A wide-open view of the beautiful terraced vineyards you will see on a South Australia road trip.

Australia Road Trip-An Epicurean Adventure from Adelaide

Grab some wheels and prime your taste buds, because this South Australia road trip will have your eyes widening in wonder and your mouth salivating at the gastronomic goodness surrounding you.

A wide-open view of the beautiful terraced vineyards you will see on a South Australia road trip.

In the South Australia wine country, the views of terraced, quilt-checked hills go on forever.

Away from the frenzy of the tourist-crowded east coast of Australia, is a laid-back and gorgeous spot that has not lit up the tourist maps of the world… yet. But I predict it soon will, because South Australia’s got it all. And most especially, it’s got what your mouth and your stomach are craving.The best way to taste all the goodness of South Australia is with your own wheels, so you can wander at your own pace, stopping wherever you get hungry or just crave a long gaze at the beautiful views. You can rent a car in Adelaide, but it’s better yet if you can get hold of a caravan or camper. These are also rentable, of course, but if you’re planning to cover more of this continent-sized island beyond South Australia, you might want to consider actually purchasing one, using it for your trip, then reselling it when you leave. You can find used campervans and trailers of all types on this gumtree website.. Also, this site lists many places to camp in South Australia.

So, let’s get you on the road for your South Australia road trip.

You will most likely fly into Adelaide, the capital of the state of South Australia. It’s a genial, casual city, with a laid-back vibe under a layer of hip sophistication. Once known as The City of Churches for its strong Lutheran roots, it now pulses with a more secular beat and an artsy underbelly. It was also named a UNESCO “City of Music” in 2015. Several world-renowned music festivals happen throughout the year, and there are live-music clubs and pubs on nearly every street.
Adelaide was my first glimpse of Australia, and I was basically blown away—by the food, the nearby milk-white beaches, proximity to the country’s best wine region…and the people. One of my favorite eye-openers about Australians was how unstuffy they are. I felt like someone had taken the best qualities of Americans and Brits, mixed them with sunshine and salt water, and given them a unique accent I sometimes had trouble understanding. And I never met one in my time there who was less than kind, helpful, and welcoming.

Beehive Corner in downtown Adeliade, South Australia, is home to Haigh's Chocolates, in a fanciful, neo-Gothic building with stripes and gables, spires and dentilated cornices.

Beehive Corner in central Adelaide houses the city’s best known chocolate shop, Haigh’s Chocolates. chocolate shop,

This is a compact city, easy to navigate. The central district is edged all around by parks and greenways and the Rundle Mall pedestrian shopping area. There’s no lack of things to do in Adelaide. You’re offered plentiful and lovely parks and gardens. Rundle Mall lures you into its 15 buildings and plazas full of things to empty your wallet. Take tea at one of the outdoor cafes and smile at the whimsical street sculptures, including some darling bronze pigs, rooting around a trash can. Also, South Australia is the opal-mining center of the country, so keep your eyes open for beautiful creations featuring the rainbow-hued stone.

A short ride away on a historic tram brings you to Glenelg Beach. Sun and sand, a jetty, a lighthouse—all the beachy things you want and need.

The white sands of Glenelg beach are just a short tram ride from downtown Adelaide, South Australia

Glenelg Beach is Adelaie’s city beach, just a short ride on a vintage tram from the city center.
Photo by eguidetravel on flickr–CC 2.0 license

To get a sense of Adelaide’s history and culture, take a stroll along North Terrace, the city’s cultural boulevard. That’s where you’ll find the city’s great cultural institutions and museums, the National Wine Centre, Parliament House, and the beautiful and serene Botanic Gardens.

The graceful South Australia Parliament building in the North Terrace district.

The South Australia state parliament building in Adelaide graces the Northern Terrace cultural district.

Where’s the Epicurean Part of this South Australia Road Trip?

But I promised you food, an “epicurean adventure,” and for that we need to head to Adelaide Central Market. It’ the oldest fresh produce market in Australia, and it was my flat-out favorite spot in town. What you get is 250-odd stalls of color, noise, smells, and outright deliciousness. Here you’ll find the freshest regional produce, artisan breads, cheeses, butchers featuring the likes of emu steaks and ground kangaroo, bright-eyed fish scarcely out of the sea. The stallholders have fought against any new-fangled glitzy facelifts and revel in the noisy, rough-and-tumble atmosphere of the place, a true taste of Old Adelaide.

After wandering around and drooling for a while, I bought 120 grams of amazing chicken pastrami, a small round of herbed chévre, one perfect crisp apple, and a small loaf of grainy artisan bread. It made the perfect picnic lunch. If you’d rather “eat in,” the place is loaded with multi-cultural cafes. Whether it’s pizza, paella, or piroshki you’re pining for, it’s waiting for you here.

The Central Court at Adelaide's Central Market features a Victorian-era glass-domed ceiling.

Adelaide’s Central Market is a landmark, a meeting place and a foodies’ heaven.

Into the Hills and Valleys

Adelaide can keep you happy, entertained, and well-fed for several days, but eventually, you’re going to want to get behind the wheel and head north on that promised south Australia road trip. You’re about to take your taste buds on an epic journey, up through what may be the most beautiful wine country in Australia. The road winds through the Adelaide Hills and into the Barossa Valley, where we’re going to find a staggering number of winery tasting rooms, or cellar doors, ready to enlarge your wine knowledge and delight your mouth as well.

