The Traditional New Zealand Bach

By Simon Woodhouse

A bach, for those of you who don’t know (and that included me before I moved to New Zealand) is a small, one or two bedroom holiday home. The word bach is a shortened version of bachelor. Back in the day, single men often used to go on prolonged hunting and fishing trips into the more rural parts of New Zealand. Whilst out in the bush they needed a retreat to return to each evening, something not too flash but enough to keep the rain off their heads, and thus the bach was born.

Over the years the role and location of the bach has changed. As the single man grew up, had a family, and spent less time out in the bush killing things for fun, he started to take the wife and the children to the bach for weekend breaks. As beach life is important to people in New Zealand, baches started to pop up all around the coast. Still built in the traditional fashion, which is typically a single-storey, wooden structure, with a large sun deck at the front and sliding doors to let in the sea air, the bach is perfectly suited to being right on the beach front. It’s a place from where the children can spend hours doing whatever it is children do on beaches, and adults can kick back whilst making sure the offspring don’t get up to anything they shouldn’t.

The bach holiday is relatively cheap, convenient, and encourages the whole family to get out into the fresh air. And if Dad gets bored of sitting around doing nothing, he can always spend a couple of hours on little bits of DIY. This is where the real charm of the bach comes to the fore. Maintained by the owner, usually on a budget, baches have a homemade look about them. They’re quaint, small, homely places filled with mismatching bits of furniture, second hand appliances, and anything that’s too tatty to be kept at home but too good to throw away. But that just adds to the atmosphere. Baches aren’t supposed to be five-star hotels. They’re all about slowing down the pace of life, sitting on the deck, staring at the view, listening to the sound of the sea or the wind in the trees. Baches are best when they don’t have a satellite dish, or a broadband Internet connection, or a home theatre system.

My first experience of life in New Zealand came in the form of a bach. I needed a cheap place to stay, but also somewhere within half an hours drive of Auckland (the largest city in NZ). At the same time I wanted to experience what I hoped would be a piece of New Zealand life off the beaten track. Before I left the UK I booked a bach in a small town called Stillwater, which is about thirty kilometres north of Auckland. The flight from England took approximately twenty-four hours, with a one-hour stopover in Hong Kong. When I arrived in New Zealand (bleary eyed from the flight) I hired a car at Auckland airport, and following directions provided by the owner of the bach, headed north.

Stillwater certainly turned out to be off the beaten track, with no shops and not even a public phone box. Access to the bach was via a driveway so steep I thought the hire car was going to give up. In typical, down to earth New Zealand fashion, I found the key to the front door hidden in the peg bag hanging from the washing line next to the carport. Exhausted after the flight, I went straight to bed and didn’t really pay much attention to the bach or its surroundings. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realised I’d made a good choice.

Stillwater sits at the mouth of the Weiti River, and it was a view of this waterway that greeted me as I stepped out onto the sun deck early next morning. After having been cramped up in a plane for twenty-four hours plus, looking down on the river and the yachts moored midstream seemed like gazing into paradise. A steep ridge on the other side of the water offered an unspoilt, tree-covered backdrop to the river. As I stood there, cup of tea in hand, I really didn’t think there was a nicer place to be in the whole world. Since then I’ve been to quite a few of the small coastal towns around Auckland, and come to realise most baches offer an experience similar to what I encountered in Stillwater. It’s all about the view, the tranquillity, the feeling of being far away from everything noisy and fast.

Since arriving in New Zealand I’ve not had a chance to take a proper holiday, but when I do, it’ll be in a quiet, little bach somewhere well off the beaten track, and surrounded by trees and sand and sea and sunshine.

San Antonio

Visiting San Antonio (Texas)…

Every since someone I used to work with moved to San Antonio, I’ve wanted to go and visit this unique town. Whether on business or for pleasure, everyone I know who has ever visited San Antonio thoroughly enjoyed it.

From the historical Alamo, to the famed Riverwalk, from its many nearby golf courses to the shops and restaurants, there is something for everyone to do while in the area. In fact, you’ll find you didn’t have enough time to see it all and do it all. So, you’ll just have to go back again.

First, some American history and the Alamo which is the Spanish word for cottonwood. It was originally named the Mision San Antonio de Valero and was home to missionaries and their converts for about 70 years. Building began at its current site in 1724, and, in 1793, Spanish officials distributed land from five missions and gave them to the remaining Indians. These residents continued to work in the fields which were now their own and became part of the San Antonio community. In the 1800’s the Spaniards stationed a cavalry unit at the former mission. It was called Alamo by the soldiers there- after their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila.
The Alamo was home to the Royalists and the Revolutionaries during Mexico’s long struggle for its independence. The military, first Spanish, Rebel and finally Mexican continued to occupy it until the Texas Revolution.

San Antonio and the Alamo were crucial to the Texas Revolution. In December of 1835, both the Texian and Tejano volunteers fought against Mexican troops stationed in the city. After several days of intense house-to-house fighting, General Marin Perfecto de C’s and his soldiers surrendered. Victorious, the volunteers then occupied the Alamo -and strengthened its defenses beyond what had been done during the recent battle.

