rangers.

Captain Memo’s Pirate’s Cruise -- Sailing from the Clearwater Municipal Marina, you know the kids will love the two-hour cruise. After pictures with the captain as you board, buccaneers start squirting the kids with water guns shortly after the ship sails. Geared for kids of all ages, the pirates, with zany names like bilgewater Bill, jewel thief Julie, and gangplank Gary, lead the kids in a treasure hunt, water gun battles, games, dancing and other pirate antics. On our cruise, musical chairs was the defining event for the grand prize of a key chain. Moms and dads can join in the fun, take in the scenery, take videos or photos or look for dolphins. Mostly, we noticed parents relaxing with a beverage (beer is free on the cruise) or capturing those memories with camcorders.

Great Explorations - the Children’s Museum - St. Petersburg, FL - For a change of pace or a rainy day, this hands-on museum lets kids play and learn about scientific principles. Once inside the museum, there seems to be a great divide. Parents are sitting, relaxing or reading a magazine in the reading area while the kids are in constant motion trying the hands-on exhibits. Kids can play synthesized music on a laser beam harp, learn about air pressure (the theory behind how planes fly) by floating plastic balls over air vents, use a strobe and string to create patterns and try more than 20 other interactive exhibits that challenge and entertain. There’s even a gated section for younger kids where they can dress up in costumes.

Horse Camp at the Horse & Buggy Bed & Breakfast 6125 62nd Avenue N. Pinellas Park, FL located on a 12 acre horse farm in the city of St. Petersburg, horse enthusiasts can saddle up for a little equestrian fun. The multi-week horse camp lasts too long for most visitors. However, youngsters can take riding lessons, learn how to bathe and groom horses, and find out how to hitch them to a wagon. In about a 20 minute mini lesson, Kendall learned how to balance herself on a horse. First she let go of the reins and swung her arms, should high, front to back. With that balancing act under her belt, she learned to balance without her feet in the stirrups. The grand finale, riding without holding the reins and without feet in the stirrups. What a sense of accomplishment she took from that mini-lesson. Even visitors too young for these activities, under the age of three, can enjoy a supervised pony ride.
xxxxxxxxxAfter a busy day of taking the reins, kids can ride in a carriage, a buggy or a hay-wagon or cool off with a dip in the pool. A half-hour pony ride, for example, costs $20, and an hour-long riding lesson is $35. Visitors do not have to be guests of the inn to participate.
xxxxxxxxxThe inn has seven guestrooms: Three rooms in the main house are reserved for adults. The carriage house and the separate family house are suited for kids. A stay starts around $65 per night, per room. 727/547-2646.

Sunset at Clearwater -- Move over Key West. Clearwater celebrates sunset every day in a family-friendly and free way at Pier 60. The party starts two hours before sunset with artisans and crafters showing and selling their works. Stands line both sides nearly the full length of the fishing pier. Street entertainers juggle and paint faces. Entertainers perform live music in the beach-side pavilion. A beachfront playground gives the kids a chance to move and play. Watching a sunset is too slow an activity for many kids and the playground proves good entertainment before and after sunset. After sunset, the entertainment continues for another hour or two, depending on the time of year.

Busch Gardens -- The beautiful 335-acre theme park started as a beer garden. Now it’s a mix of wild coasters and wild animals. It’s still very park looking, with beautiful trees, shady areas, flowers and fountains. On a hot day, nothing beats getting soaked. Busch Gardens’ three water rides are great ways to get down-to-the-skin wet: a tidal wave ride, a more sedate log flume and the river rapids. To view animals, head to the 26-acre Serengeti Plains (the best vantage point is on the sky ride) complete with elephants, rhinos, hyenas and giraffes. The cool, jungle-like Myombe Reserve is home to chimpanzees and gorillas. The North African architecture in the Egyptian area has a replica of King Tut's tomb and themed souvenirs in the gift-shop. Thrills are provided on the five roller coasters including the 8000-ft Gwazi wooden roller coaster. Kiddie rides and entertainment -- bumper cars, a sand dig in Egypt, a bird show theater -- are in the Congo and Timbuktu areas. Rhino Rally, the park’s signature attraction, takes you on a wild jeep ride though animal habitats. The newest attraction is Katonga, Tales from the Heart of Africa, a Broadway-style musical of folklore and fables.

When parents want some alone time, many hotels and resorts in the area offer children’s programs. Not all children’s programs are limited to guests. Here are three properties in the area that offer children’s programs.

  • Marriott Suites on Sand Key in Clearwater Beach
  • TradeWinds Island Grand Resort, St. Pete Beach -- KONK Club and Red Beard Pirate Show
  • Camp CeSar at the Don CeSar Resort St. Pete Beach

For more information on the St. Petersburgh/Clearwater area, click here.

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Tuolumne County, California - June 22, 2004 Broadcast

The discovery of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills in 1848 touched off the largest gold rush in history. Tuolumne County California is in the heart of the state’s Gold Rush Country. Even though the gold is mostly gone, Tuolumne County is still rich in things to do and see. The county is home to more than half of Yosemite National Park and is the gateway to the park from San Francisco.

Columbia State Park - A real rough-and-tumble mining town, Columbia was in the heart of California’s Mother Lode, a mile wide and 120 mile long swath of land that contained gold-bearing quartz. In 19th century prices, miners in Columbia extracted $87 million in gold. Though Columbia never was never deserted, it fell into decay and disrepair. Through years, Columbia looked much the same as it did when miners thronged its streets. To preserve this colorful part of California history, the State Legislature designated the entire town a State Historic Park in 1945. Entrance to the state park is free. The town recreates the what the town was like between 1850 and 1870. It takes about 2 hours to look at the 50-some buildings and exhibits and talk to the costumed townspeople who will tell you what Columbia was like when miners rubbed elbows with bankers and merchants.

Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys CA - Founded in 1989, the family-owned vineyards are much more than a wine-making operations. The 1,150 acre estate contains a replica of a 1859 gold stamp mill that leads to a beautiful series of lakeside gardens. Free daily tours and wine tasting You can also buy some food and wine at their deli and have a picnic on the grounds.

Yosemite National Park - Photography tour -- A free tour led by professional photographers is available through the Ansel Adams Gallery year-round and by a Kodak representative during the summer. Walking into the meadow near the gallery, photographers talk about composition, lighting and other important photographic concepts. This valley vantage point gives you opportunities to photograph Half Dome and El Capitan.

Yosemite National Park - Valley Tram Tour -- The open air tram travels along the Yosemite valley on a two hour tour so you get a lay of the land. The narrated park ranger tour stops at two spots where you can take photographs of Bridalveil Falls and the tunnel view. At the end of the Wawona Tunnel, it gives you the classic view of the Yosemite Valley that includes El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls. In fall through spring, tours are offered by motorcoach.

Gold Prospecting Adventures - Jamestown - Panning for Gold with a real prospector. You’ll get the gold bug before the day is out is what owner Bryant told us. He was right. You get a brief history of the Mother Lode and the gold prospecting process before you’re handed a pan full of dirt. Bryant demonstrates the four-step panning process and helps everyone with the steps. Everyone walks away with a few flakes of gold as your initial pan is seeded. That glint of gold at the bottom of your pan becomes addictive after you get the hang of panning. You dig the dirt for subsequent pans from a dirt mound acquired over the winter months. Even so, nearly everyone found more gold flakes -- and some fools gold -- which looks equally beautiful. One person in our group even found a gold nugget that weighed about 1/4 ounce.

Whitewater Rafing - Tuolumne River - Sierra Mac Rafting -- Much wilder than anything Disney can conjure up, whitewater rafting on an 18 mile stretch of the Tuolumne River is an adventure you’ll long remember. The one-day trip fords through a variety of Class-III and Class-IV rapids. Longer trips, where you camp along the banks, are afforded. For white-knuckle adventurers the upper portion of the Tuolumne River is all Class V.

For more information, contact Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau or 800/446-1333.

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Taos, New Mexico - February 24, 2004 Broadcast

Weathered, dusty, yet vibrantly alive, Taos is a place for convergence and art seems to be at the heart of the community. Home to about 6,000 people, Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultures easily mix here, like chiles, cilantro and tomatoes in a salsa.

About 140 miles north of Albuquerque, Taos sits on a high and wide mesa at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico. About 7,000 feet above sea level, Taos is near imposing Wheeler Peak, which reaches to 13,000 feet, the highest crest in New Mexico.

Taos thrives on art. The Tiwa people of Pueblo de Taos, who call themselves the people of the red willows, were making elegant pottery for hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived.

Mica-flecked pottery and silver jewelry are still made by local artisans and sold at many of the individually owned curio shops within Pueblo de Taos. Contemporary Pueblo fine artists combine Indian tradition with modern artistic expression.

Taos Pueblo has been a center of Native-American culture since the 17th century. The only living Native American community designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark, the multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for more than 1000 years. Located in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, the houses and ceremonial centers are derived from the pre-historic Anasazi Indian tribes. Pueblo de Taos is thought to have appeared before 1400 and is the best preserved of the pueblos north of the border defined by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848).

Still an active community, the Pueblo is generally open to visitors daily, except when tribal rituals close the Pueblo, and for about 10 weeks in late winter to early spring. Call ahead 758-1028. Admission to the Pueblo includes a guided tour.

Taos as a modern artist colony began due to an accident. That designation can be traced to a broken carriage wheel. In 1896, Ernest L. Blumenschein and Bert G. Phillips, two young American artists, were touring the Southwest to do illustrations. In northern New Mexico their surrey caught in a rut and broke one of the wagon wheels. As luck would have it, the nearest blacksmith was in Taos, 20 miles away. Blumenschein lost a coin toss and headed to Taos to fix the broken wheel.

Phillips joined Blumenschein in Taos when the carriage was fixed and never left. Blumenschein stayed a few months, but returned frequently. Both told artists friends about the beauty of the Taos and many came. In July 1915, Blumenschein, Phillips, and four others founded the Taos Society of Artists. Blumenschein and his artist wife settled in Taos permanently in 1919.

In a city with more artists per capita than Paris, the history, art and culture of Taos is preserved in seven unique museums and the Taos pueblo.

The Blumenschen House and Museum - Located in the 1797 structure the Blumenscheins bought when they settled in Taos. Its maintained more or less as the Blumenscheins left it, and it gives you an idea of life in Taos in the 1920s. Featured are the works of both Blumenscheins, their daughter and some of the other members of the Taos Society of Artists.

Harwood Museum of Art - Operated by the University of New Mexico, the Harwood features paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photography by artists from Taos and the region. As the second oldest museum in the state, the collection includes Taos Moderns, a post-WW II influx of modernist painters. The Harwood also preserves a photographic archive of images of the land, people and art work of New Mexico and an important collection of Hispanic works.

Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House - In 1927 Nicolai Fechin joined the growing number of artists moving to Taos. Born 1881 in Russia, he studied at the Art Academy in Petrograd and taught art before coming to the United States. He completely reconstructed the interior of his Taos adobe home, adding his distinctly Russian wood carvings and creating one of the most unusual and beautiful Taos homes open to the public. The furniture, doors, windows, corbels and beams were all crafted by Fechin's hand. In addition to the extraordinary home, you can see original examples of Fechin's artwork.

Just outside town is the Millicent Rogers Museum. A nationally recognized patron of the arts who lived in Taos from 1947 to 1953, the core of the exhibition is her collection of Southwest Native American and Hispanic art, including jewelry and pottery. The collection is supplemented with contemporary native works.

The La Hacienda de los Martinez -- One of the few northern New Mexico style, late Spanish Colonial period "Great Houses" in the American Southwest. Built in 1804 by Severino Martin (later changed to Martinez), this fortress-like building with massive adobe walls became an important trade center for the Spanish Empire. It was the final terminus for the Camino Real (the royal road) which connected northern New Mexico to Mexico City. The Hacienda's 21 rooms surrounding two courtyards provide a rare glimpse of rugged frontier life in the early 1800s.

Kit Carson Home & Museum -- In 1826, 17 year-old Christopher "Kit" Carson arrived in Taos, running from an apprenticeship in Missouri after joining a wagon train heading west. Carson became a translator, trapper, mountain man, scout, Indian Agent and military officer. He purchased the large adobe house in 1843 as a wedding present for his bride, Maria Josefa Jaramillo. The house was their permanent home until their deaths in 1868. The museum contains a portion of Carson's original home. Artifacts and exhibits illustrate the life story of Carson, his family and the character of frontier life in Taos. Other exhibits depict the importance of the Native American and Hispanic cultures in the history of northern New Mexico.

For $20 visit all seven Taos museums with one discounted ticket that’s honored for one full year from the date of purchase. And it's transferable - so pass it on to a friend if you don't have time to visit all the museums. Ask at any of the seven locations.

