Category Archives: Cultural Sites

A hundred days of silence

Medieval grotesques, Basilica Saint Nazarius & Celsus, Carcassonne, France. They no longer frighten me into silence.

Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry.  Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.

But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.

Old & new in the Principality of Andorra

Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron.  (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)

on Paros Island, Greece

Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.

French House Party, Carcassonne – a loyal sponsor for 3 trips.

That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.

One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.

Walls of the 9th century Mezquita mosque, Cordoba

By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.

From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.

Basilica Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki ­­­– including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.

Mt. Athos as seen from Sithonia, Halkidiki, Greece

Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.

raw oysters, quail egg, sea urchin & golden caviar in Puerto Vallarta

By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.

After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.

sunset over the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

 

 

 

.

Save

The best Greek shrimp recipe ever

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp

The three peninsulas of Halkidiki – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos ­– are the summer playgrounds of Macedonia. Blessed with numerous and secluded beaches, surrounded by the clear blue Aegean sea with pine forested mountains of wild flowers, olive trees and vineyards, it’s no wonder Halkidiki has been favored by Greeks since antiquity. Only a couple hours drive from the nation’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, and within a day’s drive from the Balkans, its many resort hotels especially draw a plethora of Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians seeking sun, sand, hospitality and Greek cuisine.

The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
The Halkidiki penninsula Athos – Mount Athos
Ouranoupolis
Ouranoupolis

The Alexandros Palace is located just outside Ouranoupolis, one of many towns built in the 1920s as a result of the traumatic exchange of Greek and Turkish populations that took place after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the merger of Macedonia into Greece. Once the site of an ancient village – its 14th century tower fortress is a landmark – and still the gateway to 7,000 ft. Mt. Athos, today Ouranoupolis is a tourist and fisherman’s town.

pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel
pool: Alexandros Palace Hotel

The Alexandros Palace Hotel, within site of the autonomous and sacred Monastic State of Mt. Athos, is a self-contained 250-room resort village rising from its wide beach up the hill and spreading over 90 acres. Like most of Halkidiki’s resorts an all-inclusive meal plan includes extensive buffets for breakfast and dinner and offers something for everyone from meat lovers to the devoutly vegan. Yet true Greek cuisine shines in Halkidiki hotels a la carte restaurants for those not desiring a buffet.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Chef Giorgos Kosmidis
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace
Fresh fish/seafood at Alexandros Palace

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis commands the poolside Taverna at the Alexandros Palace Hotel. Having enjoyed several meals over two separate trips, it has taken this chef journalist a year to convince chef Giorgos to part with his intensely flavored yet simple shrimp creation. The Aegean is a seafood lover’s supermarket and the shrimp may well have been caught that very day off the coast of Ouranoupolis.

Chef Giorgos Kosmidis Halkidiki shrimp – four servings

Ingredients:

clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
clockwise from far left: unpeeled shrimp, strained shrimp stock, Greek oregano, ingredients for stock
  • 1 pound large shrimp (reserve shells for the stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano – preferably Greek oregano
  • 2 tablespoons sweet butter
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Preparation:

Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
Clockwise from top left: ingredients for sauce in pot, cooked sauce, sauteed shrimp, prepared Halkidiki shrimp
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and reserve the shrimp in the refrigerator while making the stock.
  2. Place the shells in a quart size saucepan and add the bay leaves, nutmeg, oregano and a little salt and white pepper. Add cold water just to the level of the shells. Place the saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1/4th of a cup (2 ounces). Strain and discard the shells reserving the reduced shrimp stock.
  3. Melt the butter in a sauté pan and cook the shrimp for one minute turning once.
  4. Add the wine to the shrimp, bring to a simmer and cook for one minute.
  5. With a slotted spoon remove the shrimp from the wine and keep warm.
  6. To the wine add the 1/4th cup shrimp stock, parsley and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
  7. Add the heavy cream, cayenne pepper and sweet paprika. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
  8. Add the reserved shrimp and warm for one minute.
  9. Divide among four plates and serve with crusty bread used to absorb the sauce and a dry Greek white wine such as Mt. Athos ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΠΑΥΛΟΥ (Holy Monastery of St. Paul), Monoxilitiko, a blend of 90% sauvignon blanc with local varieties. It had a nose of honey and sage followed by summer floral notes with a surprisingly dry finish.

While at the Alexandros Palace Hotel, don’t pass up the luxurious Panalee Spa and the new specialty shop ­selling Mt. Athos wines, skin care products and local foods. In the evening, the spacious Theater Bar with its lower level dance floor and stage might as well be the town square of this village resort. Twin brothers Thomas and Janis Aslanidis, the musically talented and genial young heirs to the Alexandros Palace Hotel, might just be tending bar and don’t be surprised either if managers Yiannis Misopapas and Kyriakos Mandouvalos are mingling among the guests. After all this is Greece with hospitality and cuisine as legendary as its mythology.

