A view of the skyline of the 17th century Colegio de Sales in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

15 Instagram-Worthy Things in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

San Miguel de Allende is nothing if not Instragrammable. With its rich colors, its colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets, its traditional crafts and its beautiful people, San Miguel will have your camera screaming to be clicked. Here’s why–15 of the most commonly photographed places and things in San Miguel de Allende.

A view of the skyline of the 17th century Colegio de Sales in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

With Camera in Hand in San Miguel de Allende

One of the rules of living in or visiting San Miguel de Allende in the central Mexican highlands: Never leave home without your camera! There are so many beautiful, odd, or off-beat things in San Miguel de Allende, pictures screaming to be taken everywhere you look. Whether you like the long-shot panorama of the streets and the view with purple jacaranda trees or you prefer to focus on the more intimate details of a dancer or your dinner, San Miguel is a feast for your lens.

Don’t believe it? Just put #SanMigueldeAllende into the search box on Instagram and see what you get. This town is an instagrammers banquet.

Take a look at this list of 15 of the Most Instragram-worthy photo spots and things in San Miguel de Allende.

* To see more wonderful photos of San Miguel de Allende, click on the Instagram images embedded below and check out the feeds of the photographers–including mine. Likes and comments ar always welcome there.

#15 – The Old Gas Pump: Was This the First Gas Station in San Miguel?

This old pump is found at the corner of Juarez and Mesones. I have no idea how long it has been there, but I’ve seen it in some very old photos, from the ’30s or ’40s. Until a couple of years ago, it tilted at a bit of an angle. Then one day it disappeared. There was a public outcry–“Where have you taken our beloved old gas pump? Bring it back!” But no worries, it had merely been removed to repair the base. It now sits proudly upright once again, just waiting for your camera. One of the best vintage things in San Miguel de Allende.

#14 – Vochos: The VW Beetles are One of the Best Things in San Miguel de Allende

You thought the original VW Beetle was a relic of the past? Not in Mexico, it’s not. In fact, Mexico was one of the very last countries in the world to still manufacture the iconic little car, and they can still be seen frequently on the streets of San Miguel. They are as beloved by Mexicans as they are in many other parts of the world. They even earned that ultimate sign of affection from Mexicans, a nickname. They are called vochos, though I have never been able to find out why. Perhaps for the “V” in VW. On July 30, 2003, the last vocho rolled off the assembly line in Puebla, Mexico, accompanied by a Mariachi singing the song “Las Golondrinas” (a Mexican folk song that speaks of farewell). It was immediately shipped off to become a permanent fixture at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany. So keep your eye open for photographable examples of this most Mexican of things in San Miguel de Allende.

I'm pretty certain that Mexico was the last country where the classic Volkswagen Beetle was still manufactured (up until just a few years ago). You still see a lot of them on the streets. Locally, they are called "Vochos" and are much beloved. When I first came to Mexico more than 20 years ago, most of the taxis in Mexico City were Vochos, with the front passenger seat removed for storing luggage and large parcels. Another hallmark of the streets of Mexico. They always make me smile, because I drove one myself in my university years. #vocho #mysweetblue #asundaycarpic #instamexgram #mexico_photolovers #mexigers #numberof1 #smartertravel #vwbug #vwbeetle #beetle #ss_blue_04 #wonderful_worldshots #trustalocal #tvc_pantone_snokelblue

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#13 – The Otomi Dollsellers

These Otomi Women craft lovely hand-made dolls with embroidered features and sell them in the streets and doorways of San Miguel. The Otomi people are an indigenous group that goes back centuries in this part of central Mexico. In fact, the nearby pyramid at Cañada de la Virgen, which dates back at least 900 years, was built by the Otomi. Thousands of their direct descendants live in the pueblos and ranchos around San Miguel de Allende.

#12 – The Fountain on Cuadrante: One of the Prettiest Things in San Miguel de Allende

There are many public fountains remaining around San Miguel, and several are quite lovely. But this one behind the Parroquia church, on Cuadrante Street, just uphill from Cuna de Allende, is surely the most photographed. It’s easy to see why. The carving, the colors and the bougainvillea are all lovely and tell a story of San Miguel’s colonial past. It is one of the prettiest things in San Miguel de Allende.

Probably the most photographed fountain in San Miguel de Allende, at the corner of Aldama and Cuadrante. A true symbol of San Miguel. Today it will be decorated, along with every other fountain in town. For "Night of the Altars," and people will stroll around town all evening seeing these and the beautiful altars for the Virgin of Sorrows that people build on their homes. #mexicolors #mextagram #mexico #mexico_lindo #mexico_magico #mexicoandando #Mexico_maravillosa #ig_mexico #igersgto #igersmexico #loves_mexico #ilovemexico #instatbn #chasingshadows #shutterbug_collective #catching_beauty_shots #transfer_visions #transfer_visions_nm #unesco #gounesco #fandelacultura #Aficionados_mex #tv_colors #colors_hub #great_captures_mexico #ig_guanajuato #tbscommunity #turismo_sma #pocket_world_destinations #tvc_pantone_peachecho

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#11 – El Charco del Ingenio: San Miguel’s Beautiful Botanical Garden

Not simply your typical enclosed botanical garden, El Charco del Ingenio, covers more than 170 acres on the southeast edge of San Miguel de Allende. It is one of my favorite spots in town to get away from noise, traffic, buildings and people.

The name comes from a legendary spring-fed pool deep in the canyon. It includes a reservoir with a dam you can walk across, wetlands, scrubland, hundreds of species of cacti and succulents, many of them endangered, plus birds, flowers and indigenous trees. It was created to preserve and protect the biodiversity of this beautiful area. In 2004, El Charco was declared a Peace Zone by the Dalai Lama.

#elcharcodelingenio #naturaleza #viajemos #juntos #mexico🇲🇽 #🌍 #sanmigueldeallende

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#10 – Muros en Blanco: the Street Art of Colonia Guadalupe

The neighborhood of Guadalupe, not far from the Fabrica Aurora Art & Design Center, has been officially designated an Arts District. This is thanks to the Muros en Blanco project begun a few years ago by Colleen Sorenson. Over the years, she has brought dozens of street and graffiti artists from all over Mexico and the world to adorn the blank walls of Colonia Guadalupe with fantastic murals. The street art of Guadalupe is definitely one of those things in San Miguel de Allende that make it worth a trip, camera in hand.

#murosenblanco #sanmigueldeallende #streetart #art #mx

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#9 – The Mojigangas: The Giants that Walk–and Dance–Among Us

The Mojigangas (pronounced Mo-hee-gahn-guhs) are one of my favorite San Miguel traditions. These giant figures with wooden A-frame bodies and over-sized papier maché heads, are part of just about every wedding, festival, and procession in San Miguel. At 15 feet tall, they tower over everyone else. The puppeteer climbs inside the A-frame, hidden by the figure’s fanciful clothes, and carries it on his shouders as he dances through the streets. A small slit or window about waist high allows him to see where he’s going. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as part of their celebration of Mexican culture, had a pair of mojigangas in their home in Mexico City.

#mojiganga #playaenmano #guanaguatobonito #sanmiguelallende #guanajuato

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#8 – The Colors of San Miguel de Allende

You will almost never read a travel article about San Miguel that doesn’t mention the colors. They are everywhere. From the rich earth tones of the houses in El Centro, to the cobalt blue or lime green, mauve or pink or lemon yellow of the facades once out of the center. These colors glow in the handicrafts on sale everywhere, in the bright rebozos (shawls) and flowered garments of the indigenous women, in the fluttering “papel picado” flags that flutter on the streets for every festival, in the paintings of the artists who flock to San Miguel for the special quality of the light. Visitors’ cameras itch to capture those colors.

Casita light fixture excellence #sanmigueldeallende

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#7 – La Comida Mexicana: The Food, Glorious Food

If you grew up on what you thought was Mexican food, in Calilfornia or Texas or most anywhere outside of actual Mexico, you have a delectable surprise in store when you order your first truly authentic Mexican meal. The food is varied, hearty, and amazingly delicious. San Miguel now has a food scene that can rival any other town of its size in the world, and many much larger ones. From street tacos to haute cuisine, enchiladas to fusion, the San Miguel food scene’s got it.

Tamal 🐗

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#6 – The View: The Beautiful Panorama of San Miguel de Allende

I fell in love with San Miguel de Allende more than 25 years ago… at first sight. As my bus into town drove slowly past the Mirador, a viewpoint from the periferico road that curves above the town, San Miguel landed in my heart. When I returned a few years ago to live in San Miguel after a multi-year absence, I stopped again at that very viewpoint to drink in the panorama and let myself know I was back home at last. There’s another great viewpoint on the Salida a Querétaro. That view is one of the things in San Miguel de Allende that people have been photographing for years. Isn’t it gorgeous?

