Seoul: Traditional Architecture

Seoul architecture

Traditional architecture seen in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

SEOUL, South Korea — The Korean word hanok refers to a traditional Korean house. I had occasion to see the houses during a recent press trip to Seoul and other Korean sites, sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization.

The Bukchon Hanok Village is a Seoul neighborhood known for these houses. Tourists are drawn to the area to see the houses and for Bukchon’s galleries and artsy workshops devoted to traditional arts.

We had a guide for our stroll — a stroll that was more like a forced march (that is what learning trips for the press are like) up and down hills on narrow streets to look into shops and view picturesque streets.

This replica of a 1910 home shows how effectively wood was used to create a structure both sturdy and attractive.

This replica of a 1910 home shows how effectively wood was used to create a structure both sturdy and attractive.

This visit started at a large house that is used to show tourists what a typical hanok looks like. According to our Bukchon host, this area was redeveloped in the early 20th century with houses that were built using old construction methods. So, locals consider this area new although it has the look of something that could be older.

Hanoks feature small rooms that face courtyards covered with sand, not grass. Our hostess said grass is associated with the dead, whereas the sand assists with water drainage and reflects light, bringing the light into the homes, which have deep eaves to block direct sun in summer.

A courtyard in the model house that tourists visit in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

A courtyard in the model house that tourists visit in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

Floors inside these homes are constructed to accommodate fires underneath for heat.

Our hostess said the style of these houses came from China “long ago,” but the concept of under-floor heating is Korean. Even today, she said, apartment buildings have under-floor heating.

We dropped by one Bukchon gallery/workshop with paintings, plus other artsy objects (braziers of steel but inlaid with silver, for example) and briefly watched a potter at his work. In another shop, we were offered tastes of rice wine that, I gather, was made based on traditional ways.

A potter demonstrating his skills at a workshop in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

A potter demonstrating his skills at a workshop in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

At the area’s Folk Painting Workshop, we tried our hand at painting small lotuses or peonies on coasters. Fortunately, we were coloring in established lines, but with paint and brushes.

A rice wine tasting site in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

A rice wine tasting site in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

This was the finale to our too-short visit to this nice-looking area. The Bukchon Hanok Village is worth considerably more time.

We had a free afternoon in Seoul, which I used for a solo visit to another collection of hanoks. This required conquering — after a fashion — the subway system. I only had to travel a couple of stops on one line.

The two stations I saw were huge with numerous exits and with charts identifying the street or attraction that each exit led to — and the information appeared in English as well as Korean.

Thank goodness for that system! It let me exit the underground maze at the right place and, thus, avoid being totally lost once I was on the street.

Instructions for buying tickets are available in English and there is a surcharge (about 50 cents) for buying single paper tickets. One can pay about $2.50 for a refillable plastic card and avoid the surcharge after that. This reminded me of a similar concept in the Washington, D.C., metro.

Anyway, for my two rides, the plastic card did not make economic sense.

I asked for help a couple of times while underground, and the young women I approached were able to divine my needs and respond sufficiently well.

All of this delivered me rather quickly to the Namsangol Hanok Village, a fabrication in the city center created in the 1990s by moving historic (and usually 19th century) buildings from other points in Korea; also, one house is a replica. There is no entry fee to see the village, which is essentially a park, a quiet spot in the heart of a city of 11 million.

Seoul architecture

View of an 1890s-era house in Seoul’s Namsangol Hanok Village. The raised floor leaves room for under-floor heating.

The village installations are walled compounds, which had belonged to reasonably well-to-do people, with courtyards surrounded by small sitting, reading and sleeping rooms, plus there were kitchens, some shrines and secondary buildings.

This display at Namsangol Hanok Village illustrates a traditional way of cooking.

This display at Namsangol Hanok Village illustrates a traditional way of cooking.

I walked through the grounds of Namsangol’s five compounds but visitors are told to stay

out of the rooms and hence off the wooden floors.

However, in the fifth house I viewed, it appeared several visitors had rented traditional costumes in order to be photographed in them, and this was occurring mostly inside the house.

Women in rented traditional Korean dresses enhance the look of traditional homes in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Women in rented traditional Korean dresses enhance the look of traditional homes in the Namsangol Hanok Village.

Visitors can try their hand at a traditional game, tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Visitors to Namsangol Hanok Village test their skills at an old Korean game that involves tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Visitors to Namsangol Hanok Village test their skills at an old Korean game that involves tossing arrows into a narrow-necked jar.

Also, Namsangol promotes its demonstrations of craft making although I didn’t

A pond on the grounds of the Namsangol Hanok Village.

A pond on the grounds of the Namsangol Hanok Village.

see examples of this; handmade traditional goods are sold here, too.

Namsangol was very popular when I visited, but as far as I could tell, it’s not a top spot for foreigners; most visitors seemed to be Korean.

 

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

New York: The 9/11 Memorial Museum

9/11 Museum in New York City

The New York City skyline, with One World Trade Center standing tallest, seen from a ferry on the Hudson River.