When you go:

Ouranoupolis is an easy 2 – 3 hour drive (busier on weekends) on modern roads from Thessaloniki International Airport.

Alexandros Palace Hotel, Ouranoupolis, 63075, Halkidiki, Greece. (Athos) Tel + 30 23770 31402 / 31424 Fax: +30 23770 31100

Email: info@alexandroshotel-halkidiki.com 2017 season runs April through mid-October.

Disclosure: the author was a guest of the Alexandros Palace Hotel and the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel
the beach at Alexandros Palace Hotel

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

Save

Save

Save

Before I die: expressing aspirations in Saint Petersburg, Florida

Before I Die

I dislike the term bucket list. I especially dislike it when it’s attached to travel. Adventure and exploration should be the impetus for travel, not checking off a predetermined list of must-see destinations.

Yet when it comes to life, reflecting on one’s innermost aspirations is healthy. How often do we express, especially to ourselves, “No, I can’t do that.” I’m not capable, talented, have no time, I’m afraid.

live

That’s the thought behind Saint Petersburg’s “Before I die…” wall located at 1049 Central Avenue in the heart of the Grand Central Arts District. A safe place to publicly express our aspirations shares a street bustling with cafes, art galleries and murals created by some of the city’s most talented artists.

 

figure this life out
figure this life out
sing
sing
get a passport and use it
get a passport and use it

A plastic bag of large colored chalk is available for all to use. The Before I die wall project started in New Orleans several years ago and has grown in popularity. I found it challenging, which sounds odd for a professional writer.

I also found reading the wall profoundly moving. I didn’t want to leave. I felt inspired and humbled by the aspirations of others in a way no bucket list blog ever achieved.

be the person my children aspire to be
be the person my children aspire to be

Saint Petersburg has been undergoing a major revival ever since the late 1990s despite the 2007 recession. Sprawling neighborhoods that radiated from a once decaying downtown were inconsequential to the trend towards the urban renewal of the 1960s-1980s, which often resulted in the destruction of low-rise residential and commercial streets. In the past decade a steady influx of young professionals with families, artists and entrepreneurs have found a treasure trove of Craftsman and art deco housing and sturdy commercial structures.

img_9499

img_3415

In an enviable partnership between business owners and artists – some who got their start defacing decaying buildings with graffiti – vast walls have been transformed into stunning murals.

dusk0265

iavg3375

The nearly 50 murals decorate walls in Saint Petersburg’s seven arts districts. And they’re not defaced. Provide a neighborhood with beauty and it will be respected.

make friends rich

Perhaps the greatest of human aspirations, when given a chance, is simply to be good.

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate Argentina

Original World Insights

 

Save

Save

Save

Thessaloniki at the crossroads of Greece

Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki
Greek students at the Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki

As Thessaloniki has been at the crossroads of Greek history for 2,500 years then by all means walk the city. It’s not a small city but easy for anyone who enjoys a good low-impact hike. When that stroll includes stops at world-class historic sites, vibrant centuries old markets and unique cafes, the discoveries that are in store can be amazing.

What to visit:

triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius
triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius

Roman archeological sites: the 4th century triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius still has a direct road connecting his palace to the Rotunda. For over 2,000 years the Rotunda served as a Greek/Roman temple, Christian church, mosque and now an Orthodox Church treasure.

 

Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki
Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki

The Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki houses a wealth of culture that both Macedonia and the city fostered from pre-historic times to the golden age of Alexander.

 

 

Heptapyrgion
Heptapyrgion

Towering above downtown Thessaloniki up the foothills of Mount Chortiatis where the ancient acropolis was located, the massive fortress of the Heptapyrgion guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and Ottomans in the 15th.

Monastery of Vlatadon
Monastery of Vlatadon

Down the hill the Monastery of Vlatadon in Ano Poli was built on a site already sacred where St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians in the year 51.

 

 

Ladadika
Ladadika

Until its near destruction in the great fire of 1917 the historic Ladadika district was the heart of Thessaloniki’s commercial activity and Jewish heritage. What survived both the fire and Nazi extermination is the heart of tradition and the city’s elegant beaux-arts pre-World War II rebuilding. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood of cafes and shops. Centuries old market arcades, the Modeano and Bezesteni in particular, still ply traditional goods such as textiles, flowers and jewelry.

Bey Hamam
Bey Hamam

Cafes surround the 15th century Bey Hamam, a preserved Ottoman public bathhouse.

 

 

 

 

The White Tower
The White Tower

The White Tower, built by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century on Roman and Byzantine foundations, is a popular icon and focal point of the new seaside promenade.

 

 

Restaurants:

Ouzou Melathron
Ouzou Melathron

Ouzou Melathron is classically Greek as well as trendy Ladadika.