#5 – The Doors of San Miguel de Allende

What is it about doors that appeal to so many of us photographers? I can’t say, exactly, but I know I often find myself framing a beautiful door in San Miguel. So do many others. They are among the many things in San Miguel de Allende that just beg to be photographed.

Puertas de San Miguel de Allende #puerta #door #doors #mexico #mexico #sanmigueldeallende

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#4 -The Conchero Dancers

Of all the dozens of festivals, street parties, fireworks and religious processions that happen throughout the year in San Miguel, my very favorite is Día de la Conquista, Day of Our Lord of the Conquest, which happens the first Friday in March. Because that’s the day the conchero dancers fill the town. The spectacle of drumming and dancing in front of the Parroquia is unforgettable. Even more wonderful, for me, is that this is not a show put on for the tourists, although they will certainly be crowding around watching and taking pictures of the gorgeously clad and beplumed dancers. This is a religious rite that is very important to and for themselves. It combines their pride in their indigenous heritage with their love of their mestizo race, celebrating the meeting of the Old and New Worlds. It is not to be missed if you are in town. See this post about why the conchero dancers have a special meaning for me.

#3 –Las Calles: The Streets of San Miguel

A very popular Instagram shot is any of the wonderful streetscapes of San Miguel. With their cobblestoned surfaces, the colorful facades, and the hills climbing up and down through town, the calles offer photographers a whole cornucopia of material for their lenses. It’s one of the things in San Miguel de Allende you are sure to find yourself trying to capture during a visit here.

Pintorescas calles #sanmigueldeallende #guanajuato #mexico

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#callesdesanmiguel #sanmigueldeallende #gto #mx

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#2 – This Streetview in San Miguel

And speaking of street views, this one is one of the most photographed things in San Miguel de Allende. This is Calle Aldama, heading toward the Jardín, with that wonderful view of the Parroquia church at the end. I think most visitors to San Miguel end up taking one of more shots of this street.

#1 – La Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel

There is no question about what is the #1 most Instagrammed thing in San Miguel de Allende. The Parroquia church, which anchors and adorns the Jardín Principál, the town’s main plaza, is an unmistakable icon. You can be pretty sure that every visitor to town will take at least one photo of it, with or without themselves standing in front it. The church interior is very old, but the facade dates back only to the 1880s. A local stonemason named Zeferino Gutierrez designed it based on postcards he’d seen of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. When I was in Barcelona a couple of years ago, I was truck by the similarity in lines to the Cathedral of Barcelona. And by the way, please don’t call our beautiful church a cathedral. It’s not, since it has no bishop. It is “simply” a parish church, albeit a magnificent one.

#catedral of #sanmigueldeallende in #guanajuato #mexico

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Take Camera in Hand….

Now, doesn’t that make you want to get yourself down to Mexico with camera in hand and photograph all the wonderful places and things in San Miguel de Allende? To put on Instagram or not, up to you. But it’s so much fun to share this glorious town with others, especially those who think Mexico is all beach resorts or cantinas. Come see San Miguel de Allende… and bring your camera!

If you are planning a trip to San Miguel or elsewhere in Mexico, check out this post all about the budget airlines of Mexico. Why pay more?


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The tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk against a bright blue sky

The Iconic Tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk–Photo of the Week

The Amsterdam Westerkerk, or Western Church, is a much beloved symbol of the Dutch capital. The crowned spire of its tower, the Westertoren, is the tallest church steeple in town, and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city center. It has been a beacon, a time-teller and a source of reassurance for Amsterdammers for hundreds of years.

The tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk against a bright blue sky

The Westertoren, or tower, of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, the most important
Protestant church in the city and a much beloved icon for Amsterdammers.


A Symbol of Reassurance

More than four decades ago, I began a life-long love affair with Amsterdam. I lived in the city for a year, and put a lot of effort into trying to learn Dutch.

One day, when I was house sitting for a friend in the Jordaan neighborhood, I decided it was time to try to read something in Dutch, preferably something not too difficult but not a children’s book either. If it could be something I was already familiar with in English, so much the better.

The obvious answer was Het Achterhuis, Dagboekbrieven–the original version of The Diary of Anne Frank in the language in which she wrote those pages.

Not far into the book, I came across these lines:

In this quote, in the original Dutch, Anne Frank talks about hearing the bells of the Westertorn.

Saturday, July 11, 1942
Dear Kitty,
Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night.

I put the book down and smiled, because those same damn bells had been keeping me awake night after night in the apartment I was sitting, just a few blocks from where Anne and her family hid all those years ago. That simple line in a young girl’s diary personalized her experience for me more than anything else had.

The Bells of the Westertoren

The bells of the Westertoren, the tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, have been chiming the quarter hour, accompanying lovers, reassuring frightened Jews, helping people get to work on time and generally punctuating the days and nights of Amsterdammers for almost 400 years. And they still do.

The Amsterdam Westerkerk was built between 1620 and 1631 in Renaissance style. It’s the largest church in the Netherlands built for Protestants and is still in use by the Dutch Reformed Church today. The 278 foot (87 meters) tower was added in 1638.

A Trip to the Top

For those able to handle very steep and narrow stairs, and a lot of them, the climb up the Westertoren, the tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, can be a highlight of your visit to the city. You must go on a guided tour, as you will not be allowed to climb it alone. You actually ascend only about halfway, approximately 40 meters (131 feet). The guide will stop at each landing to give some history of the building and point out things you might miss on your own (as well as providing a brief catch-your-breath mini-break, much needed by me!)

You’re not allowed to take a bag or anything with you but a camera and maybe a notebook in your pocket. Your bag will be safely locked away during the tour. Once you begin the climb, you’ll be glad you’re not wrestling a bag or anything else. You need both hands to climb the steep stairs.

Note to Older Women Travelers: The steps begin as a narrow spiral staircase with rope handles. Nearer the top, they turn into straight-up stairs that are really more like ladders, extremely steep. Apparently, people had much smaller feet in the 17th century, because the step treads themselves are narrow. Wear well-fitted shoes, take your time and concentrate on your footing. Also, it’s probably not a good idea to wear a skirt if you don’t want to give those below you a free show! Coming down, you’ll find it easier to descend backwards.

The Best View in Town–and Bells!

At the top of the climb, step out onto the balcony. Prepare to be awed by the view, a seemingly endless 360° panorama of Amsterdam, with views of the canals below, the rooftops, the parks, and everything in between. A short block away, you can look down at the tiny windows of the attic where Anne Frank sat and looked at the tower’s clock, one of the few things she could see. Also, take a minute to look up. Just above you is the coat of arms of the City of Amsterdam, with its white XXX, a design you’ll notice all over the city. The top of the tower is crowned with the Imperial Crown of Maximilian I of Austria, which is also part of the city’s arms.

Up in the tower, you also have a chance to see the magnificent bells of the Amsterdam Westerkerk. They’re among the biggest in the city and were cast by the master bell makers of the 17th century, the Hemony Bros. According to the current carilloneur, “The name Hemony is as much associated with bells as Stradivarius is with fine violins.”

Volunteers from the congregation still ring the bells by hand for Sunday services and special occasions, such as Dutch Remembrance Day. The largest bell, weighing in at 4000kg, is never rung for fear the vibrations will crack the walls of the tower. The carillon is the only one in Amsterdam that still rings out the time for the entire 24 hours every day. On Tuesdays at noon, the city carilloneur plays a delightful hour-long concert on the carillon. You can hear it from many blocks away.

The guided tour up the tower is offered Monday through Saturday from April to October. They only take up 6 people at a time, so you may have to get your ticket and then wait a bit. The first tour of the day begins at 10 am, and that’s when you are most likely to get in straightaway. The tour lasts 30 minutes and costs 8€. Tickets are only sold on the same day; no reservations are possible. Take cash because they do not accept credit cards.

Be Sure to Visit the Amsterdam Westerkerk Too

While you’re waiting for your tower tour, take a few minutes to explore the interior of the church. The Amsterdam Westerkerk is spare, characteristic of most Dutch Protestant churches. But it is lovely in it simplicity. With chairs instead of pews set out on the flagstone floors, wooden barrel-vaulting high above and some lovely stained glass windows, it’s a peaceful place. Since there are no tall buildings adjacent to the Amsterdam Westerkerk to block the sun, light pours through the 36 large windows to set the whitewashed walls aglow in a glorious “light effect.”

There is also a beautiful Duyschot organ, brass chandeliers, and the usual unassuming pulpit. Rembrandt was buried in the Westerkerk in 1669 but in an unmarked pauper’s grave. As was the custom then, his remains were removed after 20 years to make way for other poor people. There is a memorial to him in the church.

Access to the tower is obviously not accessible for wheelchairs and other people who have difficulty with stairs. The church itself, however, is accessible, though the flagstone floor may be a little uneven in spots.