In February of the following year the arrival of General Santa Anna’s army almost caught those at the Alamo by surprise. But the volunteers quickly prepared to defend the Alamo. They were able to hold out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army. On the eighth day of the siege, 32 volunteers arrived which brought the number of defenders to almost 200. Legend says with the possibility of more help fading, the Alamo commander made a line in the ground and asked each volunteer willing to continue fighting to step over it; all did with one exception. The volunteers, save one, were ready to pay with their lives if necessary instead of surrendering to General Santa Anna. Two members of the defenders were Davy Crockett, the famed frontiersman, and, the reknown knife fighter, James Bowie. The final assault began minutes before to sunrise on March 6, 1836. The columns of Mexican soldiers came out of the dark, heading for the Alamo’s walls. The volunteers, with small arms fire and cannon, beat back attack after attack. However, the Mexican army climbed over the walls and rushed the compound, turning a captured cannon on the Long Barrack and the church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The defenders were then overwhelmed, and, by full sunrise, the battle was over and General Santa Anna himself entered the Alamo, enjoying his victory.

The exact facts about the siege of the Alamo is not completely known, but the battle has come to symbolize a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds – a site where man made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Thus, the Alamo is hallowed ground and is the Shrine of Texas Liberty. (For more information and visiting hours, go to thealamo.org.)

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is a lot of fun and it’s only about 50 feet from the Alamo. You’ll see exhibits showcasing 100+ years of Texas history. Play in the arcade and shoot in the shooting gallery. Check out the only Wax Museum of Texas History. Be sure to stop in their gift shop for some unique Texas souvenirs. (For more information, visit them at buckhornmuseum.com.

The Casa Navarro State Historical Park is very interesting. It showcases the furnished house, the home, and the store of Jose Antonio Navarro, a state legislator, who served under Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and, finally, the United States. He lived from 1795-1871. It depicts Texas’ rich Mexican heritage. The exhibits are only open to the public a few days a week so check before you go. (Contact them at tpwd.tx.us/park/jose.)

If children are traveling with you, the Fiesta Farm is fun. It has a petting zoo, hay rides, pony rides and a large sand box. It has plenty of shade and a big barn that’s warm on those chilly Texas days. However, it’s only open to the public a couple of days a week, so check it out before you go. (Their website is fiestafarmLC.com.)

Aztec on the River is the Riverwalk’s newest attraction. It’s a movie house circa 1926, completely restored and with a Mighty Wurlitzer Organ as one of its main features. Every 90 minutes there is a complimentary million-dollar special effects show, a giant screen with surround sound and interesting shops and dining areas. (Visit aztecontheriver.com for more details.)

And, now! San Antonio’s world famous, Riverwalk. This is the # 1 tourist destination in all of Texas! It’s here where you’ll want to spend quite a bit of time. You might even choose to stay at a hotel in the area. Although it’s rich heritage started in the mid 1500’s, the Riverwalk as we know it today, probably began in 1936 when a local businessmen’s association held, “A Venetian Night,” on the river, making it the first of many more parades to come to be held on the river. A few years later, local residents started pushing for development of the river area. But, it wasn’t until 1941 before another significant event was held; on March 14 a night parade and river carnival took place. Finally, in 1945, funding was approved for extending the Riverwalk from the northern end of the loop all the way to the future Tropicano Hotel location. The following year floodwaters deluged downtown San Antonio but damage was minimized by the dam and bypass channel. In 1946 that the first dining spot in the river bend opened, the Casa Rio Restaurant. In the early 1950’s the river was “straightened out” and more development began – the botanical garden was added in 1956. Park ranger service was added a year later and more people began to visit the area. The first hotel was in 1962, El Tropicano. At this time the area became known as Paseo del Rio and more shops and restaurants joined the original hotel.

Today, there are literally dozens of hotels, hundreds of eateries, bars, and spas, and boutique shops galore. There is a library, the convention center and the Civic Center Plaza. There are lots of special events and festivals held every year. In the next few months, there will be a “Ford Canoe Challenge” (90+ canoe teams compete in timed heats), an arts and craft show over Labor Day Week-end with another one, and the annual fall show, coming in October. The DOS EQUIS Pachanga del Rio occurs in mid September where visitors purchase tickets to sample culinary delights from over 20 Riverwalk establishments. And, every October brings the “Coffins on Parade,” where Halloween themed boats with coffins will float down the river on a dark and spooky night. (This event is free to the public.) Late November brings the Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony where over 100,000 twinkling lights form a fairylike canopy over the Riverwalk. These are just some of the events held every year.

