A Day in Le Havre

havre-bistrot-copy

I have my issues with port calls when cruising.

For starters, there’s the sheer size of today’s vessels. Often there are two or more visiting on any given day, each of them disgorging the population of a small town into often-small towns.

Then there are those pricey shore excursions, which in my opinion seldom give value for the dollar. Several hours on a bus, followed by an often hurried tour of some famous sites, followed all too often by a leisurely pause for shopping, followed by another few hours on the return to the ship is not my idea of a well-spent day. [Read more...]

Eugene Boudin at MuMa

Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

If you’ve never heard of Eugene Boudin (1824-1898), you’re forgiven. Even Boudin, at the end of his life, recognized rather poignantly that he was destined to be a footnote in the history of modern art.

Yet Boudin does not deserve to be forgotten. Not only was he a source of influence and inspiration for the Impressionists, many of whom he knew and encouraged, but he was a delightful artist in his own right.

Boudin was born in Honfleur, France, and grew up in nearby Le Havre. Although he traveled to paint in Paris and Italy during his career, he returned to the area of his birth frequently; the maritime scenes of Normandy were a lifelong inspiration.

Now the Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art (MuMa) in Le Havre has mounted the first retrospective of Boudin’s works since 1906 and by far the largest, comprising as it does well over 300 works.

The curators have wisely arranged the exhibition chronologically, which allows them to illustrate their notion of Boudin as a “Craftsman of Light.” (The French title is L’Atelier de la Lumiere.)

By Eugene Bodin (Copyright, musee d'art moderne Andre Malraux.)

By Eugene Bodin (Copyright, musee d’art moderne Andre Malraux.)

A well-conceived guide to the exhibition (available in English as well as French) allows the visitor to follow his development. He began as a largely self-taught artist, but attracted the interest of established painters who encouraged him. The town of Le Havre gave him a scholarship to learn his craft by copying Old Masters in the Louvre; as part of his tuition he had to send the city one completed copy a year.

When he married, he spent time with his in-laws in Finnesterre in Brittany where he was fascinated by the austere landscape and sombre Breton interiors. There he produced a series of dark and evocative canvases.

But his first love was the seashore of his native Normandy, whose beaches, harbors, and sailing vessels provided a lifetime of subjects and inspiration. And of course light was a never-ending source of fascination for Boudin. Inspired by the Barbizon School he developed a penchant for painting outdoors, en plein aire in the French phrase, and became one of the pioneers of the method.

Later in his career he created study after study, quick, impressionistic sketches in paint, often used by artists as a sort of rough draft for finished works to be completed later in the studio. But Boudin seldom took the subsequent steps, a tendency for which he expressed some regret as artists were “supposed” to produce finished works.

And yet, by working his way, he anticipated the more informal “impressionistic” style that became Impressionism. His studies of clouds in particular are in essence proto-abstracts and quite lovely.

Boudin exhibit at Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

Boudin exhibit at Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art

It may not be worth taking a detour to catch this exhibition unless you have a special interest in this little corner of the history of modern art, but if your travels take you to Le Havre it would be a shame to miss it. L’Atelier de La Lumiere offers a rare chance to survey an artist’s entire career (and Boudin was nothing if not prolific) and gain a deeper understanding of the wellsprings of one of the major artistic movements of the late nineteenth century.

boudin-poster copyL’Atelier de La Lumiere runs through September 26, 2016.
Andre Malraux Museum of Modern Art
Musee d’Art Moderne André Malraux (MuMa)
Boulevard Clemenceau (on the seafront)
Le Havre

 

 

 

Kenya: Taking to the Sky

Sunrise on the Maasai Mara, seen from a hot-air balloon.

Sunrise on the Maasai Mara, seen from a hot-air balloon.

ON THE MAASAI MARA, Kenya — During a recent Kenya trip, I had a few opportunities to do game viewing from the air, in some cases from small aircraft when traveling to and between tent camps and once on a helicopter tour of the Rift Valley just outside of Nairobi.

But the best choice for overflying the animals — for great views of the animals as well as their home turf — was the hot-air balloon ride operated by Kenya-based Balloon Safaris, Ltd.

I was in Kenya with other travel journalists, hosted by the Kenya Tourism Board. This particular excursion started at the Mara Plains tented camp, owned by Great Plains Conservation and located on the Olare Motorogi Conversancy, adjacent to the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

You don’t have to be a daredevil to take a hot-air balloon ride over the Maasai Mara in southwestern Kenya, but this is not for sissies. It’s not for the lazy either.

We were up early enough to depart by around 5 a.m. We needed to be at the launch site, about half an hour away, in time for lift-off before sunrise.

It was chilly being out and about at such an hour, even in June. During the ride to the launch site, we discovered that our four-wheel-drive transport came stocked with nicely lined ponchos. They were a lifesaver for this and other brisk early morning activities.

I can clock the journey by looking at my photographs. I took my first shot at 5:30 a.m. of the balloon on the ground, just being filled with air. The first shot in the sky was at 5:45.

In the intervening 15 minutes, we passed through a short security check then were lifted into the air.