When you’re looking the things to do in Amsterdam, make sure you take time to see this icon of the city and soak in some of its history. And if you can possisbly manage the climb up the tower, do it. You will be well rewarded for the effort.

The Amsterdam Westerkerk–A Symbol, a History, a Haunting

On July 9, 1942, Anne Frank, her mother and her father, walked through the pouring rain toward her father’s business and its hidden hiding place in the attic of the Achterhuis–the house behind. (Margot would arrive directly from school on her bike.) They sloshed through the city, wearing as many layers of clothing as they dared and carrying as many useful items as they could pack into school bookbags and shopping bags without looking too conspicuous. Their walk took them directly past the Amsterdam Westerkerk and its crown-topped tower.

Today, the tower continues to play out its place in Amsterdam’s history, comforting the people, marking the hours, and celebrating their joys with its magnificent bells.


For more information and a schedule of events, check the Westerkerk website.” It’s in Dutch but pretty easy to understand. If a specific date on the calendar says “kerk gesloten,” that means the church is closed that day. It also lists who will be playing the organ for Sunday services and the free Friday lunch concerts (April to October and highly recommended) and any other performances being offered. The acoustics of the church are marvelous.

The church itself is open year-round Monday through Friday from 11 am to 4 pm. From April 1 to November 1, it is also open on Saturdays. (Hours are sometimes shortened in the off season and shoulder season.) Sunday services are held at 10:30 am, in Dutch.

The Westertoren/Tower opens for tours at 10 am, Monday through Saturday, from April 1 to November 1. The last tour begins at 7:30 pm. 8€ entry fee, cash only.

The church entrance is at #279 Prinsengracht; the tower entrance is just a few feet away. Tram lines 13 and 17 stop right at the corner, at the Westermarkt/Anne Frank House stop.

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Visiting the Amsterdam Westerker and Tower-pinnable imageLearn why Anne Frank loved the bells of the Amsterdam Westerkerk and Tower - pinnable image

Me, flying and smiling for the camera, at iFly, Portland

I Fly—Really!–With IFly Indoor Skydiving in Tigard, Oregon

With indoor skydiving—floating on a cushion of air inside a wind tunnel—you can recapture your child-like dreams of flying. I did it at iFly, Portland. And no, it’s not too hard. Or too dangerous. And you’re not too old.

When I was a child, I used to have “flying dreams.” Did you too? It’s pretty common with kids. If you’ve had them, you never forget them. And you always want to recapture that magical feeling of flying, supported by the air, weightless and free.

Well, I did recapture it. And boy was it fun!

I “flew” at iFly Portland, which is actually located in Tigard, Oregon, in the Tualatin Valley, aka “Portland’s Back Yard.” And if I lived closer, I’d be back over and over again. Yes, it was that much fun.

Me, flying and smiling for the camera, at iFly, Portland, indoor skydiving

That’s me! Flying! And that big smile on my face means I am having one big ole great time!


I have long wanted to jump out of a plane. At least I say I do, though I’ve yet to take action to make it a reality. But after indoor skydiving with iFly Portland, I think I’m closer than ever. Because this is as close as you can get to the real thing—but without a parachute. Heck, you don’t even need an airplane.

What is Indoor Skydiving, Really?

To put it simply, you “fly” inside a huge wind tunnel, an upright tube of very fast-moving air. Picture a giant hairdryer. A really BIG hairdryer, one that blows a really strong stream of cool air. With indoor skydiving, you’re riding the current from that giant hairdryer.

The facility at iFly Portland was especially built for this unique activity. Here’s a quick and dirty description of how it works….

Up on the roof of the three-story building, there are four giant fans, our metaphorical hair dryers. They blow about a bazillion pounds of hot air down through ducts on the building’s sides to the basement. There it’s cooled, and vanes shoot it back up into the tunnel, a huge transparent tube.

As the tunnel narrows, the air speed increases. It can be adjusted as necessary. For the smallest and lightest flyers, it might only be 90 mph. For very experienced flyers, who love doing all kinds of tricks and gymnastics on the air current, it can go up to 170 mph.

As a newbie, all you really need to know is that air stream is a giant cushion that is going to gently and safely hold you in its arms while you fly.

You’re NOT Too Old for Indoor Skydiving

IFly Portland loves to point out that the company has flown kids as young as three years old and adults as old as… wait for it… 103. So you’re not going to get off by using age as an excuse. They DO recommend that people with back problems think twice, and they advise against pregnant women or those with serious heart problems doing a flight.

Beyond that, there are few boundaries. They regularly hold special sessions for physically challenged people—those in wheelchairs, blind people, amputees and children with developmental disabilities. There is really so little physical stress involved that indoor skydiving is an activity available to nearly everyone. No experience required, just a sense of adventure and a desire to have fun!

How to Do Indoor Skydiving: the Process

Front desk at iFly Portland Indoor Skydiving. Here you check-in for your flight.

The first step to your flight is to “check-in” at the door.

When you arrive at iFly Portland, you first “check in” for your flight. You head up to the flight deck where you can watch other flyers getting their magic fix. Watching will likely whet your appetite to get in there yourself.

Next, you’re asked to sign a liability waiver form—pretty standard practice in any sort of “adventure” activity, even mild ones. The companies’ insurance providers require it. I’ve signed waivers for river rafting, snorkeling, and ballooning trips. No big deal.

Then off you go to the training classroom. My instructor was Spencer. He’s got a very calm, reassuring manner. After a short video, he explained the basic moves and body positioning. He showed me the hand signals used to communicate in the chamber, because with the noise of the wind, he wouldn’t be able to just say “lift your head” or “straighten your arms.” This short training time is also your chance to ask any questions about anything.

Then it’s suit-up time. I donned a one-piece flight suit over my street clothes—a lovely purple but not exactly flattering. I was given some sneakers since I was wearing slip-ons. If you arrive in lace-up sneaks, you can wear your own. A pair of goggles and a helmet completed my outfit. I could have chosen to add knee and elbow pads, but they didn’t seem necessary. You can also request ear plugs. Since I wear two hearing aids, I simply took them out. I didn’t want to risk having the strong rush of wind blow one out and send it down, down, down into that cavity from whence came that otherwise supportive flow of air. Plus, they make even a normal windy day really LOUD.

You’re asked to drop all—really, all—your personal belongings in a secure locker. Believe them when they say it’s a bad idea not to take off watches and jewelry and empty your pockets. They have stories to tell. Flying cell phones? Lost wallets? Keys as projectile weapons? They’ve seen them all, and you don’t want to help them see them again.

Time to Fly!

The glass wind tunnel "flight chamber" at iFly Portland. Those not flying can watch fro the padded seats.

The flight chamber is glass so you can see out and others can watch you fly.
In back is the “gear up” area, where you get your flight suit, goggles, and helmet.

You get two 60-second fights. As I stood next to Spencer in the doorway into the flight chamber, the sound was loud. He put his arm across my waist and motioned me to lean in. I leaned in….

I had no sensation of falling, none at all. I was simply picked up by the wind and held there. It was a unique feeling, hard to describe. You feel the strong force of the air pushing up from below. Your body turns, dips.

In those first seconds, my body was fighting the force of the air. I floated and bobbled about like a five foot long blimp. But Spencer was right there beside me, helping to right my position, reminding me to raise my chin, move my hands in front of my shoulders. And here’s the thing that made it not at all scary for me. There really is no place to fall. You’re suspended less than three feet above an open grid, which would act as a perfect safety net if for any reason the air cut off or refused to hold you up.

You’re flying! That minute in the chamber flies by (pun intended). Out the door back into the anteroom you go.

We sat on a bench, and Spencer asked me what I thought. For a minute, I couldn’t answer him because I was laughing so hard… laughing for the pure joy of it.

I finally managed to gasp out, “That was SO COOL!” He laughed too.

Then he asked me if I wanted to go higher for the second flight. You bet I did!

Back into the chamber we went. After a short while, he gave me the signal that we were going up. And BAM, up we went, about 15 feet up. Then down. Then up again. It felt like I really was flying. Well, in fact, I was. I felt exhilarated, happy, and perfectly safe. If you watch the video below, you’ll see what that was like. And you’ll hear me laughing through it!

video

I’m betting you’ll love it too. Feel that exuberance that had me laughing so hard, that sense of flying without ever really leaving the ground.

So, why not let your own dreams of flying, They’re not just in Oregon’s Tualatin Valley. With 30 locations across the U.S. and 10 more international ones (in Brazil, Australia, France and Great Britain), it’s not too hard to find one nearby.

My flight certificate, proof I went indoor skydiving with iFly Portland.

There’s proof? I really did it! You’ll get a flight certificate when you complete your first indoor skydiving adventure with iFly.

Now go fly!


