The Long Way Home

April started with a cultural bang in Orange County, California.

Diana Krall, noted jazz singer, played for a knockout two hours before a sell-out crowd at Segerstrom Hall, Costa Mesa, Saturday, April 5.

Much of Krall’s 11th and most recent studio album, Glad Rag Doll, was used Saturday. Her show proved again why she is the best and getting mellower with age like Billie Holiday. Her session was nothing but eclectic, much of it an homage to singers going back to the forties – - from the great stride piano player Fats Waller leading a journey through tin-pan alley. With unassuming good humor, Krall sang almost forgotten oldies, but brought new life to decades old “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye,” “There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears,” and the teary “Just Like a Butterfly That’s Caught in the Rain.” Her backup band was excellent and she excelled on the piano.

A funny segment when she felt “peckish” and hilariously “chowed down” Nat Cole’s “The Frim Fram Sauce.” She also payed homage to songs from contemporaries such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

“Rain” is up next at Segerstrom, performing on stage the full range of The Beatles’ discography live, including the most complex and challenging songs that The Beatles themselves recorded in the studio but never performed for an audience.


A brief description of Samuel D. Hunter’s “Rest” may make it sound sad and downbeat, but finally it is life affirming.

The world premiere of this play is now at South Coast Repertory, playing through April 27. It is deftly directed by Martin Benson, who keeps the confined setting of a bleak nursing home turning with interest.

The action concerns the last three days of this institution which has been bought out. Just three residents remain, all 80 years or above, along with four staff, all in a quandary regarding where to go from here.

The cast is very effective, especially the oldsters – all played by SCR veterans. Lynn Milgrim’s Etta, with her sharp tongue, keeps everyone, staff included, on their toes. Hal Landon Jr., and Richard Doyle also stand out. They have been with SCR since its beginning 50 years ago. Doyle’s Gerald, Etta’s husband, a music professor at one time now has a form of extreme dementia. Seeing how Etta deals with circumstances is touching. Landon’s Tom usually has wry comments to sum up any situation.

The staffers, Ginny (Libby West), Faye (Sue Chemin) and the manager Jeremy (Rob Nagel) have been thrown a curve with the closing but manage to handle it, and we see their concern. They keep things together.

The crux of the play deals with Gerald’s disappearance in the midst of a big snow storm. In the end there are several surprises dealing with life’s sorrows and joys.

Also SCR is presenting another world premiere, Rachel Bonds’ “Five Mile Lake,” directed by Daniella Topol. Playing through May 4, the show deals with a small Pennsylvania town in which a brother returns with a new girlfriend, turning his peaceful family world upside down.

About the author:

Larry Taylor worked in newspaper industry for 15 years after graduating with a journalism degree. In 1973 he went into teaching media at Cal. State Fullerton and Fullerton Colleges in Southern California. In 2000, he retired and devoted himself to theater reviews and travel writing.
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To Enter our Atlantis Casino Resort Spa Contest, merely fill in this simple entry form and submit. Contest opens on April 10th and closes at midnight on April 17th

Enter to win two-night stay in Reno’s only Concierge Hotel Tower featuring VIP check-in, 25th floor Concierge Lounge with complimentary continental breakfast and afternoon hors oeuvres and beautiful views of the city and mountains from the top floors. In addition to the two-night stay, the winner will receive a certificate for a 60-minute massage or facial in the exquisite Spa Atlantis, voted top ten in the world for four consecutive years by SpaFinder readers.

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The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada is a perfect luxury getaway. Located at the base of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the only resort connected by a Sky Bridge to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Atlantis is ideally located on the strip in the heart of Reno’s restaurant, shopping and entertainment district; just minutes from championship golfing, and some of the most beautiful ski resorts in America.

Luxurious accommodations: Treat yourself to Mark David furnishings featuring warm, rich woods and marble accents. Soak in astonishing views from the Concierge Hotel Tower rooms, floors 21–27. Let your personalized butler service spoil you. Lounge at the year-round Indoor atrium pool, outdoor pool and whirlpool spa.

Superb Dining: Atlantis offers a variety of eight award-winning dining selections. Atlantis Steakhouse offers the finest Allen Brothers meats served in an atmosphere of plush dining settees.

Seeking a more casual atmosphere, Bistro Napa will meet your needs for seasonal, organic ingredients and simple, fresh flavors.