In addition to special events, you’ll want to take some time to shop and have a meal or two at the local eateries. I’d suggest a boat ride, provided by Rio San Antonio Cruises so you can see the entire Riverwalk and pick the places you’d like to go back to. There are three places on the river to buy tickets and the narrated trip takes about 30 – 35 minutes. There are also river taxi shuttles, and restaurants, which offer boat cruises with a meal included. There is also a special place to get married right on the Riverwalk itself. (For more information on all Riverwalk activities, go to sanantonioriverwalk.com)

The San Antonio Crowne Plaza Hotel is a AAA 4-Diamond hotel located right on the Riverwalk. There is a complete gym, swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool, business center, and a gift shop located on the premises. A pub with all the sports action, and an upscale restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Your small pet (under 30 pounds) is invited to join you during stay. There is a daily parking fee and a valet parking charge. There have plenty of banquet facilities for weddings and other special celebrations and meeting space available for conferences. (See their website at ichotelsgroup.com)

Another hotel on Riverwalk, is the Holiday Inn San Antonio. Its location is perfect for walking to many of the city sights – the Alamo, El Mercado, a large shopping mall, and other attractions. From its three-level restaurant, Windows on the River, you can enjoy a picturesque view of the Riverwalk. A room high up in the tower will offer wonderful views of the area. There is a pool, gym, game room, restaurant, lounge and a business center. Free high-speed internet access is available in all rooms and your furry friends may join you at this hotel. There is also a children’s activity program. There is a daily parking fee here also. (Please ichotelsgroup.com for more information.)

The Yellow Rose is a charming Bed and Breakfast located in the King William District of downtown San Antonio. It’s only two blocks away from the Riverwalk and a trolley stop. Each of their spacious rooms has a private entrances, porch, private bathroom, queen beds with feather toppers, cable TV and the normal hotel amenities. They have packages available with and without breakfast. (Check out their rates and various packages at ayellowrose.com.)

There are many other hotels, motels, and B & B’s in San Antonio. They range from the very expensive to modest motels. There are also nearby campsites including a KOA camp on Gemble Road. This campground is located by a creek amid 40 acres of pecan trees. Only five miles from downtown, city buses will take you into the city itself. There are also city tours leaving right from this location.

If breakfast and/or brunch is your favorite meal, here are a couple of local spots to try out while you’re there. Named the 2006 “Best Breakfast in San Antonio,” is the Magnolia Pancake Haus on West Avenue. Reviewers say “it’s an awesome spot for breakfast or lunch.” Wait time on the weekends can reach up to an hour. El Mirador is in the King William District on S. St. Mary’s Street. One of their favorite dishes with the locals is their fruit tacos which you’ll find served with the Sunday brunch. Their soups are especially good, with Sopa Azteca being the most popular. . (Make reservations at 210-225-9444.)

For steak lovers, of course, there is Morton’s of San Antonio, only a block from the Alamo. It doesn’t get much better than Morton’s. (For reservations, visit mortons.com.) Another very good choice is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar on Basse Road. If you’re really hungry, this is where you can get a 40-ounce Porterhouse steak. Veal, lamb, pork, fresh seafood and salads are also available. Be sure to check out their wine list – Wine Spectator recently (2006) honored them with 32 “Awards of Excellence.” (Visit their website at flemingssteahouse.com.)
If you enjoy tea, head on over to the Madhatter’s Tea House and Cafe and sample one of their 50+ varieties of tea. This rather quirky cafe serves granola bowls, French pastries, eggs benedict and strawberry topped English muffins. (Check out their hours by calling 210-212-4832.)

I’ve not mentioned all of the other activities in the area – golfing, water sports, hiking, whitewater rafting, visiting the Six Flags Theme Park, etc. You’ll want to return again and again to this wonderful area.

Have a great trip!

There’s More To New Zealand Than Just The Scenery

By Simon Woodhouse

In recent years, New Zealand’s profile as a holiday destination has definitely gone up a couple of notches. But when people think of NZ they usually picture mountain ranges, beautiful rolling countryside, and large swathes of unspoilt greenness. There certainly is that down here, and lots of it too, but there’s also a modern metropolis in the form of Auckland.

Contemporary cityscapes might not have the grandiose atmosphere of places like London, Paris, and Rome, but nonetheless there is something appealing about a modern skyline. Auckland has this, but it also has something else breaking up the horizon – volcanic cones. These make excellent vantage points from which to view the city. Some of them, like One Tree Hill (name checked on U2’s Joshua Tree album) and Mountain Eden are tourist attractions in their own right. For an even more spectacular view of Auckland and its surroundings, there’s the observation deck on the Sky Tower. At three hundred and twenty eight metres, it’s the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere and offers views of up to eighty kilometres in all directions. It’s also good for bungy jumping (if you like that sort of thing).

Water plays a large part in the layout of Auckland, built as it is around the Waitemata Harbour. This deep-water port leads out to the Hauraki Gulf and another of Auckland’s well-known landmarks. Rangitoto Island is the vent of a dormant volcano that only blew its top about six hundred years ago. Now covered by pohutukawa trees, the cone still has a very distinct volcanic shape and makes a really good photo opportunity at sunrise.

Beaches form a large part of life in Auckland, and there are twenty-eight dotted around the city. Mission Bay in the eastern suburbs is one of the most well known, from where you can look back over the harbour and watch the sun setting behind the distant Waitakere Ranges. Also on the eastern side of the city is the Auckland Domain, a large, well-tended park that houses the city’s museum.