IFly Portland is located at 10645 SW Greenburg Road, in Tigard, Oregon, less than an hour from Downtown Portland.
Telephone: (971) 803-4359.
Monday to Thursday: 9am-9:30pm
Friday: 9am-10pm
Saturday: 8am-10pm
Sunday: 8am-9:30pm

For first-time flyers, iFly’s basic package costs $59.95. Multi-flight packages are also available.

You can get more information on other iFly locations, videos, and a long list of FAQs to ease all your fears at iFly’s website. iFly’s Website


Disclaimer: My flight with iFly Portland was sponsored by Tualatin Valley Tourism of the Washington County Visitors’ Association. However, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I think you can tell I really, really liked my indoor skydiving adventure. I’m grateful to WCVA for making it possible.

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The cover sketch of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba gives you an idea of the delights inside.

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba–an Illustrated Look

In Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, writer/artist/photographer/
filmmaker and all-around creative whirlpool Jan Baross takes us into the daily life of Cubans. These excerpts from her book will take you with her.

The cover sketch of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba gives you an idea of the delights inside.

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, as well as several other books by Jan Baross, is available on Amazon.com

When Jan Baross went to Cuba on a literary tour to meet with Cuban writers, she went with a notebook. And a sketchbook. I think she never travels anywhere without both of these indispensable tools. If you’ve seen any of her earlier books, which you can check out here, you’d have known she was going to write about this trip. And draw it. And completely delight you with it.

The result is Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba. The struggles, the joys, the color and music and dancing, these are the experiences Baross uses to paint her word pictures. Then she adds her delightful sketches made along the way. In these short word-and-picture sketches, she takes you behind the scenes of what she saw, heard, tasted, and danced.

Have a brief look inside the book. I think these excerpts will make you want to see more!


Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

by Jan Baross

“Travel is the best way to stay amazed.”

My dream of Cuba began in 1957 when my parents said, “You can come with us to Cuba or you can go to camp and learn to ride a horse.”

I chose the horse.

They described Cuba as a lush island of spectacular beauty, endless music, and wide open fun. My youthful imagination took it from there.

Then, in 1959, I read about Castro’s revolution. Later, after living through the Cuban missile crisis, I was left with the conflicting impressions of beauty and annihilation. Now, fifty-eight years later, I was going with a troupe of writers to clarify Cuba for myself.

[Continue reading for some excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Sketch in Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - "Mis nietos!"

WiFi Grandma
Hotel Paseo Habana, Vedado, Havana

I join our group on the hotel’s humid veranda where they’re scarfing down free introductory mojitos. I take a sip and nearly choke when an elderly Cuban woman shrieks and clasps her hand to her heart. She stares into a cellphone and shouts.

“Mis nietos! Yo no puedo creer! Te amo!” (“My grandchildren! I can’t believe it! I love you!”)

Apparently Grandma is viewing her grandchildren in the United States for the first time. When they answer on the speakerphone, their little voices yell, “Te amo, abuela!” (I love you, grandma!)

The old woman bursts into tears and then delighted laughter.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Sketch from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - Cubans know how to stroll!

Strolling with Cubans
Havana

The early evening air is soft and warm as I amble past my neighbors.

I love how Cuban men and women carry themselves, as if they know how to have a good time, or have recently had one. Their loud, animated exchanges remind me of Italians. They talk exuberantly in the parallel language of hands. As they pass, they smile and say, “Buenas tardes.”

Their “good evening” doesn’t sound like the Mexican Spanish that I am used to hearing. “Buenas tardes,” becomes “Buen tar,” as though someone is holding onto their tongues. It has a softening effect on their words.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Ms Baross goes dancing with a Cuban - rumba!

Dancing at UNEAC
(The National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba)

The band plays a captivating rhythm.

Everyone moves, rocks and sways.

A man with coffee-colored skin and green eyes is sitting at the next table surrounded by three black women with huge smiles. He lunges over and asks me to dance.

I’ve never danced rumba.

He takes me in his arms and begins to move.

The beat is so deeply rooted in his body that it awakens the same rhythm in me. Our legs move weightlessly like soft light between shuddering ferns.

If this is dancing, I haven’t lived.


Ms Baross goes to Cuba - and eats at Los Naranjos

Los Naranjos Restaurant
Calle 17 #715, Paseo & A. Velado, Havana

Our second evening in Havana.

The evening air is so hot that my fellow writers and I decide to take a stroll in search of an elusive Havana breeze.

As we cross the street, a man with a big smile introduces himself as Alex and waves us into his mansion. Naturally we follow the adventure through a small tree-lined garden.

Upstairs is a wonderful restaurant with a colorful bar, a cozy sitting room and a long banquette. This was his family’s mansion that had to be abandoned during the revolution.

Two years ago, Alex returned from the U.S. to open his Los Naranjos Restaurant. The major problem was how to advertise in Cuba.

Just as Alex thought he would be forced to close his business, an American tourist wandered in to dine. The American was so impressed that he posted a rave review on the web. Ever since then, the restaurant has become a dining destination in Havana.

Alex serves us lobster and an amazing salad that has to be one of the high points of my culinary world.

Alex says, “When you Americans come to my restaurant, you are family.”

With such open-hearted people, it’s not hard to get adopted in Cuba.

As we leave, we remind each other to post rave reviews.
[Editor’s Note: They did! So did a lot of other people. You can read reviews for Los Naranjos Restaurant in Havana, Cuba, here.]

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


And old man discourses with Ms. Baross in Cuba, in Havana's  Central Park

Central Park
Paseo del Prado, Central Havana

I’m catching a bus in Central Park when a young newspaper vendor pursues me, waving a copy of the propaganda rag, Granma

An older gentleman sitting on a park bench raises his finger in the air. “Señora. Fear nothing. Cubans protect strangers.”

My protector wears a torn, short-sleeve yellow shirt and his eyes are cataract gray.

Like most Cubans I meet, he talks loudly and with ferocious passion. He speaks like the best lecturers on the good and evil of his country.

When I run for my bus, he surprises me by struggling to his feet and running alongside with his hand out. I give him money, of course, because I now realize the old gentleman’s trade is discourse. His intelligent tirade is the way he supplements his unlivable government pension. My CUCs are his next hot meal.

I hop on this bus, watching as he returns to his bench.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]


Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba and sees street art in Callejon de Hamel

Callejon de Hamel, Havana
From Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

A friendly transvestite tours me through the tiny Callejon de Hamel street, named after a wealthy French-German arms dealer who lived here. It’s more of an alley, barely 200 meters long, but it attracts hundreds of tourists because of the colorful street murals and wild sculptures created by Salvador Gonzales Escalona

As a self-taught artist living on Hamel Street, Salvador began painting murals on his neighbors’ walls in the ’90s.

He is still adding images to three-story high apartment buildings. Salvador describes his work as surrealism, cubism, and a little art-naive.

Tourists fill the tiny coffee shop, a small art gallery and a colorful canopied area where Santeria priests dance to rumba every Sunday to evoke the spirits of Orishas.

On the way out, I notice a gray-bearded man sitting on a painted bench, with one bare foot in the lap of a young girl. She’s in the process of giving him a pedicure.

My transvestite friend tells me the bearded man is the famous artist, Salvador Gonzales Escalona.


Ms Baross in in Cuba meets artist José Fuster.

Fusterlandia
Jaimanitas, Cuba

José Fuster’s installations remind me of Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Fuster is a well-known Cuban artist, painter, sculptor with his most visible contribution being the public art in his home town, the fishing village of Jaimanitas, outside of Havana.

In the last ten years, Fuster has decorated over 80 of his neighbors’ homes so that the small town itself has become a unique work of art. It’s reminiscent of Hamel Street in Havana but on a much grander scale.

I follow children running through shining archways and past giant tiled figures. All surfaces are covered in bold murals and decorative design. It’s truly amazing.

The inclusive Artists’ Wall is composed of tiles by other Cuban artists.

Fuster has installed a theater and public swimming pools which he sponsors with the sale of his paintings and ceramics.

Fuster says, “I keep working every day to do something more spectacular.”


I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Jan Baross’ views and insights in Cuba. You can purchase your own copy of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba on Amazon. Many of the sketches in this book have also been included in her Cuba coloring book. You can also see the whole range of Baross’ books, including her wonderful magical realism novel, Jose Builds a Woman, also available on Amazon.

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Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This helps cover the costs of running the site and it costs you nothing extra at all. And I never recommend anything I don’t use or love myself. I loved this book! Thanks for considering it.

Multnomah Falls, 30 minutes drive from Portland, Oregon, is the #1 most visited natural attraction in Oregon.

Multnomah Falls—Portland, Oregon’s Nearby Magic Maiden

Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s #1 most-visited natural attraction, is just a short 30-minute drive from the urban world of Portland. And a place apart. Beware, she is a siren designed to pull you off the highway.

Photo of the Week

Multnomah Falls is a temptress. Inexplicably female in her feathery beauty, she captures you first with her grace and then with her sheer size. With a 690 foot drop, she is the highest waterfall in Oregon.