NEW YORK — Last year, at my sister’s request, we visited the World Trade Center site, aka Ground Zero, to see the memorial reflecting pools and other features, but this year, with the 9/11 Museum now open, she wanted to return to see the new facility.

So, we did just that.

The museum’s entry is via an elegant multifaceted glass pavilion, which admits lots of light.

IT9_11Museum10a

The elegant glass pavilion that gives entry to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, seen on a glorious September day.

The museum itself is underground, reaching down about 70 feet to bedrock and extending out under the two reflecting pools that sit atop the footprints of the Twin Towers.

The museum had to go below ground because it is obliged by law to preserve the last remnants of the original World Trade Center, which are at bedrock level, and to give the public “meaningful” access to them.

9/11 Museum in New York City

Foundation Hall, at bedrock level in the 9/11 Museum. The slurry wall, which survived the 9/11 destruction, is seen, along with the last steel beam to be removed from Ground Zero. Its removal marked the end of a nine-month recovery effort.

As a result, visitors see surviving parts of Twin Tower foundations and a retaining wall, called the slurry wall, built to keep the Hudson River from flooding the area. The slurry wall held after 9/11 and saved the city much additional destruction.

It is, of course, a sobering experience to see the 9/11 Museum. My sister and I visited on a gorgeous sunny September day, a day just like Sept. 11, 2001. Even the sun seems somber in such circumstances.

The first things any visitor sees on entry are two 70-foot-tall steel pieces recovered from the Twin Towers and now rising in the pavilion’s atrium. Called tridents because each has three prongs, they were two of many such pieces that were part of the exterior design of the towers.

9/11 Museum in New York City

Tridents, two steel pieces salvaged from the Twin Towers, seen in the glass pavilion that gives access to the 9/11 Museum’s underground exhibits and artifacts.

The tridents together look like an elegant piece of modern art — if you don’t focus on their provenance. Or, they can be seen as hands reaching skyward in supplication.

It’s important to know that the facility’s core exhibition occupies much of the museum’s bottom level. It is called the “September 11, 2001, Historical Exhibition.” We nearly missed it.

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Seoul: With Designs on the Future

Seoul, South Korea

Figures, made of traditional Korean paper, floating on Seoul’s Cheonggye Stream. Effectively oversized lanterns, they were meant to be lighted at night. These floats were part of a temporary special exhibit.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of articles on South Korea by Nadine Godwin. Read her first one, Seoul: Palace Hopping.

SEOUL, South Korea — I went to Korea a few times in the 1980s; I was mostly in Seoul and mostly there for business. Then, I returned with a press group in 2014, hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization.

In the ‘80s, the South Korean capital was already a big city with its share of high-rises of the commonplace sort. By my latest visit, its population was 11 million, and those nondescript (or ugly) high-rises had been joined by a number of striking skyscrapers that are actually attractive or bespeak an interest in creative architecture — or both.

Modern high-rise seen from the below-street-level Cheonggye Stream in Seoul.

Modern high-rise seen from the below-street-level Cheonggye Stream in Seoul.

Other recent projects — epitomized by the attractions described below —beautify the city, highlight the country’s past and embrace the future.

• The Cheonggye Stream is a 3.6-mile-long park that lines an old canal. Korea’s Joseon kings (1392 to 1910) created the canal for drainage into the Han River.

Seoul, South Korea

View of the Cheonggye Stream below-street-level park in central Seoul.

After the Korean War, the city covered the stream with a highway, then removed the road early in this century to create the below-street-level park, debuting in 2005.

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Seoul: Palace Hopping

In Seoul, Korea, changingOfGuardFinale43a

The changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace is accompanied by percussion and music.

SEOUL, South Korea — I have seen the most exotic changing-of-the-guard ceremony ever — well, the most exotic in my experience.

It featured armed men in brightly colored and slightly feminine robes and broad-brimmed black hats. The guys with vicious-looking blades came escorted by others waving gorgeous flags or providing background sound effects with cymbals, horns and painted drums.

Costumed reenactors, portraying palace guards, carry some wicked-looking blades at the traditional changing-of-the-guard ceremony seen here at Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace.

All of this is a daily occurrence at two of Seoul’s palaces. To be precise, this event occurs three times a day six days a week (not Tuesdays) at Gyeongbok Palace, or Gyeongbokgung (gung means palace).

Another palace, Deoksugung, has a similar ceremony three times a day six days a week (not Mondays) on similar terms.

These events, which are free, are canceled if the weather is wretched.

I watched the ceremony during a spring press trip hosted by the Korea Tourism Organization.

We entered the grounds at Gyeongbokgung, commonly called Northern Palace and one of five in the city, via the dramatic and grand Gwanghwamun, which

Gwanghwamun, entryway to Gyeongbok Palace in the middle of Seoul, with a mountain in the background at left.

Gwanghwamun, entryway to Gyeongbok Palace in the middle of Seoul, with a mountain in the background at left.

means Enlightenment Gate.

