Step Back In Time On the Trails of Harpers Ferry, WV

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“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature… worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1783

When the sign points left to Maine and right to Georgia, you know you are smack dab in the middle of the Appalachian Trail. The two states, on either extremity of the eastern seaboard of the United States, are 1,165 and 1,013 miles away, respectively. This is the famous crossroads in the tiny town of Harpers Ferry, one of the few towns the trail passes through. It is also the site of some of the most significant Civil War battles and a national park of incomparable beauty.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers at the borders of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Covering an area of just 0.61 square miles, it is surrounded by jagged, grey brown cliffs of shale and sandstone and acres of pristine natural forest. Miles of railroad tracks run through the heart of the tiny town and climb to trace paths in the hills along the banks of the rivers.

The most prominent geological feature in the park is a jagged water gap cut by the Potomac River through the mountains between Maryland and Virginia. Formed over million of years as the mountains weathered and eroded, the gap rages with frothy white water. As it flows eastward towards the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac rushes through the gap to join the  Shenandoah at the tip of Harpers Ferry.

The Potomac meets the Shenandoah at Harper’s Ferry

Situated as it is like the prow of a ship between two rivers, Harpers Ferry has for centuries drawn first native people, then European settlers and railroad workers through the natural passage carved by the water gap. The rare ecological feature made possible the first crossing (at Harpers Ferry) of the Potomac by a railroad on the first structural steel bridge in the world. The bridge is still in existence today.

First structural steel bridge in the world

Still other people came to Harpers Ferry to harness the wild energy of the Potomac as it raced down from the mountains, building many successful businesses along the banks of the rivers. Sadly, the same raging waters that brought financial gain were an equal source of heartache, as they intermittently flooded and destroyed much of what had been established.

Historic Lower Town

The lower section of Harpers Ferry, known as Lower Town, is situated on a low-lying flood plain on the banks of the two rivers. A raised railroad track skirts the southern part of the town. Quaint and picturesque, the 19th century village, now owned mostly by the National Park Service, features beautiful old stone and brick buildings with wide porches, tiny shops and historic dining establishments.

Old Town Harpers Ferry

But dramatic natural beauty is not all Harper’s Ferry has to offer. Since it is located at a crossroads, the town has endured a tumultuous history, changing hands eight times between 1861 and 1865 during the Civil War.

Harpers Ferry’s strategic location on the railroad and just north of the water gap, made it an attractive spot for military maneuvers as early as 1799, when the federal government purchased a 125-acre tract and began construction on the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. This was one of only two such facilities in the United States and the burgeoning business in arms manufacturing, between 1801 and 1861, transformed the town into a thriving industrial center.

John Brown

On October 16, 1859, the abolitionist John Brown led a group of 21 men, including slaves and freed slaves, on a raid of the U.S. Armory and Arsenal. Brown’s intention for his “Provisional Army of the United States” was to use the weapons to start a slave uprising throughout the IMG_6934south. The raiders were eventually forced to hole up in the Armory’s engine house where they were taken captive by U.S. marines two days later.

Brown was charged for “conspiring with slaves to commit treason and murder.” He was tried, convicted and hanged in Charles Town on December 2, 1859. It is generally believed that his raid was the catalyst for the Civil War.

John Brown’s fort has moved a number of times (including being transported to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1891) before coming to rest at its current location in Harpers Ferry next to the remains of the old armories. A stone marker on the floodplain known as Camp Hill indicates the original location of the building.

Civil War

When Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861, the U.S. garrison stationed at Harpers Ferry attempted to destroy the arsenal and its equipment so the Confederates would be unable to use it. In September 1862, General Robert E. Lee sent three columns under Stonewall Jackson to capture the town. The Battle of Harpers Ferry led to the surrender of the entire Federal garrison (12,419 troops), the largest surrender of U.S. military personnel until the battle of Bataan in World War II.

Remains of the old arsenal in Harpers Ferry

By July 1864, Harpers Ferry was back under control of the Union, but fierce battles continued on Camp Hill and in the surrounding hills until the war ended, leaving most structures damaged or destroyed.

According to local historian Joseph Barry: “No spot in the United States experienced more of the horrors of war.”

First college to educate freed slaves 

The legacy left by John Brown’s raid became the driving force behind a rare racial tolerance in Harpers Ferry. On August 15, 1906 author and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois led the Niagara Movement’s first meeting to secure rights for African Americans on the campus of Storer College, the first real academic college to educate freed slaves. The Niagara Movement later became the NAACP.