On the other side of the harbour, the North Shore offers a different perspective on the city. More volcanic cones dot the landscape here, and the one at North Head makes for a good spot to take in the harbour with the city skyline as a backdrop. The Harbour Bridge connects north and south (more bungy jumping here), but the water can also be crossed by ferry. Devonport, Takapuna, Brown’s Bay, and Long Bay are just a few of the beaches on the North Shore. They’re all gently sloping, sandy, and not a bad place to be at anytime of day.

Eating out in Auckland is nearly always an informal thing. The Viaduct Basin on the waterfront, and the suburb of Ponsonby further back inland, both have lots of street side cafes and restaurants. Going out for breakfast is a popular pastime in Auckland, and nearly all of the eateries cater for this time of day, as well as lunch and dinner. If shopping is important to you (can’t see the appeal myself), then Queen Street in the city centre, or the district of Newmarket should keep you happy. But on the odd occasion when I feel inclined toward that sort of thing, I go to Victoria Park Market. Located in the shadow of the Sky Tower, but easy to spot by the forty-metre chimney that reaches up above it, the market is housed within what used to be a garbage-fuelled power station (don’t worry, it stopped doing anything like that in 1981). Small knick-knack shops are the order of the day here, and it’s a really good place to pick up souvenirs a lot cheaper than they are in Queen Street.

If you feel like getting out of the city, heading west is a good way to go. The Waitakere Ranges are a national park about thirty minutes drive from the Central Business District. The visitors centre here sits on a ridge that offers a view right the way back to the Sky Tower and Rangitoto. Relatively unspoilt, the ranges are covered by thick forest that leads all the way to the coast of the Tasman Sea. Surfing is big here. KareKare and Piha beaches provide big waves and spectacular scenery. The steep cliffs, big surf, and bracing wind make the west coast particularly appealing in the winter.

In a country known primarily for its natural scenery, it’s easy to see Auckland as just an airport. Of course I might be a bit biased, after all I do live here, but I think the city has plenty to offer as a holiday destination in its own right, or failing that, it makes a great base from which to recover from a long haul flight, or prepare yourself for the trip home.

The St. Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands (Part 2)

The Thousand Islands are a gem of a tourist district that is located between upstate New York and Southern Ontario, Canada. Formed many years ago floods after the ice age covered most of North America. The Thousand Islands are found in the heart of the St. Lawrence River and contain both small and larger islands that number over 1,000. The St Lawrence River at this point was so wide with so many islands, it was known as Lake of Thousand Islands many years ago when first discovered. These islands are found by visiting upstate New York or south eastern Ontario. Cities such as Kingston and Belleville in Ontario, Waddington and Massena, NY touch the St. Lawrence River and have boats tours available for everyone in order to view the islands in the river.

You can venture out on a one, one and a half, two and three hour tours to view the islands, it just depends on how much time and money you are willing to spend. Some tours will offer meals, some will not. These tours will show you such things as a tiny island with a cottage on it; the cottage that is in both the United States and Canada (found right in the middle of the dividing line between the two countries); Hart Island and Dark Island. These different tours are definitely worth the time and money.

Some tours will stop at Hart Island. This island is unique due to the castle that is built on it. Over six floors tall, complete with an indoor swimming pool and one hundred and twenty rooms, the castle was built by George Boldt for his bride, Louise. Work began on the castle in 1900 and much of the supplies to build the castle were brought over on the thick ice. Singer Castle is another must see. Located on Dark Island, the castle was built in 1905 by the Bourne Family and remained in their position until the late 1960s and though not as large as Boldt Castle, it is still something to see and experience. Both of these castles offer tours (for an extra fee) and the sightseeing boat tours will stop at them and allow you to get off for a time.

On the Canadian side of the Thousand Islands, boat tours can be accessed by through cities such as Gananoque, Belleville and Kingston. Gananoque is one of the major points of interest for the Thousand Islands and offers a lot to do and see. Along with boat tours, the town boasts many prime hotels and motels and if you are like me, SHOPPING! The town also offers a great charity casino that you can spend some time and perhaps some money at. Gananoque is also accessible from the United States via the Thousand Island Bridge.

Not only can you take boat tours, you can use your own boat. How about a day of fishing in and around the Thousand Islands? In the waters around the Islands you will find a wide variety of sports fish from large muskies to all sorts of panfish like crappies and perch. Marinas are positioned up and down the Canadian coastline in cities like Gananoque, Kingston and Belleville and offer ice, gas, charts and maps, groceries and anything else you will need for your boat trip. This area is also a great area to observe the large ships that may be carrying loads such as grain or iron ore that come through, making their way to ports east

Want to get away from the water for a day? Why not visit the train museum. The Smith Falls Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario is located in Smith Falls, Ontario and is just a short jaunt north of Gananoque. If you are visiting the Thousand Islands from the American side, you might also consider visiting the Stone Mills Agricultural Museum located in Stone Mills, NY

Located along the St. Lawrence is also a sky deck (in Kingston) that you can view the Islands from or spend a day visiting historic Fort Henry, a major fort during the War of 1812 or spend some time visiting the Hershey’s Visitor Centre and take home some tasty treats. Another treat you might consider is to visit the St. Lawrence Islands National Park. While the smallest of the Canadian national parks, it is definitely time well spent with its kayaking, canoeing and bike trails with in the park itself.