You might as well give in. Go ahead. Pull off I-84, the highway that wends its way through the spectacular Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah Falls deserves a closer look.

Multnomah Falls, 30 minutes drive from Portland, Oregon, is the #1 most visited natural attraction in Oregon.

The pretty and pwoerful Multnomah Falls is bisected by the Benson Bridge, which merely adds to her beauty.


Multnomah Falls has several ways to rein you in. The sound beckons you from the parking area. After your short walk to the viewing platform at the lower pool, she plunges you into a natural fantasy—green, damp, pine-scented and vibrating from the power of the water. Crane your neck up to take in her whole beautiful length. A railed footbridge bisects the feathery fall, like a sash at the waist of a wedding dress. You want to get closer. Do it. Lean in on the railing, close your eyes and let the cool spray of the water caress your face.

Look around you, deep into the green—and blue, and gold. The firs and ferns, the mosses and the gray rocks. Let her speak to you.

If you want to get closer still, hike up the 1/4-mile paved trail to the Benson Bridge, that sash on the wedding dress. Built in 1914 by a wealthy lumber baron, it’s a great spot to look up at the 542′(165m) fall top tier of the twin-layered cascade, and down onto the lower one, which adds another 69′ (21m) to her majesty.

At Any Season, Multnomah Falls is Nothing Short of Gorgeous.

Spring at Multnomah Falls treats you to the greatest volume of flow, as the snow melt and rainwater run-off from high up in the mountains feeds into the streams and the natural spring that feeds the Falls year-round. In Summer, you can wear shorts, let the spray cool you and quite possibly see one of the many weddings that are staged here.

Oh, but then, there is Autumn. When the water pushes its way through yellows, golds and reds, it can stop your heart. And in Winter, you can capture a special still moment of her frozen beauty.

If You Go to Multnomah Falls

Driving Directions:
Driving to Multnomah Falls from Portland is super easy. For the shortest route, just a 30-minute drive, take I-84 eastbound. Get off at exit 31 (which is an unusual left-side exit ramp). This takes you directly to the parking area. Follow the path from there back under the highway to the viewing area for the falls.

For a more scenic drive of about an hour or so, again take I-84 eastbound from Portland. Take the Troutdale exit then follow the signs for the Scenic Loop Trail. This will take you along the old Columbia River Highway, the first drive in the country to be named a National Historic Landmark. It’s easy to see why. The drive offers up a feast of beautiful views of the Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood and several smaller waterfalls along the way.

Services, Fees and Amenities:
There is no fee to visit Multnomah Falls and a Forest Service pass is not required.

There are several bathrooms available on the grounds.

The Multnomah Falls Lodge is just to one side of the lower viewing platform. Built in 1925 using every kind of stone found in the gorge, it’s a popular destination wedding location. The Lodge includes a restaurant, snack bar, bar, espresso bar and gift shop. The amazing views of the Falls are free.

Also located at the Multnomah Falls Lodge is a US Forest Service Information Center. You’ll find information about the Falls, brochures, and trail maps. There are many books for sale to tell you more about the Falls’ history and legends. Open 9 am-5pm daily.

Pets are allowed at the Falls viewing area. They must be leashed and fully controlled at all times.

Accessibility:
The visitor center and the restaurant and facilities in the Lodge are all fully accessible.

Both the short distance from the parking area to the lower viewing area and the hiking path to the Benson Bridge are paved. The more difficult climb to the very top of the Falls, a distance of about a mile (.6km) is more rigorous, with many switchbacks. Parts of the hike can be damp and slippery. Older travelers who are unsure of their footing should considering sticking to the lower viewpoints.

A Bonus Look at Oregon’s Multnomah Falls

Still not convinced you need to visit Multnomah Falls? Check out this aerial drone video of Her Majesty, Multnomah. I’m betting it will have you packing your bags or loading the car for a trip to Portland and the Columbia River Gorge.


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When not sleeping or studying, the student inmates at the Heidelberg University student jail decorated the walls of their prison.

Boys Behaving Badly: The Student Jail at Heidelberg University

The Student Jail at Heidelberg University is proof that college students acting stupid is not a new thing. It is part of a long and rich history of university boys behaving badly.

Every inch of the walls of the rooms at the student jail at Heidelberg university is covered with graffiti.

A stint in the Student Jail at Heidelberg University seemed to bring out the natural artist in its bad boy inmates.
Every inch of wall and even the ceiling is covered with graffiti.

 

Boys Behaving Badly

As I write this, Spring Break has just ended, with the usual reports of naughty, outrageous and just plain stupid goings on by college students in their time off. Many adults shake their heads and wonder what the world is coming to. Where have these kids’ parents gone wrong?

But this sort of behavior is far from new for young people away from home. And the “Studentenkarzer,” the Student Jail at Heidelberg University, is the proof. Starting in 1823 and continuing to the beginning of World War I in 1914, young scholars at the prestigious German university—the oldest in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe—who found themselves in trouble with the rules ended up in these attic rooms designed to keep them off the streets until they learned their lesson.

And speaking of lessons, they were still expected to attend classes and lectures but had to return to their incarceration afterwards. There was a special door that allowed them to enter the Old University building directly from jail.

When not sleeping or studying, the student inmates at the Heidelberg University student jail decorated the walls of their prison.

The walls of the Heidelberg University student jail were a blank canvas for the bored young men. Student inmates passed their time sleeping, studying…and decorating their prison. Young men have always liked to leave their mark!

 

Go Directly To Student Jail. Do Not Pass Go.

The most common infractions that could land a fellow in the college clink? Carousing and rabble-rousing, dueling, and freeing the pigs of the town farmers, apparently a hilariously popular past time. Then, as now, such antics were often fueled by alcohol. The penalties were most often a few days in the Studentenkarzer, though a few weeks or up to a month could be handed down for more serious offenses.

The loo for the students in the student jail at Heidelberg University was tucked into a stairwell... a wooden bench with a lid, and a window!

A “loo with a view,” tucked under the eaves of the student jail at Heidelberg University.

The conditions weren’t bad, and apparently there was an almost universal party feel to the place. Students often broke the rules on purpose just to get a few days “inside” with their chums. Seemingly, serving at least one stint in the student jail at Heidelberg University was something of a badge of honor.

To see how these bad boys lived during their time in stir, you can visit the Studentenkarzer yourself. It’s located in the university quarter in the heart of Old Town, at Augustinergasse 2, behind the Old University building. Look for the hanging sign with an incongruous image of a cherub and the words Uni Shop-Studenten Karzer. Past the entrance, climb a dark wooden stairway to the top floor jail.

There are no cells here, just a warren of rooms high up under the eaves. Iron beds, wooden desks, a few chairs. But the rooms are far from dull or barren. That’s because spending time in the student jail seemed to bring out the inner graffiti artist in these collegiate inmates. The walls are completely covered with graffiti—cartoonish drawings, fraternity badges, family crests, poems, names and clever epithets. Everywhere are silhouettes of the frat boys themselves, each topped with the colored cap that was a standard part of the university uniform in the 19th century.

Family in the Student Jail at Heidelberg University???

While perusing the graffiti and snapping pictures, I came across one that especially made me smile. My grandfather, who I never knew, was born in Heidelberg. He left at 16 for America. I’m told he had a brother named Ernst who stayed behind.

The name E. Meyer is painted onto one wall at the Heidelberg Student Jail. My great uncle's name!

Could this have possibly been my great uncle, leaving his mark from a stint in the student jail at Heidelberg University?
Probably not… but I can imagine it.

So think how delighted I was to find one bit of graffiti scrawled with the name E. Meyer. Yes, I know, I know. Meyer is as common as Smith in Germany. And Ernst as everyday as John. But I still enjoyed the fantasy that perhaps my great uncle had one night imbibed a bit too much and roused some rabble with the guys, maybe chasing a squealing pig along the river… and landed himself in the brig for it.

The entrance to the Heidelberg Studenten Karzer, marked by a sign with an incongruous cherub.

The entrance to the Studenten Karzer at Heidelberg University, located at Augustinergasse 2.

Entrance to the Student Jail at Heidelberg University is included in the Heidelberg Card. The Card is a great bargain at €15-19, depending on the number of days of validity. It also includes entrance to Heidelberg Castle, the funicular ride to get there, free public transit and lots of discounts.

Without the Heidelberg Card, a ticket for the Student Jail at Heidelberg University costs €3, or €2 with a senior discount. This also includes admission to the Alte Universtat Museum, just around the corner, and the beautiful Alte Aule or Great Hall. You can get tickets at the university shop in the jail building’s ground floor.