IMG_6886As Harpers Ferry grew and prospered, it became a popular tourist destination. People came by train from Washington, DC and Baltimore to spend a few weeks or the whole summer in the cool forests by the rivers’ edge.

Hilltop House, situated on a mountain top overlooking the town, was one of the most popular destinations for over a century. Built in 1888, its first proprietor and manager was Mr. Thomas Levitt, an African American native of Harpers Ferry. The building burnt twice in the early 1900s but Mr. Levitt and his wife rebuilt each time, maintaining their stewardship of the hotel for over 38 years.

Currently the hotel is closed for renovation.

Trails and National Historical Park Access

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park encompasses almost 4,000 acres in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. As the mid-point of the 2,178-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail (AT), hikers can access the trail going either way. Visitors can also walk along the 184.5-mile-long towpath of Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park by crossing the footbridge over the Potomac River. The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail overlays the C&O Canal and continues north all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Although there is some parking on the hill leading in to the Lower Town, the best place to stow the car is at the parking lot maintained by the National Park Service a couple of miles up the road. They run a shuttle bus back and forth from Lower Town every few minutes. You can also walk the couple of miles back on well-maintained foot paths.  On the way, be sure to look out for bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and southern flying squirrels, which are all indigenous to the area.

For further information, click here.

Photos: Here By Design

 

America’s 10 Best Places to See Spectacular Fall Foliage

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Fall foliage is beautiful all over the world, but let’s face it, there are some places that are more beautiful than others. These special landscapes produce exceptional shades of scarlet, crimson, orange and buttery yellow that capture the essence of the storybook fall. I, for one, am always in search of that kind of experience.

The good news for travelers is that, according to the United States Forest Service, lots of spring rains and a really dry summer mean that this year in North America could be even more colorful than ever. If you’re thinking of planning a weekend away to do some “leaf peeping”, now is the perfect time to reserve, with many places still available.

Here’s a guide to 10 popular locations in the United States that are known for their exceptional fall foliage. I’ve included luxury and budget stay options with links to fit every pocketbook.

 

The Berkshires, Massachusetts

Located in the western parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Berkshires is a highland plateau encompassing a little over 2,000 square miles. Bordered on the west by the Taconic Mountains and Housatonic River, it is interwoven with narrow country roads that coil their way through acres of pristine forest. Along with a wealth of picturesque, small towns offering local arts, culture and cider and donuts (!!), the area is deeply-forested with red maples, which adopt brilliant shades of crimson, scarlet and orange in mid to late September.

Berkshire Mountains

Berkshire Mountains

In northern Berkshire County, one of the most popular driving routes for foliage enthusiasts is the Mohawk Trail, which climbs through the Berkshire Mountains, providing jaw-dropping views of the region’s scarlet oaks and fiery maples. Quarry Road is another 60-mile loop that is accessed via the Mount Greylock Visitors Center in Lanesborough. Climbing steeply over gravel and rocks, the road leads up the mountain to spectacular views of the higher-elevation sugar maples, which turn from yellow to orange and finally to red in the fall.

Luxury Stay: Blantyre     Budget Stay: The Black Swan Inn

 

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

Located at the base of the Berkshire Mountains, Litchfield Hills was named by National Geographic as one of the most scenic driving destinations in the country where it comes to fall foliage viewing. It’s the type of place you associate with traditional New England landscapes; winding country roads, small historic towns filled with antique shops, and old-style taverns and beautiful stone and clapboard houses.

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Red barn in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

A popular driving tour begins on Route 7 and follows the Housatonic River, passing through Milford and on to Kent, which was awarded the #1 Fall Foliage Town in New England by Yankee Magazine. Giant sugar maples and massive oaks interspersed with birches, beeches and aspens put on a vibrant show beginning mid October and lasting into November. Connecticut has one of the longest foliage viewing seasons compared to its northern New England neighbors due to its more temperate climate.

Luxury Stay: Winvian Farm     Budget Stay: Litchfield Inn

 

Asheville, North Carolina

Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville offers panoramic views of spectacular fall foliage as well as a thriving artists’ community and burgeoning restaurant and beer scene. Peak foliage viewing is a little later here, usually from mid to late October.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a short 50-mile drive from Asheville, puts on one of the longest fall foliage displays in the country. The kaleidoscope of color includes golden yellow poplar and hickory trees, orange sassafras and multi-toned red maples. The show begins at the highest elevations (roughly 5,000 feet) and works its way down the mountains gradually, providing weeks of sequential color.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

According to the Romantic Asheville Website, which gives week-by-week coverage of the foliage as it develops, a drier than usual summer promises that this year’s show will be brighter than usual.