The palace grounds and buildings encompass several courtyards and roughly 1,000 rooms, but the palace once counted around 7,000 rooms. Built in the 1390s, it was burned in 1592, the year of a Japanese invasion. After reconstruction in 1867, it was largely destroyed again when the Japanese invaded in 1910 and toppled Korea’s monarchy. (Japan occupied Korea until 1945.)

What we see today is a mix of reconstructions and restored 19th century buildings.

Our tour led us in succession to the main reception hall, the king’s “office,” his bedchamber and lastly the queen’s sleeping quarters, with gates between each and walls around each.

Interior of the king’s audience hall at Gyeongbok Palace, with brightly painted wood ceiling elements and very red pillars.

Interior of the king’s audience hall at Gyeongbok Palace, with brightly painted wood ceiling elements and very red pillars.

We could only look into, but not enter, rooms. We focused in particular on the huge audience hall, with a throne at its center, surrounded by pillars and topped off with high and decoratively painted wood ceilings.

Although smaller, the palace is reminiscent of Beijing’s Forbidden City in its architectural style, but not in colors. In Beijing, there is lots of red. Here the colors are black, white, blue, green, red and yellow, in other words, more varied but, with less red, less bright.

The grounds include gardens behind the queen’s quarters, which had quite a few flowers in bloom during our visit. This was a nice effect, as was the occasional view of a mountain in the background, one of the 37 mountains located in Seoul.

Part of the palace garden behind the queen’s quarters in Gyeongbok Palace.

Part of the palace garden behind the queen’s quarters in Gyeongbok Palace.

Our group visited a second of Seoul’s five surviving royal palaces, Changdeokgung, built in 1405. Scores of children were on site, too, apparently on school trips. My favorite little kid was wearing a New York Yankees cap.

Our guide said the king who built this palace did so because he had just murdered all his relatives and any other competitor for the throne and did not want to live in the previous palace with its bad memories. As our guide said, “he was human, too.”

An example of residential buildings inside Changdeok Palace.

An example of residential buildings inside Changdeok Palace.

The palace includes a public area, the royal family’s residential buildings and a garden at the rear, called the Secret Garden because only the royal family and anyone approved by the king could go there.

Buyongi Pond inside the Secret Garden at Seoul’s Changdeok Palace.

Buyongi Pond inside the Secret Garden at Seoul’s Changdeok Palace.

Another unique feature is the separate set of walled buildings that one king built in the 1840s for the concubine who was the love of his life and the woman he would have chosen as his queen. However, when it came to choosing a bride, he had to accept the choice of his grandmother, the family matriarch.

Buildings inside the compound that was home to a favored concubine at Changdeok Palace in the 19th century. Note buildings here are not brightly painted.

Buildings inside the compound that was home to a favored concubine at Changdeok Palace in the 19th century. Note buildings here are not brightly painted.

Our guide talked briefly about the paper used in shutters and sliding windows. He said the paper, from mulberry trees, absorbs the moisture when humidity is high and, as it is white, reflects the sun.

Angry citizens destroyed this palace (because the royals skipped town) during the Japanese invasion/occupation of 1592-1598; it was quickly rebuilt, in 1611.

Changdeokgung is the best preserved of Seoul’s palaces and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in large part because of the natural style of the garden at the back.

The garden is a separate attraction available to the public for 90-minute guided tours. I joined one such tour but soon left that quite large group to walk the garden paths at my own pace.

It’s remarkable to realize these quiet palace grounds are in the middle of a bustling capital city.

Costumed reenactors demonstrate the traditional changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace.

Costumed reenactors demonstrate the traditional changing-of-the-guard ceremony at Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace.

This is the first of a series of articles and photos on Korea by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Kenya and the World’s Largest Land Mammal

Kenya, elephants, Amboseli

A family group walks toward us on the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya. On the Maasai Mara, we watched game on the Maasai Mara National Reserve as well as the adjacent Transmara and the Olare Motorogi conservancies.

NAIROBI, Kenya — I have a foster elephant, and her name is Kamok. Actually, quite a few people are foster “parents” to the same elephant.

This youngster, born in September 2013 in Kenya, was orphaned at birth (natural causes, it says on her paperwork). David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphanage for elephants and rhinos, located in Nairobi National Park, took her in.

She is among nearly two dozen young elephants at the orphanage available for fostering, a program that engages animal lovers at a personal level and helps fund their care. A couple of rhinos also can be fostered.

I visited the orphanage on the last day of a June press trip to Kenya.

In Kenya, Amboseli elephants at the Kitirua Conservancy.

A good view of the large herd we loved watching while on the Kitirua Conservancy.

During the trip, elephants got a lot of our attention, in part because our itinerary also included Amboseli National Park and the private Kitirua Conservancy that abuts it.

The Amboseli area is noted for its large elephant herds, but those herds are only large compared with other areas, not with herds of the past.