Downtown Taos is best explored on foot. The historic town plaza, the original center for trade and gossip through the centuries, is still the heart of town. Shops and galleries housed in the former mercantiles circle three sides of the plaza. An old-fashioned gazebo sits in the middle. Activity draws more activity in the plaza. A saxophone player begins a spontaneous soliloquy and a few minutes later is joined by a trumpet player and drummer. In warmer weather, the plaza is the gathering spot for fairs, festivals and cultural events. Walking from shop to shop, there’s a variety to see and buy: souvenirs, geodes, art of all manner and kind and food.

The curious can stop at the old Hotel de la Fonda de Taos, home to the restaurant Joseph’s Table. For $3, the hotel allows the curious to view D.H. Lawrence paintings that were once banned in England. Scandalous in their time, the paintings are more tame than watching MTV, according to one person who viewed them.

Kit Carson Road marks the northern edge of Taos Plaza. Galleries, craft shops, bed and breakfast inns and the low-slung adobe Kit Carson Home and Museum all can be found here. In fact, many of the town’s older structures call this stretch of original Taos home. Neighboring Bent Street combines an Old West feeling with upscale shopping and still more art galleries.

For more information, contact The Taos Chamber of Commerce.

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Barbados Jazz Festival - January 27, 2004

It doesn’t get any better than taking a vacation on a lovely tropical island and enjoying a hobby or activity you love. That’s what people who attended the 11th Annual Barbados Jazz Festival, held in mid-January, were able to experience.

The key performers in this year’s festival included nationally known stars such as India.Arie, Herbie Hancock, Fourplay, Kirk Whalum and Joe Sample. Local jazz musicians such as Andrian "Boo" Husbands and Michael Cheeseman also got to showcase their talents.

The seven-day festival included evening performances during the week with two or three performers per evening. The cost for evening performances ranged from $25 to $40 for the Herbie Hancock set. Saturday and Sunday performances featured four artists. Nearly all day affairs, they started in the afternoon and continue well into the night. Weekend performances offer the best deal as you get to see more artists for a mere $25. A season tickets for six days of performances was $160.

The festival was staged at different and lovely locations around the island, which is the most easterly in the Caribbean. Weekday venues included Heritage Park and the historic Sunbury Plantation. Weekend performances were staged at Farley Hill National Park. All performances were held outdoors.

Sunbury Plantation House is a 300 year old plantation in the country. Victorian-style rooms are furnished with Barbadian mahogany antiques, china and silver. The family-friendly Farley Hill National Park, near the island’s east coast, offers dramatic views of the rugged Scotland district and the coast. The grounds of the once regal Farley Hill house, regarded as the most impressive mansion in Barbados, are in a forest of mahogany trees, high up on a hill. You can tour the modern Foursquare Rum Factory and explore Heritage Park featuring an art foundry, craft shops and beautifully landscaped gardens.

Barbados is a coral island, pushed out of sea by volcanic activity. The island's west coast is the place for white sand beaches along a blue-green sea. Coral reefs fringe the Barbados shoreline for snorkeling and scuba diving. Along the east coast a lively surf is blown briskly by the strong and constant trade winds. The waves pound against a rocky shore. The constant breeze of the trade winds give Barbados a mild and pleasant tropical climate.

The mostly flat coral island does have rolling hills, deep ridges and gullies, and diverse flora and fauna. Within the Barbados coral core there is a vast array of caves and underground lakes which provide an excellent supply of drinking water that is among the purest in the world.

Geologically Barbados is unique, being two land masses that merged together over the millenia.

For more information, contact the Barbados Jazz Festival or the Barbados Tourism Authority.

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Art in the Hocking Hills - December 16, 2003

The Hocking Hills have become Columbus, Ohio’s close-by getaway with plenty of places to play and relax. The hills and open spaces that beckon to vacationers also call to artists. More than 300 artists and craftsman call the three-county region home, about 60 are listed in the Art of the Hocking Hills Guide.

Artisans run the gamut from individuals carrying on traditional crafts to artisans with national or worldwide followings and exposure such as Nancy Crow and David Hostetler. In an effort to promote local artists, galleries and cultural centers, the Hocking Hills Artisan Trail has been established. There are two alternatives for the trail: a Hike in the Hills and Wander through the Woods, both have an “Off the Beaten Path” option. Travelers can visit individual artists and see them at work in their studios, or see a collection of local work in retail galleries and in Cultural Centers and schools. Some artists allow visitors in their studio by appointment only.

Here are some of the artists I visited during my trip:

Nate and Michele Stitzlein -- Baltimore - Working out of a former Grange Hall, Nate and Michele Stitzlein brought the building back to life as the Art Grange. Their work features sculptures from found objects, fiber art and wire sculpture. The Stitzlein’s art is shown at Studio B in Lancaster or in their studio.

Nancy Crow - Baltimore - Working in a restored barn on a strawberry farm, Nancy specializes in quilts, which are sold at local galleries and from her studio. Each spring and fall, quilting classes are offered. Tours of the studio are available by appointment.

Tea at Annie’s - Lancaster - Enjoy a scone and a cup of tea at Annie’s, known for her rich cheesecake, and you can find locally produced crafts at the Main Gallery in the same downstairs space.

Lunn Fabrics - Lancaster - Internationally known quilt artists Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka are fabric designers and manufacturer’s of handmade fabrics that work out of their Lancaster studio. Tours of the fabric showroom and studio are offered Friday and Saturday. Hand-made art quilts and limited edition painted or printed fabrics are sold out of the showroom.

Ava’s Jewelry - Lancaster - An artist who creates fine jewelry, Ava’s new store represents a variety of local artists, who mainly create jewelry.

Donna Voelkel - Rock Bridge - Painting from her Catch the Wind studio, Donna creates oil paintings or decorative art in acrylics on wood, furniture and slate.

Old Bear’s Den - Photographer Eric Hoffman offers photography workshops for individuals, photo clubs and organizations. Classes are scheduled 6 to 8 times a year. You can take an 8-hour Saturday and Sunday course. For the Saturday-only session, it’s $129. If you also want to add on Sunday, it’s $99 additional. A quicker 5 hour course if given on Wednesdays for $69. Courses for digital cameras are in the works for this year.

Artisan Mall - Logan - Under one large roof, you can find a huge selection of art, crafts, antiques, collectibles and some outright junk from about 200 people.

Jean Magdich - Hocking House in Logan - The authentic log cabin from the 1800s is the spot where clay artist Jean Magdich sells her clay artwork for the garden and crafts from local artists.

Delmatto Glass - Logan - It’s mesmerizing to watch Nick Delmatto, using traditional glassblowing techniques, work glowing, molten glass from his white-hot furnace into unusual glass vases and paperweights. Each piece is blown one at a time. A vase can take up to an hour until it becomes a finished work of art.

Hostetler Studios - Athens - David Hostetler’s home serves as one of his galleries for his creations in wood. Wood sculptures can be from a diminutive foot tall to towering 13 feet tall. Some wooden pieces are cast in bronze and displayed throughout the grounds.

Passion Works Studio - Athens - People with developmental disabilities collaborate with professional artists to create fine art and high quality art products. Profits from the artwork and products funds employment in the arts and other art programs. Their signature art piece is the passion flower, made from recycled printers’ plates from the Athens Messenger Newspaper that are hand-painted.

Starbrick Clay - Nelsonville - A fine art ceramic gallery finds its home in a restored Victorian storefront on the Square. Local artists exhibit and sell their work here while ceramics classes and supplies are located at the back of the building. The gallery is one of the stops on “Final Fridays” On the last Friday of each month, galleries are all open for the public to view their art.

Paper Circle - Nelsonville - A few doors down from Starbrick Clay, the workshop runs classes to promote book and paper arts. Open studio Saturdays, from 2 to 6 p.m. every Saturday, are classes to introduce people to the paper arts and a great place to learn a new craft or while away a rainy afternoon. For $5 per person, per Saturday, you can learn how to work with paper maiche, mask masking, paste paper or origami. One technique is taught each Saturday and classes will interest kids 10 and older.

Bowen House Art Center - built in 1831, the was left by a Bowen family member for the purpose of serving the community. The house offers music lessons, recitals, concerts on the lawn, art classes, art displays and writing classes.

Kennedy Museum of Art - the former administrative center for the Athens Psychiatric Hospital, which is listed on the National Historic Register, showcases a collection of Native American Southwestern art. Located on an area on the Ohio University campus called the Ridges, the museum also features changing exhibitions - many with an Appalachian theme.

Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center - Athens - The center features fine art exhibits, educational classes, workshop and a gallery that represents 90 regional artists. Perhaps the most celebrated functions are two international exhibits that occur every other year: Quilt National and Bead International.

Places to Stay
Dum-Ford House at the foothills of the Hocking Hills in Amanda
Glenlaurel - Rockbridge - Scottish country inn on a wooded 140-acre tract with a manor house, crofts and cottages.

For more information on the Art of the Hocking Hills, click here.

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Castilla y Leon, Spain - November 4, 2003

Mention Spain and many people think of bullfights and flamenco. Yet an hour and a half northwest of Madrid, is a region that offers a completely different side of Spain and is not well known by North American tourists. One of 11 regions that our comparable to our states, Castilla y Leon is Spain’s largest region. Roughly the size of Ohio, Castilla y Leon is made up of nine provinces and is a mix of what the Midwest and Plains states are in the U.S. Though not a tourist attraction like Madrid, Seville or Barcelona, Castilla y Leon has the right stuff: 130 museums, 200 castles, 12 cathedrals and three World Heritage cities: Avila, Salamanca and Segovia.

We may know about Columbus' voyage to the Americas representing Spain, but most of us know little Spanish history beyond that. Castilla y Leon (meaning castle and lion) is often referred to as the cultural heartland of Spain and is the region that shaped the nation when it was the stage upon which the Moors and Spanish fought. History is easy to come by in Spain and nearly everywhere you look, there are historic buildings and places. Here are a few of the historic areas I visited.

Burgos: its perfectly conserved medieval town center looks onto the cathedral, classified as a World Heritage site. A masterpiece of gothic art, the cathedral was built between 1221 and 1731 and is the third largest cathedral in Spain, (about 250 feet long and 180 feet wide). Most impressive is the finely worked floral decoration of its two spires. Not far from the cathedral stands the monastery of Miraflores (Cartuja de Miraflores) also known as the Monastery of Las Huelgas which holds the tomb of Don Juan and Dona Isabel, parents of Queen Isabella who ruled a united Spain with King Ferdinand and financed Columbus' trip.

Leon - is a provincial capital with a cosmopolitan flavor. The independent kingdom that combined with Castillo to form Castillo y Leon was once the headquarters of the 7th Roman Legion and later the capital of Christian Spain. The Gothic cathedral in the Old Quarter is known for its 125 stained glass windows that soar 110 feet to a vaulted ceiling. The present cathedral was built on the site of three previous cathedrals. The adjoining Basilica de San Isidoro houses a collection of ancient manuscripts and is the burial place of the kings of Leon.

Astorga - predates Roman times and has been an important stop for pilgrims along the way of St James to Santiago de Compostela. It is also the home to Gaudi's fanciful neo-Gothic Palacio Episcopal, which now serves as a museum for art and folk artifacts. As the first city in Europe to manufacture chocolate in the 17th century, Jose Luis' Chocolate Museum displays a fascinating collection of chocolate making equipment plus gives out free samples of heavenly chocolate. The Roman Museum contains artifacts from the time Astorga was the administrative center for gold mined by the Roman Legion.

Zamora - The town dates back to Roman times and is on the old Roman silver route. In the town where El Cid studied, there are 23 Romanesque churches from the 12th century. Narrow streets and a compact old quarter make it comfortable for walking. An overlook onto the Duerto River near the Palacio Episcopal gives a commanding view of the old and new parts of the city. Foundation stones from an old Roman bridge still sit in the river.

Salamanca - The city is a veritable museum of architecture. Its buildings, constructed with local stone, are known for their beautiful golden-rose color. During the 16th century, this stone was finely worked to produce marvelous filigree work that's known as Plateresque. The university, built in 1218, is the oldest in Spain and is open for tours. On a par with Oxford and the university in Bologna, Italy, the university is associated with many of Spain's most illustrious figures. From Cervantes to Unamuno, many studied and sometimes taught here. The hustle and bustle of daily life is found around Plaza Mayor, the town square, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.

Part of the pleasure of traveling around Spain is taking in the culture. One of the best ways to experience the past is staying in a paradore, historic buildings such as convents, castles and monasteries that are turned into boutique hotels. These incredible places came to be because Spain had a dilemma on its hands. Historic buildings throughout the country, some nearly a thousand years old, were abandoned and in disrepair. The country's heritage and history were tied up in these buildings and Spain needed a way to save these monuments. The solution: the paradores system. In 2003, the Spanish paradores concept celebrated its 75th year. The idea is to provide good service, modest prices and good food, featuring regional dishes. The buildings are modernized with all the amenities but the facades and as much architectural detail as possible are kept. Based on their historic value and location, paradores are rated by the star method with five stars being the best. Not all paradores are historic. Some are newly built hotels located in scenic areas such as the Cervera Del Pisuerga Paradore.