The wine that built the reputation of the area is Shiraz, aka Syrah. It is a deep, dark red wine, full-bodied, even a bit heavy in the mouth. I’m no wine connoisseur, having grown up on college plonk. But it was here, in the Barossa Valley, that I had my first ever wine epiphany: “Oh, so this is what really extraordinary wine tastes like!” College plonk would never again serve.

But it’s not just about the tasting up here, as wonderful and varied as that may be. It’s also about the doing. There are many places in the region where you can have hands-on experiences of creating your own gourmet products. There are multiple opportunities to take cooking classes, blend your own gin, learn to make cheese. There is such an overflowing cornucopia of tastes, treasures and experiences, it’s impossible to cover them all. But here is a small taste of what you might want to sample as you meander west and north, traveling through some of the most beautiful rolling countryside this side of Burgundy.

Prepare for a beautiful, peaceful, and flavorful drive.

A mountain of green grapes,, the bounty of the Australia wine country.

The beauty and bounty of the South Australia wine country, a region built on grapes. Photo by Thomas Schaefer on Unsplash

The Adelaide Hills – First Stop on your South Australia Road Trip

A short 20-30 minutes east/southeast of the city takes you into the Adelaide Hills, where gold mining history meets rich agriculture soil, an age-old pioneering spirit and modern innovation. The region produces wonderful cool-climate wines, with dozens of wineries where you can stop for tastings.

Be sure to plan a stop in the village of Hahndorf, Australia’s oldest German settlement. It began in 1839 when a group of German Lutherans, wanting to escape religious persecution by the King of Prussia, decided to immigrate to a safer place. It has managed to retain its colonial charm and is full to the brim with boutiques, galleries, bakeries, pubs and cafes. Walking the length of the main street, you’ll encounter antiques and toy shops, a puppet shop, a fairy garden shop, and a candle shop where you can make your own scented jar candles. For when hunger and thirst strike, there’s no dearth of ice cream, artisan cheeses, German pastries, and flights of craft beers. Plus, there are at least five winery tasting rooms right on the main street.

One fun Hahndorf experience is at Buzz Honey Hive Door, where they offer free tastings of various single-flower source honeys. Also, you can stand in a glass-walled observation hive and safely watch the bees at work. Just outside the village, if you stop at Beerenberg Farm from November to April (the Australian summer), you can pick your own sugar-sweet strawberries and lick the juice dribbling down your newly bright-red chin as you bite into them.

Finally, before moving on you must stop at the Hahndorf Hill winery, winner of multiple awards and “best of” namings, both for its wines and for its winery experience. A highlight of that experience is ChocoVino,, which matches Hahndorf Hill’s boutique wines to some of the world’s best chocolates for a pairing you won’t likely forget. Who knew wine and chocolate could be this good together? The experience is made even greater by the spectacular views of the winery and surrounding countryside from the glass-walled tasting room.

Wine and fine chocolate, perfectly paired at ChocoVine, Hahndorf Hills Winery,, in the Adelaide HIlls, South Australia.

Wine and chocolate, oh my! At ChocoVino at Hahndorf Hills Winery in the Adelaide Hills.

The Barossa, Where Wine is a Way of Life

In the rolling, verdant Barossa Valley, wine has been a way of life for more than 175 years. That history has built it into one of the world’s great wine regions. In this viticulture area are planted some of the oldest continuously producing vines in the world, some going back to the original cuttings brought from Europe in the 1840s. Add in a diversity of weather and soil conditions and you end with a wide variety of wine types and the unofficial designation as “Wine Capital of Australia.” (Since the weather can change from warm to quite cool from one side of the valley to the other, I suggest you take a wrap with you, even in summer. Something like my favorite travel shawl) is perfect.

One thing is certain. Where there is great wine, fine artisan food is sure to follow, as well as opportunities to watch it being made, grown, cooked, and brewed, and even take a hand at doing some of that yourself.

Driving north into the valley, you come to Lyndoch Lavender Farm, where you can stroll through the brilliant lavender landscape (hint: bring your camera!) They produce all sorts of lavender products, including soaps, essential oils, seeds, organza sachets, and sleep pillows. But for me the stars were the items that came from the farm kitchen. Lavender honey, mustard, chutneys and their classic lavender jelly, are all sold, with plenty of tastings to help you decide. At the Lavender Farm Café, you can get coffee or lavender tea, cheese platters, and lavender ice cream, lavender scones, lavender biscuits… you get the idea.

A beautiful field of lavender at sunset. Lyndoch Lavender Farm in the Adelaide Hills, on your South Australia road trip.

At Lyndoch Lavender Farm you can stroll through the lavender fields, buy products made with lavender, and eat gourmet treats flavored with lavender. Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash.

A pretty drive up the road a piece brings you to Tanunda. It was also settled by those fleeing German Lutherans and is still full of quirky architecture from the 19th century. It’s hemmed on all sides by vineyards. Look to the end of any street in town and there be grapes. Stop at the Barossa Wine and Visitor Centre on Murray Streets for maps and information.

The old Tanunda Railroad Station in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, it's quirky architecture influenced by the early German immigrants.

The old Tanunda Railroad Station is typical of the colonial buildings in town, influenced by the style brought by German immigrants. Photo by Chris Fithall on flickr–CC 2.0 license.