 

 

 

 

Agioli Restaurant
Agioli Restaurant

Agioli Restaurant serves fusion Greek on Thessaloniki’s seaside promenade.

 

 

 

Oval Cafe
Oval Cafe

Oval Café is surrounded by the city’s Parisian style architectural splendor.

 

 

 

Hotels:

Mediterranean Palace Hotel
Mediterranean Palace Hotel

Mediterranean Palace Hotel, traditional elegance in the Ladadika on the waterfront.

 

 

 

kosher honey, almonds & grilled fish, Astoria Hotel
kosher honey, almonds & grilled fish, Astoria Hotel

Astoria Hotel, in the Ladadika, is modern and kosher.

Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki,
Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki,

 

 

 

 

Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki and Hotel Nikopolis   are elegant resorts near the airport with superb cuisine.

 

 

Hotel Nikopolis
Hotel Nikopolis

Day excursion:

Follow the Wine Roads of Northern Greece and visit Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.

Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.
Domaine Anesti Babatzimopoulou.

 

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of the Halkidiki Tourism Authority and the Thessaloniki Hotels  Association

Moon over Thessaloniki
Moon over Thessaloniki

 

For additional detailed articles on Thessaloniki by Marc d’Entremont please see:

Thessaloniki’s layers of civilization
Following threads in Thessaloniki

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

Save

Save

Save

Save

Ca’ d’Zan: an impresario’s palace

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

John Ringling was the greatest impresario of his day. He created the iconic circus venue of 20th century legends,  and he knew how to make money.

(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John's sterling silver office phone at Ca' d'Zan
(left) grand hall with original Waldorf Astoria Hotel crystal chandelier, John as cover story in a mid-1920s Time magazine, John’s sterling silver office phone at Ca’ d’Zan

Commenting on a huge portrait of Ringling in the grand hall of Ca’ d’Zan, the incisive social commentator of the 1920s, Will Rogers, said it was the first time he saw John’s hand in his own pocket…

(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room
(left clockwise) dining room, built in electric refrigerator, painted ceiling in the grand hall and pillars in the game room

The love of his life, Mabel, was also a savvy art lover especially of the popular Italian Venetian Renaissance era. With unlimited funds, John and Mabel prodigiously purchased great master artist of the era , furniture and a queen’s entire opera house. They employed top artist to paint original works of art throughout Ca’ d’Zan on ceilings, inside bathroom cabinet doors, on pillars – every square inch of this Venetian palace is art.

interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art
interior of every bathroom cabinet was painted with original art

Ca’ d’Zan was Mabel’s project. It was meant from the outset to be a showplace, just like her husband’s circus. At a cost of $1,500.000 ($20,000,000 in 21st century dollars) the mid 1920s Venetian palace on the shore of Sarasota Bay is a palace.

Ca' d'Zan
Ca’ d’Zan

Although Mabel died nearly a decade before John, he respected her wishes donating Ca’ d’Zan  and its priceless art collection in his will to the state of Florida. Florida State University maintains the mansion, its art museum and the opera house as an integral component of its Sarasota campus.

Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d'Zan
Final resting place of Mabel, John and his sister at Ca d’Zan
original Volcun gas stove in Ca' d'Zan kitchen
original Volcun gas stove in Ca’ d’Zan kitchen
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca' d'Zan
Sarasota Bay from the roof top terrace of Ca’ d’Zan

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

Save

Waiting to Invent: Thomas Edison in Florida

This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled "Waiting for another invention" – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida
This photo at Seminole Lodge is titled “Waiting for another invention” – T. Edison (on ground), H. Firestone (left) & Pres. W. G. Harding 1921 in Florida

Much is written in the media today concerning the inability to disconnect while on vacation – professionals glued to email and cell phones around the pool. Yet that’s hardly unique to the 21st century. In 1885 when Thomas Edison purchased 14 acres along the Caloosahatchee River as a winter retreat in the remote southwestern Florida farming hamlet of Fort Myers he had no intention of turning his mind off.

The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
The guest house of Seminole Lodge, Fort Myers, FL
Edison's office in the Moonlight Garden
Edison’s office in the Moonlight Garden

Although Thomas (1847-1931) Mina (1865-1947) and their children spent most winters at their Seminole Lodge estate, his office provides ample evidence he was still connected by correspondence to his invention laboratory at Menlo Park, NJ. Along with good friends Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford the Edison Botanical Research Corporation was established and a laboratory constructed on the estate in the 1920s. The goal was to make America independent of foreign rubber.

Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge
Edison Botanical Research Corporation laboratory at Seminole Lodge

Edison dubbed Seminole Lodge his jungle. He and Mina surrounded their home with lush gardens. But first, they had to construct the houses.