For something a little different, you might want to try a bike tour along the St. Lawrence River. These cities offer a 37 km trail that runs parallel to the 1000 Islands Parkway between Gananoque and Brockville and forms a section of the Waterfront Trail. This trail is free to ride and is enjoyed by many during the spring, summer and fall. Bike tours can be guided or self guided but a great way to see the country side.
No matter if you come for a day or a week, as the saying goes in and around the Thousand Islands is that there are always a thousand things to do while visiting the thousand islands!

Things to See and Do in and Around Asheville, NC

By Brandi M. Seals

Tucked away in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains is the city of Asheville North Carolina. It is home to the University of North Carolina and several must-see attractions.

First and foremost on the list of things to see and do is America’s largest home, the Biltmore. The Biltmore Estate was created by George Vanderbilt over a century ago as a retreat for his family and friends. Today anyone can explore Biltmore House. It is a 250-room chateau-inspired mansion filled with art and antiques.

Visitors to the estate pay one fee and can take a self-guided tour of the home, stroll through magnificent gardens designed by America’s first landscape architect. They can taste wines at the 21-year-old winery or otherwise enjoy the forests, farmlands, and rivers located on the 8000 acre estate. For more information call 800-543-2961 or visit them online at Biltmore.com

After touring the Biltmore Estate why not take a scenic train ride? The Great Smokey Mountains Railroad (GSMR.com) provides year-round train rides through in the Great Smoky Mountains. Guests will cross valleys, go through tunnels and transverse river gorges. There are many wonderful excursions to choose from. Trains leave from Bryson and Dillsboro, which are approximately an hour west of Asheville. Call 1-800-872-4681 for more details.

Perhaps swing by Chimney Rock Park. The Park, located 25 miles southeast of Asheville, offers breathtaking 75-mile views, hiking trails for all ages, and a 404-foot waterfall. No visitor can resist going to the top of Chimney Rock. It is from here that that the amazing 75-mile views may be seen. Visitors can get to the top of Chimney Rock in about 20 minutes by taking the Outcroppings Trail. Or, they can take a 26-story elevator to the top in about 30 seconds

Chimney Rock Park also features Hickory Nut Falls. A.75-mile trail meant for a leisurely stroll leads up to falls. The trail is surrounded by a hardwood forests that includes rare wildflowers, birds and much more. Hickory Nut Falls showcases water tumbling down an amazing 404 foot drop.

Admission to the park runs $14 for adults and $6 for those 6 to 15. Children under 6 are admitted free. Call 828-625-9611 to set up your visit today.

Have a desire to swing high up in the sky? Stop by Grandfather Mountain. Grandfather Mountain features the Mile High Swinging Bridge. It was built in 1952 to give visitor’s access to the breath-taking view the mountain’s Linville Peak. The bridge is high though it is not actually a mile above the ground. The 228-foot suspension bridge spans an 80-foot chasm and sits above a mile in elevation.

The bridge is easy to access. It only requires climbing 50 steps to reach the Swinging Bridge. Grandfather Mountain is a recognized nature preserve with 12 miles hiking trails. It is open year-round and located at US 221 and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Linville. Admission is $14 for adults and $6 for the 4-12 year-old crowd. Those under 4 are admitted free. Call 800-468-7325 for more details.

Near Grandfather Mountain, sits the Linville Caverns. Carved deep beneath Humpback Mountain, these caverns were created by nature. For centuries, slowly moving water has been the creating a maze of underground rooms and passages. Amazingly, the caverns were first discovered in the 1800’s by men who were mystified by the sight of fish swimming out of the mountain. Admission to see this spectacular sight range from $4 for youngens to $6 for adults. Call 800-419-0540 for more information.

Those with a more morbid disposition may find it worth while to visit the Riverside Cemetery. The Asheville cemetery dates to 1885 and is the last resting place for more 13,000 people. Among those buried at Riverside Cemetery are authors Thomas Wolfe and O Henry.

Get a rush going down a natural 60-foot waterslide. More than 11,000 gallons of water rushes down the rocks every minute and empties into a six-foot-deep pool of cool mountain water. Sliding Rock is open all year but the bathrooms and changing rooms are only open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Lifeguards are also only on-duty during this short period. For admittance to Sliding Rock visitors must pay a nominal fee.

To get to Sliding Rock head north on US 276. Approximately 8 miles north of the US 276 and US 64 junction in Pisgah Forest you will see signs directing you to the Sliding Rock recreation area parking lot on the left

Explore Reformation Germany: Visit Martin Luther’s City

One of the most famous names in Germany’s Christian history is undoubtedly Doctor Martin Luther. Whether he is a spiritual leader or just a person of interest to you, you may want to consider visiting Luther’s homeland in Germany and seeing the places where the birth pangs of the Reformation occurred. Wittenberg is a beautiful old town, and one with many things to see and explore. For those who like history, architecture, famous people, or scenery (or all four), Wittenberg is definitely a great choice for the aspiring traveler.