Right in Tanunda’s main street you’ll find Barossa Valley Brewing where you can try an IPA, an award-winning ale, some cider or their outrageously amazing Special Batch Chocolate Coffee Stout, a heavyweight brew flavored with Peruvian cocoa nibs and Barossa roasted coffee. Enjoy your drink on the paved terrace beneath giant gum trees. Or on chilly days, snuggle by a wood fire inside.

Back on the road, we wind through hazy valleys and vine-quilted hillsides, studded with giant eucalyptus trees. There are as many opportunities as you could hope for to stop along the way for wine tastings, photo ops, or just drinking in the beautiful rural views.

Soon we come to Nurioopta, the Valley’s largest town, also surrounded by vineyards. There are even grape vines growing on some of the buildings in town. Our next stop on this pilgrimage of degustation is Durand’s Gin School. It’s adjacent to the better-known Maggie Beers Farm (also worth a stop). We’re going to make ourselves some private-label gin. Working at your own Italian copper still, you’ll mix a base spirit with your choice of botanicals, with plenty of advice and instruction to help you get it right. Then, while your still heats up and does its magic act, you’ll sit down to a four-course lunch. Afterward, you’ll break your newly-minted spirit down with pure water, bottle and label it. Your own personal gin is now ready for you to take home.

Just up the road is Penfolds, one of the best-known Australian wineries in the world. And from blending gin we can go to blending wine. Put on a white vigneron’s lab coat and step into the Winemaker’s Laboratory for a 90-minute learning experience. Here you’ll be given three wines and lots of tips and guidance. You’ll blend, sniff and taste until you have exactly the blended wine that suits you best. You’ll go home with a bottle of your own wine, with your own label. What a great souvenir!

A bottle of your own blended wine, created by you in the wine labs at Penfolds winery.

At Penfolds winery, you can go home with your own private blend wine, blended by you in the wine labs.

Seppeltsfield Road and Estate

There’s one more unmissable stop before heading back to Adelaide to finish our South Australia road trip. And it’s a big one you need at least an entire day for, maybe more, depending on how much you like to taste wines. Get onto Seppeltsfield Road heading east. For the next 6 miles/10 km, you will pass through beautiful hills and valleys where old vines grow in the rich red soil of this part of the Barossa Valley. Along the road are at least 18 winery tasting rooms, plus a cider brewer and a distiller. The last part of the road is itself spectacular, a 3 mile/5km stretch lined on both sides with enormous Canary Island Date Palms, more than 2000 of them in total, planted during the Great Depression.

the long stretch of Seppeltfield Road, also called Palm Road, leading to Seppeltsfield Estate Winery. It's lined with 2000 old Canary Island Date Palms

The magnificent Palm Road approaching Penfolds is lined with 2000 Canary Island Date Palms that are more than 75 years old. Michale Dawes on flickr–CC 2.0 license

Besides the wineries, some of the best and most famous Barossa restaurants are located along Seppeltsfield Road. At Hentley Farms, the 1880s stables have been converted into an elegant and contemporary dining room where the focus is on locavore dining. Much of the produce comes from the farm itself. Many items are foraged from the wild around the estate or caught in the local waterways. The rest is sourced from small family farms nearby. There’s no set menu but rather a constantly changing surprise menu that depends entirely on what is fresh and good that day and what magic the chef decides to create with it. These dishes are paired with the estate’s own wines.

Finally, that spectacular Palm Drive brings you to Seppeltsfield Estate, 420 acres of ancient vineyard, lush gardens, and heritage architecture. You can set your own pace and wander at will, taking in the winery and the beautifully planted gardens, and sampling some of the complimentary tastings offered. Or you can join a tour. There are heritage tours of the buildings, a Segway tour of the grounds, and one that takes you through the famous Centennial Cellar. From this almost sacred spot, Seppeltsfield has issued a 100-year-old Tawny wine every year since 1978. You can even taste your birth year wine.

The beautiful gardens at Seppeltsfield Estate, in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, on a golden day in autumn.

The gardens at Seppeltsfield Estate are extensive and glorious.

JamFactory, located in the 1850s stables of the estate, is a hub for craftspeople and design artists. As they work in their studios, creating beauty and function in jewelry, knife-making, ceramics, millinery, glass and other fine crafts, you can watch them and even stop to chat. Then buy their beautiful creations in the retail shop.

Leather artists in a studio at JamFactory on the Seppeltsfield Estate, Barossa Valley, South Australia

At JamFactory, you can watch and interact with the artists and craftspeople in their studios.

Our South Australia road trip itinerary has barely scratched the surface of what is available in this beautiful part of the country. There is so much more I had no room to include. As you meander through Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley, keep your eyes alert for serendipitous finds along the way, From cheese-making lessons to an Italian cooking class, from restaurants specializing in native “bush tucker” meals to places you can buy house-made mettwurst—there’s that German accent again—South Australia will reach out and hand it to you.

And a South Australia road trip, at a slow and meandering, sipping and swallowing pace, is the right way to experience it all.

….
For a completely different Australian experience, check out my post on
things to do in Perth.

The iconic bell tower in Perth, Australia

A Fistful of Cool Things to Do in Perth, Australia

There’s no dearth of cool things to do in Perth, the capital of Western Australia. And many of the most fun things to do in Perth can appeal to older women travelers, no matter your age or degree of comfort with “adventure.”