Luxury Stay: Inn on Biltmore Estate     Budget Stay: Hampton Inn Asheville I-26 Biltmore Area

 

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

Late September through October, this 11-mile stretch of Vermont’s Route 100 lined with maple, birch, poplar and sumac trees explodes with brilliant autumn color. The scenic byway runs between the northern Green Mountains to the west and the peaks of the Worcester Range to the east, between the towns of Waterbury and Stowe. A leisurely drive northwards along the route provides stunning views of intensely colored forests and saffron meadows while looping through tiny, historic villages and farmsteads.

Stowe Community Church, Stowe, Vermoint

Stowe Community Church, Stowe, Vermoint

A classic New England village located at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, Stowe calls itself “Fall’s Color Capital” and for good reason. In the fall, sparkling shades of gold, orange, crimson and maroon bedeck the town. An easy drive up the Mount Mansfield Auto Toll Road, offers stunning views of the area’s vibrant hues, silhouetted against a purple mountain backdrop. Check out Go Stowe/Foliage Central for regular foliage reports.

Luxury Stay: Essex Resort and Spa     Budget Stay: Northern Lights Lodge (Stowe)

 

Aspen Colorado

Colorado’s aspen trees are unlike any others, and in the fall they put on a vivid display. Leaves shimmering with gold in the sun, their stark white trunks paint a striking picture against the evergreen backdrop of the region’s jagged brown mountains. Peak foliage can be hard to predict, and is often short-lived, so it’s important to get your timing right.

Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado

The highly photographed Maroon Bells Mountains, situated southwest of Aspen, are a great spot from which to soak up all the colorful scenery. Stay in town (where hotel rates are briefly less expensive before the start of ski season) or reserve a campsite on the Maroon Lake, encircled by snow-capped purple mountains and oceans of golden-yellow aspens.

Luxury Stay: The Little Nell     Budget Stay: Sky Hotel

 

Taos, New Mexico

Another popular destination from which to view the changing foliage of the aspen trees, Taos offers thousands of acres of pristine forests ablaze with fall color. Here, in the dry climate of the high desert, warm days and cold nights mean that aspens turn not only yellow, but deep orange and shades of red as well. This makes Taos a must-see for aspen aficionados.

Green, yellow and red aspens on a hillside in Taos, New Mexico

Green, yellow and red aspens on a hillside in Taos, New Mexico

The 83-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which starts and ends in Taos, encircles the 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico. The scenic route winds through a diverse landscape of red cottonwood forests set amidst grey-green spruces, dark green lakes rimmed by orange and yellow aspens and mesas clothed in deep purple cinquefoil that stretch all the way to the visible horizon.

Luxury Stay: El Monte Sagrado     Budget Stay: Sun God Lodge

 

Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee

Hundreds of species of native trees, including scarlet oaks, sugar maples, sweet gums and hickories change color from early October through early November in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is nestled between North Carolina and Tennessee. The transition occurs gradually over the 800 miles of scenic roads and trails, traveling steadily down the mountainsides and transforming the region’s forests into radiant shades of red, orange, purple and gold.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You could spend days in the park, exploring the breathtaking scenery, which begins early with the arrival of fall flowers, including asters, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod. Check out the National Park Service site for up-to-the-minute information and webcam coverage of the foliage as it develops.

Luxury Stay: Blackberry Farm (TN)     Budget Stay: Holiday Inn Club Vacations Gatlinburg-Smoky Mountain Resort 

 

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Over 7 million acres of forest make for a brilliant splash from late September into mid October on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which includes the Porcupine Mountains, Traverse City, the Boyne Highlands and Mackinac Island. In these lovely places, the arrival of autumn ignites an explosion of autumn color amongst the native hardwoods, all set against a backdrop of dark green spruces, pines, cedars and other conifers.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

At the end of September, dense groves of aspens, birches, maples, oaks, elms, hickories and black cherries gradually begin to transform the landscape into a multi-colored quilt of crimson, russet, golden yellow, purple and orange. M-119’s Tunnel of Trees, located about 35 miles from Mackinac Island, is one of the great forest routes in North America. Separating Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, the 16-mile scenic road winds through thick hardwood forests, offering glimpses of Lake Michigan and affording access to lots of hiking trails among the majestic trees. Or, you can choose from one of 10 driving tours of the region available on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula travel site.