One of your first stops should be Castle Church; this is the place where Martin Luther posted the famous paper known as the 95 Theses (edicts and belief systems he believed needed to be cleansed within the Catholic Church). The few people who could read the Latin of the day spread the word, and others began making copies on Germany’s new printing presses and getting the message of the Reformation swiftly across the European front. Castle Church (known in German as Schlosskirche, which means Castle Church) is valued for more than the 95 Theses, of course. Its appearance is stunning, with its huge walls and high medieval towers. Rivaling many other churches in Europe for its architecture, the Castle Church is a great place to soak up the history of Wittenberg. You will probably read that the current church door is not the same one on which the Theses once hung; fire destroyed what may have been the most historic door in Europe, and it was replaced.

Check out the Rathaus; no, it’s not a place where rats have a party, but rather a government construction that should not be missed when traveling in the region of Saxony-Anhalt. The stunning architectural elements make it one of the city’s most beautiful buildings, but then again, most of Wittenberg’s houses have a touch of beauty. Anywhere you walk in the main part of the city you should be able to find the tall, thin, many-storied houses that Germany is famous for. At times you may even find them in unique colors like coral or yellow. One particular word would describe Wittenberg very well: charming. If you are traveling in the square you will see a stately Martin Luther statue calming regarding the city. It seems fitting that he looks over the place he once called home. Philipp Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague in Germany’s troubled Reformation era, also stands over the square, immortalized in bronze statuary.

Since Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk before breaking from the monastery and trying to reform the Church, it seems eerily fitting that the home where he spent much of his married life was a former cloister. One of the first views you will see of the Black Cloister is of a gothic-looking building that in some places resembles a church, sporting many windows. The building has a severe yet graceful effect. It was constructed in the early 1500s but when the religious community went elsewhere, Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora were allowed to take up residence in the building. Here they raised their children. You might want to take notes of certain odd little things you will see at Lutherhaus (or Lutherhalle, depending on where you look). For one thing, one of the towers has a small but gilded clock as a decoration. You will also notice oddly shaped windows and even dormer-style windows peeking out from the roof.

Another religious side-trip that should not be missed is the Stadtkirche. “Stadtkirche” is German for City Church. Its proper title is Marienskirche and it was named for St. Mary. Although the majority of the current structure is from the late 15th century, certain parts were built during the Middle Ages in the 1200s and 1300s; thus, there are no other buildings in Wittenberg that can claim such a long time span. The entrance to Stadtkirche is made of stone, soaring and ominous. Twin towers connect a middle span of stone where visitors enter Wittenberg’s most historic church. Coincidentally, Martin Luther’s favorite place to share his sermons was probably within these very walls. Inside the church you will find simple pews contrasted with huge vaulted archways, beautiful artwork, and probably many other visitors appreciating this chunk of Germany’s history. Try to visit at a time when it doesn’t seem there will be many people, so you can properly soak in the ambiance.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Visit Bar Harbor, Maine…

Surrounded by the majestic mountains of Acadia National Park and the Atlantic Ocean, is the town of Bar Harbor, Maine. From the rocky coast and towering granite cliffs, Bar Harbor has welcomed tourists for over a century.

The road leading into Bar Harbor itself is stone walled and lined with trees. There is a wide selection of things to do and see. Dining, accommodations, and shopping exist for every price range.

Many attractions are very close to the town of Bar Harbor. The main part of Arcadia National Park, the Schoodic Peninsula, Campobello Island and the summer home of President Franklin Roosevelt are all with a short driving distance.

For many years this town was just a quiet resort. Today, it bustles with summer visitors, tourists coming to view the colorful fall foliage, and/or people coming to enjoy its spectacular winter wonderland.

Abundant, fresh seafood is a mainstay for the area’s restaurants. Have an al fresco lunch or Sunday brunch under the Maine sun, enjoy a leisurely evening in a romantic restaurant after playing “tourist” for the day, or grab it on the run. The Downeast restaurant sign says it all – “Come on in and eat, or we’ll both starve.”

You won’t be bored while you’re there. In addition, to relaxing and shopping, there is whale watching, sailing, kayaking, hiking and biking. Or, enjoy a free tour and tastings at the Atlantic Brewing Company. It’s built on a 10-acre estate going back to the 1870’s. (Visit www.Atlanticbrewingcompany.com for more details.)

While you’re there, visit the historic St. Saviour’s Episcopal Parish. At noon every Wednesday, and Friday, and, on Sunday following the 10am service, tours are given of the church and its famous stained glass windows. The windows are Tiffany, English glass and Italian stone work. The tours are free but please call to register and confirm times. The local number is 288-4215.

The Abbe Museum is worth a visit. It’s actually now two museums, one downtown and one in Acadia National Park. At both sites you’ll find dynamic exhibitions and activities of the history and cultures of Maine’s Native people the Wabanaki. Visit abbemuseum.org for more details.