Perth, Australia—locals call it “The Pretty City.” And with good reason. This west coast city of 2+ million people has a special blend of nature and urban cityscape that can capture both the eye and the heart. With its modern architecture, its plethora of green spaces, and surrounded by some 25 miles (40 km) of soft-sand beaches and the glassy water of the Indian Ocean, it is beautiful for the eye and the lifestyle. And the fact that it has more sunny days per year than any other capital city in Australia doesn’t hurt. The best Perth points of interest will keep you outside a lot of the time.

Perfectly situated where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean, Perth offers a laid-back lifestyle with a cosmopolitan accent. With such a diverse landscape and cityscape, there’s a long list of intriguing, adventurous and downright fun things to do in Perth. (To find out what’s on in Perth today, visit the Perth city Tourism website. And for a great way to save money here, check out the best offers on things to do in Perth at Groupon.

Let’s take a closer look.

A Twilight view of the skyling of Perth, Australia shows one reason it's called The Pretty City.

There’s a reason Perth, Australia is called “The Pretty City.” From skyline to greenways, river to Indian Ocean,
it’s a delight for both the eye and the lifestyle.

Step Up and Look Out

One of your first things to do in Perth is to look at it from a vantage point that will help you get your bearings. I always like getting to some high point in a new city for an overview. In Perth, the best view of The Pretty City, night or day, is from the Fraser Avenue Lookout. You can see how the Swan River snakes through the city, a watery anchor for everything else. You can also see the Narrows Bridge spanning the river.

A view of Perth showing downtown, the Swan  river and the Narrows bridge.

Perth, Australia, offers so many lovely views. Get high up to see it at its best.

And then there’s this… because Tree Tops! Head to the Lotterywest Federation Walkway along the boundaries of Kings Park. The glass-and-steel arched bridge of the walkway begins near the massive Boab Tree, a 750-year-old giant transplanted here from the Kimberley area, nearly 2000 miles (3200 km) away. In a stroll of about 40 minutes, it takes you among the canopy of eucalyptus trees and gives spectacular skyline views of the city. You’ll see the Swan and Canning Rivers, get a sense of the diverse Western Australia flora, and be treated to aboriginal art along the way. One of the most fascinating and fun places to go in Perth, the walkway is open daily from 9-5, is free and is wheelchair accessible.

The glass-and-steel arched walkway traversing the tops of the eucalayptus trees in Perth's Kings Park.

The glass-and-steel Lotterywest Federation Walkway in Kings Park lets you walk among the treetops.
It’s one of the best experiences in Perth.

Eat it Up—One of the Most Delicious Things to do in Perth!

A Cloud Gelato treat in a huge cone, enough to fill you to the brim.

Cloud Gelato–a waffle cone that’s crispy out, soft inside and filled with deliciousness.

Perth’s food scene has exploded in recent years, and you’ll find anything you’re hungering for. From high-end, chef-centric restaurants to the diverse farm stands at Twilight Hawkers Market, from a classic high tea with bubbly at Bistro 10481 to pigging out at Margaret River Chocolate Company (free chocolate tastings!), Perth’s got it. Judging by its diverse food scene, Perth is a truly cosmopolitan place. And thanks to the sunny climate (remember, it has more sunny days than any other capital city in Australia), it has a high concentration of rooftop bars and dozens of opportunities for al fresco dining.

On one of those sunny days, you should definitely hit Cloud Gelato in Hay Street to gorge on one of their signature “cloud waffle” cones, crispy outside, fluffy inside, and filled with premium gelato and enough toppings to please even the most hedonistic Nomad Woman.

Drink it In

Upshot Whiskey from Whipper Snapper Distillery in Perth, Australia

Learn about how whiskey is distilled and why Whipper Snapper Distillery’s Upshot Whiskey is so delicious.

The liquid spirit of Perth is another draw. With the nearby Swan Valley wineries creating some of the best wines in Australia, a bunch of breweries turning out great brewskies, and super-fine coffee on offer all over town, you won’t go thirsty. Take a tasting at the award-winning Upper Reach winery or the globally known Sandalford Winery in the valley. Hit Billabong Brewing for their gluten-free wheat beer, brewed on the premises. Or head to the super-luxe Northbridge Brewing Company for a brew overlooking the city’s skyline from their rooftop Skydeck. For coffee brewing turned into art, head for Standing Room Only, a tiny place in the middle of Picadilly Arcade, with no seating, as the name implies. All they do is coffee, and they do it perfectly. These guys are passionate about coffee and it shows.

If your spirit needs a spirits lift, you need to go to Whipper Snapper Distillery for a whiskey workshop and tasting. You’ll learn that the recipe was developed during World War II by a couple of bomber pilot mates—one Yank and one Aussie. Then it was tweaked 50 years later by a renowned whiskey maven from Scotland. Learn how it’s made and leave with a bottle of their goes-down-so-easy Australian Upshot Whiskey, aged two years, or their whiskey-inspired smoked honey.

Speed it Up—Get an Adrenaline Shot with These Exciting Things to Do in Perth

Need an adrenaline rush? That’s also easy to find in Perth, whether as a spectator or a super-active participant. You can have a 90-minute motorcycle lesson from Down Under Riders. Enjoy a day-long quad tour just outside town. For something a little less stressful, watch harness racing at Gloucester Park. Water babies can learn to ride that wave at Gone Surfin’ Surf School, and they’ll provide the board. At Rooftop Trapeze, you can learn to be that “daring young woman on the flying trapeze.” And for the highest thrill of all, one I’m dying to do myself, let West Oz Skydiving drop you from a plane up to 14000 feet in the air, attached to a professional for a tandem dive. What a thrill! (To see how I’ve been preparing myself for my own first skydive, check out this post about IFly Indoor Skydiving

A tandem skydive, one of the thrills available in Perth, Australia

Sskydiving is one of the thrills I am dying to experience (no deathwish intended). In Perth, it’s easy.