Seminole Lodge
Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500' pier at Seminole Lodge
Entrance & pilings remain of the 1,500′ pier at Seminole Lodge

The railroad was not extended to Fort Myers until 1904, which meant convenient travel was by ship. A 1,500 foot pier was built as a landing for family, guests and the materials necessary for Seminole Lodge. Prefab houses were also not new to the 21st century. The lumber for the two identical mirror-image houses that are Seminole Lodge was fabricated in Maine, shipped to Fort Myers and assembled on site.

Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Seminole Lodge, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Dining room at Seminole Lodge
Dining room at Seminole Lodge

The adjacent second house was originally the winter home of business partner Ezra Gulliland, but was bought back by Edison after a serious split with Gulliland. The spacious, airy wood structures were connected with a pergola and the second house turned into combination guest quarters, dining room and kitchen for Seminole Lodge. Both houses were electrified, of course, with power from both generators and batteries – all the product of Edison’s fertile mind.

Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Henry Ford house, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL
Ford Model T, Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Ft. Myers, FL

Children of America’s great industrial age, Thomas and Mina were friends with other magnates of the day, especially Henry Ford. A frequent guest of the Edisons at Seminole Lodge, Ford purchased the beautiful yet modest Craftsman house in 1916 adjacent to Seminole Lodge. Although the Fords only used the home for two weeks each winter to celebrate Edison’s birthday, their friendship and business partnerships were life-long.

(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900
(clockwise left) motion picture projectors, water powered cylinder phonograph c.1890, early record players, electric industrial tractor c.1917, Edison Manufacturing Co. electric fan c. 1900

After Thomas Edison’s death at age 84 in 1931 Mina continued to winter at Seminole Lodge. Mina was Edison’s second wife having been widowed in the early 1880s when only in his 30s. The daughter of an inventor, university educated and an employee at the Menlo Park lab, Mina was as much an intellectual equal to her husband as a wife.

Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
Fountain of natural coral at Seminole Lodge
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent
At Seminole Lodge: the 1st private swimming pool built in S.W. Florida, 1911. The above ground pool constructed of Portland cement – Edison held the patent

Mina was active managing their households, the botanical gardens and the Edison business ventures. Edison was said to greatly appreciate Mina’s intellect and input in discussing his many theories for everything from the phonograph, electric batteries to motion picture cameras. In 1947 Mina deeded the estate to the City of Fort Myers on condition that it be preserved as a public memorial to her husband’s genius.

Edison's "jungle" at Seminole Lodge
Edison’s “jungle” at Seminole Lodge

Henry Ford sold his house in 1947, and it remained a private home until the city purchased it in 1988. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is operated and maintained as a non-profit offering a plethora of tours and activities including an extensive museum dedicated to the genius of these two men. A visit to Edison’s jungle is to step back to an age where great ideas were conjured in the mind rather than by an electronic device – although Thomas probably would have invented the computer if he’d had time.

Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge
Sunset over the Caloosahatchee River at Seminole Lodge

You can read part 2 on Seminole Lodge:  Edison’s Jungle in Fort Myers, Florida

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

Save

Save

Save

Save

Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory

Giant Helicopter Damselfly
Giant Helicopter Damselfly

Costa Rica is a landmass equal to 0.03% of the Earth, about 20,000 square miles – the size of Vermont – but accounts for 5%-6% of the globe’s biodiversity. Yet within the Monteverde Biological Reserve, a mere 55 square miles, exists half of that diversity. Among its residents are 700 bee species, 10% of the world’s butterflies – 24,000 species – 300 species of mammals, 12,000 plants including 500 orchids, 360,000 insects, 75,000 mushrooms, 1,100 species of ferns and 915 species of birds, including 91 from North America that live in the reserve only during mating season.

One of 54 species of hummingbirds
One of 54 species of hummingbirds

“It’s never happened before,” says Giuliano Salazar Gigli. That was a surprise statement. Giuliano is one of the Monteverde Biological Reserve top naturalist guides. His life has been committed to the preservation of over 35% of Costa Rica’s biosphere. “We’re using the water in a bad way. If we can collect it in the rainy season we can make it through the dry months.”

A flowering palm branch turned red to attract pollinating insects
A flowering palm branch turned red to attract pollinating insects

I’m eating breakfast at La Casona, the lodge in the Monteverde Biological Reserve,  gazing out at greenery so lush and thick I can barely see six feet into the Cloud Forest. Yet as Giuliano explains the amount of annual rainfall, 138 inches, remains the same. The change is in its pattern.

There are more dry days in the Cloud Forest than in the past – 96 in 2015. In the town of Monteverde, the eco-tourism center for this region of the Cloud Forest, there are water restrictions from noon to 3:00 p.m. Fortunately, Giuliano assures, that doesn’t affect hotels or restaurants since most have constructed their own water collecting systems.

Looking up to the Cloud Forest canopy
Looking up to the Cloud Forest canopy

Yet a cloud forest thrives on mist. In a rain forest the precipitation is heavier in that it tends to occur in steady downpours, but a cloud forest is dependent on heavy mist – like a fog – to be captured by the thousands of ferns and air plants that make up the canopy. The precipitation is nature’s drip irrigation system slowly watering plants. That slow drip captures seeds, eventually making their way to the forest floor for germination.