Along with the pleasure of staying in a remarkable building or location, paradores offer savings. There are several ways to save. You can take advantage of seasonal differences in price. Nov. through Feb. is the least expensive time. March through June and Sep. through October are good times to visit weather-wise and price-wise. Those shoulder-season times are less expensive than high season, though somewhat higher than Nov. through Feb. Stay three days or more and you get a long-term rate. A mid-week stay is less expensive than staying on the weekends. People 60 years or older also get a discount. You must present proof of age, such as a passport, when checking in.

Here are the paradores I stayed at:

  • Parador Cervera de Pisuerga - 3 star - In the mountains of the Picos de Europa, the parador overlooks the waters of the Ruesga reservoir
  • Parador Lerma - 4 star - Former castle and palace of a duke. Built in 1617. Opened in April 2003, it is one of the largest paradores in the system.
  • Parador de León - 5 star - On the Plaza San Marcos, in the 16th century, the parador once housed a convent and hospital for pilgrims.
  • Parador de Zamora - 4 star - Located in a 15th cen. Renaissance palace which was built on a former Roman citadel, the parador faces the Plaza de Viriato

Castilian Spanish - This is the language of the land and differs from Latin American Spanish as would the clipped speech of someone from Maine differ from a Southern drawl. The difference is the way the letter “s,” “z,” and a soft “c” are pronounced. Castilian Spanish makes those letters sound like a “th” giving that unique lisping sound.

Lifestyle: Spaniards are not morning people. In fact, elementary school children don’t start school until 10 a.m. Though breakfast may be quick and light, lunch is a leisurely and lengthy affair that starts about 2 p.m. and concludes around 5 p.m. For most Spaniards, it’s the main meal of the day. Many shops are closed during this afternoon interlude. In the smaller towns such as Salamanca about 6 p.m. people head to the town square, or Plaza Mayor, for some socializing. Don’t think about eating dinner until 9 p.m. or later. Though dinner may have 4 or 5 courses, it is usually lighter than lunch. Tapas are a popular dinner option. It seems that every 3rd or 4th building in a Spanish town can be a restaurant, bar or café. It’s not uncommon for Spaniards to work their way down a street, stopping at tapas bars or restaurants. At each, they will munch a few of the famous Spanish hor d’oeuvres, wash them down with a glass of wine or beer, chat with friends and then go to the next tapas bar. It’s not the Spanish way to rush around. The lifestyle is slower and much less stressful. The further you radiate from Madrid, the slower the pace of life.

You Gotta Eat -- Eating is an adventure in Castilla y Leon. This heartland region produces a good portion of the country’s wheat, barley, vegetables, beans, grapes (the region is an important wine producer), chorizo (the spicy Spanish sausage), and other food staples.

Paradores -- For breakfast, be sure to try tortilla de potata, a tasty potato omelet that’s part of the breakfast buffet at every parador. Most restaurants also offer it for breakfast. Think of it as the national dish. Looking somewhat like a quiche but without the cream, every family and restaurant makes its own version that can include more or less egg and onion.

El Convent De St. Maria de Mave -- Palencia, Spain -- This former convent and monastery dates back to the 12th century. It was used until the 18th century and has stood empty until it was refurbished in 1992. Now the property houses a restaurant, inn, gardens and a zoo. Here you can eat gourmet quality food at little more than fast-food prices. Get the fixed-price five-course sampler menu, which includes wine, for $30 euros. This meal would surely cost you twice that amount in Madrid, Barcelona or Columbus. Yes, it is off the beaten path, but that is part of the charm. The presentation is as creative as the food. Warm carrot soup, topped with potato foam, a regional specialty, is served in a martini glass. Duck ham is a local specialty where duck breast is cured like prosciuto ham.

Travel Tip: Miss the U.S.? Get that back-home feeling by eating a peros caliente -- hot dogs to the uninitiated. Spaniards love all things America and have developed a passion for hot dogs. They are served exactly as in the U.S. on a bun.

For more information, contact the Tourist Office of Spain 212/265-8822. Marketing Ahead, representative of Spanish paradores and hotels 800/223-1356.

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Freeport, Maine - September 16, 2003

It is nothing short of remarkable. A little New England town with 7,500 year-round residents attracts 3.6 million visitors a year and manages to keep its essence.

Freeport, Maine is definitely a tourist destination as it is home to the mother of outlet stores, the L.L. Bean Factory Outlet, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and a slew of other outlet stores. Yet, the millions of feet that march up and down Freeport’s brick pavements and climb onto its granite curbs after crossing the street to shop at the outlets do so on the town’s terms.

First, the outlet stores along Main St. conform to what Freeport has looked like and intends to look like, your typical New England village. Each outlet calls a historic building, or a new building built to look historic, home. In fact, McDonald’s blends so well into the community, housed in an old white clapboard saltbox house with its golden arches stashed into a small 4 x 3 foot sign, you know it is there by the unmistakable scent of fries.

Freeport, and the rest of Maine still consider civility a quality-of-life-style issue. In this rare instance people win out over cars. As posted on the signs all along Main Street, pedestrians come first. Drivers must stop and give pedestrians the right of way when they cross the street at the cross-walk.

Of course, the outlet stores are the main attraction in town. The town’s economy is tied to shopping and the L.L. Bean stores -- both retail and catalog. But there is so much more to do and see you owe it to yourself to scratch below the shopping surface. Here are a few suggestions.

Swan Island -- Travelers who want to experience nature and how Maine looked about 75 to 100 years ago need to visit Swan Island. At the head of Merrymeeting Bay, the four-mile long and less than one mile wide island is a sanctuary for animals and preserves an 18th century landscape. The former farming community is now a state park. The nature-preserve wildlife area, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, limits the number of people allowed on the island on any given day to about 60. This includes the people who camped at any of the 10 campsites on the island or those just visiting for the day. Wildlife viewing is the main reason people visit. Seeing an animal can happen on the guided truck tour led by a naturalist along the one-lane four-mile long road that runs the length of the island. The white-tailed deer are use to the sounds of the truck so they barely move a muscle as it drives by. Two hiking trails, through deep woods and open fields, offer more chances to see wild turkeys, ground feeders who love the open pasture lands, soaring bald eagles and osprey or wild ducks. The one-lane road passes by the cemetery, where residents still rest, barns, homes (including one where Aaron Burr once slept) and structures the former residents used in everyday life. Open May through Labor Day, a day on the island, including the ferry service to the island and the guided tour costs $5 per person. If you want to camp overnight, the cost is $8 per person. Reservations are essential.

Outdoor Discovery School -- L. L. Bean attracts bargain shoppers from all over the world. But one of their best bargains isn’t found in the outlet store. The L. L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools offer Walk-In Adventures for people who may have never tried archery, fly fishing, kayaking or skeet shooting. As the name implies, you can sign up with little advance notice for a class to learn the basics in a number of sports for a mere $12, which includes instruction and equipment. Winter Walk-In Adventures include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The classes cost less than renting the equipment, which is top-of-the-line. For example, the skeet gun used in class costs $1,800. Instructors who excel in their sport teach classes that last 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Classes are geared with the idea that you are a beginner and want to learn what the sport is like. More advanced classes are offered for people who find they love the sport they tried during the Walk-In Adventure.

Jet Boat Rides to Merrymaker Bay -- Long Reach Cruises offers five themed cruises on the bay, which is the largest estuary north of Chesapeake Bay. Located in nearby Bath, some of the cruises offered are aboard a jet boat, which once ran the rapids on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, Idaho. Jet boats differ from air boats. They need about 18 inches of water to cruise and don’t have that large noisy fan at the aft (rear) of the boat. Jet boats are fast, they can travel up to 35 knots or about 46 miles per hour. Regardless if you choice the ship building and history, lighthouses or wildlife tour, there is always the chance you may see harbor seals, ducks, eagles and osprey.

Maine Maritime Museum -- The city of Bath, Maine was called the city of ships. At one time there were many shipbuilders in town constructing graceful sailing schooners. Constructed on the grounds of the Percy and Small Shipyard along the Kennebec River, the Maine Maritime Museum tells the story of shipbuilding, trade, fishing and life in coastal Maine. The Percy and Small shipyard constructed 41 wooden schooners from 1894 to 1920, a span of a mere 26 years. The pride of the shipyard was the six-masted schooner Wyoming, the largest wooden sailing vessel ever launched in the U.S. The historic shipyard buildings are filled with exhibits, tools and machinery that tell about the leading role the Percy & Small Shipyard had in Maine’s commercial shipbuilding history. To add to the realism of the machinery, tools and photos, sounds let you hear the sound of work in the various shipyard buildings. In the summertime, the museum offers guided tours, demonstrations and children’s activities.

Shop when the Locals Do -- Freeport’s outlet stores beckon to tourists and many come all summer long and through that bewitching New England time - fall foliage. But when do town residents shop? Chip Gray, co-owner of the 84-room Harraseeket Inn says the “wicked good” bargains are offered after the new year. From about mid-January through March is when the locals shop. Chip explained that all the holiday gift returns pour back to L.L. Bean right after the holiday season. Bean needs to make room for their spring and summer merchandise, so they slash prices to move returns and oversupplies. The rest of the outlet stores in Freeport follow suit. Items that might have an outlet price of $20 during the summer and fall can be slashed to $10 or $8 and sometimes more.

In the Middle of the Action -- While bus tours to Freeport are an everyday event, the best way to see the outlets and the beautiful coast surrounding the area is to go it alone. Freeport is a mere 30 minutes drive from Portland’s airport, where you can easily rent a car for your stay. Another option is to drive to Freeport, which depends on your starting point. Consider staying at the Harraseeket Inn, which is in the thick of all the shopping action. It’s in walking distance of all the outlet stores -- 2 blocks from the L.L. Bean Outlet and about 1 block from the L.L. Bean Walk On Adventures. Another advantage is the Harraseeket Inn has a parking lot for guests, a place for your car without the hassle of finding a long-term parking spot in compact downtown Freeport. The Harraseeket Inn offers several packages -- including a “Steal Away” package that’s perfect for off-season shoppers -- and is quite a bargain.

For more information on what to see and do in the Freeport area, contact the Harraseeket Inn or 800/342-6423.

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Florida's Space Coast - September 2, 2003

It seems wrong to visit land-locked Orlando and not take time to dip a toe into the miles of ocean that surround the Florida peninsula. Orlando’s closest beaches are about 45 minutes due east of the city. There lies 72 miles of coastline dubbed Florida’s Space Coast comprised of Titusville, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Palm Bay in Brevard County.

There aren’t many places on this planet where you can see an alligator along the road and a rocket launch pad in the same line of vision. The Space Coast is that place: a contrast of high-tech and nature where astronauts and space-bound rockets share space with a national wildlife refuge that’s home to endangered species such as the Western Indian manatee, Southern bald eagle and Atlantic loggerhead turtle.

For most travelers, a visit to the Space Coast offers another benefit, it is easy on the wallet. It’s an affordable side trip for families who can get two experiences for little more than the cost of one. Lodging rates around the Space Coast average about $76 per night during high season. Admission fees for museums, parks, rides and other attractions is low or free. Food is reasonably priced with a wide selection of cuisine.

Here are a few of the many things to do see.

The Kennedy Space Center -- is probably one of the best bargains in Florida. For $33, the maximum access pass for adults and $23 per child, you can spend the whole day learning and marveling about space and the history of this country’s space program. The one admission price gets you into the 140,000 mega-facility that includes the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame with simulation stations that let you feel the pull of 4Gs; the visitor complex with two IMAX movies, a rocket garden with Mercury and Gemini era rockets, a replica of the space shuttle and bus tours to launch pads; and the Apollo/Saturn V Center where you can see an authentic Saturn V rocket, the most powerful ever built.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge -- Free -- A buffer to protect people from the incredible energy released when massive rockets take off turns out to a haven for wildlife. The 220-square mile, 140,000-acre refuge, around the Kennedy Space Center, is home to more federally endangered species than any refuge in the United States. Five hiking trails from 1/4 mile to five miles in length may pass by estuaries, marshes and coastal dunes. A seven mile, one-way, self-guided driving tour includes numbered stops to areas where wading birds, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, alligators, otters, and other wildlife frequent. The 10-foot tower at Stop 8 offers a view of the surrounding marshes. The refuge is closed four days prior to a launch day.

Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge -- Free -- The 20 miles of coastline from Melbourne Beach to Wabasso Beach is the most important nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles in America and the second most important nesting beach in the world. Twenty-five percent of all loggerhead sea turtle and 35% of all green sea turtle nests in the United States occur in this 20 mile zone.

Canaveral National Seashore -- $5 per day, per car -- Adjacent to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, this barrier island along the ocean offers beach, dune, hammock, lagoon, salt marsh, and pine flatland habitats. About 1,045 species of plants and 310 species of birds can be found in the park including endangered species such as loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles; West Indian manatees; bald eagles; wood storks; peregrine falcons; eastern indigo snak;, and the Florida scrub jay. Walking the self-guided nature and historical trails is most comfortable during the cool winter months. Other activities include lagoon and surf fishing, boating, canoeing, surfing, sunbathing, swimming, hiking, and horseback riding. Turtle Watches are available June and July. Park visitors can join a ranger and watch a loggerhead sea turtle nest on the beach.