Throw it Back

For a totally different experience of flight, go back a whole lotta years and take a flight tour in a vintage open-cockpit 1930s bi-plane at Ozwest Aviation. See how daddy did it, complete with the wind against your face. It’s great fun.

What a cool red vintage 1930s biplane.. Rides available at Ozwest in Perth.

In an Ozwest Aviation vintage biplane from the 1930s, you’ll see how daddy (or grandpa) experienced flight.

Don’t Feed the Animals

This is Australia, and you can’t leave without a wildlife hit. I mean… kangaroos, right? You might not think you could find them close to town, but Heirison Island, a wildlife refuge in the Swan River, is teeming with the bounding cuties. They are very tame, and not at all people or camera shy. You may have to walk around the island a bit to spot them, or you can head to their enclosure at dusk, when they emerge from the bush. Get there on the free red CAT bus from the WACA stop then it’s a short walk across the causeway. You’re also likely to see lots of birds on your walk, including egrets, ravens and willy wagtails. Open daily.

A kangaroo looks out from the golden grasses of Heirison Island, not far from Perth, Australia.

To see ‘roos up close, head to Heirison Island, just a short bus ride and a walk across the causeway from Perth.

For another unmissable wildlife experience, you can take the brief ferry ride across the Indian Ocean to Rottnest Island—“Rotto” to the locals—and have a close-up look see at what may be the world’s cutest and friendliest marsupials. Expect the island’s quokkas to steal your heart. These little fellas, about the size of a house cat, will come right up to you as you sit in a café and will happily pose for photos. But please, please don’t handle or feed them. It can make them sick, and there’s a high fine for doing it. Do be prepared for a series of “aww…” moments. These guys are such cuties! Rottnest Island is also worth exploring. The whole place is car free, but you can rent a bike at many places, or just have a lovely walkabout.

A darling little quokka on Rottnest island, looks up with a beseeching face, showing why everyone loves them.

The quokkas on Rottnest Island, a short ferry ride from Perth, provide a whole lot of “Awww…” moments.
But please don’t handle or feed them!

As you can see, there are more than enough fun things to do in Perth to keep you busy for days… or weeks. It’s a part of Australia that’s not on many tourists’ radar. It should be on yours.

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Pin - Cool things to do in Perth, showing the Bell Tower.

Main Street USA in Fort Collins, Colorado

Spend an Afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

Welcome to Main Street USA, the Real One

If you’ve been to any Disneyland anywhere in the world, then Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, might look familiar. Disney’s Main Street USA was partially modeled after the picture-pretty historic center of this northern Colorado college town. Restored 19th-century brick and red stone buildings, mansard roofs and lacy Victorian ironwork highlight streets filled with eclectic shops and art galleries, craft breweries and pubs, and more than 80 unique restaurants, bars, and cafes.

The F.Miller Block, a restored 19th-century building in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, is lined with dozens of restored 19th-century buildings,
like the F.Miller block, giving it a real Main Street USA look.


It’s a town with a hip and happening vibe, huge civic pride and a lot going for it. Downtown Fort Collins puts on more than 100 days of free events every year. Yes, there’s a lot to do here. And you really should go do some of it.

I spent an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins recently with family. We ate and drank, walked and shopped, enjoyed the historic architecture and learned about single-origin chocolate. We were all charmed enough to want to return.

During my Colorado visit, I stayed with family, but if you don’t have that opportunity, a great option is to rent one of many beautiful private cabins in Colorado. Check them out and stay in private luxury.

A Great Place to Live, Work, Retire, Study & Visit

Old Town Square is the heart of the Downtown Fort Collins area, and the Downtown Visitors’ Center, at #19 Old Town Square, is a perfect place to start your afternoon. The maps, brochures, and friendly helpers with lots of information you’ll find there will point out the best direction for your afternoon of discovery. Or if you’re an advance planner, go to www.visitftcollins.com

Fort Collins is famous as Colorado’s craft beer epicenter. In fact, it’s been called the “Napa Valley of beer.” There are more than 20 craft beer breweries in town, and a few of them are right in the historic downtown. Whether your taste is for India Pale Ale or amber, wheat ale or stout, you’ll find a very good example of it here.

We had our first taste at Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing, directly across Old Town Square from the Visitors’ Center. It’s a great place to start your exploration of Downtown Fort Collins. It’s the longest-operating brewery in town with a wide range of brews available. I especially loved their Poudre Pale Ale.

The redbrick building of Coopersmith's Pub & Brewery, right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewery is right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

Besides all that great beer, you’ll find that walking, window shopping, and browsing the boutiques and galleries is the #1 recommended activity for an afternoon in downtown Fort Collins. As you stroll, you’re likely to come across more than one gaily painted upright piano. The program “Pianos About Town” rounds up donated instruments and asks local artists to transform them into unique pieces of street art. They are there for anyone to play. Pull up the whimsical metal chair and set your fingers flying across the keys.

A pair of colorful artist-painted pianos on the streets of downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

The program “Pianos About Town” has placed donated pianos, custom painted by local artists, on the city’s streets.
On the right is “Octopus Octaves” by Ren Burke. Pull up the chair and play!