The Amboseli elephant herd as we sat among them, with a young one front and center.

Our driver/guide at Amboseli, Joseph, passed along interesting trivia about elephants and frightening information about their fate, past, present and possibly future.

Starting with the fun factoids, he said the relative lengths of an elephant’s tusks indicate which tusk is most used, i.e., a shorter left tusk means the elephant is essentially left-handed.

The elephant’s trunk has 65,000 muscles and 3,000 nerve endings.

As for their fabled memories, Joseph said elephants don’t forget the scents of other animals or humans. He said you could blow a few times into the trunk of a baby, and the baby will remember you decades later.

Amboseli elephants at the Kitirua Conservancy in Kenya.

This mother-and-child pair seen in real life on the Maasai Mara were better than any YouTube clip. The youngster tried vigorously to engage his mother in play. He then entertained himself by walking a few steps forward, then walking backwards, then repeating the process a few times.

Separately, we were told elephants have six sets of teeth in a lifetime, each good for a decade, after which they cannot live much longer.

In the 1960s, Amboseli National Park was host to 40,000 to 45,000 elephants, but now the park is down to around 1,600, Joseph said. Poaching is the major problem, but not in Amboseli itself, where the elephants benefit from 24-hour monitoring.

A toddler, seen on the Maasai Mara, nurses with one foot lifted off the ground as if he were about to dance. Our guide said the lifted foot indicates contentment.

A toddler, seen on the Maasai Mara, nurses with one foot lifted off the ground as if he were about to dance. Our guide said the lifted foot indicates contentment.

The problem, Joseph said, is that the elephants, which require 600 pounds of food daily per adult, must move around to eat, and that includes crossing into Tanzania, where licensed game hunting is legal. Poachers take advantage of that, he said.

An elephant wraps up a drinking session at a waterhole on the plains of the Maasai Mara.

An elephant wraps up a drinking session at a waterhole on the plains of the Maasai Mara.

Although continued severe drops in elephant numbers could render them extinct in a decade, Joseph said he is hopeful that “international intervention” will be effective enough that the elephant population will actually grow in the next 10 to 15 years.

And, by the way, another guide, Duncan, said the Big Five, meaning the large species tourists traditionally most want to see, originated as hunters’ top targets: the lions and leopards for their skins; rhinos for their horns; elephants for their tusks, and buffalo because they are so dangerous.

During our game viewing on Kitirua Conservancy, Joseph drove into the middle of a large elephant herd and we could get great close-in photos of very young elephants and others, plus one youngish male that was very curious about our vehicle. He moved his trunk across our windshield, probably checking for a memorable scent!

Elephants mill around our four-wheel drive on the Kitirua Conservancy, which is adjacent to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.

Elephants mill around our four-wheel drive on the Kitirua Conservancy, which is adjacent to Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.

Our guides said the animals see our vehicles, and even our tents, as big boxes, and these “boxes” don’t have odors that frighten them.

Visiting the orphanage was a chance to get even closer. We watched 16 elephants race to stalls for their evening feeding. They are bottle fed milk, then given tree branches to work over. (The youngest, including my Kamok, were not part of this parade.)

Kenya, elephants, Amboseli

One of the orphaned elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s orphanage for elephants and rhinos runs to a feeding stall where he knows he will be bottle fed his evening milk.

The orphans will be relocated to Tsavo National Park at around age 4 or 5 with more flexibility to meander in open spaces and decide for themselves when they will join a wild herd.

We also saw one of the rhino orphans, the blind 9-year-old Maxwell, now adult sized, but he cannot be returned to the wild as he cannot take care of himself.

Maxwell, the abandoned and blind rhino, makes himself available for attentions from his human visitors.

Maxwell, the abandoned and blind rhino, makes himself available for attentions from his human visitors.

Maybe I am anthropomorphizing, but I thought he looked sad and seemed to take consolation in leaning against the fence surrounding his corral and letting people pet him or touch his horn through the fence.

It costs only $50 a year to foster one of the Sheldrick orphans, a drop in the ocean when measured against the challenges. We receive regular updates on the progress of our fostered animals.

Time to leave now: A group of elephants walking away from us on the Maasai Mara.

Time to leave now: A group of elephants walking away from us on the Maasai Mara.

Ditto for a group on Kitirua Conservancy.

Ditto for a group on Kitirua Conservancy.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

 

Bogota: Smell the Coffee

Bogota-La Macarena Eatery

A Bogota restaurant called Gaudi is decorated to reflect the Spanish architect’s style. It is in Bogota’s Macarena district.

BOGOTA, Colombia — It’s possible to see quite a lot of Colombia’s capital city in a single day, as I learned during a fly-by visit with a small group of travel writers a few months ago.

Bogota, a metropolis of 8 million, is set on an Andean plateau 8,563 feet above sea level with mountains rising all around it. Driving from point to point in the city often provided us with striking views of the mountainous setting with, at times, much of the city spread out below us.