The structure of the Cloud Forest is a prime example of the symbiotic relationships among nature that preserve our Earth. The density of vegetation growing on top of each other is essential. On one soaring tree alone, the weight of all the plants living on that tree exceeded 200 tons and included 150 species of plants among them 70 species of orchards.

Giuliano stressed it’s a misconception to assume these plants smother the tree – with the exception of the strangler fig which eventually encases its host yet provides an architecture to support the diversity. Air plants are not parasites. They do not rob the host of nutrients; they simply use them as a structure. There’s only one parasitic plant in all the cloud forests – mistletoe.

Symbiotic plant growth in the Monteverde Biological Reserve , Costa Rica
Symbiotic plant growth in the Monteverde Biological Reserve , Costa Rica

Costa Rica preserves 35% of its landmass as either national parks or private reserves, more than any other nation on Earth. This natural beauty attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Yet it has become the world’s laboratory for studying the effects of global climate change. Currently Dr. J. Alan Pounds, resident biologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve, and the University of Georgia are conducting advanced computer studies on climate change within the Cloud Forests that will result in significant data.

One of 1,100 species of ferns in Monteverde Biological Reserve
One of 1,100 species of ferns in Monteverde Biological Reserve

“The winds are changing,” Giuliano explains. “It’s becoming windier – they clean the sky and dry it out. Deforestation in the coastal lowlands has altered wind patterns causing (higher velocity) winds that push clouds up and away from the mountain forest treetops.” This has diminished the gentle clouds that mist the Cloud Forest and affected the behavior of its wildlife.

Giuliano says there are possibly four jaguars living in the reserve – an extremely endangered and ultra shy species of cat. Yet in the past year the cats have killed 15 goats at night on farms – proof caught on film. This is unusual and indicates that the natural food supply in their habitat and the habitat’s size are diminishing, forcing the jaguars out of their usual secluded environment and closer to the source of people food.

That may be an extreme example but a more subtle effect can be found on the germination of the Cloud Forest avocado. Figs and avocados are essential food sources for forest mammals and birds. The avocado especially is dependent on the magnificent quetzal.

Female quetzal – possibly only 20 living in the Monteverde Biological Reserve
Female quetzal – possibly only 20 living in the Monteverde Biological Reserve

The feathers of the quetzal were prized by the ruling class of ancient Central American civilizations. Their plumes were harvested only from feathers that had naturally dropped onto the forest floor. Unfortunately European settlers after the 16th century conquest were not so patient, hunting the quetzal nearly into extinction while diminishing their natural environment.

Avocado seed, Monteverde Biological Reserve
Avocado seed, Monteverde Biological Reserve

It’s estimated there are only 300 quetzals in Costa Rica out of 900 total in Central America with perhaps 20 living in the Monteverde Biological Reserve. The quetzal enjoys avocados, but more important to the ecosystem, they enjoy their small seeds. For the avocado seed to germinate it must be swallowed by the quetzal and deposited through their digestive system on the ground – nature’s symbiotic relationship.

The over 90,000 annual visitors to the Monteverde Biological Reserve walk pristine trails on the 3% of the reserve open to the public. They experience a prime example of what can go right in the world when concerned citizenry, a committed government and the resources of the international scientific community work in harmony.

For me listening to Giuliano identify dozens of unseen birds by their sounds, getting a glimpse of the rare quetzal, explaining the cooperative layers of vegetation down to beautiful blankets of white mushrooms digesting fallen fauna that revert back into life giving soil was the experience of what the world can be in the absence of human conflict with nature.

Giuliano Salazar Gigli (left) & Mauricio Aymerich (right) director Small Distinctive Hotels
Giuliano Salazar Gigli (left) & Mauricio Aymerich (right) director Small Distinctive Hotels

When you go: The town of Monteverde attracts over 250,000 annual visitors and is a center for ecological and adventure tourism. Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and is within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose and 3 hours to Monteverde.

Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many tourist van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.

Where to stay: There are of number of accommodations from luxury hotels to hostels in Monteverde. I highly recommend:

Hotel Belmar (main building), Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hotel Belmar (main building), Monteverde, Costa Rica

The Hotel Belmar, a member of Costa Rica’s Small Distinctive Hotels, is an ecological and culinary tour de force.