If you’re craving seafood, head to the Oyster Bar and Sushi Bar on the Sky Terrace. Indulge your taste buds with a savory Pan Roast or delight in the Seven Seas Crab Sampler.

There are additional casual dining options too numerous to cover them all.

Spa Atlantis: Time to rejuvenate yourself. Slip into total serenity as you benefit your body and mind. Experience personal discovery, solace and healing while recharging your senses. This is truly luxurious living.

Casino: When it is play time, you’ve come to the right place. Atlantis has been voted Best Casino and Best Table Games.

Play the newest, hottest and most exciting games in Reno. Get in on the action with blackjack, Pai Gow, craps, roulette, a state-of-the-art Race & Sports Book and poker room. Atlantis takes playing to a whole new level with over 60,000 sq. ft. of casino space, and more than 1,400 slot machines and dozens of gaming tables.

Shopping: Get that retail therapy in the heart of Reno’s shopping district. Don’t forget to investigate Reno-Tahoe vacation packages ranging from golf to world-renowned skiing.

Contact Information:

Atlantis Casino Resort Spa – Reno

3800 S. Virginia Street | Reno NV 89502

800.723.6500 |

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For those in Orange County, California, the South Coast Center area is a bastion of culture and entertainment—as well as its world-class shopping. And, what’s more, not too far in the future it will be the site of the new Orange County Museum of Art.

The museum will be adjacent to Segerstrom Performing Arts Center, the heart of the artistic complex. There are four unique performance venues, now here,  including: the Samueli Theater (which holds 300 ) Segerstrom Hall (holding 3,000 seats), Founders Hall (250 seats) and the Renee and Henry Segerstrom concert hall (1700 seats). Next door is South Coast Repertory Theater, As well, there are sculptures on exhibit in two nearby open spaces.

To indicate how vibrant this area is, three major attractions were going on simultaneously during a mid-March weekend.

South Coast Repertory presented the world premiere of “Reunion,” by Gregory S. Moss on its Julianne Argyros Stage.  The show, running through March 30,  brings new luster to the to the well-worn plot involving old high school buddies meeting up after 25 years during  a school reunion. After, they adjourn to “party-hardy” in a motel room.

Here, they revive old grievances and hidden desires. They reminisce over girls and misadventures. And as a climax, they “trash” the room, dancing to raucous music and throwing around furniture. Their liquor-fueled ribaldry soon erupts into physical violence amidst  emotional rants. As can be imagined there is much laughter in their carrying-ons, along with considerable psychic and physical pain revealed. All three actors are excellent and energetic: Kevin Berntson, the nerdish Peter, seeking to be liked; Tim Cummings, the aggressive macho type; and Michael Gladis, the sensitive one, now a recovering alcoholic.

For tickets: 714-708-5555; Online:

The world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by with Wynton Marsalis performed   at the center, March 14, in Segerstrom Hall. The critically acclaimed orchestra presented the music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, noted jazz band leaders and composers. The Chicago Tribune wrote:  “One rarely hears this music played with such technical brilliance, stylistic authenticity and tonal sheen…Here were the throaty reeds, percussive trumpet blasts and visceral sense of swing that have made the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra the greatest large jazz ensemble working today.”  With selections covering several decades of jazz’ glory days, the congregation is comprised of 15 of today’s finest jazz soloists and ensemble players.

Michael McDonald played March 13-14  at the Segerstrom Concert Hall. He wowed fans with his distinctive voice and of the modern era’s smoothest pop music, backed by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

For tickets and information on All Segerstrom Center’s attractions: (714) 556-2797;

A little background on the Orange County Museum of Art currently in Newport Beach–it is the premier visual arts organization in Orange County, California. The museum’s collection comprises nearly 2,500 objects of modern and contemporary art, with a concentration on the art of California from the early 20th century to works by local, national, and international artists working today.

Critically acclaimed exhibitions such as Birth of the Cool: Art, Design, and Culture at Mid-century, Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone, Picasso to Pollock: Modern Masterpieces from the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, and Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, have drawn  more than 40,000 visitors annually.

About the author: Larry Taylor worked in newspaper industry for 15 years after graduating with a journalism degree. In 1973 he went into teaching media at Cal. State Fullerton and Fullerton Colleges in Southern California. In 2000, he retired and devoted himself to theater reviews and travel writing.

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Descending the steep, narrow plank, inch by inch, hand over hand along the long pole, I thought: “This better be one hell of a cave!” Exploring the other-worldly interior of Hang Trong Cave was to be one of many surreal experiences I was to have traveling along Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam.