As for our itinerary:

• The day started at the Gold Museum in an old downtown area called La Candelaria. The museum neighborhood was a bit rundown, but the interior of the building was anything but.

Bogota -- Gold Museum artifact

One of thousands of gold artifacts at the Gold Museum.

It houses a huge collection of gold items — earrings, headdresses, masks, neckpieces and the like — made by pre-Hispanic peoples. Our guide said this was the world’s largest such collection. The displayed pieces were those saved from marauding Spaniards, often because the items were in tombs found after the conquistadors got out of the way.

One of our hostesses said the museum displays 35,000 pieces of gold, representing 10 to 12 cultures.

• An artisans’ market, Casona del Museo, with numerous shops offering handicrafts and the emeralds for which Colombia is famous, is handily located across the street from the Gold Museum. There were armed guards near the entry. (Security in Colombia is discussed further in a separate article below.)

Bogota -- Artisans' Market

One of numerous shops selling handicraft items in the Casona del Museo. The site is near the Gold Museum in central Bogota.

• Also in La Candelaria, we toured the 1910 Presidential Palace. As part of on-site security, we were required to check cameras and all bags, including handbags. It was a little unsettling to hand over my purse with money and credit cards (my passport was in a safe).

Bogota -- Presidential palace

Side door of the Presidential Palace in Bogota. Beyond this point, tourists aren’t allowed to carry cameras.

There is a sweeping open yard in front of the presidential residence, sometimes used for big public events. The residence itself has the de rigueur columns at the front.

Inside the Presidential Palace, the guided tour included the Ministers’ Room, with a wood table, measuring 65.6 feet by about six and a half feet, that was constructed right in the room; the Yellow Room, aka the credentials room, looking rather French in decor and furnishings, and the Bolivar Room. The latter featured a painting of the first Colombian president, Simon Bolivar. His eyes seemed trained on us no matter where we stood.

Bogota -- Plaza Bolivar

Historic building in the heart of Bogota’s downtown, near Plaza Bolivar.

Tourists can join free guided English-language tours of the presidential home, offered six times daily five days a week, and, at the Web, they can confirm a time and date for their tours.

• We lunched at Chibchombia in a bohemian neighborhood called Macarena, described as being one of Bogota’s seven gastronomical areas. It is popular with locals and tourists because of those restaurants, some with a tradition of having been gathering places for well-known movers and shakers, such as political figures and journalists.

Chibchombia was a charming eatery, decorated with Colombian artifacts: mounted model houses, masks with the heads of animals, pottery, etc. The ladies restroom was amusing, too. An old-fashioned pump handle was the faucet, but it had very modern sensors that responded to a nearby hand to produce the running water.

B.ChibchombiaEatery4

Chibchombia, specializing in traditional Colombian foods, in Bogota’s Macarena neighborhood.

Openers were arepa de choclo — corn patties with cheese inside — and meat-filled empanadas. The choclo was rather sweet. As for drinks, one option was juice made from a fruit called curuba, very tasty with milk.

I has a soup called ajiaco, which featured three kinds of potatoes, chicken, corn, avocado, rice, capers, sour cream — the last four served separately. This was good, a real comfort food.

(Also, at breakfast, I had had another Colombian favorite, hot chocolate with cheese tossed in.)

From here, we walked a short way up the street to sample the goods at the Bogota Brewery, a local brewpub with several locations in the city. I can’t report on the taste because I don’t drink beer, but this was a pleasant, cozy establishment.

• We returned to La Candelaria to see the Old Town on foot. There were lots of graffiti on the buildings in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some were creative and suggested talent, some were merely boorish.

We walked onto the narrow Embudo Street (meaning Funnel Street, so named because of its shape), noted for its small brightly painted houses and graffiti of some interest. it has several small businesses, including one selling traditional corn liquor, and another, which is a tiny hotel.

Bogota - La Candelaria District

Wall art seen on the Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo in Bogota’s La Candelaria district.

We also stopped at an old private home, site of a business called Magma Ceramica, to watch the resident

Bogota ceramics

A Bogota potter demonstrating how he makes a cup on a wheel.

potter/artist show us how he throws clay as well as some of his finished work.

Bogota -- Calle Coliseo

View of the Calle del Coliseo in the historic heart of Bogota. The Christopher Columbus Theater is in the foreground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

• In another and spiffier part of the Old Town, the Coliseo is a charming walking street and site of Colombia’s original presidential home, first occupied by the country’s hero, Simon Bolivar. His lover lived in another house on the same street, we were told.

 

Bogota -- Museum of Colonial Art

The interior of the Museum of Colonial Art in Bogota, where the art ranges from paintings and sculpture to fine furniture dating from colonial times.

Coliseo gives access to the Colonial Art Museum, a former monastery, which houses paintings, but also artifacts from colonial life. To enter, again we were required to turn over all bags including handbags, but not cameras. Our guide said this was not typical for other museums in Bogota.