More than a dozen art galleries invite you to get your art on in Old Town. One of our favorites was Trimble Court Artisans (118 Trimble Court), an artist-operated co-op of fine art and craft. The more than 50 co-op artist members also staff the gallery, so a visit is even more interesting. They show very high-quality work in jewelry, ceramics, painting, fused and blown glass, fiber arts (like the simply delicious painted silk scarves by Susie Hardy), metal work, and other media.

Colorful blown glass olive oil bottles by Dottie Boscamp from Trimble Court, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

I loved these hand-blown glass bottles by Dottie Boscamp at Trimble Court artists’ co-op.
Too bad I was traveling with just a carry-on bag.

Another shop I didn’t want to leave was Nature’s Own (201 Linden St.). Look for it on the corner in the beautifully restored Art Deco Linden Hotel building. An enormous selection of science and nature gifts and jewelry: fossils, crystals and other minerals and gemstones, bones, scientific items. We also loved that Nature’s Own gives significant financial support to a wide array of organizations working toward conservation, sustainability and wildlife survival and rehabilitation. You can shop till you drop and know you are helping maintain a healthy and sustainable environment

A huge amethyst geode and fossils at Nature's Own in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

Look a this amethyst geode. Is that not gorgeous? Find fossils, minerals, bones
and other science and nature items at Nature’s Own.

Next we browsed through the delightful Ten Thousand Villages (113 Linden St.), a non-profit store staffed by volunteers, with amazing displays of fair-trade crafts created by artisans in developing countries around the world. The range of items offered is staggering, a veritable mall of the hand-made world. Journals to jewelry, skincare to stationery, baskets to bags of every size and shape. And all at very fair prices. If you can’t find something you need and covet here, you’re not looking closely enough.

Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado–a Heaven for Foodies

Shopping is all well and good, but we were a group of serious cooks and foodies. What did Downtown Fort Collins have to offer us? The answer: a staggering banquet of tastes, textures and tools, sweet and savory flavors, and delicious libations of every variety.

Of course, we needed to stop for coffee. Fort Collins is a college town, home to Colorado State University. And where there are college students, there is sure to be good coffee and a lot of it. The “third-wave coffee” movement has made great inroads here. We had lots of fine choices and settled on Bean Cycle Roasters (144 No. College Ave). They’re major roasters as well as having an on-site café. After we sated our need for caffeination, I bought a 12 oz. bag of freshly roasted Ethiopian beans, which turned out to be some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

The chalkboard menu at Bean Cycle, in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

We had rich, deep-flavored, fair-trade coffee at Bean Cycle in Fort Collins.

All the serious cooks in the group went a bit wild in a few shops. Savory Spice Shop (123 College Ave.) hits your senses the minute you walk in with its heavenly fragrance. Just about every herb and spice and blend you could want is here, lining the shelves. They specialize in mixing there own custom spice blends for rubs and sauces and pre-measured packets of single-serving spice blends for recipes they provide. If you’re not vegetarian, don’t miss the Chicharron salt. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.

Down the street at The Cupboard (152 S. College Ave.) you can pick up any and every kitchen gadget you could want. You can even bring your dull knives in for sharpening. Upstairs, browse through a huge selection of cookbooks.

Sweet and then Savory in Fort Collins

Now, how to describe my personal highlight of our afternoon in downtown Fort Collins? Let me just say–chocolate. Heavenly chocolate. Single-origin craft chocolate. Chocolate bars made onsite with beans from Belize and Venezuela, Madagascar and Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. Drinking chocolate and chocolate bars and hand-rolled truffles. The shop is called Nuance, and their range of chocolate will challenge your palette and your ability to choose. Find it at 214 Pine Street. Owners Toby and Alix Gadd will educate your chocolate palette, occasionaly waxing poetic about this wonderful food of the gods. Here’s how Toby described the Trinitario Cacao 70% pure dark bar: “An especially capricious chocolate that shifts its character depending on your mood and mouth temperture. Subtle and earthy with a fickle note of dried apples, licorice, meadow herbs, winter spice and stone fruits.” And damn… I could actually taste all of that in it

Chocolate truffles at Nuance Chocolate, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Chocolate truffles at Nuance, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado,
and perhaps the best chocolate shop I’ve ever entered.

My niece had the Ecuador sipping chocolate and described it as “like a chocolate bar you can drink. Not too sweet.” It is actually made with half a bar of chocolate melted with heavy cream. My other niece ordered a “flight” of bar chocolate. It came in small, star-shaped bites of six different flavors, with printed cards describing each one, a nice way to compare types.

Eat Dessert First: Oh, We Already Did That

Having thus finished a wonderful dessert, we decided we should probably have dinner. We walked around the corner to The Welsh Rabbit Cheese Bistro. And oh my, what a wonderful decision it was. If Nuance is all about chocolate, this place is all about cheese, and anything that makes the cheese even better… like wine, olives, warm baguettes with balsamic drizzled olive oil for dipping. We ordered salads and a wooden platter of cheeses with some meats.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit. Every single bite was wonderful.

Samples we tried included Lavender Cheddar with embedded lavender buds; Apple Cinnamon Chevre Spread with small bits of apple on top (my favorite of all my favorites); a Parmesan-Reggiano that was mild at first bite but developed its flavor in your mouth. We also tried the Powerful Welsh cheddar, grassy and nutty, and Hoja Santa, a mild, creamy chevre wrapped in hoja santa leaves.