Port Canaveral -- The Space Coast is home to behemoth rockets and behemoth ships. Now the busiest passenger cruise terminal in Florida, Royal Caribbean, Disney, Holland America , Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival call this port home. The 86,000 ton Carnival Pride is the largest ship based at the port. When finished gazing at these monster ships, the port is the place recreation with boat ramps, bike paths, campsites, picnic areas, public parks, shops, restaurants and charter boats.

Airboat Rides - Lone Cabbage Fish Camp -- From $17 adults, $8.50 children. An airboat can skim over 6 inches of water. That’s only a little bit deeper than a puddle. That’s why airboats are the perfect transportation over the miles of marshy land near the St. John and Banana rivers. On 30, 60 and 90 minute rides, the airboats travel at speeds of up to 45 m.p.h. As the boat slows down to an idle, you have several opportunities to take photos. Local wildlife in the natural cypress swamp include alligators, eagles and wading birds. Our biggest surprise was spotting lots of wading cattle knee-deep in the marsh. Some were standing shoulder deep in the water munching on the abundant vegetation.

Island Boat Rides -- $18.50 adults, $9.25 for children. Two-hour tours on Island Boat Lines’ 55-passenger pontoon boat, Miss Florida USA, was relaxing and informative. A time for interacting between parents and children as our guide pointed out the natural world around us, we floated near the Thousand Islands along the Banana River lagoon estuary system. You never know what wild life you may see along the mangroves (black, white and red), the source of much life in the brackish wetlands. Our trip yielded mostly bird sightings: blue herons, bald eagles, ospreys, cormorants, and anhingas. Hoping to spot playful dolphins and manatees, we only caught glimpses of dolphin flippers and watery trails of manatees. In addition to the eco-tour, Island Boat Lines offers other tours from various locations in the Space Coast. fall. It will be known as M/V Indian River Queen.

Cocoa Beach Pier -- Established In 1962, the Cocoa Beach Pier is a historic landmark on Florida’s Space Coast. In one place, you can spend the whole day enjoying the beach and the traditional activities: sunning, surfing, swimming and fishing. One of the main attractions is fishing on the pier which ends 800 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. Bait is available and rods and reel can be rented. If you want to play volleyball on the beach or just take in some sun, Seadogs rents beach chairs, boogie boards and sells sundry items you forgot to bring along.

You Gotta Eat:

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp -- The old-style Florida fish camp on the banks on the St. Johns River serves local cuisine: alligator, frog legs, catfish -- all deep-fried. Part of the fun is eating out on the large deck or the screened porch -- both with views of the river. At the same location where you catch the airboat rides, Lone Cabbage Fish Camp is one of those rare places where worlds collide. It’s not unusual to find a mom and dad with kids in tow eating on the open deck, seniors coming for the airboat rides or bikers with black leather jackets rolling in on their Harleys. Everyone co-exists.

For more information, contact the Florida’s Space Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau or 800/93-OCEAN.

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There's a little known travel secret few insiders will tell you about -- half-price, day-of-performance tickets to shows and events. Special ticket outlets sell these discounted tickets to musicals, avant garde theatrical productions, Broadway plays, films, dinner theater, dance productions and sporting events. Discounts can be as much as 50 percent or more. Destinations include popular places such as Las Vegas and Fort Lauderdale. Some outlets even offer discount tickets to special museum events.

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History in St. Augustine, FL - June 10, 2003

St. Augustine is Florida's other face. As the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the Continental United States, it show cases nearly 500 years of America history. It started as a colonial backwater of the Spanish empire and once was the glamourous winter playground of the moneyed-set when Henry Flagler's railroad and hotels transformed the town more than a century ago.

While much of Florida looks like a new housing development, St. Augustine has character with old established neighborhoods, distinctive houses, and mature trees shading brick streets. Of the old colonial city, 144 blocks of historic houses still remain, many listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

History is everywhere and every time a shovel hits the ground more history is exposed. That's one of the reasons St. Augustine has a full time archeologist on staff. With the history angle in mind, and not touching on the many other things to do and see as beach and water activities, golf and natural attractions, here are a few historic highlights.

Ximenez-Fatio House -- Newly refurbished and with a new visitor center, the house was built about 1798, constructed of native coquina, incorporating Spanish and English design principles. Used primarily as a boarding house for most of its life, the rooms in the museum are furnished and decorated reflecting the visitors who might have stayed. One depicts what a convalescent's room might look like, coming to St. Augustine in winter for the mild weather. Another a naturalist exploring the area and documenting native species.

Castillo de San Marcos -- The original, historic bay-front fortress, also called the Fort,, is operated by the National Park Service and includes 25 acres. Built from 1672 to 1695 by the Spanish to protect the city from English expansion, it is the oldest masonry fortification in the U.S. It's massive seawall has never been taken by force. It's long history spans many owners. During the 18th century, the Castillo went from Spanish control to British and back to Spanish, who controlled it again until the U.S. purchased it in 1821.

Colonial Spanish Quarter -- Step beyond the threshold and you are back in 1740. Meet and talk with craftsmen, shopkeepers, soldiers and gardeners as they go through the routines of 18th century life. You might see a seamstress making clothes, a blacksmith forging implements or a housewife tending her garden and cooking lunch outdoors.

Gonzalez-Alvarez House -- Known simply as the oldest house, it presents life in St. Augustine over a span of more than 400 years. On the tour, docents tell how the house evolved from two main rooms to a two-story, multi-room residence. Owned and run by the St. Augustine Historical Society, the house is part of a complex that includes an extensive research library and museum which interprets St. Augustine's four centuries.

Old St. Augustine Village -- If nothing else, visit this city block with nine historic houses, owned by the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, just to sit and relax in the spectacular courtyards and gardens. The block contains the archaeological records of a 16th century hospital and cemetery and the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was read, that freed all slaves in Florida. The historic houses were owned by a wealthy developer who stored his vast collections of antiques, art and family heirlooms in them. The homes are restored to different time periods. Among the most interesting is the Murat house, once owned by a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum -- A once-neglected and vacated light station has been saved and remains an active aid to navigation. Its beam can be seen for 19 to 25 nautical miles. The dangerous waters around St. Augustine (the remains of nearly 300 ships are beneath the waters) prompted the Spanish to build a watchtower at the end of the 16th century. A beacon at this location, built in 1824, became Florida's first official lighthouse. You can walk the 219 steps to the observation tower and enjoy the panoramic view. The restored Victorian light keeper's house and houses a museum and gift shop.

Alligator Farm Zoological Park -- Okay it sounds tourist tacky, but it is more educational and entertaining than it sounds. The park, the original alligator attraction, is the only place in the world where you can see all the 23 currently recognized crocodilian species including albino alligators. For nature lovers, the bird rookery is a must. In the late afternoon, scores of herons, egrets and ibises return to the place where they roost for the night. April through July, these birds are in full breeding colors and are building nests and raising young. Accustomed to people, nests with baby birds might be 12 inches and at eye level from the boardwalk path through the rookery.

For more information, contact the St. Augustine, Ponte Verde & the Beaches, FL 800/418-7529 or

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Richmond's Houses and Gardens - March 4, 2003

Prepare to be surprised by beguiling Richmond VA, a city that’s a delight for visitors of all ages and especially lovers of history, gardens and architecture.

The city’s history is America’s history. John Smith boated up from Jamestown Va. Pocahontas lived here. England’s second successful settlement is here. Richmond has ties to Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Marshall. Plus Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Here are a few of the historic houses, turned museums, that open their doors to the public.

Agecroft Hall - This Tudor-style home was rescued from destruction in Lancashire, England in 1926. It was dismantled, brought across the ocean by ship and rebuilt on the banks of the James River. The lifestyle of the gentry, who financed America’s early colonies, is portrayed in the 17th century house. Designed by Richmond landscape architect Charles Gillette, the grounds and gardens reflect the Tudor and early Stuart periods.

Wilton House & Museum - One of the wealthiest and most influential families of colonial America, the Randolphs, built Wilton, their plantation manor house, in 1750 on high ground overlooking the James River as part of a 2,000 acre tobacco plantation. Filled with fine silver, porcelain, textiles and furniture, the parlor is considered one of the 100 most beautiful rooms in America.

Virginia House - had its beginnings in England as the12th century priory of St. Sepulchre. The Weddells acquired the manor in 1925 and saved it from demolition. It took several ships to carry the priory stones, carved and quarried more than 800 years before. Local craftsmen reconstructed the house in Richmond’s Windsor Farms along the James River. Landscape architect Charles Gillette created eight acres of gardens here.

Maymont - the 100-acre downtown oasis, near Byrd Park, is in an area that's Richmond’s equivalent of Central Park. The one-of-a-kind place includes a park; the Gilded-Age Romanesque Revival mansion of the Dooleys; the nature and visitor center that interprets the environment of the James River; the Italian and Japanese gardens with terraces, pergolas, pools and bridges; wildlife exhibits; the carriage collection; children’s farm and arboretum.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens - The gardens are on land Powhatan Indians once hunted and owned by Patrick Henry. Gardens bloom year-round with the addition of the new Victorian glass conservatory with its 63-foot dome which includes a palm house with changing displays of flowering plants. Outside areas include a sunken garden, exotic Asian garden, Victorian garden, wetland environment and a children’s garden.

Civil War Visitor Center - As the industrial and political capital of the Confederacy, Richmond had a pivotal role in the of the Civil War. The National Park Service’s Civil War Visitor Center is housed at the historic Tredegar Iron Works and serves as a jumping off point for the Richmond National Battlefield Park, a 60 mile driving tour that connects 11 Civil War sites. The iron works held the largest foundry in the pre-Civil War South and produced 90 percent of the canons for the Confederacy. The site commemorates Civil War campaigns to defend or capture the Confederacy capital. The center includes exhibits and audiovisual programs that introduce the history of the 1861 to 1865 story of Richmond.

Henricus Historical Park - Colonial history in central Virginia comes to life at the 1611 Citie of Henricus where the New World’s second successful English settlement is re-created. Costumed guides offer hands-on opportunities to learn what life was like in the 1600s at the English home of Pocahontas. The park is part of the Dutch Gap Conservation area.

Hollywood Cemetery - The cemetery is the resting place for more than 75,000 people including famous Virginians Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, General J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States. The cemetery also holds the remains of more than 18,000 Confederate dead. The garden-style cemetery features paths that wind through valleys and hills and offers great views of the James River.

Garden Week - If you love to peak around shrubs to see those hidden gardens or glance in windows while walking by to see what the inside of a house looks like, the Garden Club of Virginia has something for you. It’s called Garden Week and all through Virginia from April 19 to 27, people open their private homes and gardens for an admittance fee that benefits the garden club. Now in its 70th season, the event is known as “America’s Largest Open House”.
XXXXXXXXXPrices for tour tickets range from $10 to $30 per event, depending on the locality. Tickets can be purchased on the day of the event, at designated information centers and online at Proceeds help the club restore historic gardens and grounds throughout Virginia.
XXXXXXXXXEach event offers from five to six local houses and gardens that tour goers may view. Visitors typically drive to tour areas and are greeted by hostess guides on the tour. All houses will feature flower arrangements by garden club members with colorful seasonal plants that are native to the state.

Where the Locals Eat: Try Perly’s, an old-fashioned eatery that's a favorite hang out for the locals. Stop by in the morning or for lunch (not opened for dinner) and you may run into the governor, legislators and downtown workers stopping in for their morning grits.

Richmond’s in the midst of a restaurant renaissance. Here are a few restaurants that are raising the food bar.

Chez Fouchee - Open only for lunch, this is one of the places to see and be seen. Their budget box sandwiches won’t dent your budget and have a gourmet flair and taste. Their hot lunch platters are creative, inexpensive and can pass for dinner.

Pomegranate - A small, creative restaurant in the Tobacco Warehouse District allows you to dine in a quiet, unhurried atmosphere. The chef/owner offers European bistro-like food that includes pomegranates whenever possible.

Tobacco Company Restaurant - A fixture in the revitalized Shockoe Slip area for the past 20 years, the lively restaurant has a loyal following and always has something going on. Food is a cut above better bar fare. The real treat is the former tobacco warehouse and how it has been refurbished. Be sure to check out the brass chandelier that came from the Federal Reserve Bank in Cincinnati.

Richmond Pass - $15 gets you admission to five attractions from the 19 that participate including the Children’s Museum, Science Museum and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

Richmond Cultural Connection - Travel in comfort between Richmond’s most popular attractions, historic sites, gardens, shopping and dining areas. For $1, you can ride and transfer all day. The seasonal shuttle runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. or noon until 5 p.m. from June 7 through September 7.