The end of Coliseo spilled into Plaza Bolivar, Bogota’s main central square, site of the Bogota Cathedral complex, the National Capitol building, City Hall and the Hall of Justice. Plaza Bolivar is quite near the current Presidential Palace, which we had visited in the morning.

Bogota -- Bogota Cathedral

The Bogota Cathedral, at left, in the heart of downtown, on Plaza Bolivar.

• We ended our day with a coffee tasting, reminiscent of a wine tasting. This was a first for me.

The location was an establishment called E&D, and, of course, the highlighted coffees were Colombian. E&D staffers said that, for a fee, the shop will schedule such events for individual tourists or small groups. The setup included spittoons for those who didn’t want to drink the coffee. I spat.

I don’t like coffee. To me, although the event was educational and fun, all brews smelled the same and all tasted bitter.

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Colombia: The Security Issue

Until about seven or eight years ago, Colombia was the backdrop for a lethal combination of drug warlords, left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups. Prospective tourists have not forgotten about that.

Then, there is garden-variety crime, and tourists can be the victims. In mid-2011, those victims included a couple of my friends who were robbed in Bogota.

The country remains the subject of a U.S. State Department warning that says, in part, “security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Cartagena and Bogota, but violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural areas and parts of large cities.”

Travelers are urged to exercise caution and review current information at the State Department’s website.

My press group’s experience was much like that of a tourist who buys a packaged tour, which typically includes hotels in safe areas and a full plate of guided activities. A good tour operator will keep travelers busy with engaging diversions, a plan that also tends to keep them out of harm’s way.

Kamloops: Beyond the Railroad Station

Late-afternoon view across the Thompson River at Kamloops in British Columbia.

Late-afternoon view across the Thompson River at Kamloops in British Columbia.

KAMLOOPS, British Columbia — I wouldn’t have thought about visiting Kamloops in western Canada if it hadn’t been for the railroad.

In this case, the rail company was the Rocky Mountaineer, which operates a number of tourist rail journeys in

The railroad station at Kamloops, British Columbia.

The railroad station at Kamloops, British Columbia.

Canada, plus one itinerary that goes to Seattle.

In the fall of last year, a friend and I joined the rail operator’s two-day trip from Vancouver to Banff, meaning the town inside Banff National Park in Alberta province.

En route, we overnighted in Kamloops, arriving a little before 5 p.m. on a sunny day, which gave us some time before dinner to walk around the small city (population: 85,000), which bills itself as Canada’s tournament capital.

The Japanese Garden in Kamloops’ Riverside Park.

The Japanese Garden in Kamloops’ Riverside Park.

We headed straight for the aptly named Riverside Park, which surprised us with a small Japanese garden, plus a rose garden.

We were greeted there by members of the Kamloops Mounted Patrol, an organization of local volunteers who have assigned themselves the task of welcoming out-of-towners. It was as if an information booth had sought us out.

In fact, the mounted greeters, wearing 10-gallon hats and other traditional western gear, had met our train, too.

Riverside Park faces the Thompson River, with low mountains on the opposite side. It was September, but we

A water skier roars along the Thompson River, passing under a railroad bridge in Kamloops.

A water skier roars along the Thompson River, passing under a railroad bridge in Kamloops.

found ourselves watching a water skier race up the river.

In fact, given its location on water, amid mountains and near countless lakes, Kamloops is a fine destination for vacationers looking for a variety of outdoor activities, which may include hiking, fishing (including through ice in winter), mountain biking and various water sports. Kamloops also offers First Nations experiences.

These options don’t even take into account the more than 115 tournaments that the city hosts each year.

Our visit was a one-night stand and, as a result, time was too limited for any of that.

We therefore took the sightseer’s course, with a Kamloops map in hand.

Rock art in Riverside Park, apparently inspired by the traditions of the world’s aboriginal rock artists. The piece, by Bill Vazan, is called “Raven’s Nest.”

Rock art in Riverside Park, apparently inspired by the traditions of the world’s aboriginal rock artists. The piece, by Bill Vazan, is called “Raven’s Nest.”

First, about the park: Its Japanese garden reflects Kamloops’ sister-city relationship with Uji in Japan.

We also spotted six boulders, atop a small knoll, covered with rock art that can be understood as a modern iteration of ancient rock-art traditions and forms. The boulders comprise a piece of art created in 2002 by artist Bill Vazan as part of a Kamloops Art Gallery sculpture project.

On leaving the park, we found our way to a few historic structures — a church, cigar factory, courthouse, railroad station and school. Another such site was the 1904 Bank of Commerce building, now home to the Brownstone Restaurant, the perfect spot for our sole Kamloops dinner.

The Brownstone Restaurant, housed in a historic 1904 bank building in downtown Kamloops.

The Brownstone Restaurant, housed in a historic 1904 bank building in downtown Kamloops.

Or so we thought. The restaurant was closed on Mondays despite the fact the Rocky Mountaineer brought a trainload of passengers/diners to town each Monday during its spring-to-autumn season. We were puzzled.