Luxury Stay: Hotel Iroquois     Budget Stay: Harbour View Inn

 

The Catskills, New York

Perhaps the most well known destination of all, upstate New York’s brilliant autumn show has been immortalized in films and literature for its iconic shades of dazzling scarlet, orange and gold that unravel slowly down the region’s deeply-forested hillsides. Highway 97, which connects Hancock to the tiny town of Port Jervis, is one of the most popular driving tours, affording stunning vistas from mid September to early to mid-October.

Saranac Lake, New York

Saranac Lake, New York

Nicknamed “America’s First Wilderness,” this beautiful area is home to majestic oaks, sugar maples, white-trunked birches and beeches. The area is chock full of small towns and B&Bs, antiques stores, farmers markets and harvest festivals. There are even pick-your-own apple orchards, making for a storybook-like adventure.

Luxury Stay: The Point Resort     Budget Stay: Best Western Mountain Lake Inn

 

McKenzie Scenic Pass, Oregon

In mid-October, this 36-mile route through the Mt. Washington Wilderness area (also known as Highway 242) is ablaze in color. The varied landscape includes ancient lava beds, waterfalls, snow capped peaks and majestic old-growth forests. The pass runs from the Willamette Valley to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, winding through the university town of Eugene.

McKenzie Pass, Oregon

McKenzie Pass, Oregon

Near the top of the pass, lush groves of Douglas fir and red cedar provide a backdrop for deep red vine maples, a species of small maples native to western North America. Together with the black rock lava fields and stark white peaks of central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, they provide a stunning contrast. The Dee Wright Observatory, built in the ’30s out of lava rock, offers spectacular 360 views of the mountains and changing foliage through windows specially designed to frame the peaks.

Luxury Stay: The Lodge at Suttle Lake    Budget Stay: Best Western Ponderosa Lodge

 

All photos: Shutterstock.com

Out and About In Cool and Captivating Lima, Peru

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Lima is perhaps best known as a stopover on the way to more exotic destinations like Cuzco and Machu Picchu. But, recently I found myself staying for an extended period of time in the sprawling coastal city. So instead of sticking to the typical tourist plan, I decided to truly explore some of the city’s more remarkable districts. What I discovered was a dynamic tapestry of people, architecture, customs and cuisine; an intoxicating blend that makes visiting this capital city something really special.

By all standards, Lima is a very large city. Covering approximately 310 square miles, it is home to over 10 million people, or roughly one-third of the country’s entire population. The city perches high atop gargantuan green cliffs at the base of which runs a road known as the Costa Verde. Miles of two-story homes interspersed with modern mid-rise buildings, boisterous local markets and quaint city parks fan out along the coastline. Overhead, paragliders loop through the air on the strong ocean breeze, occasionally drifting perilously close to the hotels that dot the busy shore.

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One wonders how the city stays put atop the steep cliffs, which appear to be formed mostly of sand and in many places are secured only by netting. Lapping at their feet are long lines of horizontal waves, which break on the rocky shore and retreat with a noisy rumble, sweeping mounds of smooth, shiny pebbles back out to sea. Near the popular Rosa Nautica restaurant and pier, surfers ride the waves from sun-up to sundown, prudently abandoning their boards just moments before they collide with the rocky beach.

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Currently billed as the third largest city in Latin America, Lima was founded in 1535 by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who laid out the original boundaries for what he envisioned to become a “City of Kings.” At the time, there were roughly 200,000 indigenous people in the area. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The Spanish ruled Peru for over 300 years, renaming the region the Viceroyalty of Peru.

In addition to suffering under occupation for centuries, Lima has endured many earthquakes (earthquake warning signs abound) and following liberation, bouts of guerrilla warfare as recently as the 1980s. A stroll through just a tiny fraction of the city’s many neighborhoods is a trip through history itself as one area morphs into another yielding up contrasting architecture and cultures characteristic of each of Lima’s distinct time periods. Worn stone sidewalks, polished smooth by centuries of use, crisscross the city, affording a constantly changing vista.

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Officially, the province of Lima is divided into 43 districts. The various coastal districts, though, are generally frequented most by tourists and their population increases with summer months. Here are some suggestions for what to see and do in some of these more popular areas.