As for takeoff, initially we were sitting down, but in a horizontal position, until the basket could be moved and came upright.

Our pilot revved up a fire to heat the air inside the balloon, which in turn kept the balloon blown up to its full size. This was enough to allow us to rise because the air was much thinner and warmer inside the balloon than the colder air outside.

One of several balloons that shared the skies with our own. The view also highlights the majesty of the Maasai Mara landscape.

One of several balloons that shared the skies with our own. The view also highlights the majesty of the Maasai Mara landscape.

Our pilot/guide was an Australian, Capt. Ellie Kirkman, whose husband, Capt. Milton Kirkman, was piloting another balloon traveling in tandem with us. In fact, there were several balloons in the sky and we could photograph them in all directions.

We had a beautiful sky and could enjoy views of sloping hills, winding tree-lined rivers and some wildlife below.

View of the Maasai Mara landscape as well as giraffes moving away from a floating balloon. A second balloon is visible in the distance.

View of the Maasai Mara landscape as well as giraffes moving away from a floating balloon. A second balloon is visible in the distance.

The biggest grouping was a really large herd of buffalo. We also looked down on lone or small groups of giraffes and zebras. Sometimes, aware of the balloon or balloons in the sky, they skittered away from us, but not in a great frantic rush.

Zebras, sensing a balloon nearby, skitter away.

Zebras, sensing a balloon nearby, skitter away.

The journey lasted 60 minutes — my last airborne photo was at 6:45 — but went very quickly.

We floated relatively close to the ground, it seemed, but, of course, there are no electrical wires or other such impediments on nature preserves to bother us at low levels.

The shadow of our balloon seen against the richly colored Maasai Mara landscape.

The shadow of our balloon seen against the richly colored Maasai Mara landscape.

At its Website, Balloon Safaris, Ltd., lists the cost of the balloon experience at $450 (I took essentially the same trip 10 years ago when, as I recall, that price tag was $300).

Balloon Safaris designates a specific tree where each flight will end and where breakfast will be served to passengers. As we neared our destination, we were amused to watch the balloon in front of us, piloted by our captain’s husband, head in a direction that would take it straight into the designated tree.

Watching a second balloon clear the tree that marks our breakfast site.

Watching a second balloon clear the tree that marks our breakfast site.

He brought the balloon up to clear the tree, leaving enough time then for our captain — his wife — to be first to land. On the ground, he claimed he had really been first in that “race.”

The flight was followed by breakfast in the bush, with seating at a table under the tree that nearly lost its top. The menu included pastries and croissants, yogurt, quiche, sausages, cereal plus hot drinks.

With this, we were primed for a busy day on the ground. After all, the day had barely begun. My timed photos show we were already game viewing by around 8 a.m.

The flight completed, a hot-air balloon deflates on the ground.

The flight completed, a hot-air balloon deflates on the ground.

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.

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.

Love in Far Off Lands: 4 Romantic Get Aways

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The Jumeirah Dhevanafushi is one of the fine resorts in the Maldives being offered in Greaves’ romance catalogue. (Courtesy of Greaves)

The experience of an exotic destination adds another level of bonding to weddings and honeymoons. Destinations around the world want to present themselves as idyllic settings for the main event. While these locales may be a little too late for this year’s June brides, they make it worth a couple’s while to marry outside the June zone. While Ireland may be within the temperate zone, Thailand and India can at least promise warmth the year round.

Destination weddings can be especially effective when the friends and family are already scattered in different locations around the U.S. and the world. In that case, the wedding serves as a neutral destination. It’s always smart to choose resorts that have wedding planners available. For the modern honeymooner look to make a combination of active traveling and laid back time in a resort setting.

(Editor’s note: For even more romantic inspiration, check out the The 2014 Official Destination Weddings & Honeymoons Directory in the September issues of Vacation Agent and Agent@Home. Click the link for details on getting yours.)

South Asian Romantic Experience

Ancient Himalayan monasteries in Bhutan, the rain forests of Sri Lanka, top end resorts in the Maldives, the national parks of India and more. South Asia has become much more accessible to luxury travel with the emergence of Dubai as an aviation hub.

Dubai has become a great place for high-end stopovers as well. South Asia, with its legendary commitment to spirituality would make an ideal honeymoon setting for the right couples. Greaves Tours LLC, a specialist in South Asia, created a new 28-page honeymoon destination guide to India as well as other regional destinations like the Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Dubai. Greaves can handle even the most opulent honeymooners. One program includes the operator’s private plane.

“We’ve designed this destination guide to help couples think beyond the traditional for their honeymoon by showcasing options such as dining at an elephant camp, climbing to the top of an ancient monastery and sipping tea with local monks, or diving into the Indian Ocean straight from their over-the-water villa,” said Ian Cambata, Greaves’ director of business development. Any trepidation about sending a young couple to such exotic far off locales should be assuaged by Greaves’ 30 years of customizing journeys in the region.