 


Location: Augustinergasse 2, Old Town, Heidelberg, Germany
Hours: Open daily except Mondays, 10 am to 6 pm (4 pm, October thru March)

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The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

Sleeping With Ike: The Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle

On the top floor of Culzean Castle (pronounced Cull-ANE), in Scotland’s southwest corner, just 50 miles from Glasgow, is a special place. It was where Dwight D. Eisenhower went to get away and relax. To feel pampered and free from the stresses of being a hero… and later a President. Now you can go there too. You can even sleep in Ike’s bed.

 

The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

The main facade of Culzean Castle, on the Ayrshire coast of SW Scotland, glows in the warm light of the Golden Hour.

 

Feeling At Home in Culzean

In the large courtyard of Culzean Castle, a long queue of people wait to pay the fee to tour the public rooms. It’s no wonder. The 18th-century Robert Adam masterpiece is glorious. The castle, which belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, is a popular spot with tourists.

They wait patiently—or not—to gaze at the armor, the massive curved staircase, to wander through the high-ceilinged rooms and admire the elegant furnishings, the elaborate plastered ceilings, the gilt and marble. From the looks of the line, it‘s going to be awhile before the last of them gets in.

But for you? No worries. You reach into your pocket and pull out a key. You walk across the courtyard to a small door in the wall of one of the large side wings. You calmly unlock it and let yourself into the building, where a private 1920s-era elevator whisks you to the top floor. Is it your imagination that the people in line watched you enter and wondered, “Who is she? Why is she so special?”

But that’s just what staying at the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle does to you. It makes you feel special, pampered, like an important and special guest of the house.

A Welcome with Afternoon Cream Tea

It was afternoon when our group arrived at Culzean, and misty. To get the full effect of the castle’s magnificent first impression, we opted to ignore the elevator and enter though the main hall.

Robert Adam's grand sweep of oval, colonnaded staircase at Culzean leads to the Eisenhower Gallery.

Robert Adam’s grand sweep of oval, colonnaded staircase at Culzean takes you up to the Eisenhower Gallery on the top floor.

It was a good choice. Our first view of Culzean’s interiors was the great sweep of Adam’s double-curved and colonnaded oval staircase. We stepped from marble to carpet the rich red of the best British claret. We tried to keep our jaws from dropping as we rose to our home for the night. Home? The idea made me smile.

When we’d climbed to the Eisenhower Gallery on the top floor, a very un-stuffy butler greeted us and ushered us into the round sitting room. A misty sky veiled the wide view of the Firth of Clyde from the windows. We were grateful for the welcoming fires crackling in the pair of fireplaces at opposite ends of the large room. We had arrived just in time for tea.

Steaming pots of tea, dainty sandwiches, light scones, jam, and double cream served by a butler—could anyone ask for a more perfect welcome to a Scottish castle? It felt like we were at a genteel British country home house party from the 19th century.

The round sitting room at the Eisenhower Hotel at Scotland's Culzean Castle.

The round sitting room at the Eisenhower Hotel at Scotland’s Culzean Castle is a lovely meeting place for Afternoon Tea.

 

Why the “Eisenhower Hotel”?

But why is a Scottish hotel in a castle in Ayrshire named after an American general and president? In the region where Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, lived and wrote, how did Dwight Eisenhower come to have his Scottish White House?

Before World War II, Culzean was the home of the wealthy and prestigious Kennedy family for many generations. As direct descendants of Robert the Bruce, the Kennedy’s were one of the most important families in Scotland. It was David Kennedy, 10th Earl Cassillis, who commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the original 16th-century castle. Adams, the most important architect of his day, finished the Georgian masterpiece in the 1790s.

By 1945, the owner had been made the Marquess of Ailsa. The country was beginning its long recovery from the ravages of World War II. Taxes were high and the Marquess decided it was the better part of financial valor to gift Culzean to the country. He made his generous gift to the National Trust for Scotland.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on his first visit to Culzean Castle, in Scotland, with his son John, in 1946.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower on his first visit to Culzean Castle, in Scotland, with his son John, in 1946.

But the gift contained one stipulation. On the top floor, they must create a self-contained apartment reserved for the use of General Dwight D. Eisenhower during his lifetime. The gift was made as gracious thanks from the people of Scotland to the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, for his part in saving Europe from the Nazi nightmare.

Eisenhower visited Culzean Castle several times, including once as President. He loved Culzean. “I can relax here,” he said of it.

It was easy to see why he loved it. So did I.

The Comfort of the Ailsa Suite

Warmed and satisfied after tea and those lovely scones and jam, I was happy to have the friendly housekeeper show me to my room. Others in our group of travel writers were led to the Eisenhower Suite (yes, Ike Slept Here), the Cairncross Suite, or one of three other rooms. I was taken to the Ailsa Suite. After asking if I preferred tea or coffee to be brought in the morning, she left me to enjoy my room. And what a delightful space it turned out to be.

The lovely Ailsa Suite at Culzean, with its carved and canopied four-poster bed and wooden steps to get up into it.

The lovely Ailsa Suite, named for Ailsa Craig, a haystack rock island offshore in the Firth of Clyde,
was my most comfortable home for the night.

The carved and canopied four-poster bed is original to the Kennedy family. I loved having to climb the trio of wooden stairs to get up into it because of its height. A fire was already burning brightly in the marble fireplace. The bathroom was huge and I made a mental note to enjoy the deep tub later.

The mist was clearing and pale sunshine began to seep through the sky, lighting the impressive views of Culzean Bay as well as the Clock Tower Courtyard below. As inviting as the stuffed chairs before the fire were, I wanted to take advantage of that bit of sun. Coat, scarf and gloves on, I headed out to explore.

Culzean Castle: Romantic as All Get Out

Culzean Castle aeriel view from the water side. Photo shows the drum tower, where the Eisenhower Hotel's round sitting room on the top floor.

Culzean Castle is magnificent from the water of Scotland’s Firth of Clyde.
The top floor of the central drum tower is the round sitting room, where we had tea.

Culzean Castle reigns from atop a 100-foot cliff overlooking the Firth of Clyde where it flows into the Irish Sea. It commands sweeping views of the water and the haystack peak of Ailsa Craig, a rock island jutting up 10 miles offshore. They say that on a clear day you can see the coast of Northern Ireland.

It wasn’t clear that day, but the mist had lifted enough to reward a shoreline wander. I took the path down the cliff to the rocks below. I wandered and jumped over tide pools, picked up stones and shells and watched a crab scuttle away. I listened to the waves as they rippled over the rocky beach like music. I felt the salt on my skin and my tongue.

I admired the view back up at the huge, elegant pile of stone. From the water, you get a powerful overview of Robert Adams’ brilliance with the architecture—elegant, imposing, opulent… but seeming just a bit lonely, perched there on its cliff facing the sea.

Finally the chill drove me back up the cliff, across the extensive gardens toward the castle. It was then that I made use of my key to bypass that line of tourists waiting to tour the public rooms.

There was just time to warm myself a bit in front of my private fire before a pre-dinner drink in the sitting room.

Food Fine Enough to Match the Setting

The three-course meal in the dining room was as elegant and finely detailed as the hotel itself, yet not at all stuffy. My red pepper-crusted salmon with couscous was perfectly cooked, pink, moist and flaky. The vegetables came from the property’s own gardens as did the fruit in my fruit crumble dessert, served with Arran ice cream.  After-dinner coffee and conversation in the round sitting room, with a pair of fires roaring, completed the day to perfection.

Next morning’s breakfast was everything you’d hope for in a Scottish castle, with rashers of thick Ayrshire bacon, smoked salmon and perfect oatmeal among the options.

So Much to See and Do at Culzean Castle

Before leaving Culzean Castle, you really have to tour the public rooms of this stately home. The neo-classical Georgian interiors open to the public include the State Bedroom and Dressing Room, the Dining Room, the Round Drawing Room with its beautifully plastered and painted Adam ceiling, the Blue Drawing Room, Lady Ailsa’s Boudoir and the Kitchens. All are worth your time.

Watercolor painting of the main facade of Culzean Castle painted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Eisenhower painted when he visited at Culzean, including this lovely watercolor of the main facade of the castle.

The property itself comprises more than 600  acres. Stables and a gas house and other out-buildings are surrounded by gardens, ornamental ponds, a deer park, follies. There is a conservatory, an herb garden, orchards, a peach house and an elegant camellia house dating from 1818. The formal terraced garden and Fountain Court are filled with flowers. Add in the 13-acre swan pond, an 1814 pagoda and sweeping lawns, and you realize you don’t want to rush off from Culzean Castle. There is too much to see and do right on property.

Culzean Castle: the Perfect Setting for a Hero.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Culzean Castle, now home to the Eisenhower Hotel, in 1959.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower on a visit to Culzean Castle, now home to the Eisenhower Hotel, in 1959.

Most of our generation of girls grew up on fairy tales. We knew about heroes—they were the ones who always rescued the heroine. Also for our generation—those born when World War II was still a very fresh and recent memory—Dwight Eisenhower was certainly a hero, idealized by parents and grandparents, the Savior of Europe, later the President of the United States.