For something more substantial, you can order from the “small bites” menu. It includes some inventive dishes like bison tongue, sage quail, beet polenta and a traditional ploughman’s lunch. Or order their classic Welsh Rarebit, made with their Powerful Welsh cheddar melted with dark beer and poured over grilled sourdough. Oh my!

From the long wine list, you can choose a flight of three 2-oz pours. There’s also a nice list of beers and ciders from local breweries. We lingered long, until we could no longer deny it was time to head back to my niece’s home 45 minutes away. And drove back wondering how soon we could come back again.

For an even more complete look at this enviable eatery, check out my review of the Welsh Rabbit on theyums.com.

I hope I’ve convinced you to spend an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado the next time you’re in the area. It is a pretty, interesting and definitely filling way to add to your Colorado trip.


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The Neon Museum in Las Vegas: A Gift of Memory to Baby Boomers

At the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the “Boneyard” is stuffed full of the faded glory of Las Vegas’ Golden Age. Beyond all the new LED bling of the Strip, this is where the neon of the city’s past went to die. Let the magic of these old signs and markers bring memory alive and remind us of what was once there.

A yellow crown with neon and flashing bulbs that once lit up the desert sky in Las Vegas, back in the day. Now at the Boneyard of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

In my memories, I can still see the neon and flashing bulbs lighting up the desesrt horizon as my family neared Las Vegas.

It’s 1959. My sister and I have piled into the back of the family’s white ’55 Mercury station wagon. We are off on the annual family summer vacation, a road trip to Somewhere, USA.

The metal cooler full of tuna sandwiches and thick-bottled Cokes has been stowed. The coated burlap water bag is hanging from the Merc’s hood ornament, ready in case the radiator overheats in the scorching California sun. Later, I’ll plead thirst at a rest stop and ask for a swallow of that water, brackish, hot, and tasting like you’d been chewing on dry straw. Disgusting really, but I always beg for it. It’s part of the road trip experience I crave. It’s a built-in part of my happiest childhood memories.

Of course, everyone in the car knows where the first night’s stop will be. It’s always the same. No matter where we’re headed out to from our Southern California home, that first night is the same. Whether we’re heading east to the Grand Canyon, north to our favorite fishing spot on Clear Lake, northwest to the Canyonlands of Utah, there is one constant.

Las Vegas is on the way there.

Because my mom loves Vegas and pulling for hours on the “One-Armed Bandit” at a nickel a pull. And my dad loves my mom and loves giving her what she wants. So Vegas is always on the way.

An old family photo taken at some US National Park, daddy and his girls.

On a family vacation at some U.S. National Park, my sister her always pretty self in her saddle shoes, and me with the dreadful hair and Brownie T-shirt, flanking my dad… where he most loved to be.

Vintage photo of my mom at a slot machine in the 1950s

My mom at a slot machine in downtown Las Vegas, probably The Mint, in the 1950s, playing till her hand was black from the nickels and her arm was sore… where she most loved to be.


Memories That Don’t Fade

Of course, it’s no longer 1959. The white Mercury station wagon went to auto heaven decades ago. Both my parents are gone too. Las Vegas has changed and grown and gotten way more sophisticated. But memory is a funny thing. It fades and shapeshifts but refuses to give up entirely. I can still taste that burlap-y swallow of desert-hot water. I can still feel the shock of cannonballing into a cold Las Vegas motel pool on a 110 degree desert day.

And I remember the neon. I remember all that gleaming, glittering, enticing neon.

The neon was always how we knew we had arrived in Las Vegas. The neon made my mom sit up and smile. It made my sister and me wake up from the flattened back of the station wagon to shake out our hair and pull on our tennis shoes. It roused my dad from the highway-induced stupor of driving an endless road through the desert.

The neon shouted to us: “Welcome back, Meyer family. Let’s have some fun!”

Revisiting the Icons of Old Las Vegas at The Neon Museum

Worn and broken neon sign for the old Silver Slipper Gaming House, Las Vegas Neon Museum.

Almost 60 years later, I loved seeing the old neon signs at the Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas.

These kinds of memories have their own special magic. And they can be spurred by many things—sights, smells, a sound, a curve of light. I wrote this memory of our early trips to Las Vegas shortly after visiting The Boneyard at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. I’d like to take you there, to re-visit a bit of my own childhood, and maybe yours too. And if you never visited Vegas during its Golden Age, let yourself imagine how it looked back then—when The Stardust sign could be seen from 60 miles away, when The Mint façade undulated, when the neon lights gleamed and glittered and invited.

Come with me to see the bones of old Las Vegas now on display in the more than 200 old neon signs set out at The Boneyard of The Neon Museum. And see why maybe you’ll want to make that trip to the Nevada desert to see these memories of Old Las Vegas for yourself.

Entrance sign at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas incorporating iconic typeface letters from various Vegas locations.

The entrance sign to the Neon Museum and Boneyard is itself a part of the display. The lettering on old Vegas neon signs was often the most important part, and typography styles became instantly recognizable. This sign copies some iconic neon typography. The first “N” is classic Golden Nugget style. The “E” is from the famous Caesar’s Palace font. The “O” is copied from downtown’s Binion’s Horseshoe casino. And the final “N” celebrates the Desert Inn of the Rat Pack days.