Buy your CityPass or Cultural Connection tickets at the Richmond Region Visitor Center, 400 North Third St. 804/783-7450,

For more information, contact the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau 800/370-9004 or

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Family Skiing in Utah - February 11, 2003

Skiing in Utah was front and center in 2002 as Salt Lake City was host to the winter Olympics. The craggy mountain peaks and scenic canyons didn’t disappear at the end of the 17-day world event. The facilities and the scenery are still here for visitors to enjoy. Utah has 14 mountain resorts and 11 resorts are within 60 miles, or about an hour’s drive, of Salt Lake City. Utah bills itself as the “Greatest Snow on Earth.” It is hard-pressed to deny that claim when two family- friendly resort areas, Alta and Solitude, claim more than 500 inches of snow per year.

Alta is a throw back to what skiing was like 20 years ago or more. Located in the upper reaches of Little Cottonwood Canyon, within the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, it is one of four destinations that doesn’t allow snowboarding. Receiving about 500 inches of snow per year, all around Alta it is all about the snow. Pleasures are simple and unpretentious. Unlike most ski areas, Alta is a melange of small, privately owned lodges. You’ll find no high rises, tour buses or paparazzi here. It is not a place that exists for you to see, be seen and sport the latest ski fashion. Judging from the many jeans and sweats, the major goal is comfort on and off the slopes. The people who come to Alta are indifferent to fashion and other forms of one-upmanship.

The Alta Lodge, a family-focused property, is one of the oldest ski lodges in the country, dating back to 1939. Traditions are part of the allure of Alta Lodge where rooms have no TVs and guests can still sit at communal dining tables. Still sporting its industrial, cabin style from the 1930s, Alta Lodge gets into people’s blood. Chances are you do not know about Alta Lodge. But the people that visit keep coming back, as 80 percent of its visitors are repeat guests. Because of this ultra-loyal clientele, Alta Lodge does little advertising or promotion. The cult- like devotion extends to children.

Owner Bill Leavitt, also the mayor of Alta, bought the lodge back in the 1950s because none of the resorts in the area wanted to admit children, let alone teach them to ski. Alta Lodge still provides a Kid’s Program to children ages four to 12 that includes transportation from the lodge to ski lessons or daycare, afternoon activities from 4:45 to 8:30 p.m. which range from games, to arts and crafts and sled races. Their special children’s dinner at 6 p.m. let’s children eat what they like (hamburgers, pizza and pasta) without lengthily and fidgety pauses between courses.

For a European village atmosphere, Solitude Mountain Resort is a condominium community 12 miles up Big Cottonwood Canyon. Solitude makes sense for families as the apartment-like lodgings with kitchens, separate bedrooms and a living room can accommodate extended families. Solitude is a good choice for families with smaller children that aren't old enough to attend ski school.

Staying at Solitude offers convenience. Restaurants and shops are in the center of the village and chair lifts are a few steps beyond the six village lodges. At the center of the village, a lighted ice skating rink and fire pit provide an opportunity to glide along for a few laps on the ice and warm up with s’mores by the fire. Ice skate rentals are free. For the times you are not on the slopes, Club Solitude offers lodge guests free amenities such as movies each evening on the large screen in the media room, X-boxes and board games for kids in the Entertainment Room, an array of work-out equipment in the exercise room, a billiard table in the Billiard Room and a heated outdoor pool and hot tub.

For a change of pace, Solitude’s Nordic Center offers 20 kilometers of groomed trails for classic cross country and skate skiing and trails for snowshoeing. Ultra adventurous parents can find a challenge with the Back Tracks program, where two of the resort’s seasoned ski patrollers take you to the back country.

Skiing in Utah is family friendly. Many resorts offer children’s rates for lift tickets. A number of resorts allow kids to ski for free. Bright Ski Resort offers kids a free season’s pass by showing a copy of their birth certificate. At Park City, kids 12 and under ski, ride and sleep for free when accompanied by two adults. At Snowbird, up to two kids 12 and under ski and ride for free with the purchase of one adult all-day ticket. Nearly every resort or ski area offers special lift packages or passes to bring lift prices down. Check out the specials before you leave.

If you want your children to learn to ski the right way, send them to Ski School. My granddaughter Kendall, a seven-year-old who had never been on skis prior to her visit to Utah, made astounding strides in two days. Her first day on the slopes was with the Ski Adventure program at Alta where she learned the basics of putting on skis, getting up with skis on and how to stop. By the end of the day, she was at level 2 1/2 to 3. Her second day of ski school was at Solitude. Learned skills included turning, control and getting on and off the ski lift. Kendall ended her ski experience at a confident level 4 and loved the slopes so much, she kept asking if she can do just “one more run.” She has the basic skills, without learning bad habits, to enjoy skiing whenever and where ever the opportunity may present itself.

Discounts -- Utah bills itself as the “Greatest Snow on Earth” and to get access to the ski resorts around Salt Lake City, visitors can buy the Ski Salt Lake Super Pass, a multi-area lift voucher. Good for a day, the pass is accepted at Alta Ski Area, Brighton Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort, and Snowbird. Participating hotels and lodges in Salt Lake City and Park City sell the day pass. The pass costs less than any of the Salt Lake resort’s individual lift passes. Additional multi-area passes, which allow skiing at two or more resorts on the same day, are also available.

“Stay & Ski in 2003" is Ski Utah’s program to give winter sports lovers a reason to go back to Utah. The promotion offers up to two free lift tickets per reservation when you book four nights of lodging. All 14 Utah resorts are participating in the promotion. Just bring your Stay & Ski voucher, issued by your lodging company, to the resort ticket window to receive a free lift ticket. There are no blackout dates during the 2003 season.

Another option is to stay in Salt Lake City and take public transportation to the slopes. Ski Bus UTA and TRAX (the light rail system) will drop you and your skis (special racks hold skis out of the way) to many of the slopes for as little as $4 roundtrip. Schedules are at

For more information, 800/SKI-UTAH or

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Where's Waldo County Maine - November 5, 2002

Like looking for the elusive character in this well-know children’s game, many people ask “where’s Waldo” when you mention this county in the mid-section of Maine. Although the Maine coast stretches some 1,500 miles, many people whiz by the 26 towns that comprise Waldo County as they travel north on Route 1 heading to Bar Harbour or never drive the 30-some miles north when visiting better known Rockland. This lapse means that the lovely coastline and islands around Waldo County and the many things to see and do in towns such as Belfast and Searsport are never discovered by many tourist. Waldo County is just as lovely as its better know neighbors, perhaps lovelier because an overflow of tourists hasn't driven up the cost of nearly everything. Residents are can take the time to talk with visitors because they are not harried by the tourist throngs.

Here are some of the interesting things to see and do. Some attractions are seasonal and only open mid-spring through fall.

Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad - Whiz along at a whopping 15 miles per hour while a 1913 steam engine pulls the 1950s Swedish train car on 33 miles of track during the 2 1/2 hour ride. 90-minutes of the ride includes a narrated tour. The whole train ride offers marvelous views of Belfast Harbor, nearby countryside, waterways and coves. In the next year or two a railroad museum will be situated midpoint in the ride.

Penobscot Marine Museum - Searsport has the unique distinction of claiming that 10 percent of all ship captains were from this little town. In the 1930s, the community decided to preserve its maritime history and traditions by starting a museum, appropriately located near the head of Penobscot Bay. Intriguing artifacts and maritime art is spread among eight buildings in a historic district village ranging from a Victorian farmhouse to the former town hall. In addition to giving a glimpse into the 19th-century world of seagoing families from coastal Maine, the museum contains a library with a well-regarded maritime and genealogical collection.

Bryant Stove & Music Museum - One of the best examples of Americana and ingenuity is found in Thorndike, Maine. It all started when Bea Bryant purchased some cloth with a carousel pattern on it. She went on to make more carousels from the pattern and Joe Bryant motorized them and added wheels. The doll circus was added and then mechanical music, antique cars, toy engines and antique stoves. A collection was born. Joe is the genius behind fixing or automating many of the pieces, although he never received any formal training. He genius has been recognized as Disney commissioned him to animate stoves for each of their four theme parks.

Maine Scenic Airways - The lack of rampant tourism means prices for tours, food and accommodations are not off-the-wall inflated in Waldo County. Maine Scenic Airways is a wonderful example of this. An hour flight in a four-seater plane (a pilot and three passengers) over the beautiful archipelago of islands in the bay, pretty harbor towns and the charming countryside remain amazingly reasonable.

Belfast Bay Cruises - Captain Melissa Terry takes you on her 50-foot wooden boat, the Good Return on a tour of Penobscot Bay. While onboard, Melissa will tell you all about the lobster industry and check her lobster traps.

Fort Knox State Historic Site - The first Fort Knox was built to protect the Penobscot River Valley to thwart an invasion that never happened. Secret rooms and corridors and beautiful architecture make it an interesting place for kids and adults. The fort is also popular with Civil War re-enactors.


Shopping abounds in Waldo County especially in its largest town, Belfast. Count on most stores being locally owned, independent and unusual. Drive the main highways and back roads and you'll find dozens of antique shops and flea markets. The first rule of shopping holds true: the fancier the store front, the more expensive the merchandise.

You Gotta Eat

Waldo County Maine has a wonderful variety of places to eat. When in Maine, do as the residents do and enjoy the fresh and plentiful lobster. Old-fashioned lobster pounds are a Maine tradition and the place to get the freshest lobster. Lobster pounds aren’t chain seafood restaurants, but a type of restaurant. To be called a lobster pound, a restaurant must have fresh sea water, direct from the bay, circulating in the lobster holding tanks. This insures the freshest lobster. Some lobster pounds, such as Young’s in Belfast, sell take out lobsters. They’ll cook the lobster of your choice and sell the other ingredients needed for an impromptu picnic.

Here are a few of the restaurants that are loved by locals and tourists.

  • Lobster Pound, Lincolnville Beach - A tradition in these parts, they make an unbelievably good lobster bisque.
  • Young’s Lobster Pound, Belfast - One of the few pounds that offer seafood bakes where lobster, corn and clams (called steamers) are cooked in an in-ground pit. Next summer you'll be able to dine from their new deck overlooking lobster boats and schooners.
  • Angler’s Restaurant - This family enterprise is a favorite with the locals. One of the few places you can get entertainment with your meal when one of the staff hypnotizes a live lobster.
  • Maine Chowder & Steak House - A good choice for surf and turf.
  • Chase’s Daily - Gourmet vegetarian restaurant with a little produce market in the rear of the store and heavenly to-go baked goods.
  • Twilight Cafe - A gallery by day and gallery/restaurant by night.

Lobster Tip: Next time you are choosing a live lobster, pick the one with the longest tentacles. Experts from several lobster pounds gave me the scoop on this crustaceans. Lobsters are cannibals, they will eat each other when hungry. The first thing that gets nibbled are the tentacles. So the longer the tentacles, the less time they’ve been captive. This is really important when shopping for live lobsters in the supermarket. After about a week, captive lobsters loose their delicate, sought-after taste as they start digesting their internal organs. That’s why lobsters from the supermarket usually taste different than lobsters straight from the sea.

For more information on Waldo County Maine, call 800/870-9934 or visit their web site at: .

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Barging in Burgundy - October 22, 2002

A barge cruise is a different breed of cruise. It’s a 180 degree departure from what most people think of when you mention cruising: a Caribbean getaway on a massive cruise liner carrying around 2,000 passengers.

Barge cruises are intimate affairs. Where a cruise ship has a passenger list in the hundreds or thousands, a barge that cruises on a canal usually has fewer than 30 passengers. The Mirabelle, which sailed in the heart of Burgundy France, from Vandenesse to Dijon, can carry up to 24 passengers, but there were only 19 passengers on our trip.

Barges are your floating country inn. For six days, the Mirabelle was our floating hotel furnished with air conditioning and heat, a lounge, dining room, sundeck and wood-paneled cabins with a shower and toilet.

There’s no need for motion-sickness remedies as the barge floats along on calm canal waters. There is no gambling, bingo, dance classes or other distractions as the large cruise ships offer. Entertainment on the Mirabelle consisted of a musician who entertained one night. His specialty was singing French standards (in English) and American classics. Accompanied only by a keyboard and accordian, he had all the passengers dancing and singing in an impromptu party.

A barge cruise has no litany of cruise ports. Instead, you choose a barge by the region it sails in. For instance in France, you can choose Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace-Lorraine or Provence.

What a barge cruise does offer is a relaxed pace. You float along a nearly still canal at about three miles an hour. Every few kilometers, the barge stops to transit a canal lock. While the barge sits in the lock, passengers can get on and off the barge. Bicycles are on board each barge so passengers can ride along the path that parallels the canal. The barge travels slow enough so passengers can keep up with the barge walking at a casual pace. The more actively inclined can jog or run ahead and wait for the barge to catch up.

Excursions are included and built into each barge cruise. Each day featured a trip by bus to a nearby town. Our first day’s excursion took us to the Medieval hilltop village of Chateauneuf. Other days trips included a visit to a winery for a wine tasting, market day in Dijon and the ancient town of Beaunne.