In the 1992 movie Indochine, credited with putting Ha Long Bay on the map, Catherine Deneuve describes it as “the most remote outpost of Indochina.” Today, the bay still retains that end-of-the-Earth, Lord-of-the-Rings-on–water quality.

The very few guesthouses at that time have now flourished into almost 300 accommodations of every comfort level and the few Chinese junks plying their trade have metamorphosized into more than 400 tourist boats.

I visited as part of a Myths and Mountains Tour, which also included several days in Hanoi and Sapa in northwest Vietnam, an area home to several minority villages. But more on that later.

The almost 600 square miles comprised of thousands of karst (limestone) islands, caves and inlets create a solitary natural environment that belies description and inspires awe. I kept thinking how many times can I use the word surreal in one travel article?

The basic boat we called home, replicating an old Chinese Junk, was…well basic but we dined well and huddled about the crew as they studied tidal charts to determine our daily itinerary.  Inflatable canoes, powered by guides, were our vehicle of choice for purposes of exploration. Cave opening too small to navigate? No problem –- just let some air out of the canoe. Very versatile.

Some caves were so dark we donned headlamps to maneuver through. Others so small, the entire trip was negotiated on our backs. But those that enthralled the most were comprised of tortured, grotesque shapes hanging from the ceiling and reflected in the water below. I felt stuck in a huge open mouth badly in need of dental work; I was Jonah inside the whale, the cave itself its gaping jaw, and the jagged stalactites above and below giant misshapen teeth.

Some days we paddled into the caves. Others we trekked through them. One-hundred-forty steps up a sheer cliff brought us to Hang Sung Sot -– the over-100-foot-high, multi-chambered Surprises Cave -– which indeed it was full of.  

Some chambers were back lit by sun-filled gaps in the limestone, others artificially lit for dramatic effect. I was told the name referred to the enormity of the cave –- a mile and a half walk from end to end; for me it was the huge highlighted outcropping protruding at a suggestive 45-degree angle as you rounded one of the bends, clearly a pornographic symbol that elicits giggles — if not outright guffaws – from all who come across it.

I could envision a small civilization existing here in a former lifetime, and was not surprised to hear that many Vietnamese hid in the caves during the bombings of Hanoi during the Vietnam War -– or, as they see it, the American War.

What did surprise me was some historic insight we received from our Myths and Mountains guide, arguably the best in Vietnam, Le Van Cuong. When I asked why the people of Vietnam were so welcoming to Americans after we destroyed so much of their country, he patiently explained that on their historic timeline, the Americans were just a blip: “The main reason is that historically my country has been invaded by so many countries over centuries that the Americans were responsible for just a small part of their suffering. And it is just the very nature of Vietnamese people to forgive and forget.”

Very candid about the good and bad in his country and the pros and

cons of the government, his perspective on the current political climate in Vietnam was also interesting. Although the government is Communist -– what Cuong describes as “flexible communism” — the burgeoning economy reflects capitalism. “Perhaps you can smell democracy in the air but it’s going to be a while before it settles to the ground,” he observed.

But back to paddling through Ha Long Bay. Exiting the caves often brings you into a still lagoon, mirroring the multiple majesty of the soaring peaks. Jagged and ragged, alternately solid and porous, the gauzy spires seem lost in the horizon while alternately sinking below the surface of the water.  Being of a certain age -– and eyesight -– I thought perhaps the surroundings appeared that way because of my cataracts –- all filmy and out-of-focus. But it is more valid vista than vision -– and therein lay their beauty.

Defying convention, one delighted paddler exclaimed as his canoe re-entered the world: “Oh my God, it’s Shangra-La.” Expanding on his initial reaction, Charles Guinn from Kansas City, Missouri, continued: “This is the most unique place I’ve ever seen in all my travels. I suspect there’s no other place like it in the world.”

Back aboard our floating home, we traveled past a complement of water-borne vehicles that challenged the imagination: multi-colored fishing boats sporting multi-faceted protrusions; floating houses on wooden platforms with shrimp, crab and fish farms caged underneath; bamboo basket boats, and rowboats and kayaks manned by kids playing hide-and-seek behind the small islands in the Bay.

A young woman in a basket boat pulled up alongside ours selling chocolate, crackers, cookies, nuts, wine and cigarettes. Somehow all that junk food seemed appropriate considering the nature of our boat (Need I remind you we were on a Chinese Junk…?).