La Casona inside the Monteverde Biological Reserve
La Casona inside the Monteverde Biological Reserve

La Casona inside the Monteverde Biological Reserve is an attractive bed & breakfast lodge with both private rooms and hostel bunk bed accommodations.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Hotel Belmar, Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje. Special thanks to my guide throughout my stay in Costa Rica Mauricio Aymerich, director Small Distinctive Hotels, and Giuliano Salazar Gigli for his excellent tour of the Monteverde Biological Reserve. Transportation within Costa Rica was provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Gulf of Nicoya from the Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Gulf of Nicoya from the Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
It begins with scented hand towels
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
You can read additional articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

Save

Save

Save

“Sleepwalker” on the High Line

"Sleepwalker" ( (Tony Matelli 2014)
“Sleepwalker” ( (Tony Matelli 2014)

“Sleepwalker” (Tony Matalli 2014) is one of numerous art installations on the innovative New York High Line park. My love affair with the High Line goes back to its opening in 2009.

High Line, NYC
High Line, NYC

Now at its full one and a half mile length, the multi dimensional brainchild of designer Diane Von Furstenberg has set a new standard for urban reuse. Anchored by the famed Whitney Museum on the north end and the vibrant Chelsea Market to the south, the thin strip of re-purposed elevated train trestle that is the High Line teems with gardens, art and people relaxing.

 

 

High Line entrance at Gansevoort and Washington Street (Whitney Museum)
High Line entrance at Gansevoort and Washington Street (Whitney Museum)

Although its success has drawn condo and commercial developers, at least many of the new buildings show hints of imagination. As a destination in its own right, the High Line deserves its success.

One of several High Line sitting areas to observe life in lower Manhattan
One of several High Line sitting areas to observe life in lower Manhattan
High Line, NYC
High Line, NYC
West Village from the High Line, NYC
West Village from the High Line, NYC

 

garden in original rail tracks of the High Line
garden in original rail tracks of the High Line
The Swan, High Line, NYC (Matt Johnson 2016)
The Swan, High Line, NYC (Matt Johnson 2016)

Now take a risk??

"Nude Sunbathers," Kathryn Andrews 2016 (note: soft mist of cool water comes out from jets on the wall)
“Nude Sunbathers,” Kathryn Andrews 2016 (note: soft mist of cool water comes out from jets on the wall)

 

You can read all my articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

Culinary Travel Examiner

 International Dining Examiner

International Travel Examiner

Philadelphia Fine Dining Examiner

Food & Recipes Examiner

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

It begins with scented hand towels

La Paz Waterfall Gardens at Peace Lodge
La Paz Waterfall Gardens at Peace Lodge

It begins with refreshing, moist hand towels scented with lemon grass and glasses of chilled passion fruit juice upon entering the lobby. A visitor becomes a connoisseur of this refreshing amusebouche that teases and soothes the senses. Scented hand towels and exotic juice blends transition the visitor from the tropical humidity of Costa Rica’s lush countryside to an enclave of tranquility that is a Small Distinctive Hotel.

Nine boutique hotels, each averaging fewer than 50 rooms, are members of the Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica. Each is privately owned, several in the second generation, unique in architecture and setting, luxurious with fine dinning and backstories as distinctive as the properties. The amusebouche – the tease – is that all this comfort helps others; each property visited touched the human side in unexpected ways.

Hotel Belmar – the burden of a name

Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Hotel Belmar, Monteverde, Costa Rica

Craft cocktails are not usually associated with the world famous natural wonders of the Montverde cloud forests of Costa Rica. Quakers, cows, hostels and hikers come to mind first. But when you’re Pedro Belmar, second-generation general manager of a famous family mountain retreat, continued success requires thinking out of the box. Or in this case nothing boxed.

In the Belmar’s La Chispa cocktail the refreshing, earthy aromas of the rain forests are recreated.

  • premium Sloane’s Gin
  • black tea syrup made from the hotel’s organic garden
  • cedar pine needle smoke
  • fresh lime

Crushed ice quickly wets a cocktail glass, as local dry cedar pine needles are lite with a torch. Quickly the glass is inverted over the flame – should extinguish immediately – and rest on the needles capturing the smoke. The cocktail is mixed. Upright the glass and pour into the captured smoke.

bar ingredients from Hotel Belmar organic garden
bar ingredients from Hotel Belmar organic garden

Sipping a smoky cedar scented La Chispa ensconced in the all-cedar Hotel Belmar overlooking forests tumbling down to the Gulf of Nicoya is all a tease – a visual amuse-bouche. It’s the forerunner that everything good for the guest at a Small Distinctive Hotel should be good and sustainable for 21st century Costa Rica. It should be at your fingertips. “We’re growing smaller,” Pedro  Belmar said with a faint smile, expressing a vision for the new look of success.

Hotel Grano de Oro and the House of Light

A private guest room garden Hotel Grano de Oro
A private guest room garden Hotel Grano de Oro

A blend of old, restoration and cutting edge, Hotel and Restaurant Grano de Oro is firmly established as San Jose’s premiere property. Yet it’s very design from the restoration of a classic Victorian colonial early 20th century mansion was to maintain the hospitality extended to houseguests in a spacious urban home. With understated elegance and graceful service, the exquisite cuisine of Executive Chef Francis Canal Bardot, has set the standard for three meals a day for a quarter century at Grano de Oro and San Jose. Hidden gardens, art and the soothing sound of water fountains follow even into the rooms. A quiet private garden patio with fountain in room six was an opportunity to discover Casa Luz.