During the six-day journey, the barge passed through 40-some locks. Each lock is overseen by a local lock keeper and manually operated. Rustic little stone lock houses with lace curtains and pots overflowing with colorful flowers stand at each lock.

For more information on the Mirabelle, go to offers discounted canal and river cruises in Europe.

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Scary Northern Kentucky - September 17, 2002

Ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night can set your spine a-tingling and make for a fun trip to Northern Kentucky.

Here are some spooky things to see and do:

York Street Cafe - Newport KY - Enjoy a meal and experience the occult at this eclectic eatery where frequently psychics hold sessions. The ground floor restaurant, built in the 1880s, was home to a bank and pharmacy. The second floor, now used by a fraternal organization, once was a bar and casino, one of many along York St. when Newport was known as Sin City. The third floor still has the peep hole in the door from the time, during prohibition, when this was a speakeasy. It’s been reincarnated into an art gallery.

Co-owner Betsy Cunningham says the area played a role in the Underground Railroad and there are rumors there is a tunnel in the basement that links with other tunnels that eventually crossed the Ohio River. Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in this area and reportedly used experiences she heard about and witnessed for her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The wait-staff routinely hear crying and screaming, mostly from children. Psychics have told Cunningham that slaves by bounty hunters were held in the basement and tortured.

One of the most common sightings is the spirit of a little blonde-headed girl in a yellow dress named Dottie. Her image is often seen dancing in the mirror that hangs over the bar. Annabelle, the chef, often senses Dottie’s presence and feels her brush up against her.

Bobby Mackey’s Nightclub - The ghosts that call this nightclub home have gained national attention with television shows such as “Sightings,” “Hard Copy,” and “Geraldo” airing segments. A book by Douglas Hensley called “Hell’s Gate” details the bizarre events of the building and includes sworn affidavits from 29 employees and patrons.

What is now Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder KY served as a slaughterhouse for many year in the 1800s. The basement well that once syphoned animal’s blood into the nearby Licking River has been called the gate into Hell by employees. The building’ss grisly history includes a period when it was used by satanic worshipers as their site for sacrifices.

Perhaps its most sensational episode was when the headless body of Pearl Bryan was found in 1896. Her head was never found. Rumor has it that her head was thrown into the basement well. Alonzo Walling and Scott Jackson, active in the occult, confessed to her murder. They became the last two people hanged in Campbell County.

Employees say the building is haunted by Johanna, the daughter of a previous owner, along with several other spirits. Donna, an employee of more than 15 years, says the restrooms are sone of the most affected places. The faucets turn on after you turn them off and apparitions, in the form of someone you know, can come out of either restroom. She says the smell of roses is the tip off that something is about to happen.

Amos Shinkle House - a bed and breakfast in Covington, KY, built in 1854 - Co-owner Bernie Moorman, a former mayor of Covington, relates how a group of psychics were touring the neighborhood and asked for a tour of the house. The house originally belonged to Amos Shinkle, a businessman who originated from Ohio and supported the North. One psychic saw a black man sitting in a rocker and whittling a piece of wood in what was formerly the stable room and carriage garage. Today that space is the carriage house and contains four guest rooms. Another psychic became anxious when she saw a people frightened and huddled in the corner in the hayloft of the carriage house. Moorman says he senses the spirit of Sarah Shinkle in the house. She loved this house and never wanted to move to larger, more opulent quarters.

U.S.S. Nightmare - In its 10th year of operation, the spooky ship changes nearly every year. This year’s entry is the William S. Mitchell, a steamboat powered dredge, with a tragic history that includes 112 crew member deaths. Surviving crew members called it the death dredge and suggest the trouble started when on her maiden voyage, the vessel uncovered an ancient Indian burial ground. The vessel’s history includes incidents such as mechanical failures that seem to repair themselves, missing personal belongings and dredging operations that halted for unexplained reasons.

The ship will feature 35 areas that depict the scarier aspects of life on a steam dredge and the history of the ship. It takes 30 to 40 minutes to walk through the ship which is a haunted house and not an amusement ride. A video prepares people waiting in line which tells about the ship’s calamitous history including striking five bridges. Captain Al, the last captain who manned the ship and who supposedly never left the ship, greets all coming aboard.

Allen Rizzo, general manager of BB Riverboats, and during the Halloween season has the moniker of Captain Nightmare, notes that some of the scarier parts are walking over an open grate with the river beneath you through the paddle wheel to get to second deck and the scene in the generating room in the heart of the ship where a crew member is trying to bring someone back to life using electricity.

A chicken coop area has been refurbished for people who are too frightened to continue. Rizzo suggests children 10 and under be accompanied by a parent. The shorter matinee is a less intense version that is presented with the lights on, is less gory and contains no scary characters.

Open Sep. 27 through November 2, 2002. Located at Riverboat Row near the Newport Aquarium. Admission $12, discount coupons at

Netherland Plaza - in downtown Cincinnati, is an Art Deco showpiece hotel with a spirited past. A former employee, who would only talk on the condition that she remains anonymous, tells of the Lady in Green. She wanders the Mezzanine level of the hotel, in the hallway overlooking the Palm Court restaurant, looking for her husband who was electrocuted there when the hotel was being built in the 1930s. She related a spooky incident that happened in the 1970s when one of the night guards and his dog were patrolling. As they rounded a corner, the dog sat down, whined and the hair on the dog’s neck stood up straight. The guard continued around the corner and saw a woman in green 1930s style dress walking away. She turned another corner and when the guard caught up with her, she was gone. When he checked the security camera tape, she did not appear, only he and the dog did. Some employees won’t work in the office, on the Mezzanine Level, on Saturday alone.

For more information, contact the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau 800/447-8489 or

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Amarillo, Texas - August 13, & 20, 2002

Amarillo, Texas is as much of a surprise as the nearby Palo Duro Canyon, the area’s most notable feature. This city of approximately 200,000 people, roughly in the center of the Texas panhandle, has so much to see and do, you would think it is at least twice its size. In fact this small community unexpectedly supports many arts organizations including a ballet company, art museum and symphony orchestra, a feat many communityies twice Amarillo's size fail to live up to. This surprisingly sophisticated smaller-tiered city has managed to maintain its authentic Old West heritage in a real, unreconstructed environment.

Here are a few out of many things to see and do:

Palo Duro Canyon -- 25 miles south of Amarillo -- In an area of vast plains, where the horizon divides the ground from the sky, the canyon is a 120-mile long rift that comes up at you from seemingly nowhere. At 800- to 1,000-feet deep, Palo Duro is called the Grand Canyon of Texas and is the second largest canyon in the U.S. Unlike the Grand Canyon, you can drive into the striated copper- and rose-colored canyon on well-maintained, paved roads. Though much of the canyon is privately owned, 18,500 acres are part of the state park that offers camping, horseback riding, biking and hiking trails and picnic areas. The outdoor musical TEXAS is performed in a natural amphitheater within the state park. Beneath a rugged and towering 600-foot high cliff, a company of 150 dancers, singers and riders tell a tale of joy, sorrow and triumph encounter by early Amarillo settlers.

Horseback Riding in the Canyon -- Take the trail out of Old West Stables in Palo Duro Canyon State Park and in the blink of an eye, civilization seems to disappear. The trail quickly takes you to the bottom of the canyon along the riverbed, where the thought of e-mail, cell phones and computers quickly disappears. Sure-footed Sandy, a docile Quarter Horse, knew the way and didn’t need any direction from a novice rider like me. At times, the mostly-level trail dipped or rose and Sandy took the change in stride. Her most unpredictable action was breaking into a trot to catch up to the horse in front of her. Other stables in the area offer a more challenging descent into the canyon. During the summer, early morning is the best and coolest time for a ride.

Cadillac Ranch -- One of the most quirky attractions in the area is the Cadillac Ranch. There are no billboards or signs identifying the location, cars, trucks and motorhomes are parked on the shoulder of the road as their occupants are drawn like pilgrims to a shrine. This local icon has nothing to do with a ranch but is a actually a commissioned work of art. This tribute to transportation and excess, approached from the west on I-40, is a field planted with Cadillacs, all from the chrome and big-fins eras. Ten Cadillacs are buried nose down in concrete and inserted into a field at the same angle as the Cheops Pyramid. Making the quarter-mile trek across a dusty, fallow field you’ll see mothers clutching children with one hand and a spray can of paint in the other or seniors with brushes in hand. Stranger than cars sprouting from a field is the fact that everyone and anyone can leave their mark on this landmark. The graffiti is part of the art in this ever-changing mosaic. Be it pithy or poetic, your graffiti may be gone in 10 minutes.

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum -- 20 miles south of Amarillo in Canyon, TX -- Founded by the region’s original settlers, today the museum is the largest history museum in Texas, a state that prides itself on big. This museum is quite a surprise. What looks like a one-room museum starts in what was the original museum, the two-story space of Pioneer’s Hall. As you wander deeper into the museum, it keeps unfolding one layer at a time, much like an onion. One wing is dedicated to the petroleum industry and includes a full-size oil rig. Another wing holds an entire pioneer town with boardwalk sidewalks and original log cabins. A large space is devoted to one of the Southwest’s finest collections of western art and artifacts. In all, the museum’s exhibits explore paleontology, geology, Native American history, ranching and farming. The beauty of this museum is you can get a quick overview of the entire collection from Pioneer’s Hall or continuing peeling through the layers and spend the whole day wandering through the collections.

Big Texan Steak Ranch -- This famous eatery, about as kitschy a roadside attraction as you’ll find anywhere, feeds your stomach and your appetite for entertainment in one place. Their biggest come-on, eat a 72-ounce steak with all the trimmings in one hour and your meal is free. At least one person per night takes on the challenge. Most don’t make it. Stuff animals and antlers abound in the dining room and bar, along with several rows of slot machines with no pay-off (you pay and play for fun) and a gift shop with tacky stuffed armadillos and rattle snake heads. You can even watch the pet rattler being fed a snake once a week. Every Tuesday night, local country and western entertainers come to showcase their talents at the Opry. You may see fiddlers, cloggers, cowboy poets or a nine-year old girl fiddling and singing with her two brothers.

Cowboy Morning -- Tom and Anne Christian, owners of the Figure 3 Ranch, trace their ancestors back to the area’s original settlers. They started Cowboy Morning to give visitors a glimpse of life on the plains more than 100 years ago. A 10-minute wagon ride across their spread ends at the rim of Palo Duro Canyon where cooks prepare an authentic chuckwagon breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy and lots of hot and fresh coffee. Along with the ever-present and breathtaking canyon view, you can try your hand at roping, branding, and entering the cow-chip tossing contest.

American Quarter Horse Museum - The museum is dedicated to showcasing the history and modern activities of the American Quarter Horse, America’s oldest equine breed. In the summer, special programs and demonstrations featuring Quarter Horses take place in the outdoor corral area. Displays, videos and changing exhibits explain to novices and dedicated equestrians and this popular horse breed. The museum also includes a permanent gallery, the Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and a research library.

Route 66 -- Located midway on what John Steinbeck called the "Mother Road,” this historic road brought many Midwesterners to the golden land of California. Now officially 6th Avenue, historic buildings that during the road’s hey-day held theaters, cafes and drug stores the roadway have been resurrected as antique and gift shops, handicraft stores and fine restaurants.

For more information, contact the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council, 800/692-1338 or

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Traveling in Northwestern Michigan - July 2, 2002

The cobalt blue and aquamarine water may lead you to believe you are in the Caribbean, the lush forests recall Ireland, and the gently rolling hills planted with row after row of grape vines resemble Sonoma, California. Actually, you can experience all of these places in one locale -- Northwestern Michigan.