Central Lima

As its name suggests, Central Lima is the heart of the historical Lima city. And the main plaza, called Plaza Mayor, is the core of the the 16th century city established by Pizarro. At the north end of the plaza sits the massive Palacio de Gobierno, first erected in 1535 by Pizarro and today the official residence of the President of Peru. The grandiose baroque style building has undergone many transformations over the years and now occupies an entire city block.

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To the east of the Plaza is the Archbishops Palace, a Baroque-style stone edifice with ornate cedar balconies. It is joined to the Cathedral of Lima, which houses Pizarro’s remains.

lima pizarro tomb

A short walk away is the beautiful Plaza San Martin, named for José de San Martin, an Argentinian general who led South America’s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire. Known as the ‘Liberator of Peru,’ he is depicted sitting astride a horse in the center of the park. Underneath, is a bronze rendering of Madre Patria, the symbolic mother of Peru.

lima statue

Also located on the square is the magnificent Gran Hotel Bolivar, built in 1924 and at the time considered one of the most luxurious accommodations in Latin America. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was a favorite among many movie stars, including Clark Gable, Orson Welles and John Wayne. Edward II, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon were also guests. The Gran Hotel Bolivar is known as the place that catapulted the local cocktail, the Pisco Sour, into the international spotlight.

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Now considered the national drink of both Peru and Chile, the Pisco Sour was allegedly invented by an American bartender in the 1920s.  It is composed of pisco, a high-proof spirit made from distilled grape wine, as well as sour citrus juice and other sweetener components. In Peru, bartenders usually add key lime juice, syrup, egg white, ice and Angostura bitters to the mix.

Peruvians love to offer Pisco Sours to guests and we drank them pretty much everywhere we went.

 

 

Mireflores

Miraflores was established by the Spanish in the 16th century and was later the scene of the Battle of Miraflores in the late 1800s (during the War of the Pacific) when it was sacked and burned by Chilean invaders. Today, it is where most of the luxury hotels and apartment buildings are based. Upscale shopping locations include the multi-tiered mall called Larcomar and its cliff-side bars and restaurants. Behind the high-rise hotels, we discovered quiet, tree lined streets and stopped to peek through the gates at the many beautiful stone mansions, their graceful architecture just visible above high walls draped with crimson bougainvillea and other colorful flowers.

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Huaca Pucllana, an important historical site and one of the last remaining pre-Inca ruins in the city, is located in the heart of Miraflores. The word Huaca means tomb, and the site is exactly that; a multi-tiered ceremonial center composed of mounds of hand-formed adobe bricks. Restored portions of the tomb blend seamlessly with the original structure first created by the Limas people back in AD 400. A stunning open-air restaurant of the same name faces onto the ruins, which are beautifully illuminated at night.

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Another Miraflores attraction, Lovers Park (Parque del Amor) is located on the the top of the cliffs. Its focal point is a clay statue entitled “The Kiss” (El Beso), which is surrounded by curving walls of colorful mosaics.

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San Isidro

San Isidro is an upscale district of the city that in recent years has become a major financial quarter. For tourists, the principal attraction is the Museo Larco, a former 18th century Viceroy’s house which has been converted into a museum housing an outstanding display of pre-Columbian Art. Founded by Rafael Larco Hole in 1926, the museum’s chronological galleries showcase over 4,000 years of Peruvian pottery. They also house the largest collection of jewelry used by many notable rulers of pre-Columbian Peru including crowns, earrings, and other ornaments finely wrought in gold and decorated with semi-precious stones. A separate gallery features a large collection of pre-Columbian erotic pots.

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One of the best cafes in the city, the Cafe de Museo, serves fresh Peruvian food on a cool porch amid trailing ferns and cascading bougainvillea.

Lima garden

 

Also located in San Isidro is one of the hottest restaurants in Lima, Malabar. When our car pulled up, a hostess opened a large door in an otherwise nondescript wall to usher us in to a sleek and glamorous space. Malabar is run by culinary star Pedro Mighel Schiaffini who concocts unusual blends of Peruvian food, using local Amazonian produce that changes daily. We sampled many dishes that introduced entirely new tastes to our palates, including wild-caught fish, weird roots, unfamiliar mollusks and sauces made from exotic fruits. The dinner was complemented by a round of specialty cocktails (created by Schiaffini’s dad) served in vintage glasses.