Relaxing on deck, we play the ancient game of what do you see in the strange formations in our midst. Or, more appropriately on Ha Long Bay …mist.  “Hey, that looks like George Washington,” “Nah, a fisherman,” “No, I think it’s a goat’s head” until the boat moves on to the next imaginary challenge.

Ruth Lerner of Venice, California, reflected on the surroundings: “Such quiet, endless beauty, so breath-taking with no two formations alike.”
Her favorite part? “Floating in the kayak through pitch dark, absolutely quiet caves and emerging into lagoons as still as glass.”

Such are the wonders of Ha Long Bay, which were only a part of the memorable Myths and Mountains itinerary (or Mist and Mountains, as one of my companions deadpanned…) which also included Hanoi’s vibrant, colorful Old Quarter where streets are still named for the products they sell to the city’s modern sections on the verge of globalization to the mountains of Sapa where several minorities, practicing their own language, customs and clothing, still live in primitive villages as they have for centuries.

Vietnam –- a country torn between then and now, what was juxtaposed with what will be, poised in economic boom and political transition. Go now before luxury high-rise hotels flood the landscape and Westernization erodes the culture. For more information, contact Myths and Mountains at 800/670-6984 or visit

Fyllis Hockman, a frequent contributor to Fab Placez, is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance travel writer. She is the author of AAA Guidebook: A Photo Journey to Washington, D.C. and co-author of the Pelican Guide to Maryland. Ms. Hockman is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Travel Journalists Guild..

Photos by Victor Block.

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I am a Manhattanite and proud of it. I have been to Brooklyn maybe a dozen times in the last 20 years. The borough is hot hot hot with prices for apartments equaling and sometimes more than Manhattan. It was with a sense of curiosity that I accepted an invitation to spend almost 5 hours on A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour.
At 11AM on a sunny spring Saturday I met the bus at 13th Street and 4th Avenue, just off Union Square. Over 50 other passengers paid $80 (children under 12-$70) for the tour featuring Brooklyn’s many neighborhoods, parks and movie locations. The tour is run on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.
Paula was our guide and a Brooklyn native who really loved her job. She mixed stories with video highlights from movies filmed in Brooklyn such as Saturday Night Fever, The French Connection, Goodfellas, Scent of a Woman and Annie Hall. We saw video of John Travolta swaying down the street while we passed along the same street, with the same landmarks. This was repeated many times and made the tour most interesting.
After crossing over the Manhattan Bridge we drove along the area known as DUMBO. Down under the Manhattan Brooklyn overpass. It’s a combination of warehouses, shops and restaurants, and expensive high-rise apartments. The area has emerged as one of New York City’s premier arts districts with lots of art galleries. Chef Jacques Torres has recently opened a chocolate factory. Other culinary businesses in the area include the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, The River Café and Grimaldi’s. All of these businesses cluster in Fulton Landing, which is also home to Bargemusic, a floating venue for classical music. Brooklyn Bridge Park, a joint state/city venture presently under development has a great view of the Manhattan downtown skyline. Dumbo is also home to 25% of New York City-based tech firms. We arrived at 11:30 just as Grimaldi’s opened. They reserved a section for our group and out came the coal-fired brick oven pizza with its smoky flavor and crisp crust. Cash only and no slices. By the time we started eating our pizza there were already 50 people waiting to get into Grimaldi’s.

After a short walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park it was off to Bay Ridge and its million dollar homes. L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst was our second pizza stop. In the spumoni and ices business since 1939 it opened a Sicilian pizzeria in 1941. Again, our group was ushered in to a special section where the Sicilian pizza was waiting for us.
We then drove to Coney Island’s amusement park and spent 15 minutes walking the boardwalk past Luna Park and the famous Cyclone coaster. It was too early in the season for the park to be open. It was then back to Manhattan and our drop-off back at Union Square. Great driver, fabulous guide and terrific food made this a 5 Star tour.

Ron’s Top Brooklyn Pizzas
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Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain with a population of 1.6 million. It is an old city, 3rd century BC, and yet a modern city. The most recognized landmark is the La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona is a popular destination with tourists as it should be since it is located on the Mediterranean and enjoys a mild climate.

But, this about photos of Barcelona.






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The sudden disappearance of the powerful Anasazi could be described as “…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”  Visitors to Mesa Verde National Park see the remains of their fabulous condos carved from the rock of the La Plata Mountains, and wonder: where? why? But, there are no written histories. Only oral legends give us a hint of what happened and why the Pueblo people began a mass migration at the end of the 13th century.