Some of the enticing escapes include:

  • Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park - Overlooking the straits of Mackinac and located on the southern end of the historic Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City, MI, the historic park is a reconstructed 1715 French fur trading village and military outpost. It brings colonial times to life with re-enactments by village residents and is the site of the nation's longest archaeological dig.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, MI - The National Lakeshore preserves and protects the area's forests, huge dune formations, and beaches. The diverse landscape includes quiet streams, hardwood forest, ghost forests of dead trees killed by the shifting sands and rugged bluffs that tower above Lake Michigan. The preserved life-saving stations on North and South Manitou Island are reminders of the times when rescue crews launched oar-power wooden boats into giant waves to save shipwreck survivors.
  • Wineries on Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula - There’s no need to travel to Sonoma, CA when the scenery and tasting rooms of wineries on the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula in Northwestern Michigan can provide an equally stimulating experience. Enjoy special barrel wine tasting at all Old Mission Peninsula Wineries with sparkling juices available for the kids Old Mission is a beautiful peninsula that stretches north of Traverse City splitting Grand Traverse Bay into East and West Bay. Leelanau Peninsula is the stretch of land that separates Lake Michigan from the west arm of Traverse Bay. Stunning views abound: on Old Mission Peninsula it’s along M-37 (Center Road) and Peninsula Drive. On both peninsulas, in addition to the wineries, there are roadside fruit stands(this is cherry growing country), the lighthouse state park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and great fishing. Wineries on Old Mission Peninsula include: Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and Peninsula Cellars. On The Leelanau Peninsula: Boskydel Vineyard, Good Harbor Vineyards and Winery, L. Mawby Vineyards, and Leelanau Wine Cellars.
  • Beaches Galore - The lakeshore beachfront in many communities is public space with parks, swimming and boating facilities. This long swath of clear water and soft sand (more than 100 miles with all the bends and turns) beckon you to sail in it, swim in it, fish in it, explore its underwater secrets or merely relax at the water’s edge.
  • Small Town Charm -- Many small towns and villages dot the coast of Northwestern Michigan. These quaint port towns, which look as if they were featured in a Norman Rockwell painting, are full of character, charm and interesting one-of-a-kind shops. A shopper’s delight, stores stock a diversity of goods, with something for every taste and budget. This is a region of small shopkeepers, so don’t count on store chains. Whether they are artisans or retailers, these proprietors know their goods and take pleasure in pleasing customers. Towns include: Traverse City, Charlevoix, Glen Arbor, Bay View and Petoskey.
For more information contact:

Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau or 800/TRAVERS.
Petoskey-Harbor Springs-Boyne County Convention & Visitors Bureau or 800/845-2828
Travel Michigan

Aid a good cause and see the world. The expanded and updated Volunteer Vacations Guides lists organizations worldwide looking for volunteers. The information doesn't stop there. The guide lists projects, length of volunteering stays, age and experience requirements, costs and locations for each organization. It provides a complete picture, explaining the advantages and negative points potential volunteers need to consider before signing on.

The Marvels of Mackinac Island, MI - June 18, 2002

Regardless if the place is spelled with a "c" or "w" at the end (Mackinac or Mackinaw), it's all pronounced Mack-eh-naw. Mackinac is the spelling derived from the French, who do not pronounce the last consonent. Mackinaw is the spelling derived from the English.

Mackinac Island's main attributes that make the island unique include:

  • Nearly everyone gets on the island during the summer by ferry. A few people fly to the small airstrip. During the winter when the straits freeze, you can take a snowmobile to the mainland.
  • No motorized vehicles are allowed. Everyone gets around by horses and carriage, bicycle or foot power
  • Fudge shops abound on Huron Street. In fact, in the summer there is a gauntlet of tourists looking for goods and treats in the overabundance of souvenir and fudge shops along waterfront Huron Street. Actually, the island is at its best when day-trippers, called fudgies by the locals, head back to their motel rooms across the strait.
  • A prime attraction is historic Fort Mackinac, which anchors a 1,800-acre state park that encompasses 80 percent of the island. The fort has original buildings dating from 1780. There are daily rifle and cannon demonstrations, costumed interpreters, and special programs for kids plus breathtaking panorama views from 150 feet above the shoreline. The state park is home to unusual limestone formations, caves, old-growth forests, wildflowers, and several more candidates for “best view.” Though Huron Street may be packed, you'll not see many tourists pedalling on the rolling bike trails in the state park.
  • The Grand Hotel - Calling itself "America's Summer Hotel -- it's only open May through October, when you think about Mackinac Island, chances are the Grand Hotel comes to mind. Built in 1887, this truly grand resort features about 380 rooms (including many with gorgeous views and some with balconies), a salon, flower shop, nightly dancing with the Grand Hotel Orchestra, a 660-foot pillared porch draped in geraniums, and the serpentine-shaped swimming pool named for 1940s movie star Esther Williams. This grande dame of the island is worth the splurge (expect to pay at least $400 per room, per night), especially since rates include gratuities, a five-course dinner and a full breakfast.

For more information, contact the Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce, 800/4-LILACS or

Aid a good cause and see the world. The expanded and updated Volunteer Vacations Guides lists organizations worldwide looking for volunteers. The information doesn't stop there. The guide lists projects, length of volunteering stays, age and experience requirements, costs and locations for each organization. It provides a complete picture, explaining the advantages and negative points potential volunteers need to consider before signing on.

The Mystique of Mystic, CT - May 28, 2002

New England is steeped in history and it infuses many aspects of life. In southeastern Connecticut, the town of Mystic is “pretty as a postcard.” The 17th century village remains as quaint and beautiful as ever. A respect and profound appreciation of the past does not stand in the way of change. Much of that change celebrates history, nature and the sea. Often called “New England in a Nutshell” the easily explored town offers a variety of activities and experiences. Here are a few things to do and see:
  • Mystic Seaport-- calls itself the museum of America and the sea. Sitting on nearly 40-acres along the banks of the Mystic River, it displays the largest fleet of wooden boats in the world, 480 vessels to be exact. To hold onto history, craftsmen practice traditional skills as they maintain the historic boats in the preservation shipyard. Visitors can also tour the three largest ships, of which the Charles W. Morgan, built in 1841, is the this sole surviving wooden whaler and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

  • Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center -- located on a First Nations Reservation, this fine example of a museum offers excellent and stunning portrayals of Indian history, past through present, including life-size, life-cast figures. A 175 foot observation tower marks the entrance to the complex. The magnificent view from the top overlooks land the Pequot nation has called home for centuries. Life-sized dioramas give an exciting portrayal of history. Among the most amazing are a full-size mastodon, a caribou hunt and recreated half-acre 16th century coastal Pequot village with more than 50 life-cast people. Other exciting visual exhibits, touch screen interactive computers, 3D graphics, film and video presentations make the museum a must-see destination.
  • Lighthouse Museum -- at Stonington Point is a much-photographed lighthouse that many lighthouse afficionados visit to add to their life. Like frugal New England, the well-planned, no-nonsense museum uses every square inch of space including displays between the attic roof rafters. Local pottery and local nautical artifacts take up one-quarter of the museum. When your museum visit is through, you can sit and enjoy the view of Long Island Sound from their waterfront lawn or the antique shops along Water Street.
  • The Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration-- home to 3,500 aquatic creatures including African black-footed penguins, jelly fish, dolphins, exotic fish, and a 30,000 gallon Coral Reef exhibit. Also learn about underwater exploration and the biological and geological processes of the ocean.
  • Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, a 300-acre nature preserve with more than eight miles of hiking trails, a birds of prey outdoor enclosure center, and a natural history museum. This is an interesting way for children and adults to experience the woodland, wetland, meadow habitats and native wildlife of southern New England. One of the most imaginative exhibits, the “Night in the Meadow” theater gives the unique prospective of seeing what goes on at night when you investigate life under a log and learn bird flight patterns and migration paths.
  • Captain Palmer House -- the 16-room Victorian mansion in Stonington was owned by the two brothers, Captains Nathaniel and Alexander Palmer. Nathaniel was the first to discover what later was determined as the continent of Antarctica. He went on to design the first clipper ship, later called the greyhounds of the sea. The museum displays memorabilia pertaining to Nathaniel’s discovery of Antarctica and Stonington furnishings and artifacts.
The Inn at Mystic, in the heart of Mystic, is close to all the attractions. It's within walking distance to the shopping district and Mystic Seaport. Perched on a knoll, the inn fends off the bustle of traffic and gives you a sense of isolation along its canoe dock on Pequotsepos Cove or on the inn's 15 acres part of which are gardens or orchard. Rooms in the mansion house and gate house are the most romantic. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall stayed at the 1904 home on their honeymoon, which became the mansion part of the inn. 800/237-2415 or

Aid a good cause and see the world. The expanded and updated Volunteer Vacations Guides lists organizations worldwide looking for volunteers. The information doesn't stop there. The guide lists projects, length of volunteering stays, age and experience requirements, costs and locations for each organization. It provides a complete picture, explaining the advantages and negative points potential volunteers need to consider before signing on.

Gaylord Palms Resort & Conference Center - Feb. 26, 2002 Broadcast

The Gaylord Palms is the first resort in the Orlando area that caters to business travelers, meetings and conventions. Opened 2:02 p.m. on Feb. 2, 2002, the 1,400 room resort appears to be a big hit and fills a need as 1,000,000 hotel nights were sold prior to the hotel opening.

Located five minutes from the main gate of Walt Disney World and about 10 minutes from Sea World and Universal Studios, the 2.1-million-square-foot resort offers travelers an opportunity to mix business and pleasure. The resort offers a free hourly shuttle to Disney World and is the only hotel in the area with a Disney store onsite that sells admission tickets.

The resort has an on-site La Petite Academy so business travelers can bring the family along. Kids can stay part in supervised activities while parents attend conventions and meetings, or just want an hour or two for a quiet dinner. Before or after the business trip, families can add on days to visit Orlando theme parks. Plus nearly half the rooms have two queen-size beds and bathtubs.

The $450 million resort consists of three distinct Florida themes all under an expansive 4.5 acre glass-topped atrium.

  • Key West - recreates Mallory Square, including the nightly Sunset Celebration. Key West includes a 161,000-gallon lagoon with a 60-foot sailboat and details such as clapboard siding, stucco and stone, louvered doors.
  • Primitive boardwalks and metal-roofed shanties on log stilts set the mood for the Everglades. Every night, an eerie fog creeps through the bogs, fireflies light and twinkle and chirps and grunts from unseen critters add to the experience.
  • St. Augustine -- The center of the atrium is filled with a replica of 16th-century Castillo de San Marcos, the historic Spanish for that still stands in St. Augustine. On the far side, you’ll find the "fountain of youth" where you can take a drink and watch dancing fountains shoot streams of water into the air.

Canyon Ranch Spaclub - With 25 treatment rooms, this is the largest spa facility in Florida. In addition to treatments, the staff will offer workshops on healthy living and stress management and will present energy breaks during conferences.

Artisanal Cheese Course -- The first offered in Florida, at the resort’s signature, up-scale Old Hickory Steakhouse. The cheese course features 12 different types of handcrafted artisan cheeses, rather than use mass-produced cheese from factories. In the European tradition, the cheese course will be served after the entree and before desert.

For travelers staying in one of the 106 suites, the VIP concierge and VIP check-in are one of the best perks around. There’s no need to stand in line to check-in and if you need something or have a question, your VIP concierge is there to handle the details.

For more information, contact the Gaylord Palms Resort 407/586-2000 web site:

Aid a good cause and see the world. The expanded and updated Volunteer Vacations Guides lists organizations worldwide looking for volunteers. The information doesn't stop there. The guide lists projects, length of volunteering stays, age and experience requirements, costs and locations for each organization. It provides a complete picture, explaining the advantages and negative points potential volunteers need to consider before signing on.

Fun on Pittsburgh's North Shore - January 15, 2002 Broadcast

Pittsburgh been on a building binge. More than $2 billion in developments are underway including two new sports stadiums, which both opened in 2001, and a new “green” convention center, the first in the country. The first phase of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center opens the latter part of Feb. 2002 and it incorporates energy-saving natural lighting and ventilation, recycled materials, and building materials that emit fewer toxins.

Much of the building boom, including the two new stadiums, is happening on the North Shore.

A day-trip visit confined to Pittsburgh's North Shore can include:
Depending on the season, take in a professional baseball or football game at:
Heinz Field - where the Pittsburgh Steelers play football
PNC Park - where the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball.

North Shore Riverfront Park - under construction, it spans the space from the Sixth St. Bridge (near PNC Park) to the West End Bridge (near Heinz Field). It includes trails, green space, a tiered water fountain, fishing pier and boat slips.

UPMC Sports Works is the Carnegie Science Center’s newest permanent exhibit. Near Heinz Field, there are 70 interactive, real and virtual sports activities that test your athletic ability and explain the science behind sports.

The Mattress Factory - No, this isn't where you'll be buying your next waterbed. It's an eclectic museum for contemporary installation art. It may sound snooty but its really fun and interesting -- for adults and kids. The museum provides living and working space to artists who create installation art specific to the space in the museum. Installation art isn't like traditional art where it is a painting or sculpture. It may be an installation using sound, visual effects or objects in unique ways to make a statement.

National Aviary - talk to a parrot or walk through a rain forest at one of the only free-standing aviaries in the world. Located in West Park, the aviary is home to 600 birds of more than 200 species. This veritable indoor jungle of the world's most incredible birds includes hummingbirds the size of a thumb or Andean Condors with giant 10-foot wingspans. Many are threatened or endangered.

If you have time:

The Andy Warhol Museum -- houses the works of the Pittsburgh native and pop art prince. The collection includes approximately 900 paintings, 1,500 drawings, prints, photographs, films, videos and "time capsules," which are now being opened and catalogued.

The Pittsburgh Children’s Museum is located in an elegant old Victorian Post Office. Kids can explore the museum three floors of hands-on exhibits where they can climb mazes, build and launch flying machines, use pulleys to raise themselves in human-powered elevators or get creative with silkscreening, painting and computer graphics.