Barranco

At the turn of the the 20th century, Barranco was known as an upper class resort community lined with old mansions. Today it is a boisterous area with brightly-painted houses, unusual tropical plants and acres of colorful flowers, including large beds of fragrant roses.

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A block west of the main plaza is the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), a narrow wooden bridge that traverses an old stone stairway. We crossed the bridge and took the stairway down to the beach shoulder-to-shoulder with the local weekend crowds sporting umbrellas and towels and an infectious happy mood. Along the way we passed crowded eateries, the smoky smell of pork chorizos rising up into the later afternoon air. Sidewalk vendors sold spiral cone ice cream, frozen fruit popsicles and tiny baked treats from little pop-up stands erected along the steps.

One night we dined at the trendy outdoor restaurant, Amor Amar whose tagline reads roughly “There is no better love than the love of food.” Discretely located on a sidestreet in Barranco, the understated courtyard space features full scale trees, ivy-cloaked walls and hundreds of twinkling lights. The menu is heavy on seafood, including charela, a sea bass from the north of Peru. We also sampled delicious Peruvian dishes made with local duck, slow roasted lamb and suckling goat. The house-made ice creams and delicious desserts made of local, fresh ingredients were a perfect end to a fabulous meal.

Getting Around

We were warned in advance to be careful about taxis, many of which are not taxis at all, but scammers who will literally take you for a ride. The few instances we resorted to cabs, we made sure to negotiate a price up front. For most all of our travel, we used Uber, which provided us with a quick and easy way to get around all parts of the city.

Weather

The temperature in Lima fluctuates little from summer to winter. Expect low 60s to upper 70s December-March and low 60s to upper 60s/low 70s July-September. In January, we enjoyed days ranging around 75 degrees. Although mornings often start with a grayish cloud cover, by early afternoon it is almost always sunny. It rarely rains in Lima.

There is a stiff breeze along the coast, which can feel chilly in the mornings and evenings. In the city proper, however, the sun is strong and there is little breeze. Best to come prepared with a hat and lots of sunscreen.

For further information on Lima, what to see and do, go to peru.travel.

 

The Ins and Outs of the Extraordinary Bay of Fundy

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There are high tides and then there are really high tides. In the everyday experience of most people, the average difference between high and low tide hovers around three feet. But, there’s a tide that’s so big it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Measuring in at an astounding 55 feet, it is the natural phenomenon known as Canada’s Bay of Fundy. Continue reading

The Tao of Taos: Rediscovering America the Beautiful

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Framed by the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos, New Mexico is a place made of dreams; there’s sprawling desert, unspoiled alpine wilderness and a sun-baked adobe town, steeped in American history. The town is home to three cultures; the Tiwa-speaking Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish and Anglo settlers who came later, all of whose unique customs and traditions have blended together. Imagine a place where the Old West is still very much alive, and that would be Taos. It’s a miracle the town isn’t overridden by tourists. Continue reading

Going Underground at the Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral/Photo: herebydesign/net

When summer temperatures start to soar, it’s a blessing to find a peaceful, secluded place to unwind. That’s why this time of year, I like to head to the Washington National Cathedral. I bypass the main sanctuary, though, and take the stairs down underground. There, I find cool refuge in the beautiful chapels of the lower level. Continue reading

Madison’s Montpelier: Once Was Lost, But Now It’s Found

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.26.18 AMGood things really do come in small packages and the recently restored Montpelier, home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, is no exception. Literally excavated from the sprawling, modern-day residence it had become, the presidential mansion has reclaimed its spot atop the lush green hills of Orange, Virginia. The property is well worth the visit if you’re looking to get away from it all and learn a little history, all while basking in the sweeping vistas of the beautiful Piedmont Valley.  Continue reading

The National Park Service Wants You to Find Your Park

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In a sign of the times, the National Park Service (NPS) recently unveiled a new digital program called Find Your Park. Interactive and fun, it aims to send people off on an adventure to explore America’s national parks. By bridging the gap between the real and digital worlds, NPS hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans to look beyond Yosemite and find the park that best suits them. It might be closer than you think. Continue reading

Ringing In the New Year In Old Quebec City

 

Source: www.quebecregion.com

Photo of Quebec City/ www.quebecregion.com

Every year my husband and I choose a new place to spend New Year’s Eve. This year we decided to give Quebec City a try. We chose the old Canadian city for its storybook charm and the fact that I could practice my French with the locals. Yes, we’d heard that the weather could be witheringly cold; but we packed up our warmest clothes anyway, hopped on a plane and headed north.