Nearly 20 years ago Grano de Oro founders Eldon and Lori Cooke were instrumental in creating the Asociacion Reaccion en Cadena por Nuestra Ninez and opened Casa Luz (“House of Light”) in San Jose. Casa Luz provides multi-year residential programs for abused teenage mothers and their children and a safe home. The program includes all necessary monetary, emotional and psychological support victims’ need. Just ask and the front desk will be pleased to discuss this significant humanitarian project while you enjoy the elegance of Hotel Grano del Oro  knowing a portion of profits help support a house of light.

Peace Lodge – inside the Cloud Forest

Peace LodgeOf course there’s a tropical garden with stone waterfall shower in the skylight ceilinged bath of the guest suite at Peach Lodge. After all it’s nestled within La Paz Waterfall Gardens. In 18 large individually decorated suites, guests luxuriate in river stone hot tubs on plant-bedecked balconies and within private courtyards. Rooms with massive wood honed beds and river stone gas fireplaces open onto views of waterfalls and meandering free-formed trout ponds all designed to make you resign the tensions of the day – the trout may appear on the menu as a real amuse-bouche.

Peace Lodge is an integral component of the privately owned La Paz Waterfall Garden, both the visions of Florida entrepreneur Lee Banks, which protects a plethora of local fauna and animals in this area of the forests and encompasses five stunning waterfalls. Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens are on-going eco-tourism success stories with exciting culinary news forthcoming.

Cuna del Angel – discretely guarding your health

Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel
Gluten free bread at Hotel Cuna del Angel

It all starts with the bread. It’s gluten free. It tastes good. It’s whole grain bread with quality organic ingredients prepared by someone who understands proper techniques as in all good cooking and baking.

At Hotel Cuna del Angel, besides practicality due to a family member’s celiac disease, Tom York has every reason to prefer that his restaurant serve only organically grown and produced foods 100% gluten, GMO, and hormone free. Tom has been a devotee of healthy living spanning a decades long career. Many ingredients come from Tom’s own farm, and much of everything else is locally sourced.

Yet the tease is that a guest would never know their health is being guarded unless the menu is read in detail. Dishes from the classic continental repertoire such as flambé mango on vanilla sorbet and fresh snook with a creamy basil sauce are all components of a classic up-scale menu nutritionally balanced. The soft ambient lighting in the open walled palapa dining room overlooking the jungle and Pacific Ocean certainly are digestives in themselves. That’s just one part, as readers will discover in upcoming articles, Tom plays in helping to preserve this cradle of the Angel.

infinity pool at Villa Caletas
infinity pool at Villa Caletas

Villa Caletas – gazing into infinity

Denis Roy emigrated from France with a dream somewhere in his head that materialized into creating a fantasy in Costa Rica. On over 700 acres of improbable, undeveloped coastal and mountain wilderness, using building methods that hearkened back to the days of the pyramids, the multi building hotel, restaurants and spa complex of Villa Caletas and the Zephyr Palace emerged over a decade. A fusion of river stone castle and tropical Victorian, the 50 rooms range from stunning to awe inspiring.

Sunset at Hotel Villa Caletas
Sunset at Hotel Villa Caletas

Sunsets from the amphitheater are legendary, and views encompass forested hills and the Gulf of Nicoya from many angles. Yet those beautiful hills required total reforestation just a decade ago due to overgrazing. The lush peaks of today were barren, rocky and eroding into the clear Pacific below. Ecological restoration is ongoing and Villa Caletas spearheads major reforestation projects in the region.

That’s why the many infinity pools dotting the complex become a metaphor for the group of Small Distinctive Hotels owners, managers and chefs this journalist interviewed during an eight-day tour. They were all rooted in reality, but liked to tease. My upcoming articles will let you in on some amuse-bouche recipes – the visions they see gazing into infinity.

When you go: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is served by many airlines worldwide and within an easy 20 minute drive of downtown San Jose. Getting around: Costa Rica has an extensive inter city bus system and many toursit van options. The easiest transportation is renting a car. Costa Rica’s road system is generally in good condition.

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Small Distinctive Hotels, ENroute Communications and Revista Ander de Viaje.

Transportation within Costa Rica provided by Toyota Rent a Car of San Jose. A Rav4 made Costa Rica’s mountain roads, especially the few unpaved, safe and comfortable.

Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose
Chef Francis Canal Bardot cream of pejibaye soup, hotel and restaurant Grano de Oro, San Jose

 

Additional articles on Costa Rica by Marc d’Entremont:
Cuna del Angel is discretely gluten-free in Costa Rica
Monteverde Biological Reserve is a climate change laboratory
Costa Rica and the vision of Pedro Belmar
Cream of Pejibaye: a Costa Rican national dish
Hotel Grano de Oro: ethics and luxury in Costa Rica
Villa Caletas: luxury with a conscience in Costa Rica
Exquisite Pacific Bisque at the El Faro Hotel, Costa Rica
Peace, waterfalls and trout in Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest

 

You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A glimpse at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Muhammad, Elder of his Bedouin family in Wadi Fayan, Jordan
Muhammad, Elder of his Bedouin family in Wadi Fayan, Jordan

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan may be less than a century old, but like many Bedouins, the Hashemite family share histories stretching back to biblical times.

The Wadi Rum, Jordan
The Wadi Rum, Jordan

For millenniums the river valleys, highlands and  vast deserts of the Cradle of Civilization were the epicenter of the legendary, lucrative and infamous caravan trade linking Asia with the Mediterranean world. In an age before GPS pictographs were road signs directing caravans that could include up to 700 treasure laden camels.

Travel guide Mohammad Qamhiya explaining pictographs in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Travel guide Mohammad Qamhiya explaining pictographs in Wadi Rum, Jordan
Canyon (Siq) entrance to Petra
Canyon (Siq) entrance to Petra

One enterprising tribe, the Nabataeans, carved the city of Petra (300s B.C.E. – 800s A.C.E.) into sandstone cliffs and created the wealthiest financial center in the ancient world. With only one public entrance at the end of a lengthy, towering, narrow,  canyon road, the Nabataeans made Petra immortal.

Al Khaznch, popularly known as the Treasury, Petra
Al Khaznch, popularly known as the Treasury, Petra

 

 

 

Ready for ? & fuses with the ancients

 

 

 

part of the Oval Colonnade, Jerash, Jordan
part of the Oval Colonnade, Jerash, Jordan

Coupled with its commercially strategic position,  the Jordan region had been fused, either through mutual interest, religion or conquest, with the great powers of the day from Greece to the Ottomans. The Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, founded by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.E.) and continuing as a major city within the Roman Empire,  is one of Jordan’s archeological gems.  Heavily damaged by earthquakes in 749 A.C.E., the city continued, and the remarkably preserved site is surrounded today by Jordan’s modern city of Jerash.

 

 

Triumphal Arch of Hadrian, Jerash, Jordan
Triumphal Arch of Hadrian, Jerash, Jordan
Site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth, Jordan River: (left bank) the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (right bank) Israel
Site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth, Jordan River: (left bank) the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, (right bank) Israel

The Jordan River of biblical fame still defines a land that has stirred great passions in human history from Moses to today’s conflict concerning the West Bank. People that share an ageless  history are divided by a thin, slow moving stream of brown water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Present day Christian baptisms, right bank Jordan River (Israel).The site at which John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth is shared by Jordan and Israel but divided in half.
Present day Christian baptisms, right bank Jordan River (Israel).

Jordan’s storied history has created a legendary cuisine with variations of many dishes it shares with Spice Route neighbors. From breakfast to late night dinner a bounty of mezze (small plates) to aromatic wood grilled lamb and Bedouin ash bread baked in hot sand will be but a few of the dishes in a culinary repertoire as vast as the Kingdom’s deserts.

a mezze "buffet" at Sufra Restaurant, Amman, Jordan
a mezze “buffet” at Sufra Restaurant, Amman, Jordan
fishing in the Red Sea, Aqaba, Jordan
fishing in the Red Sea, Aqaba, Jordan

For the modern traveler there has never been a better time to enjoy hospitality as stunning as Jordan’s natural beauty. Despite surrounding turmoil, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan enjoys peace  within its borders and goes to great length to ensure security for its citizens and visitors. Tolerant and democratic Jordan allows the 21st century  traveler a rare glimpse at the entire history of the Cradle of Civilization from iconic archeological sites, ageless Bedouin lifestyles, the roots of modern cuisine, phenomenons of nature, accommodations from Bedouin tents to the heights of luxury and even newborn  baby camels.

Mother & newborn camels, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Mother & newborn camels, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Captain Desert Private Wadi Rum Camp, Jordan
Captain Desert Private Wadi Rum Camp, Jordan
 Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan
Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan
enjoying a hooka, Aqaba, Jordan
enjoying a hooka, Aqaba, Jordan
Discover Jordan for yourself.
Dead Sea sunset from the Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Jordan
Dead Sea sunset from the Kempinski Ishtar Hotel, Jordan

Follow Travel with Pen and Palate’s articles on Jordan:

The historic beauty of Jordan

Four serene destinations in timeless Jordan

Not all Jordan almonds are Jordan Almonds

Petra and pizza fuses Jordan with the ancients

 

(disclaimer: author was a guest of Jordan Tourism Board North America )

You can read all my travel and food articles and subscribe to my Examiner columns at:

Hellenic News of America

Original World Insights

 

Save

Save

Save

Save