Eat like a local - Pittsburghers are in love with potatoes. The local obsession is a Primanti sandwich, a speciality that includes French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich. These are only available at the 4 or 5 Primanti Bros. restaurants located in the greater Pittsburgh area. The sandwich is not a complicated concoction, in fact, consider it Pittsburgh fast-food. They take two slices of Italian bread cut vertically, rather than horizontally. You pick the filling from about 10 options such as sausage, ham, or turkey. What comes out is a huge sandwich that's hard to get your mouth around and it only sets you back about $5. In between the bread, they'll be lots of turkey, ham, roast beef or whatever you ordered with a thick layer of cole slaw, not the creamy kind but a vinagrette variety, and a thick wad of shoestring French fries. The closest Primanti Bros. restaurant to the North Shore is across the river in the Strip. If you have the time, they'll be open. Their hours at the Strip are 6 a.m. to 4 a.m.

For more information, contact the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau 800/359-0758 or

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New Orleans Family Fun - June 26, 2001 Broadcast

New Orleans knows how to have a good time. The city whose unofficial motto, "laissez les ben temps roulez" means let the good times roll, extends the good times to families.

Here are some family friendly things to do:

Jazzland - Amusement park with 31 rides spread over 140 acres. In addition to an adrenaline pumping roller coaster, there are a number of rides and activities suitable for younger children.

Louisiana Children's Museum -- fun and educational, interactive exhibits brings out the kid in everyone. Favorites include a giant bubble maker, a mini supermarket complete with registers and a miniature television station.

Mardi Gras World - It's Mardi Gras year-round. The builder of about 80 percent of Mardi Gras floats opens their huge warehouses, filled with floats and statues, for tours.

Audubon Zoo - exotic animals, including white tigers, and beautiful landscaping. Audubon Park is directly across the street. The John James Audubon river boat goes between the zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas.

Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, there are artists, mimes, musicians and tap dancers, performing for the asking and a tip.

Aquarium of the Americas -- part of the Audubon complex, it is one of the finest aquariums I've seen with a tropical rain forest and a 400,000 gallon replica of the Gulf of Mexico. The new, temporary frogs exhibit features 30 different species. 3-D IMAX next door.

Riverboat rides - Spend a relaxing hour or two seeing the area from the Mississippi River.

Crescent City Speak -- Know What the Locals are Saying

Beignet - donuts with corners and no holes. Cafe du Monde, in the French Quarter, made them world famous.

Cajun - short for the French pronunciation of Acadian. It refers to the people and culture descended from the Acadians forced out of Nova Scotia in the 1750s.

Crawfish - shellfish that look like tiny lobsters. Gathered from the bayous, crawfish are served boiled whole in spicy water or the tail served like peeled shrimp. They are sometimes called mudbugs.

Gumbo - the city's most famous soup comes from the African word for okra. Gumbos can include everything (a gumbo ya-ya) or be predominantly seafood, fowl and sausage or vegetarian.

Dressed - sandwiches come dressed -- with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, or plain.

Etouffee - French for smothered, it's a Creole, Cajun cooking technique used with shellfish or even fowl. The main ingredient is cooked in a brown sauce with tomatoes, onion and seasonings. Pronounced eh-TO-fay.

Jambalaya - a seasoned rice dish cooked with sausage and usually chicken.

Lagniappe - French for a little extra or bonus. Something like a baker's dozen. Pronounced lan-yap.

Muffaletta - An Italian sandwich originally created at the Central Grocery. A special round loaf of bread is stuffed with ham, salami, provelone cheese and olive salad. Pronounced mu-fa-latta.

Po' Boy - A sandwich with anything from roast beef to sausage served on French bread. Most people get it dressed.

Fais do do - Cajun term for a dance party. It literally means to "make sleep." It originates from large parties held at the homes of friends or relatives. As the music and dancing played late into the night, children tired themselves out and went to sleep without being told. Pronounced fay dough dough.

Vieux Carre - French for old square, this is the old name for the French Quarter.

Family Restaurants Recommended by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
Uglesich's 1238 Baronne St.
Praline Connection 907 S. Peters Street
Central Grocery 923 Decatur St.
House of Blues 225 Decatur St.
Hard Rock Café 418 N. Peters St.
Mulate's 201 Julia St.  authentic Cajun food with live Cajun music every night. Great fun. The kids couldn't stop dancing. What  a fais do do.

Family Friendly Hotel
We enjoyed our stay at the comfortable Cheateau Sonesta, 800 Iberville St. In the heart of the French Quarter and in walking distance (although a good walk) from Jackson Square. Their Good Times Guide special rate is $119 per night, per room and two children can stay free in the room with parents.

For a FREE New Orleans Good Times Guide with $2400 in discounts on shopping, dining and attractions call 800/474-8167. For more New Orleans information, visit

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Montana -- Fire and Rebirth - June 12, 2001 Broadcast

Fire is one of nature s catalysts for change. Fires in the Bitterroot Valley, in western Montana, raged throughout the summer and into the fall of 2000.

Despite the grime scenes broadcast on the news last year, western Montana is as beautiful as ever and eager for visitors.

The National Forest Service in Hamilton MT (in the Bitterroot Valley) wants the public to know how forests are reborn through fire. This summer through fall (while weather permits), the Forest Service offers free all-day ranger tours of burn areas.

The tour, given twice a week, is limited to 25 people per trip. Although the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tour is free, reservations are necessary. For reservation information, request a free copy of the Travel Savings Alerts newsletter by e-mailing to:

A knowledgeable ranger takes you to remote and scenic areas on Forest Service roads and explains the fire and rebirth process. Surprisingly, forests burned in last years fires aren't a hellish looking landscape of blackened and burned trees and earth. Nature starts renewing quickly as less than a year later the ground is already covered with green grasses and wild flowers. The succulent plants attract wildlife.

The Sapphire Mountains border one side of the Bitterroot Valley. During the short season in the high elevations, the mountains yield sapphires. You don't need to go to the mountains to find sapphires however. The mountains will come to you at Sapphire Studio. You can buy a bag of gravel for $20 and pan for sapphires. Owners Ken and Lynette Lutz with show you how to find the precious gems in the gravel by swirling your pan in a tub of water. You are guaranteed to go home with a sapphire (which may be a ruby as that is actually a red sapphire). I picked a bag of gravel that yielded about 10 sapphires and 1 garnet. If your first bag of gravel comes up empty, you'll get another. Sapphire Studio

One of the most elite forest fire fighting units are trained at the Smokejumpers Center in Missoula MT. The public can tour the center for free and learn about the training smokejumpers receive and sometimes watch the rookies in training sessions. The Smokejumpers Museum, next to the training center, tells the smokejumpers' mission, history and all about fire management.

Each year, more than 300 people, all with previous wildland firefighting experience, apply for 30 coveted openings. Smokejumpers fight fires in remote areas, not accessible by road, in the western U.S. Suited in special fire retardant suits and carrying packs loaded with about 100 pounds of equipment, food and gear, smokejumpers parachute into the wilderness to control or contain wildfires, mainly during the dry summer and fall months.

For more information on things to do and places to see in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, contact Glacier Country,

To see how time effects a burned forest, visit Yellowstone National Park. In 1988, fires burned about 1.4 million acres in the park. Amazingly, the park was closed only one day when the fires were burning during the summer through fall 1988.

It took a monumental effort to contain the fires: more than 25,000 firefighters dug 665 miles of firebreaks by hand and 137 miles were bulldozed. Helicopters dropped more than 10 million gallons of water into the park, carried in a canvas bucket or sling and attached to a 100-foot steel cord. 1.4 million gallons of fire retardant were dropped to slow the fires in the park.

Nearly 12 years later, Yellowstone is a spectacular as it ever was -- if not more beautiful. Rather than seeing only trees along both sides of the road, the fires opened up vistas that could only be seen if you were hiking in the woods. Lodgepole pines are growing back, ranging in height from 12 inches to 6 feet. The pines are low enough to spot elk on a ridge or smaller wildlife feeding on plants on the forest floor. The lodgepole pines burnt in the fires have mostly toppled to the ground, slowly releasing their nutrients back to the soil.

Yellowstone National Park information 307/344-7391 or

Don't want to go it alone in Montana? One of the most knowledgeable and best tour guides, who've I used twice and came away delighted each time, is Onie Knutson of Hometown Hospitality. Contact her at

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U.S. Virgin Islands - May 15, 2001 Broadcast

If you only visit St. Thomas as part of a cruise port of call, you don't know the U.S. Virgin Islands. The islands are far more than a shopping destination. The three Islands: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, have a long and varied history. They became U.S. possessions when we purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917 for $25 million. We are the last in a long succession of people and countries that goes back to prehistory.

One of the best places to learn about the Islands' long and varied history is at the American Caribbean Museum in Charlotte Amalie, the main city on St. Thomas. One of the most historically interesting and best-preserved buildings on the island is the newly renovated St. Thomas Synagogue. It claims to be the second-oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere and only one of four synagogues in the world with sand floors.

In April each year, St. Thomas celebrates Carnival, three-weeks of revelry and festivities which attracts many locals as participants and spectators from neighboring islands and beyond.  Each island celebrates Carnival independently and at different times during the year. St. John's celebrates on the 4th of July while St. Croix's celebration takes place around Christmas time.

A quick 20 minute ferry ride from Red Hook in St. Thomas takes you to St. John. Two-thirds of the nine mile long and five mile wide island is a national park. The land was donated to the U.S. government in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller. The island is a series of  post-card perfect beaches and dramatic overlooks for great views of neighboring islands. The ruins of Annaberg Plantation, on the north coast, offer the remains of a 1733 sugar plantation and demonstrations of crafts and cooking by local residents.

St. Croix is the largest yet the least visited of the three islands. Christiansted and Frederiksted, the two main towns on the island, remain from the Danish presence during the 1700s. Both towns are listed in the register of Historic Places and give you a good sense of life here nearly 300 years ago, but without the crowds found in Charlotte Amalie.

Other places that trace and tell about St. Croix's history include the Salt River Bay National Park, St. George Village Botanical Gardens, Estate Whim Plantation and Museum, the ruins at Estate Mt. Washington and the Carl and Marie Lawaetz Family Museum.

For more information on the U.S. Virgin Island call 800/372-USVI.

Riviera Maya -- January 23, 2001 Broadcast

Riviera Maya is a part of Mexico most people never or barely experience. Collectively, it is the 75 mile stretch of beaches, bays and inlets along the Caribbean Sea starting 18 miles south of Cancun and stopping at the small fishing village of Punta Allen, not far from the Belize border. Riviera Maya is the natural side of the Yucatan peninsula, where sinkholes and jungle blend with archaeological remains, culture and traditions of the Mayan world.

The Riviera Maya area wants to promote sustainable eco-archaeological tourism. Vacationers looking for a different vacation experience can expect: uncrowded beaches

a network of underground rivers and more than 100 cenotes (sacred pools of clear, calm water)

  • cave, cavern and scuba diving
  • kayaking
  • mountain biking
  • snorkeling
  • bird watching
  • hiking and trekking
Include these sites among the things you do and see:

Xcaret (pronounced ISH - ka - ret) Eco-archaeological Park - Meaning "little inlet" in Mayan, the park is 45 miles south of Cancun. The "little inlet" to which the park owes its name and which the park's owners wanted to protect and share, is about 3.5 feet deep with no waves and currents. Archaeologists believe the ancient Maya sailed from this same inlet to the nearby island of Cozumel. The park offers entertainment, education, adventure, relaxation and culture on 200 acres that are full of natural wonders. Swimming in the natural underground river is perhaps the best know activity. You can also swim with dolphins, horseback ride, scuba dive and tour archeological sites. There are also a natural aquarium, botanical garden, aviary and Mayan village. Be sure to stay for the wonderful evening folkloric show and a demonstration of the 2000 year old Mayan ball game called Pok-ta-pok.

Xel-Ha (pronounced shell-ha) is a natural aquarium where the ocean joins freshwater springs and natural underground rivers. Surrounded by jungle, Xel-Ha is ideal for swimming, snorkeling or relaxing on a series of private beaches. You can float down waterways in oversized inner-tubes, interact with dolphins, walk along secluded trails or just relax in the hammocks tied to palm trees. The archeological site is located outside the grounds of the park.

Tulum -- Built on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan walled city of Tulum contains more than 60 preserved structures. Tulum centers around a plaza used for ritual and El Castillo, the castle, the most impressive building on the site. Other important buildings are the Temple of Descending God, Temple of the Frescoes with murals and the House of Columns.

Coba -- This Mayan city and ceremonial center once had 50,000 inhabitants. It's main pyramid, Nohuch Mul, is 138 feet tall, the highest in the Yucatan peninsula. Set deep in the jungle, Coba is surrounded by shallow lakes and the white limestone roads (sac be) built by the Mayans more than 1,000 years ago. Sian Ka'an Reserve -- The 1.5 million acres in this protected preserve include most of the ecosystems in the Yucatan including low jungles, lagoons, beaches and mangroves. The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of the more than 20 archaeological sites identified in the reserve, several pyramids, small temples and other minor ruins has been uncovered.

Explore the jungle and lagoon at the Mayan village of Pac Chen and have lunch in the village -- an all day trip from Alltournative Tours.

For information, contact the Riviera Maya Tourist Board 800/466-3942

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