Even “Anasazi” (often translated as “Ancient Enemy”) is an applied term. And yet, their stories still whisper in the desert winds, teasing dreamer and scientist alike with clues hinting at the “Why”?  Why does the Sun Temple have two separate circular areas? Is there more than myth in the power struggle between Man the supernatural Kachina?

Craig Overton, Mesa Verde Park Ranger, relates the legend of the Sun Temple. In the early 1920′s a young medicine man from the Blue Bird clan, came to the park to share the oral story about why Sun Temple was abandoned before it was completed.
Human Medicine Men began to feel they were more powerful than the Kachinas (gods). They began using their power the wrong way and decided they didn’t need the gods any more. They planned to build a trap to trick the pesky gods. The humans built two kivas, one for the Kachinas and one for the humans. In the corridors the humans stationed assassins.
The contest began. Both the gods and the humans worked their medicine. Chaos seemed to break out. The humans said, “What is that?” But, when they began to speak, they realized they could not longer communicate with each other. Each person spoke a different language. The humans began to run down the mountain.The Kachinas transformed the women and children into blue birds and the men into turkeys.  Kachinas taught the humans a lesson in humility.

Why do holes dot the interior walls of the cliff dwellings? Historians have speculated that the holes held sticks wrapped with a baby’s umbilical cord perhaps a way to bind the human spirit to the earth.

Why was Kokopelli’s Cave situated on a sheer cliff? Was this a look-out station so guards could warn the community of imminent danger? The cave, the cliff village and the Tower form an observation triangle.

This oral tradition of storytelling was the Pueblos’ way of passing down history to the next generation. The legends kept alive a sense of community, teaching the culture, mores, and morals of the clan.

There’s nothing more magical than seeing a place through the artist’s eye.

Nicholas Reti's sketch

While I was visiting Mesa Verde I noticed a young man working diligently in his sketch book. We talked briefly about his work and exchanged information.

Reti's oil painting

See Mesa Verde from an artist’s perspective in Nicholas Reti‘s sketches and paintings.

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The last 18 miles of the road leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica, full of ruts and potholes by design, takes over an hour and a half to navigate. The locals like it that way. And they choose not to fix it because it would be too easy then for tourists tovisit.That may not sound all that hospitable but it illustrates the emphasis Costa Ricans place on conservation. And the Cloud Forest, which I visited recently as part of an Overseas Adventure Travel tour of Costa Rica, is indeed an ecological marvel worth saving –- and seeing. But you have to really want to go there!

So what exactly is a Cloud Forest? Well, contrary to popular thinking, it is not where all your technological apps are stored. It is, instead, a rare kind of rain forest where plants actually grow ON TOP of trees.  The technical explanation is that “the combination of altitude, humidity and irregular topography creates a unique environmental situation where the clouds remain low for most of the year, preventing the advent of sun, locking in moisture, and creating an atmosphere where plant activity is so high that they actually cover the trees.” The non-technical explanation? Lots of clouds and rain result in every inch of the trees from bark to branch to be covered by things green and growing. These epiphytes, as the plants which grow on trees are called, cover every branch and limb, creating a dense wonderland of greenery. Fifty percent of all the vegetation in the cloud forest lives on the tops of trees.

Now I’ve been in many a rain forest before but never one so overwhelmingly green and lush, a blanket of emerald and jade and olive and lime, unrelenting and opaque.

There are no empty branches, tree trunks or ground area so that the immersion in this sea of green is utterly complete. Each branch, bush, leaf is so unique in its color, design, texture, size, shape  and sheen as to more resemble an art form than a  mere fragment of foliage, in which Ellen Kaiden of Sarasota, Florida, the artist in the group, claimed to detect different emotions. “I was overwhelmed by the life force of the Costa Rican Cloud Forest. We were privileged guests in an alternative universe of the canopy. It was pure magic,” she noted.

Although our guide, Andres Herrera González, spent three hours discussing the ecological and biological implications of every plant, I was perfectly content to just let myself be absorbed into the visual immensity of my green-laden surroundings.

Equally important to the expansive plant life is the multiplicity of animal life living among it. This enormously rich ecosystem supports 7% of the world’s plant and animal diversity in only 0.1% of the earth’s surface. It’s an amazing place but was only one of several rain and tropical forests, as well as beaches, villages and farms, we visited as part of OAT’s 12-day Costa Rican adventure.