Mid July is the time for their annual music festival which has been going on for over 40 years. Variety is key to this festival and every year, music is performed at a variety of local venues and you’ll find a list of performances from opera to string quartets and everything in between. A performance might be held at the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, at the Blackwoods Campground Amphitheatre in the nearby Acadia National Park or the art-deco Criterion Theatre in downtown Bar Harbor. If you plan to go, make reservations way in advance. For more information, go to barharbormusicfestival.org

One of the best places to stay is the Bar Harbor Manor, nestled on two acres right in the heart of town. There are five historic homes and a hotel and they create a village within Bar Harbor. They have over 25 newly remodeled rooms and suites and many come with balconies, fireplaces, whirlpools and kitchens. The surrounding grounds have beautiful gardens and carefully groomed lawns. Their elegant parlor in the Main Inn acts as a meeting room for the guests. From here you’re only a short walk away from the Atlantic Ocean, whale watching, shopping and dining. Check out their website at barharbormanor.com.

If you’d like to stay by the ocean, look no further than the Atlantic Oakes Resort, Mansion and Conference Center set on 14 acres of lush gardens and wide expanses of lawn. Here you’ll enjoy incredible views of Maine’s coastal area. This was once the estate of Sir Harry Oakes, a Klondike billionaire, and is only a mile from the entrance of Acadia National Park and only a few minutes from downtown Bar Harbor. This is also a beautiful site to get married and they can accommodate up to 300 guests. The resort offers tennis courts, both an indoor and outdoor pool, hot tub, a private fishing dock, and a fitness center. There are eight different hotel room buildings on the premises and a delicious seasonal buffet breakfast is offered every morning. Visit barharbor.com for details.

The Bar Harbor Inn & Spa also has an oceanfront location on Frenchwater Bay. Their luxury spa and gym is brand new, having been completed in the spring of 2006. In addition to three buildings, each with a variety of guest rooms, this private estate property is comprised of eight acres of colorful gardens and spacious lawn, plus a ½ mile walk shore path. You’ll check in at the elegant lobby at the Main Inn which has several elegantly appointed rooms. There is also the Oceanfront Lodge and all rooms here have a private balcony overlooking the ocean. The rooms in the Newport Building have balconies or patios overlooking the grounds. All rooms’ queen or king beds with jetted tubs in the bathroom. There is also a restaurant, the Reading Room, and a lounge on the premises.

The Primirose Inn is a charming B & B which was built in the 1870’s. Guests here can enjoy a gourmet breakfast on the wraparound porch, or by the fire in cooler months. Their afternoon tea is just splendid. All rooms have air conditioning, private baths and TVs. If you rent on a weekly basis, breakfast is not included. For more information, visit primroseinn.com

There are many other motels, hotels, B & B’s in the area as well as campgrounds. This is a popular tourist area so you’ll need to make reservations well in advance of your stay.

Bon voyage!

Chicago: The Small Shops on Michigan Avenue and Surrounding Area

By Janie Blank

I wrote an article recently on department stores on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and they are just that, magnificent, especially at Christmas when decorated. There is nothing quite like it. However, if department store shopping is all you do when shopping in Chicago, then you are missing some real gems.

There are basically three types of small shops. One is the chain shop. This would include Talbots, Pottery Barn, Gap, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. Much like chain restaurants save these for shopping at home. As far as that goes, the same is true of department stores. The sales tax in Chicago is higher than in most smaller cities so if you can buy it at home it makes sense to do so. Unless, like my Ya-Ya girlfriend who works about twelve hours a day, your trip to Chicago is your only chance to shop. Then go for it! I have also found that even though these chains operate in our city, they do not always have the same selection that a Michigan Avenue store can provide. Often these are the flagship stores of the chain and the variety is much more extensive. I bought some cashmere sweaters at the Ann Taylor on Michigan Avenue a couple of years ago and then later decided to exchange sizes. I found out that the local Ann Taylor stores did not carry the full array of colors that were available in Chicago.

A store that used to be found only in Chicago is Crate and Barrel. For the first few years we shopped in Chicago we always bought gifts there and they were people pleasers because everyone had seen the catalog but most people had no opportunity to visit the store. Of course that has all changed but their three level store on Michigan Avenue still has the best selection. They have lots of things pre-wrapped and a lot of things in a reasonable gift price range.

The second type of store is the high-end shop. Michigan Avenue is noted for its exclusive, luxury boutiques such as Gucci, Cartier, Tiffany, Georgio Armani, and Bulgari and other famous names. You might find these shops in other places but only in very large cities or resorts. Although not unique to Chicago these shops are not on every corner or in your local mall. Chicago has a street at the far north end of Michigan avenue called Oak Street. This is where a lot of your designer boutiques reside such as Kate Spade, Donald Pliner (shoes), Hermes, Frette (luxury linens), and a branch of Barneys New York. The surrounding streets such as Delaware and Walton as they intersect with Rush Street (a block west of Michigan Avenue) also have fine shopping. As a matter of fact saying you are shopping on Oak Street denotes a certain panache. A number of years ago my daughter bought her wedding dress, a simple elegant gown, in Nicole Miller on Oak Street.