So it is only fitting that Ike found respite and comfort at Culzean Castle. With all the dragons already slain, and the terror of World War II behind him, he could relax here.

So will you.


Room rates at the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle include afternoon cream tea in the drawing room and a full breakfast. Dinner is separate and is served only on Fridays and Saturdays unless by prior arrangement.

A tour of the castle is included in the price.

For more information, more photos and booking details, visit The Eisenhower Hotel’s website.


I visited the Eisenhower Hotel at Culzean Castle as a guest of the British Tourist Authority. I appreciate the opportunity. As always, all of my opinions and comments on the hotel are my personal observations. I will never recommend a hotel or event I didn’t love myself. I heartily recommend the Eisenhower Hotel for a deserved splurge.
Photos courtesy of The National Trust for Scotland.

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Four brass-topped solpersteine are engraved with the names, birthdates and date and place of death of four members of the Wertheimer family in Heidelberg.

Stolpersteine: Stumbling Across Reminders of the Holocaust

Stolpersteine are small, only noticed if you happen to be looking down. But these “stumbling stones” hold large pieces of the individual and collective memories of those the world lost to the Nazi Holocaust.

Photo of The Week: Stolpersteine

There are many monuments great and small to the millions of Europeans lost to the Nazi Holocaust. There is Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., the gray abstract pillars of the Holocaust Monument in Berlin and dozens more.

In Heidelberg, I “stumbled across” another memorial to the murdered millions. It is both very small and enormous. It is 10 cm (4”) square and it ranges over thousands of kilometers in diverse towns and cities in some 23 European countries.

Four brass-topped stolpersteine are engraved with the names, birthdates and date and place of death of four members of the Wertheimer family in Heidelberg.

Four small brass-topped solpersteine commemorate the last freely chosen residence of four members of the Wertheimer family near the Old Town Square in Heidelberg, Germany. Three of them died. One escaped.

This monument is called, collectively, solpersteine in German. That translates as stumbling stones because you can easily “stumble across” a part of this monument unaware. Thousands of the cobblestone-sized blocks have been laid. They memorialize the Jews, Roma, homosexuals, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Resistance fighters, black people, the mentally ill and physically disabled and others who were all victims of the Nazi’s rabid “purification” campaign during World War II.

The stones I found near the Old Town main square in Heidelberg mark the last family residence of the Wertheimer family. Julius was apparently the head of the family, father to two sons. He was 56 when he was first taken into “protection” at Dachau. Two years later he was deported from there and killed. Klara, his wife, was 59 when she was deported and died shortly afterward. Fritz was just 16 when he was taken away. The last two lines on his stone read 1940 Auschwitz. Murdered. His older brother, Karl, was the “lucky” survivor. In 1937, at age 22, he fled to Colombia.

How the Stolpersteine Came to Be

The concept of the stolpersteine began in Berlin in 1992 when German artist Gunther Demnig had an idea. December 16, 1992 was the 50th anniversary of Heinrich Himmler’s order to deport the Sinti and Roma “gypsies” in Germany to concentration camps. Demnig thought the date should be commemorated. He engraved the first sentence of that infamous decree onto a stone and laid it in front of the town hall in Cologne. From there, the idea blossomed into what he calls a “decentralized monument.” It would become the largest in the world.

He began making small concrete blocks topped with inscribed brass plaques. One person, one block. He then set them into the pavement in front of the last place where those people had freely chosen to live before falling victim to the Nazi terror. Whether it was deportation to an extermination camp, death by exhaustion, hunger or disease in a labor camp, euthanasia, suicide, or a more fortunate escape abroad that caused them to leave their homes, the stumbling stones now mark where they were a part of daily life before the horror.

Personalizing the Holocaust, Bringing the Victims Home

Six million dead—or eight million or twelve million—is a number impossible to comprehend. But a group of small brass squares in the sidewalk, each marked with “Here lived…” followed by a name, a date of birth, the time of leaving, a date and place of death… that is something personal, comprehensible. That is something that allows you to feel the true tragedy of one plus one plus one, and on and on to seeming infinity.

The stolpersteine represent a kind of “coming home” for these disappeared people. Set flush with the other paving stones, they become an intrinsic part of the neighborhood, just as those they commemorate once were. They remind us that these people walked here. They rode their bikes here, walked their dogs, took out the trash and brought in the shopping. They laughed and cried, courted, gossiped with neighbors, perhaps danced in the street on festive occasions, all right here, over this pavement, where the stones still remember them.

By 2017, stolpersteine have been placed in more than 1400 cities, neighborhoods and towns in 23 European countries.

Who Places the Stones?

The stones are ordered by relatives of the victims, by concerned individuals, often by residents of the buildings where these people once lived. Students, historical researchers and others all help come up with the names and other information and the correct locations for the stones.

The entire solpersteine program is a private initiative, although Demnig does require that all local state and city permissions are received before he begins to create new stones. To have a solperstein created and placed costs 120€, and there is a waiting list of many months. That’s because each stumble stone is created and laid by hand. Michael Friedrichs-Friedlander makes the stones and embosses the brass plate. He can make about 450 per month. Demnig then travels across Europe and lays them.

Since pedestrians generally step around them, the brass plates tend to oxidize instead of being regularly “polished” by shoe soles, as Demnig intended. They can turn brown or even black and unreadable, so residents often keep them cleaned and polished.

One observation the artist has madeis this:

“One of the most beautiful pictures, I find, is this aspect that, when you want to read, you have to bow, before the victim.”

For more information about the stolperstein project and Gunther Demnig, visit the Stolpersteine website here.

Pin it for Later:Stolpersteine, The Holocaust Memorial under your feet in Europe
You know you want to remember this for your next trip.

Paris street sign-Rue de l'Arbe Sec

Losing Myself at La Galcante, My Favorite Paris Shop

It’s a secret, a wonderful secret. It’s La Galcante, a Parisian shop probably like none you’ve ever been in before. It’s books and magazines, dust motes floating in pastel lemony light, soft jazz from the radio and the musty-lovely perfume of old paper. It’s magic. Come inside with me.

When I’m traveling, nothing is more wonderful to me than stumbling across a little-known treasure that most tourists never find. It’s those secret places, addresses passed from friend to friend, with instructions to “turn right and look for the blue door,” that put you behind the scenes in a new city and make you feel like a local.

So when a friend told me about La Galcante, a shop that specializes in what they call “Old Press,” I was intrigued. The name itself is a play on words. It’s a combination of galerie (gallery) and brocante (a kind of flea market or second-hand business). As a flea market and vintage junkie (more about that here), I was eager to see it for myself.

Follow Directions to Find La Galcante

The corridor entry to the courtyard where La Galcante is located.

The entyway to La Galcante is a perfect Paris scene. Let yourself get drawn in.

It’s not the kind of place you stumble across. You have to know where to look. You must be told that it is in the 1st Arrondisement, just a few streets from the Louvre. You are told to walk down Rue de l’Arbe Sec to #52 and look for the blue door with the heavy brass knocker. Through that door, you’ll step into a shadowy corridor, maybe with a bike or two leaning against the old walls. At the end of the cobble-stoned corridor, there it is, tucked into a corner of one of those fabulous little Parisian courtyards that make you think you’re in an Audrey Hepburn film.

Step through the arched glass doors and you discover yourself surrounded by seven million bits of paper—stacks of paper, shelves and tables and boxes and crates of paper, towers of paper. It’s a bit overwhelming. But let yourself sink in and be surrounded. The treasure hunt is about to begin.

The shop’s “Old Press” specialty includes newspapers and broadsides from the time of the French Revolution to the present. Most of the collection dates from the 1850s forward, with the most popular requests being for items from the 1920s to 1970s. But they also stretch their mission to include most things paper. Beyond the newspapers and collections of old New Yorker magazines and the entire run of Paris Vogue, you’ll find calendars, vintage advertising, catalogs, broadsides, prints, etchings, cigarette cards, vintage maps.

Walls are lined with shelves stacked with boxes of flt files, and ladders to reach them all.

Wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling shelves and drawers are filled with everything paper-related at la Galcante.

When you first enter the shop, you’re met by walls lined floor-to-ceiling with shallow drawers and shelves stacked with white boxes full of flat files. These are all carefully labeled: Piaf, Hemingway, Hitchcock, Bowie. Those are stuffed with assorted and sorted ephemera about whomever you are currently obsessed with, including articles, photographs, drawings and magazine stories. Others are labeled with subjects like Suisse Chocolat, Chansons, Mode Masculines. Still others merely have numbers, with catalogued newspapers someone will direct you to if you ask.

Wend your way through the narrow aisles towards the back, where you’ll find a perfect Paris atrium ceiling, pouring light down onto that lovely, dusty old paper.