And as important as the actual itinerary may be, what sets OAT apart from many other tour companies is its emphasis on Learning and Discovery, a part of the OAT philosophy that the company takes very seriously. And with a guide like Andres, a mere botanist with two Master’s degrees in eco-tourism and sustainability, it was hard not to be learning all the time. Woven into the formal activities are opportunities to learn about the people, explore local markets and towns and participate in cultural exchanges.

But what happens outside that itinerary is equally interesting. The rides from place to place can be long but not boring. Perhaps you stop for lunch and get as dessert an unexpected exhibition of resident show horses belonging to the owner of the restaurant. A bathroom break brings a surprise demonstration of sugar cane extraction in an old mill. The fact that they mixed the resulting samples with local Costa Rican rum made the experience all the more special.

Add to that a photo op of a volcano in which our eagle-eyed leader spotted a sloth in a nearby tree or a random opportunity to milk a cow at a local farm and the stops not included on the itinerary compete with those which are for excitement. And the time actually in the bus is consumed with lectures on history, geology, culture, political corruption and other controversial topics all surrounding the Costa Rican experience.

Meanwhile, back at the Cloud Forest, there was quite a bit of local color to break up the monotony of greenness. Time was spent seeking out – and reveling in —  the unusual Resplendant Quetzel, a large rare and beautiful brightly colored bird that is as elusive in Costa Rica as the kiwi is in New Zealand. Traversing a series of hanging bridges provided a birds-eye view of the forest very different than that from the ground. Zip-lining across the tops of multiple trees ensured an experience in which the adrenaline rush clearly topped environmental appreciation -– at least for the moment, and a visit to a hummingbird sanctuary where hundreds of the colorful little guys flapped their little wings with impossible-to-measure speed  entranced tourists who desperately tried to capture them on camera and cell phone.

A meeting  with Martha Campbell, the daughter of one of the original Quaker settlers of Monteverde in 1951, provided some historical context to the Cloud Forest community, which at that time had no plumbing, no electricity, no phone service and very few people. Though the community survived by cattle ranching initially, eventually the Quaker community discovered that a far greater good –- as well as more money — could be accomplished thru conservation and the expanded tourism trade that followed.

Still she somewhat bemoans the large influx of tourists of the past two decades: “I wish there would be less development. Sure there are more job opportunities, but also more cars, maybe more crime and I just miss the simple life we used to have.” I would hazard a guess that the road leading to the Monteverde Cloud Forest isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon…

For more information about traveling to Costa Rica, visit

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Once in love with Santa Fe always in love with old Santa Fe.
It is a truly remarkable old city steeped in New Mexico culture and tradition.
And it was just the place that I wanted to celebrate the New Year 2013
at the enticing Eldorado Hotel & Spa in the heart of town. The holidays are a wonderful time of year here snowy, chilly and sun-kissed, too.

En route by an hour shuttle from Albuquerque, I was anxious to reach Santa Fe to marvel at the sight of the Plaza lights and decorations at sundown.

Again,I returned to the Eldorado Hotel, my third visit; now it was a welcoming holiday haven against a snowy backdrop; my place to be in Santa Fe. The halls of the Eldorado Hotel were decked with beautiful Christmas trees and decorations and filled with day skiers and holiday visitors.