The entrance lobby of the old La Concha motel was refurbished to become the lobby of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas

The Neon Museum entry and Visitor Center is housed in the renovated lobby of the La Concha Motel, which stood on the southern Strip. It was dismantled, moved and rebuilt for the Neon Museum after the motel closed in 2004. The lobby, its shape mirrored in this sign, was a curvilinear concrete shell designed in the “Googie” style of architecture. The style was enormously popular in Las Vegas and Southern California and later came to be called “Mid-Century Modern.” It is sometimes also referred to as “Space Age” or “Atomic” design.

The atomic-style lettering of the famous Stardust hotel became an icon of Las Vegas during the "Rat Pack" days. Now on display at the Neon Museum.

The jagged galaxy of the Stardust Resorts sign, done in Googie atomic lettering, was built by the Young Electric Sign Company, the premier neon sign company in Las Vegas. It played firmly into the country’s fascination with all things atomic, nuclear and space related in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s one of the larger signs at the Neon Museum.

The neon sign for the Sahara Hotel denoted another famous "Rat Pack" hangout. Its vaguely "Arabic" lettering style was an icon.

The Sahara Hotel and Casino, on the Las Vegas Strip, was one of the famous “Rat Pack” casinos, a hang-out for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. The sign is one of the better-preserved examples in the Neon Museum’s Boneyard.

The neone sign for the Yucca Motel, of a type seen at less expensive motels all over old Las Vegas.

The Yucca Motel was built around 1950. It sat on the northern Strip, in the wedding chapel area. It was demolished in 2010.

An old and battered "Casino" sign in the classic circus style of old downtown Las Vegas. At the Neon Museum.

I’m not sure where this sign came from, but it is exactly representative of the look of many downtown Las Vegas casinos in the 1950s and ’60s. This Old Western/Circus look was very popular, adding to the theme park feel of the area.

The giant Silver Slipper, perched atop its pole at the gambling hall, blinked and flashed and revolved. Now in the Boneyard of the Neon Museum, Las Vegas.

The Silver Slipper Gambling Hall opened in 1950. This giant revolving and blinking shoe sat on a post atop the casino. In 1968, the property was purchased by Howard Hughes. The paranoid millionaire apparently was afraid of the shoe. He thought someone would put a camera in the toe, which stopped and reversed its revolutions when it was pointed directly into his penthouse at the Desert Inn. He had the revolving mechanism dismantled and then turned the lights off.

A smiling, giant yellow duck, picked out in rows of neon. At the Neon Museum, Las Vegas.An old, peeling letter "B," once a shining light marking a casino in Las Vegas. Now in the Neon Museum.

Some of the pieces at the Neon Museum and Boneyard are still in pretty good condition. Others, like these peeling letters, are sad reminders of how many years have passed since my family drove into Las Vegas every summer.

An old and faded neon sign for the original Paris casino in Las Vegas. At the Neon Boneyard of the Las Vegas Neon Museum.

There is a huge Paris hotel/casino/resort now on the Las Vegas Strip, complete with a replica of the Eiffel Tower, sidewalk cafes and a giant Montgolfier balloon. But earlier, there was this Paris, now nothing but a relic and a memory at the Neon Museum.

A vintage matchbook cover of the old Mint casino in downtown Las Vegas.

In my mind, I can still see those lights flashing and blinking and lighting up the desert sky. The Mint, shown on this vintage matchbook cover, was my mom’s favorite place to play the slots until her arm, as she said, “was like to fall off.”

Visit the Neon Museum for Yourself

If you go to Las Vegas, do plan to visit the Neon Museum and Boneyard. Your memories are not mine, and perhaps you didn’t travel to Las Vegas as a child. But I think most of our generation can relate to the era of neon and the mid-century modern look that so many of these pieces display. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Las Vegas.

Let yourself walk through the Boneyard. Listen to the stories these signs tell of a past Golden Age. Look and imagine. And remember.


The Neon Museum and Boneyard is located at 770 Las Vegas Blvd. North, not far from Downtown Las Vegas and The Fremont Street Experience. There is free parking available.

When visiting the Neon Museum, you must sign up for the one-hour docent-guided tour. Roaming through the Boneyard on your own is not allowed. The grounds are approximately two acres with well laid-out paths. The guides are very knowledgeable about the signs and their history.

Tours of the Neon Museum and Boneyard can be booked seven days a week. They are offered several times a day, both day tours and night tours, with hours varying by the season. Tours often sell out, so booking in advance online is highly recommended. At the time of this writing, tour prices are $15 to $19 for Day Tours, $22 to $26 for Night Tours, and $24 to $28 for Late Night Tours.

You can book a tour on the Neon Museum’s website here.


Are you planning a trip to Las Vegas? You should! To find your best flight alternatives, check out Kiwi.com to book cheap flights.

To find a great room at a great price in Las Vegas, you can compare the best prices on Vegas hotel rooms here.

Yes, these are affiliate links. That means that if you click the link and book a flight or a hotel, NomadWomen will get a small commission. This costs you nothing extra at all, but it helps us continue to send you great free content and travel inspiration! Thanks!


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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.

The other upside, of course, is the lack of danger. For most of my “flight,” I was about three feet above the netted “floor” of the wind tunnel. So even if the air stream had failed and I fell, a little butt bump would be the worst that could happen. That said, travel insurance is always a good idea. I’ve never needed to make a claim on my travel insurance (a “thank you” to the heavens ), and I never travel without it. If you’re traveling to Portland–which you really should at some point–here’s a good option for travel insurance for American travel.

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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