The day we arrived a cold air mass swept southward from the Arctic, driving the temperatures down to a frigid minus 5° Fahrenheit and below. As we exited the plane, the air sliced into our faces, prompting the flight attendant to shake her head sympathetically. Turns out we were in good company. Even the Canadians were feeling the chill.

THE CITY

Quebec City is located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and is one of the oldest cities in North America. Founded in 1608 by French settlers, it is the only walled city left in the Americas north of Mexico.

IMG_4756The older part of the city, referred to as Vieux Québec, is European in flavor, taking its cues from French architectural style. There are narrow cobblestoned streets, numerous Catholic churches and hundreds of centuries’ old stone and wood houses built in the New France Style (an adaptation of early French home forms to Quebec’s harsh winter climate.)

The majestic Chateau Frontenac, “the world’s most photographed hotel” sits high atop the city’s promontory, Cap-aux-Diamants, from where it dominates the skyline. A wooden terrace, known as the Dufferin Terrace, girdles the back of the hotel. From its perch on the cliff edge, the terrace provides sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River as well as easy access to the Citadelle, a fortress whose original ramparts still surround much of the city.

 

Tuesday, December 30

On our first day, we awoke to temQuebec City 00003peratures hovering around -5° Fahrenheit. So we bundled up in everything we owned (which for me included two coats) and joined the holiday throng moving at a brisk pace through the narrow winding streets of the city.

Heading downhill from Quebec’s upper town, we arrived within minutes in the Quartier Petit Champlain, North America’s oldest neighborhood and the site of Quebec’s first port. The area features some of the original houses constructed soon after French explorer Samuel de Champlain chose the area in 1608 as the site for New France’s first permanent settlement.

IMG_4817Today the quaint neighborhood streets are lined with colorful art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and bistros. We stopped briefly in front of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, a stone church erected in 1688 atop the ruins of Champlain’s first outpost. The one-room church is so named in recognition of how the Virgin Mary, on two separate occasions, protected Quebec City from danger. It presides over the square called Place Royale.

From the Petit Champlain, we headed over to the Musée de la Civilisation, a modern, interactive museum, which includes, among other interesting exhibits, a comprehensive history of Quebec with lots of great visuals.

A few steps away from the museum, we found the Café du Monde, a spacious Parisian style brasserie located right on the waterfront in the Terminal des Croisières. A grand circular stair led to a glittering, mirrored space with banks of windows overlooking the St. Lawrence. While we dined on oysters and fresh regional salads, we struck up a conversation in a mix of English and French with fellow diners, who offered us insights into what to see and do in Quebec.

After lunch we wound our way back along the cobblestoned streets and up the steep staircase known as ‘L’Escalier Casse-Cou’ (Break Neck Stairs) to the aforementioned Dufferin Terrace. The terrace is named after Lord Dufferin, the governor of Canada frIMG_4759om 1872 to 1878, who fought against the demolition of the Citadelle. It is thanks to his efforts that the remains of the original fort can still be seen today.

That evening, we had dinner on the Rue Saint Louis at Aux Anciens Canadiens, described as a “Bastion of Canadian Country Cooking.” The tiny establishment comprises two buildings, one dating back to 1675 and the founding of the original French Regime. Specialties of the house include bison, caribou, deer and wapiti, meat pies and Grandma’s original pea soup. We ordered deer with blueberry sauce and chicken and ratatouille and capped off the evening with homemade vanilla ice cream drizzled with fresh maple syrup followed by shots of vodka and cranberry (a tradition of the house.)

 

Wednesday, December 31

We awoke to another almost unbearably frigid morning (this time the temperature read -10° F.) Since walking around outside for more than a few minutes seemed out of the question, we rented a car and headed off to Montmorency Falls, which is located just a few minutes from Quebec City.

Quebec City 00017Montmorency Falls is the largest waterfall on the Montmorency River. At 275 feet high, the falls are the highest in Quebec, measuring over 98 feet higher than those of Niagara. Champlain named them after Henri II, duc de Montmorency, who served as viceroy of New France from 1620 until 1625.

