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January 2013 Archives

January 31, 2013

Scenes Along California Coastal Route Highway 1

By Joseph Zahnle
PHOTO 1: The Seaport Village in San Diego is a very scenic area for dining and shopping. Take a long walk or hire a pedi-cab. There is also fishing from the pier and live music to enjoy.












PHOTO 2: Morro Rock in Morro Bay is the last in a line of nine extinct volcanos that stretches from Morro Bay to San Luis Obispo. It is 576 feet tall and is also called “The Gibraltar of the Pacific.”













PHOTO 3: The Piedras Blancas rookery is seven miles north of San Simeon. Northern elephant seals come here to rest and cover themselves with sand. Here, they take up the whole cove along with some seagulls.













PHOTO 4: Pigeon Point Lighthouse was built in 1871 in Pescadero. At 115 feet tall -- one of the tallest lighthouses in California -- it is a well-known landmark for northbound ships heading to San Francisco.








PHOTO 5: The Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937. Its overall length is 9,266 feet. The main span across the strait is 4,200 feet, making it the ninth longest span in the world. It is also one of the most recognized skylines in the world.













PHOTO 6: The Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree is located in the Humboldt Redwoods in Leggett. It is 315 feet tall with a 21-foot diameter. This tree is a must see!

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Is “Off Season” Vacationing for You?

By Mike Hopkins
ITWPA Member

When is the “off season” in Central America? Well, for most places it starts around May and runs through October, which is also the rainy season. Now don’t get all wrapped up in the phrase “rainy season,” because it doesn’t equate to every day being a total washout. Actually the months of May and June as well as September and October are considered the “shoulder season,” with the weather being good most of the time. Yes, there will be some periods during the shoulder and rainy seasons when it will rain all day, but for the most part, it’s only a few showers.

So, is the off season the right season to travel for you? If you like to be in the mix with crowds of other people, wait in extended lines, or maybe even not be able to make a reservation at a highly recommended restaurant, the answer is probably no. However, if you want to enjoy quiet walks down uninhabited beaches, be one of the few riding the cable car to the mountain top, or look at the local sites with a personal tour guide, the off season might be right for you.
I recently returned from an off season trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and La Libertad, El Salvador, where, while it was cloudy and had scattered showers for a couple of days, I didn’t have to cancel anything. I saw historic churches and museums, walked uninhabited beaches, had hotel pools all to myself, and enjoyed great meals without having to wait. In the churches and museums of Honduras, personal tour guides could be found because there were no large groups and the staff were anxious to share their heritage. On the beaches of El Salvador, there were no surfing crowds or loud parties, just plenty of sunshine, warm ocean breezes, and peaceful strolling.

In Honduras and El Salvador the hotel occupancy was so low the staff outnumbered the guests, so I was almost always “first in line.” Whether I was ready for a meal in the restaurant or on the beach, a poolside drink, a taxi, or just information, my requests were taken care of immediately.

The lack of crowds and abundance of helpful locals were not only evident at the attractions, hotels, and restaurants, but in the airports as well. In both Honduras and El Salvador, the process of clearing Immigrations and Customs was by far the fastest and easiest that I have personally experienced. In both airports, from the time I got off the plane to the time I was outside the terminal was about thirty minutes. Now, granted, I travel light and only had a carry-on, but the checked luggage from our flight was already arriving in the terminal when I started the Customs clearing processing.

So if you want to be treated like a king or queen, explore on your terms, or just lounge around for days on end, taking a vacation during the off season is for you. However, if you like being treated like just another face in the crowd, don’t mind waiting on latecomers in a tour group, or don’t want a quiet moment to plan or reflect, then the off season probably is not for you.  

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No Fangs Transylvania

By Anthony Lo Gelfo

Romania’s biggest region, Transylvania, could be famous for several things: the fantastic hidden mountain villages set amongst the dramatic Carpathians, the beautifully picturesque German towns, or the myriad of ancient ruins left behind by the Romans and Dacians. However, the first thing that pops into anyone’s head when you mention Transylvania is Bram Stoker’s fictional beast of a count, Dracula. That’s all well and good, but what if you want to visit the area without so much as a sniff of the devilish nobleman?

It can be done.

I was based in the university town of Alba Iulia a few hundred kilometers south of Cluj, Transylvania’s capital. The old town is situated completely within an 18th century fortress in the shape of a star, and the walk around the walls offers some fantastic scenery and gardens to admire -- or, alternatively, many nice little places to stop off for a rest and a cup of coffee or a glass of the sublime local fresh lemonade. One such highly recommended place is a medieval restaurant called Pub 13, which serves plenty of excellent traditional Transylvanian fare and is set within the walls of the citadel, giving the diner an authentic medieval eating experience. The Medieval Salad here comes highly recommended, and don’t be too shy to try the Mamaliga (local polenta) or the other local specialties on the menu.
It was in Alba Iulia that the unification of Romania and Transylvania was signed on December 1, 1918, and the hall where the decree was signed is now The Museum of Unification, and well worth a visit, housing somewhere in the region of 150,000 pieces. History buffs will also enjoy the Bathyaneum Library, near the university, which holds some of the world’s oldest texts; however, visits here are very rare and special permissions are needed to see the oldest of the works.