Everyone comes to Santa Fe for their own reasons be it culture, nature or spiritual
considerations and they do return again and again.  For me it was holiday spirit,
curiosity and relaxation.
After taking just moments to get a feel for my spacious and comfortable room with its warming fireplace, I headed to the beloved Plaza, walking at an even pace since the altitude is at 7000 ft, to check out the illumination extraordinaire with more than 12,000 lights around the Plaza. I was informed that the Plaza Lighting Ceremony, the evening after Thanksgiving, begins the magic of the holidays in Santa Fe. It was a breathtaking view. Surely, it was worth the visit; however, baby it was cold outside.
Stopping by the Agave Lounge, for Happy Hour, this sophisticated chic place was new for me at the Eldorado. It was lively and fine chance to check out their signature flavors of margaritas or martinis with bite-size appetizers was a good choice. This was a friendly stopping spot and a great place to hobnob with other Eldorado visitors.
At home at The Eldorado, my relaxation began with their wonderful spa Nidah, the Native American word for ‘your life.’ Here was the place for natural healing augmented by their skilled technicians utilizing stones, plants and herbs based on the wisdom of the ancient people
of the pueblos. The relaxation lounge was a quiet place in perfect harmony and calming, hot tea and fresh fruit were served while waiting for a massage. My Hot Stone Massage with heated river stones was just what I needed to relax my muscles and lift the stress of my hectic previous days.
My enthusiasm was high as I prepared to dine again at The Old House, an award-winning restaurant, one of New Mexico’s best at The Eldorado; it’s always been my favorite and never a disappointment the best seasonal and regional tastes. I’m loving their Lobster Bisque and their always-unique dishes utilizing local produce and products.
During my end of year visit, I did a lot of walking; Santa Fe is one of America’s
great walking cities. There are awesome museums here and foremost was the New Mexico Museum of Art, the spectacular Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the Romanesque St. Francis Cathedral, the historic Palace of the Governors on the Plaza surrounded by Native Americans displaying their original jewelry and artwork. There are art galleries galore; however, art lovers agree that the fine art galleries on Canyon Road are fabulous.
At this time of year many visitors come to Santa Fe to ski; I prefer shopping.
New Year’s Eve morning was clear and cool. It was my plan to search for last minute shopping treasures at the beautiful Origins shop with an abundance of velvet outfits
scarves, accessories and so much more. Across from my hotel an artisans market
was drawing crowds, so I dropped in and discovered a one-of-a kind local artist’s
handcrafted turquoise necklace that was destined to be adorned by me.
At 4 p.m. in a few steps I was at the cherished Lensic Performing Arts Center for a New Year’s Eve afternoon concert by the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra.  At the concert’s end, Santa Fe was snowy white. Again I made my way back to the Eldorado to get ready for the big Rock and Roll New Year’s Eve charity party for fun, good cheer and a glass of champagne. New Year’s Day was sunny and snowy and was a last day breakfast at the famed Cafe Pasqual’s, sitting a the community table, the perfect place to meet and greet new friends.
Make the most of your New Year celebration, spend it at a destination that you love for all the right reasons that’s why Santa Fe, New Mexico was the perfect place to end the year and begin a new one. Check out the Eldorado hotel
Find out everything you want to know about Santa Fe at: or
Call Santa Fe CVB at 800-777-2489.
Story & photos by Barbara Singer
Barbara Singer is a well-known Travel and Entertainment Writer, who resides in Westwood and Santa Barbara. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists,
International Food Wine & Travel Writers and Film Independent.  She shared Santa Fe
Nov. 7th on Around the World Travel Show at and AM1290 radio in
Santa Barbara. You can reach her at:
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Hiking in the Bush

Fifteen flashlights shone downward as we gingerly picked our way through the bush. At the appropriate signal, we extinguished our lights, and 15 expectant adults gathered noiselessly behind our boot-and-camouflage-attired leader. As his sole light hopped and skipped across the dark, remote seaweed-strewn beach, suddenly we saw her –- the elusive New Zealand kiwi.
On orders to stay close, we waddled in muted tandem behind guide Philip Smith as he inched us to within 20 feet. Trying not to intrude upon her late-night supper, we were star-struck by this brown dumpling of a bird, head bobbing up and down, its long beak darting in and out of the sand single-mindedly nibbling on spiders, berries and crustaceans.

The Elusive Kiwi

Stewart Island, 674 isolated square miles of land to the south of

South Island that very few New Zealanders visit, much less anyone else, is the only place in New Zealand where you can spot kiwis, the native bird that few natives ever see.

According to Wendy Hallett, owner of the Greenvale B&B where we stayed, many people first book a kiwi-spotting tour with Smith, THEN book their trip to New Zealand and Stewart island.

But there are many reasons to visit Stewart Island other than the kiwi. Alternately described as isolated, insular, undeveloped, natural, wild, Stewart Island beckons in a way few modern destinations do. The downside? All the things that make it so appealing as a destination might themselves be ultimately destroyed by those to whom it so appeals. Hopefully, it’s inaccessibility and its uber-emphasis on conservation might preserve it against the expected onslaught.

There is a very lived-on, lived-in feel about the island; everyday life is happening here, albeit probably not your everyday life. As one of the waitresses at the Just Café noted: “We have no banks, no doctors, no t-shirt shops and no stress.”

Ask anyone how many people in town and you might hear something like: “Well, 400 at last count – no, wait – Annie just gave birth to the twins and Rupert died last week, so guess that makes 401.” And that number remained constant despite several efforts on my part to find an alternate answer.