The falls pour with fury over a cliff into a basin before cascading down into the St. Lawrence River. At the time of our visit, much of the basin was frozen. Defying all logic, we took a lift up where we joined a few other brave souls surveying the falls from a suspended bridge. Here, we were rewarded with roaring jets of frothy white water spewing from enormous jigsaw-shaped pieces of ice. A series of tantalizing pathways fanned outwards from the bridge to the Montmorency Park, which we agreed would be a beautiful place to visit under more favorable conditions.

IMG_4774On the way back into the city we drove by the Plains of Abraham, an historic battlefield located on the Cape Diamond to the west of Chateau Frontenac. The broad grassy plain was the scene of a 1759 battle between the British and French that left control of Quebec City to the British. Today the park comprises 12 km of ski trails for cross country skiers and provides a venue for outdoor concerts and other festivals.

Up on the Grande Allée, one of the city’s most popular squares, preparations were underway for a large-scale New Years Eve party. We saw restaurants heating up their outdoor patios on the periphery as workers erected a large soundstage and dance floor. A sparkling Ferris wheel dominated one corner of the square.

We rang in the New Year with a sumptuous seven-course dinner at Le Patriarche, located adjacent to the Porte Saint-Jean, one of two surviving entrances to the old city. The restaurant is situated in a small stone home built in the early 1800’s. The menu adheres to the “Rule of Three” administered by its executive chef who concocts savory combinations of flavors in triplet for each course. Specialties of the house include game and foie gras. We dined on Calville Bay’s oysters, sea-urchin soup, foie gras on brioche, rabbit with Japanese artichoke, seabream with fennel and Waguy beef and capped off the evening with a citrus ice followed by a warm dark chocolate soufflé.

IMG_4782Snow was just beginning to fall as we heard the first fireworks explode up on the Grande Allée.  As thick white flakes began to dust the centuries old architecture, it wasn’t hard to imagine the first settlers enjoying their own New Year’s eves, so many centuries ago.

 

Thursday, January 1

The flakes continued to fall over night and we awoke on New Year’s Day to a snowstorm though, strangely, the temperature had risen by 20 degrees. The tiny streets were now filled with boisterous crowds in full winter gear, boots crunching on the snow-packed ground. We trudged up the hill to the Chateau Frontenac to sample the hotel’s renowned afternoon Wine and Cheese Tasting held in a beautiful circular bar with views out onto the river.

The lobby was teeming with people and in every direction we could see neat rows of illuminated trees extending down the long hotel hallways. At the cozy bar, we settled into a pair of large leather chairs by the fire. Here, we sampled a selection of local cheeses paired with red wine and coffee and sat back to savor the international flavor of the crowd.

Although we hardly had any appetite left at all, we agreed it would be a shame to miss dinner at Le Saint-Amour, considered one of the most romantic restaurants in Quebec. Chef and co-owner Jean-Luc Boulay was voted best chef in Quebec and is famous for his culinary skills with duck foie gras.

The ultra-chic restaurant shines Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 10.21.34 PMwith its beautiful and eclectic décor, including a 35’ tall main dining room embellished with glossy red woodwork, gold rococo-style mirrors and original works of art. Enormous planters filled with ferns hang from the ceiling and a large living tree occupies the dining room’s center.

The friendly staff served us an exceptional meal of scallops on Parmesan risotto and Arctic char with crispy shallots; the latter accompanied by Beluga lentils and local vegetables presented in a tiny brass pot. We capped off our final evening in Quebec with the chef’s dessert sampler consisting of miniature macaroons in all flavors, pairs of chocolate domes, mini chocolate ice cream sandwiches on sticks and small goblets of mousse with strawberries. OH, and the best mini chocolate chip cookies we had ever tasted.

There are so many great restaurants to try in Quebec City as well as cafés and bistros serving top-notch fare. My list is by no means exhaustive and was constricted only by the length of our visit and the size of my waistline.  For other great suggestions when planning your next trip go to tripadvisor.com.

Cover photo: www.quebecregion.com   For more information on Quebec City and its many festivals (in all seasons) including the upcoming Winter Festival in February,  click here

 

 

Every City Has Its Limits: The Story of D.C.’s Boundary Stones

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Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia, site of the first boundary marker

If you’re traveling to Washington, D.C., it’s good to know that the oldest federal monuments are not located on the National Mall, but rather at one-mile increments along a 10-mile square beginning at Jones Point, Virginia. Laid in 1791 and 1792, they are simple in form, but of great historical significance. They are the 36 surviving boundary markers of the original District of Columbia and the oldest federally placed monuments in the United States.

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