Buddhist Beach Nuptials

Romantic Buddhist bliss awaits at Zeavola. (Courtesy of Zeavola)

Romantic Buddhist bliss awaits at Zeavola. (Courtesy of Zeavola)

On the idyllic Thai island of Phi Phi, out in the Andaman Sea, couples can take their vows in a traditional barefoot Buddhist ceremony on a white sand beach at Zeavola. Couples can plant a “love tree” as part of the ceremony. The Thai Wedding Ceremony Package involves monks and is conducted in the morning, with the reception, cocktail and dinner in the evening. It includes a Buddhist prayer ceremony, holy water pouring and bonding ceremony, a floral arch, champagne and cake cutting ceremony.

Zeavola’s wedding planners can assist couples with special requests and in navigating the sometimes complete legal requirements of marrying in Thailand. The wedding specialist can organize a Thai marriage certificate.

The weddings are enhanced by the resort’s teak wood villas. Zeavola’s Pool Villa Suites include private gardens, outdoor rain showers and more. For the Western Wedding Ceremony Package, a celebrant conducts a blessing ceremony with an exchange of vows. If a couple wants the ceremony to be traditionally Christian, a priest can be arranged at extra cost. Divers love the resort because it’s set within a national marine park. The resort can also offer weddings underwater.

The Thai Wedding Ceremony and Western Wedding Ceremony are priced at 71,000 baht ($2,192) and 65,000 baht ($2,007) respectively. Beverages are extra and so are a host of other options including make-up and hair, manicure and pedicure, Thai costumes for the bride and groom, photography, VDO and scuba diving. An array of live entertainment options is also available.

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A Review: ‘Love,’ Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles Show at the Mirage, Las Vegas

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from The Beatles LOVE, Cirque du Soleil

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds from The Beatles LOVE, Cirque du Soleil

LAS VEGAS, NV – I entered with high expectations but, alas, I found myself merely in like with Love.

Cirque du Soleil’s high-powered homage to the Fab Four is chock full of Cirque’s trademark glitz and over-the-top surreal creativity but oddly lacking in the circus style acts that make most Cirque shows such crowd pleasers. It’s a lot of Soleil with little Cirque.

What we get instead can best be labeled interpretive dance. Unfortunately, while it is performed with Cirque’s customary excellence, the choreography has an unfortunate tendency to lapse into the overwrought and pretentious.

Here’s a Youtube preview:

The creators have peopled the ingenious and hyperactive set at the Mirage Resort and Casino with the usual array of post-modern oddities, many of whom seem to bear little relation to the Beatles canon. Yes, there is a briefly glimpsed Father McKenzie, but what’s with the little fat guy, or the tall bald guy in the white frock coat, or the muscular dude in the Michelin-Man rubber pants?

Like the intense intellectual artistes one imagines the Cirque creative team to be, they have placed heavy emphasis on the darker and more “poetic” pieces in the Beatles’ songbook. I, for one, would have liked to have seen and heard more of their earlier, bouncier, subtextless songs. The later, more surreal songs gain little from having their bizarre imagery translated into concrete form.

On the other hand, this approach gave the costume designers an opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. I thought at more than one point that they had more fun creating the show than I was having watching it.

The result is a musical mish-mosh that jumps backwards and forwards in time accompanied by a swirling blur of seemingly unrelated characters and imagery. More than once I was reminded of Shakespeare’s line about sound and fury signifying nothing – although to give the artists their due, I am sure a great deal of effort went into imagining every little thing that goes on during the show.

Still, the show has its moments. There is a bewitching dance featuring a lone male dancer and four white-clad women swirling about him on wires. The best numbers were the most circus-like, including an act featuring four furry-booted roller skaters and two half pipes, and a trampoline free for all reminiscent of a similar bit in La Nouba in Orlando.

Fortunately, the show closes on a high note with energetic renditions of Hey, Jude and All You Need Is Love. Which reminds me, did I mention the music? There’s lots of it, projected on a sound system to die for, and it was all written by perhaps the most talented pop group of the twentieth century. If the production fails to captivate you, you can always just close your eyes and let that magnificent music wash over you.

Tip: Those who didn’t damage their hearing during the Beatles’ heyday will be well advised to bring earplugs.

Cirque du Soleil – The Beatles LOVE
The Mirage Hotel & Casino
3400 Las Vegas Boulevard S
Las Vegas
(866) 963-9634
Tickets for the show range from $86.90 to $198. Click here for details.

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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Lake Placid: Farm to Table

Salad of yellow beets, spinach, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, goat cheese, with a dressing featuring maple syrup. The dish was served as part of a customized Farm Tour Tasting Menu at the Generations restaurant, at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Salad of yellow beets, spinach, heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, goat cheese, with a dressing featuring maple syrup. The dish was served as part of a customized Farm Tour Tasting Menu at the Generations restaurant, at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Lake Placid, N.Y. – Asgaard Farm & Dairy in New York’s Adirondack Mountains is pretty picky about the products it will sell.

Caitlin Aherne (who makes caramels — and soap — from goat’s milk at the farm in Au Sable Forks, N.Y.) said the proprietors recently fed an entire batch of below-standard goat cheese to the pigs, which must have been pretty nice by piggy standards! [Read more...]

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