The third type of small shop is the one of a kind, or shop that you can find only in Chicago. You are more likely to find these boutiques in Lincoln Park due to the exorbitant rents for Michigan Avenue real estate but I will save that for a different travel guide. Sticking to the ones downtown, there is a cute shop on Delaware called Pistachio that now has a second store outside the Nordstrom Mall. They have a lovely selection of one of a kind jewelry ranging from $50 to $500. They carry tons of earrings and pendants. They also have some unique gifts. They wrap everything in bright colored little boxes at no charge. With each purchase they throw in a cute little bag of pistachios. Nice touch. We never miss this shop and always find something for our grown daughters in there.

A wonderful store is American Girl Place (www.americangirlplace.com) on Chicago between Michigan and Rush. If you do not have a young girl to buy for find one! If not, just go in for the sheer fun of it! If they had only had something like this when we were little girls! This store used to be unique to Chicago but I understand it now has New York City and Los Angeles branches. There is a restaurant inside where little girls take their dolls to lunch. Reservations must be made months in advance. The selection of dolls and clothes is beyond the imagination of many young girls and many older ones as well. Heck, I even drug my husband in there once when we were in Chicago. He loved it! Right now we are still lucky enough to have one niece still in this age range. Over all the prices are reasonable. You can buy a darling doll outfit for $22 but it does add up. This is a Do Not Miss!

Another small store on the Mile is Chiarascuro (www.chiaroart.com). It is located in Chicago Place. It has a large assortment of whimsical gifts. One of my Ya-Yas once had them hand paint dozens of champagne glasses to give to friends and business associates for the Millennium. They work with several local artists. This is a regular stop on our list.

On Rush Street at about Delaware on the west side of the street is, of all things, a button store. We usually visit this store just from a fascination standpoint. They have some of the most beautiful buttons you will find anywhere.

A really cute childrens store is called Madison and Friends (www.madisonandfriends.com). It is at the corner of Rush and Oak. They carry hip childrens clothes and a huge amount of denim for kids. They have more recently opened a second location but it is still a store unique to Chicago.

Almost every shop is friendly and will gladly mail your packages home for you. We have actually gotten to know the manager of Chiarascuro. We did have one experience with a clerk in an exclusive boutique in the Bloomingdale Building. Unfortunately she did not recognize my Ya-Ya friend who had purchased a very large amount of gifts the previous year and although it was a few minutes before the posted closing time she had already locked up and would not let us in. The stores loss for sure!

Once you get your bearings you will be able to discover the many great shops in this compact area for yourself. I recommend a glossy little fold up street map for your purse.
A good map you can find online and print for Magnificent Mile Chicago shopping is: (www.chicagotraveler.com/chicago_magnificent_mile_shopping_map.htm). I wrote recent blogs on where to stay and department store shopping on the Magnificent Mile so you might want to check that out as well (www.travguides.com/2006/08/where-to-stay-for-shopping-in-chicago.html) and (www.travguides.com/2006/08/chicago-department-store-shopping-on.html).

The other side of Hawaii

For the average person, just the word “Hawaii” conjures up an array of images; white sand beaches, large-scale hotels, blue-green water, and many, many palm tree’s. For the most part, these assumed images are right, that is, if you are traveling to Oahu, or Maui, which is almost always the case when making a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. Oahu and Maui are the most tourist traveled islands in the Hawaiian chain, and are busy year-round with travelers from around the world, seeking a beach paradise vacation.

However, there is an entirely different Hawaii out there to experience. I speak of the ACTUAL Hawaii, commonly know as “The Big Island.” The Island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian Island chain, made from several erupting volcano’s. You will find few to none white-sand beaches on this island, especially on the Hilo side. There is the famed Hapuna beach on the Kona side of the island which fulfills any “Hawaiian beach dreams” you may have. The rest of the coastline of the this beautifully lush, tropical island, is rough, jagged, lava rock. It may seem formidable at first, but it is surreal, beautiful in its own rite, and relatively easy to walk on. The exception to this coastline is another anomaly of nature: the black sand beach. Black sand beaches are made from ground, evolved lava rock, and feel and look similar to white sand beaches, only black. They are truly a sight to see!

The five volcano’s that created Hawaii are the still active Mt. Kilauea Mt. Mauna Loa, the inactive since 1801, Hualalai, and the recently inactive Mauna Kea and Kohala. The Hawaii volcano’s National Park is an awesome adventure for all shapes, sizes, and physical capabilities. You can go as far as to hike down to the active lava, or simple view the volcanoes from the walking path and look out points.

For those with a sweet tooth or a common salt-craving, the Mauna Loa Macadamia nut Farm and Factory is another place to have to go. You get to see everything from Macadamia nuts on the plants, right through the cleaning, roasting, flavor-adding, and packaging processes, with plenty of free samples and Macadamia nut products available for purchase.

Near the town of Hilo on the Western side on the Island are some naturally heated pools, heated by the lava flowing beneath the island, which happen to be home to some Great Sea Turtles. This is a terrific snorkeling experience if that is your cup of tea.

All in all, a visit to The Big Island is a great idea and a fun alternative to the traditional Hawaiian vacation. With lots to do, impressive scenery and many anomalies of nature, it is defiantly worth your time!