(An update: According to the restaurant’s website, it is now open for dinner daily.)

On the other hand, we were delighted to stumble onto an alley with a few very

Wall mural, part of Kamloops’ Back Alley Art Gallery project. Fittingly, this one welcomes visitors to a shoe store.

Wall mural, part of Kamloops’ Back Alley Art Gallery project. Fittingly, this one welcomes visitors to a shoe store.

detailed murals painted on the walls, the result of the city’s growing Back Alley Art Gallery project.

Finally, we were impressed by the look of a pedestrian bridge that passes over the town’s railroad tracks, and again amused, this time, by the sign that greeted us after we climbed its steps:

The pedestrian bridge in Kamloops, B.C., which welcomes strollers to the top with a cheeky sign, saying, “Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

The pedestrian bridge in Kamloops, B.C., which welcomes strollers to the top with a cheeky sign, saying, “Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

“Congratulations! You made it to the top.”

 

This article and its photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Cartagena: City of Many Colors

The San Felipe de Barajas fortress seen at night.

The San Felipe de Barajas fortress seen at night.

CARTAGENA, Colombia — It won’t be long before Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast will be 500 years old. It was a Spanish colonial city, founded in 1533, a fact brought to life in surviving architecture.

The city boasts a charming UNESCO-protected Old Town with historic churches and houses, nearly seven miles of city walls and a fortress described as the largest in the Americas.

In addition, because of its location on the Caribbean, Cartagena is a sun ‘n’ fun destination and a cruise port.

A section of Cartagena’s nearly seven miles of city walls. The orange exterior of the Santa Teresa Hotel is visible at center rising above the walls.

A section of Cartagena’s nearly seven miles of city walls. The orange exterior of the Santa Teresa Hotel is visible at center rising above the walls.

The history, in combination with the climate and beaches associated with a resort, makes Cartagena one of Colombia’s most popular destinations for Americans. It also is one of several Colombian cities with a tourist police unit.

I visited Cartagena for the first time in mid-2012 with a small group of travel writers.

We experienced the city in several ways:

A rich pink for the trim offsets the blue of this house at the corner of the Plaza de San Diego in Cartagena’s Old Town.

A rich pink for the trim offsets the blue of this house at the corner of the Plaza de San Diego in Cartagena’s Old Town.

• For starters, the historic Old Town, mostly surrounded by colonial-era walls, is extensive, colorful and very appealing. I made several solo excursions, sometimes in the early morning, walking through picturesque squares to admire balconies, bright paint jobs and soaring church steeples. Side streets are narrow, our hosts said, because the houses provide shade for each other.

I walked on the city walls, whose first sections were constructed in the late 16th century, for stunning views of the Old Town, as well as the city’s harbor and the high-rises of the nearby and recently developed New City. About 30 percent of Cartagena’s 1.2 million people live in the Old Town or the New City, our guide reported.

A religious procession in the streets of Cartagena’s Old Town.

A religious procession in the streets of Cartagena’s Old Town.

During one stroll, I stumbled onto a religious procession, as well.

• We were guided through the city’s largest fortress, San Felipe de Barajas, on the rocky crag overlooking the city and so well fortified it was unconquerable.

It is beautiful when lighted at night, but by day, the gray stone structure is not very pretty. Rather, it is dramatic in size and complexity, with great long slanting walls to a very green lawn below. Our guide advised the fortress covers 15,000 square meters, or about 3.7 acres.

It originated in the 17th century to protect Cartagena from pirates and was enlarged in the 18th. Our visit included climbing to several levels and descending steep steps to look at hideouts for men, food and ammunition deep inside.

• We sailed in Cartagena’s harbor late one afternoon aboard a 64-foot catamaran.

The Inner Harbor with a few of the high-rises that typify some of Cartagena’s modern neighborhoods.

The Inner Harbor with a few of the high-rises that typify some of Cartagena’s modern neighborhoods.

This was a slow and smooth ride, departing from a dock in front of the Old Town walls and heading into the harbor area that serves cruise ships. The sailing provided sightings of a lot of New City’s skyscrapers as we headed away from the Old Town.

One of Cartagena’s horse-drawn carriages taking visitors on a sightseeing ride in the Old Town.

One of Cartagena’s horse-drawn carriages taking visitors on a sightseeing ride in the Old Town.

• Our group also sampled a very popular sightseeing mode — the horse-drawn carriage, which conveyed us up and down the narrow streets of the Old Town in the early evening. It’s another leisurely way to look at the city.

Such tours aren’t available during the heat of the midday, to protect the horses.

• Colombia produces 65% of the world’s gem quality emeralds, according to our host at the Joyería Caribe Emerald Museum and Factory in Cartagena.

We toured this site, a business that designs, manufactures and sells jewelry made with Colombian emeralds. Its plant includes a 4,000-square-foot jewelry exhibition area, plus a small museum with displays illustrating

Gold and red are popular colors for houses in Cartagena’s Old Town. These are on Plaza de los Coches, once the site of the city’s slave market.