Eighty-five percent of Stewart Island was designated in 2002 as Rakiura National Park, making it the most recent addition to New Zealand’s vast string of national parks. While there are only 18 miles of road on the island, there are 174 miles of walking trails (called tracks), ranging from a 15-minute stroll through the bush to 3-hour hike to a 10-day trek. Basically, there are two ways to get around –- by boat and on foot. You gotta love a place that has more water taxis than land ones.

Watertaxis parked along the Dock

A favorite hike was the Maori Beach Track, a 15-minute water taxi ride from downtown  — which, by the way, covers about a one-block area.  Captain Ian, a 6th-generation islander, carried me effortlessly across the slippery, moss-covered log he parked the water-cab against.

Alternately walking through bush so thick as to be impenetrable or hugging the craggy cliff overlooking the sea, we were bombarded by a new form of surround sound:  the thrashing of waves crashing below and the concert cries of birds overhead.

The varying vocals from tuis, bellbirds, kakas and kakarikais were reminiscent of the array of voices one hears in a noisy restaurant: sometimes individual cries dominated, other times, a general din prevailed. Then suddenly the birds were vying for attention once again with the breaking waves. We heard the water before we saw it, as the expanse of coastline made yet another appearance.

The most natural destination upon our return to town was the South Seas, of course – the only bar in the only hotel on the island. This gives “local bar” a whole new meaning. Stocking-cap-clad men, just off their fishing boats, with long beards and high boots best each other at billiards and darts. The room overflows with men and women drinking with gusto, laughing over town gossip or bemoaning the latest catch. This is not a place that serves a lot of light beer. What it does serve is good food in ample portions, the fish in the fish ‘n chips just about the flakiest I’ve had, and the fries, crisp and tasty.

The other must-do activity –- like the calling of the kiwi –- is to board another water-taxi for a visit to Ulva Island. “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks…” begins Walt Whitman’s famous poem, Evangeline. He also could have been describing Ulva Island, an untouched (“unmodified” is the technical term), predator-free, primitive slice of New Zealand the way it once was.

And that very nature of the island makes it an unparalleled sanctuary for birds, trees and plants that might otherwise be extinct. The hard-wood podacorp forest, literally of pre-historic ancestry, also houses species of plants 350 million years old. Rare birds such as the fernbird, saddleback, rifleman and yellowhead roam the woods with impunity.

And the inhabitants are not the only things special about Ulva Island; there’s also Ulva Goodwillie, another 6th-generation Stewart Islander whose breadth and scope of knowledge covers every twig, branch and feather found on Ulva Island. The similarity in names may be coincidental but it’s one hell of a marketing tool. She conducts half- and full-day tours of the island, communicating with the trees and the birds in very personal, intimate terms, distinguishing between every caw, chirp, click, creak, twill or whistle emanating from the treetops.

Sunrise over Halfmoon Bay

Back on the mainland, a stop at the Ship to Shore general store provides another insight into island living. This is the place to pick up groceries, hardware, beer and wine, household goods, fishing and hunting equipment and videos. Videos?  But for major food shopping, residents are dependent upon the supermarket in Invercargill, South Island (the real mainland). They pick up their orders at the Halfmoon Bay waterfront every Wednesday evening

Next to Ship to Shore is the  T-shirt shop –- although the designation is really a misnomer. Dil Belworthy, like so many other Islanders, was a fisherman by trade and, like so many of his compatriots, several years ago “saw the writing on the wall.” As he tells the story, “I was drinking with some mates one day and we were discussing how the fishing industry was going downhill, and how we saw tourism on the horizon.” With tourists as their new prey, the question became: “How do you catch a tourist?” The answer: “You sell them a T-shirt!”

So Dil and his wife, Cath, started hand-printing their art-shirts on their kitchen table in 1997, reproducing native Maori symbols and traditional images. Now, their Glowing Sky Studio sells these individually designed and produced wearable works of beauty for $35 per non-T-shirt T-shirt.

For sure, Stewart Island as a whole has learned well how to catch tourists, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the islanders have mixed emotions about just how successful they want their new venture to be. For more information, visit

About Fyllis Hockman:

Fyllis Hockman is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance travel writer. She is the author of AAA Guidebook: A Photo Journey to Washington, D.C. and co-author of the Pelican Guide to Maryland. Ms. Hockman is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and Travel Journalists Guild..

Photos by Victor Block.

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