I was greeted by Pierre, tall, slender, and very French in a long-sleeved black sweater, with an offer to help me look for anything special. Casual and friendly, he speaks excellent English and can find most anything in the shop. But since I had no specific requests at that moment, he left me to browse.

Stacks of bagged magazines, books and some old film canisters on a table at la Galcante.

Vintage children’s books, comic books, posters, even cans of fill the shelves and boxes at La Galcante.old film

I spent a couple of solitary hours simply foraging—pawing through stacks of old photos and bags of advertising stickers. I scanned magazines, thumbed newspapers and studied the shelves at random. I could easily have stayed there the whole day, doing just that, forgetting that the beauties of the Louvre and the sunshine of the Tuileries were just a few minutes’ walk away.

After a while, Juliette arrived. She’s lean and leggy, with a bouncy energy. Juliette has been working at La Galcante a long time and she seems to love a good hunt. Ask her for a copy of Pilote magazine from 1963, with the serialized story of “Asterix and the Banquet.” Her eyes will take on a moment of intense inner concentration and then off she will go to find it for you. She knows every inch of the place, back to front, and apparently every piece of paper in the shop. If it is there, she will find it.

La Galcante first opened in 1975, the brainchild of Christian Bailly, a former journalist and a passionate collector of old newspapers. In the 1970s, he inherited hundreds of thousands of the things. He found that newspapers with stories of significant events are easy to sell, but the others? Not so much.

So he invented the concept of the “birthday newspaper.” People can ask for copies of newspapers printed on the day they were born, or an anniversary or other fond memory—not a copy but the actual, original paper. The idea is now a significant part of the shop’s business.

crates with vintage magazines

Magazines are a staple here, all kinds and all eras.

Shelves show off some of the 7 million items in stock at Las Galcante.

There are over 7 million items in the collection. that’s Million!

With limited luggage space and a tight-ish budget, I planned only to browse that day. Easier said than done. While it’s true that it’s free to enter the shop and browse as long as ever you like, unpressured and unmolested, temptation lurks on every shelf and table, in every box and drawer.

When I finally left, my wallet was 100€ lighter and my one carryon bag just a bit heavier.

Watch this video to get something of the experience of wandering the aisles at La Galcante.

La Galcante | Weld Art Collective from weld art collective on Vimeo.


 
La Galcante
#52 Rue de l’Arbe Sec,
Paris, 75001
Open Monday through Saturday, 10 am-7:30 pm

Dutch citizens celebrate as British soldiers with the 1st Canadian Army liberate the Netherlands in May, 1945.

Remembrance Day in the Netherlands: The Power of Silence

In Holland, Liberation Day is for celebration. But Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, “Dodenherdenking,” is for the silence of deep and painful memories, the solemnity of “We Will Never Forget.”

Liberation Day is celebrated in the Netherlands on May 5th. It marks the day in 1945 when the Germans surrendered in Holland and the occupation of the Netherlands officially ended, and with it the long nightmare of World War II for the Dutch people.

Liberation Day, Bevrijdingsdag, is marked by celebration. It’s a national holiday, a happy day, a day for fun and picnics and laughter and parties. Everyone gets the day off from work. There are music festivals throughout the country. The day’s festivities end with a major concert on the Amstel River in Amsterdam. The people celebrate their freedom, democracy and joy.

Dutch citizens celebrate as British soldiers with the 1st Canadian Army liberate the Netherlands in May, 1945.

British soldiers from the 49th (West Riding) Division—the Polar Bears—attached to 1st Canadian Army,
liberate Utrecht, the Netherlands in May, 1945.

Remembrance Day in the Netherlands Comes First

But for the Dutch, the rule has always been, “First commemorate, then celebrate.” And so the day before all the fun and festivals, May 4th, is the day to remember all those who died or were murdered in World War II and in every armed conflict since. Remembrance Day ceremonies are still taken very seriously and are held throughout the country, with the major one taking place at Amsterdam’s Dam Square, where wreaths are laid by the King and Queen.

Remembering My Remembering

My own memories of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands are smaller, more personal than the pomp and royalty on the city’s main square. But perhaps the more powerful for all that.

It was 1971 and I had been living in Amsterdam for only a few weeks, but I was already in love with the country and the people. I was not on Dam Square that day. I didn’t see Queen Juliana lay a wreath or hear the bugles play. I didn’t watch any of the pageantry or hear the solemn speeches—which I would not have understood anyway as my Dutch was non-existent at the time. I was not part of any crowd. But what I saw was much more meaningful to me.

It was a beautiful spring day in Amsterdam, I recall, with flowers spilling from every window box and a few flat-bottomed white clouds dotting an unusually blue sky. The windows were open in many of the flats, their so-Dutch white lace curtains ruffling slightly in a spring breeze.

I was walking along the Rozengracht near where it crosses the Prinsengracht. I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner at a favorite café and hoping we’d be able to find a table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. The Dutch are such inveterate sun-worshippers, they were out in force, filling every available seat of every terrace café I passed.

People at a terrace cafe in the sun in Amsterdam

Today, as in 1971, Amsterdammers love sitting outdoors at a terrace cafe canalside on a sunny day in May.


A tour boat slid quietly up the Rozengracht canal, leaving a small wake where the sunlight glistened off the water. Moms pushed strollers and prams along the cobblestones. A young couple bicycled past on their traditional old-fashioned Dutch bikes, each with one hand on the handlebars and the other clasped between them, in perfect balance. The café patrons laughed and chatted over their drinks—a koffee, a pilsje, a jenever.

And the World Stopped

The sky was still light at 8 pm, the sun sailing low in the sky when, almost as if the earth took a deep breath and held it…everything and everyone in the Netherlands simply stopped.
Cars pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A tram moving down the middle of the street slowed and rolled to a complete stop mid-block. Pedestrians stopped walking and stood like relaxed statues. People in the sidewalk cafés put down their cups, their forks, their glasses of pils.

A waiter stepped from inside to the doorway, looked out and stopped. A streetsweep stopped and leaned on his broom, looking down at the now-clean cobblestones beneath his feet. The pair of bicyclists back-pedaled to brake to a halt, still holding hands. On the humped bridge over the canal at the corner, a couple leaned on the railing of the bridge, completely still.

My shadow across the pavement stopped too, as I took in the whole, still, surreal scene and its meaning.

Conversations stopped. Laughter stopped. The sounds of tires on cobbles and wheels on steel tracks stopped. The clatter of cups and glasses and forks stopped. Everything except the breeze, the soft ripple of water in the canal and the cooing of pigeons just stopped.

For two minutes, no one spoke, no one laughed, no one moved. Instead, they stopped and they remembered. They remembered what their country had suffered.

In the silence, they remembered the ones who died—the Jews sent to be exterminated, the Dutch fathers and brothers and sons sent to become slave labor in the German munitions factories who never came home, the Dutch Resistance fighters who saved so many lives but could not save their own. They remembered the Dutch citizens who died in Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia. They remembered the Dutch children and the old people who died from hunger in the last brutal “Hunger Winter” of the war.

And they remembered every Dutch citizen who has died in armed conflict since World War II because the world has not yet learned to live in peace.

For those two minutes of silence, I stood there, feeling the low-angled sun on my face as I listened to the quiet lapping of the water. I realized I was only a two-minute walk from the very building where Anne Frank and her family had hidden from the Gestapo for years until finally they were found only months before the war ended and sent to the concentration camps, where most of them would die. I realized what these people, this country—like so many others in Europe—had been through and how fortunate we in the US had been to escape so much of that suffering.

The tower of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, where the bells toll for Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, along with all the other church bells in the city.

The bells in the tower of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam began to toll, like all the bells in all the churches in all the cities in the Netherlands for Remembrance Day.

When the two minutes of silence were over, the church bells began to ring. The sound seemed to come from every direction. I was less than a block from the Westerkerk, and those bells seemed to sound almost inside my head. All the bells from every church in Amsterdam tolled out the memory of their loss and the end of their suffering. It filled the air and it filled me, that sound of relief that it was finally over.

Slowly, the world around me woke up again. The tram began rolling down its steel tracks once more. The tour boat resumed its easy float along the canal, pointing out to people from all over the world the magic of this beautiful city. Cars moved, bicycles rolled again, people started walking. Conversations and coffee resumed in the cafés.

The ceremony of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands was over for another year. Normal life resumed and I continued on my way, off to meet my friend, hungry for my late dinner.

But I was not quite the same person. I never would be again.


If you are planning to visit Holland and your timing is flexible, consider planning your trip to coincide with Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, May 4th. The silence, the remembrance, the respect the people still show for those who died–and are still dying today from the idiocy of war–will leave you moved, and touched. Then stick around for the parties, the fun and the pure joy of Liberation Day.

Pin it For Later: Pin for Later: Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, a time of silence, remembrance and resolve