Gold and red are popular colors for houses in Cartagena’s Old Town. These are on Plaza de los Coches, once the site of the city’s slave market.

the look of emeralds in the rough and exhibiting pre-Hispanic emerald and gold objects.

We were advised that Cartagena is 900 miles from the emerald mines in the Andes but that Bolivar state, where Cartagena is located, produces seven tons of gold a year.

Cartagena was the place to buy jewelry!

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Dining One’s Way Through Madrid

One of numerous food displays inside the San Miguel Market near the Plaza Mayor in central Madrid.

One of numerous food displays inside the San Miguel Market near the Plaza Mayor in central Madrid.

MADRID — In Spain, the land of tapas, it’s awfully easy to make food a theme for a holiday.

The Royal Palace in the historic center of Madrid, a must-see regardless of special interests.

The Royal Palace in the historic center of Madrid, a must-see regardless of special interests.

During my recent visit to Madrid with a small press group, the sightseeing included traditional elements, like the Prado, the Royal Palace, the Plaza Mayor and other monumental and historic attractions.

However, our itinerary was laced with lesser-known choices that may hold special appeal for foodies, including the following:

• Casa Mira, Carrera de San Jeronimo 30, is a top spot for turrones, a Christmas sweet made with almonds, honey and egg white. It resembles marzipan.

A plaque on the sidewalk in front of Casa Mira tells passersby it has been in business more than 100 years in the same place, using an unchanged decor, making and selling the same products.

 

 

Madrid presents these plaques to all local businesses that satisfy these criteria. Casa Mira originated on its current site in 1855.

Wares offered for sale at La Violeta, a tiny Madrid shop where violets, the flowers, and violet, the color, provide the overriding theme for candies and other merchandise.

Wares offered for sale at La Violeta, a tiny Madrid shop where violets, the flowers, and violet, the color, provide the overriding theme for candies and other merchandise.

• La Violeta, a candy shop on Canalejas Square since 1915, won’t wait long to get its plaque. This tiny shop, where many things are the color of violets, has made candies, including one using violet petals, since its founding.

We admired and photographed the goods, then bought a sample.

• A visit to Lhardy Restaurant, Carrera de San Jeronimo 8, is a trip to

The Lhardy Restaurant, which still shows off the froufrou-y look of its 1839 origins.

The Lhardy Restaurant, which still shows off the froufrou-y look of its 1839 origins.

1839 — or a movie set — a little overdone by modern standards, with wood-paneled walls, red velvet upholstery, gaslights (now wired) and silver sets on sideboards.

That describes the upstairs dining room, said to have hosted a 19th century queen and her lovers.

The ground floor was a tiny space where customers helped themselves to sweets from circular display boxes, as well as coffee, then paid on the way out.

• Our group gleefully sampled churros dipped in thick chocolate, which the Chocolateria San Gines, on a sliver of a street next to the Church of San Gines, has served here since 1894. As it should, the decor provided a sense of its Gilded Age origins.

Madrid’s City Hall, and formerly the headquarters for Spain’s postal service, at Plaza de la Cibeles.

Madrid’s City Hall, and formerly the headquarters for Spain’s postal service, at Plaza de la Cibeles.

There were others in the 100-plus club, including a cape maker (where we were told then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shopped for herself after daughter Chelsea had spotted the business on a tour), a shoemaker and a tavern.

We lingered at Boton near the Plaza Mayor because Guinness crowned it the world’s oldest restaurant. It has had the same decor, same kitchen, same menu since its founding here in 1725, and its specialty is suckling pig.

However, by Old World standards, Boton isn’t terribly old, and the Guinness listing has many challengers.

Also just outside the Plaza Mayor, we visited San Miguel Market, a beautifully refurbished old covered market site. It is a glass-sided Beaux-Art ironworks structure dating from 1916. The food displays were gorgeous and, it seemed, endless. Visitors and locals take meals here, too.

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Avignon: Once Home to the Popes

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The 14th century papal palace in Avignon, saved from the depredations of 18th century French revolutionaries because it was too big and difficult to knock down.

The following article appeared in June 2013 at TravelWeekly.com, the electronic edition of Travel Weekly, a national travel trade journal. It was written by Nadine Godwin, who is the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, published by The Intrepid Traveler. 

AVIGNON, France — On a recent afternoon, I walked vigorously around the old walls of Avignon and into the central city. I aimed to revisit the

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

Historic walls surrounding the old center of Avignon.

medieval papal palace and other places I had not seen since leading a teenaged nephew through these parts nearly three decades ago.

The warm weather and late-afternoon light were irresistible — and new digital equipment let me take as many unnecessary photos as I wanted without producing a pain in the pocketbook.

I started my stroll at a little after 4 p.m., only 10 hours after leaving New York’s JFK on XL Airways’ nonstop service to Marseille. I had joined other travel journalists and a handful of New York area travel agents on the inaugural flight for the launch of the only nonstop between those two points. [Read more...]

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