Not far from Alba Iulia is the now famous (in Romania, at least) gold mining community of Rosia Montana. The mining activity here came to a halt in 2006. However, now a Canadian mining company wishes to start it up again using cyanide-based methods. This has caused great outrage amongst the Transylvanians and indeed the rest of Romania. Graffiti’d protests of “Salvati Rosia Montana” (“Save Rosia Montana”) can be seen far and wide in Transylvania and I even spotted some in the country’s capital, Bucharest. If you can make the trip, the area is worth a visit, with a guided tour of the gold mine (only possible for the non-claustrophobic of you, as you can see from the photo of the tunnel) and a small museum to check out. Being a mountain there are also some glorious views of Transylvania all around you.

Somewhere to the east, just 15 kilometers or so from Brasov, lies Rasnov Citadel. The fortress there today was built early in the 13th century; however, remains of earlier fortifications and earthworks have been excavated at the site. In its long history the citadel has resisted several invasions including those of the Ottoman Empire. Today the fortress is more accepting to foreign invaders and has opened its gates as a museum, a site of re-enactments, and a marketplace for several of the many local crafts and arts, such as jam making and wood carving.

The final stop on my tour of Transylvania took me to Sibiu, known as Hermannstadt (German town) in German. It was named the 2007 European capital of culture, and when you go there you’ll instantly understand why. It is one of the prettiest cities that I have ever visited, with row after row of symmetrical and wonderfully colored buildings outlining the town center’s many squares and cobblestoned lanes. In fact, Forbes ranked Sibiu Europe’s eighth most idyllic place to live. The large central “Grand Square” in the Upper Town is a great meeting place, and a playground for children who run laughing through the randomly timed fountains. Sibiu is also the site of many summer festivals, including Romania’s oldest jazz festival, the Rockin’ Transylvania festival, Transylvania Calling, and the Artmania festival, to name just a few of the largest.
During the day you can waltz to the top of the clock tower near the Grand Square and the Liars Bridge for some stunning views of the city and surrounding areas, or check out one of the many museums, like the ASTRA open air living museum of ethnography just to the south or the steam railway museum by the central train station. In the evening a drop of wine and some local food in one of the restaurants looking out onto the city’s squares is highly recommended. (Unfortunately I didn’t manage to pluck up the courage to try the pork brain escalope. Maybe next time.)

So if you’re thinking of visiting Transylvania but don’t want to spend the whole time under Dracula’s cape, remember there’s plenty more to do and see that doesn’t feel solely like a great big tourist trap. While I would still recommend visiting the famous Dracula spots (Peles and Bran castles), don’t feel like there’s little much else to Transylvania -- because you’ll be missing out on a lot.  

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Carmel Valley’s Best Kept Secret Brings the Past to the Present

By Connie Werner Reichert
ITWPA Member

Nestled across 400 rolling acres of ranch land in the Carmel Valley is what is known as the valley’s best kept secret: Holman Ranch. It’s steeped in history, but with today’s modern amenities. Full of atmosphere and romance, it features a hacienda made of stone with furnishings imported directly from Mexico. Inside the hacienda are several lovely rooms, including its very own chapel, great room, and courtyard filled with roses. Every angle is easy on the eyes, with spectacular vistas and panoramic views. The historic estate offers serenity and privacy along with beautiful vineyards and olive groves.

Holman Ranch was built with an artist’s eye, back when California was still a part of Mexico. In the Spanish era, the ranch was originally part of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. It was part of the land that belonged to one of the valley’s first ranchers, Don Jose Manuel Boronda, who was granted the Los Laureles Rancho. Holman Ranch passed through several generations, and in 1928 it was a modern Spanish-style hacienda built with impressive Carmel stone walls and accented with handmade Mexican terracotta roofing and hand-carved oak-beamed ceilings that still stand today. Its nickname was Casa Escondida or Hidden House. Mature oaks surround the property. Many celebrities flocked here to relax and unwind, including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Marlon Brando, and Vincent Price. It was like their own personal hideaway from their daily pressures.

In the 1940’s, Clarence Holman of the Holman’s Department Store bought the guest ranch and remodeled and expanded the structures to feature guest rooms and one of Carmel Valley’s first swimming pools.

The ranch was reborn when it was purchased by Dorothy McEwen in 1989. Her role was not only to preserve the ranch, but to reinvent it as an event facility as well as a private estate.

In 2006, the Lowder family took it off her hands and began to restore its original mystique.
Estate grown wines -- across 19 rolling acres -- and olive oil are now produced at Holman Ranch. Whether it’s group meetings, intimate gatherings, or weddings, the ranch proves itself to be a truly unique experience for those who partake in its beauty. Hosting one event at a time, the private estate opens its doors to the public sector and offers comfortable bungalow-style guest rooms as well. The rooms are cozy with all the modern conveniences you can imagine.

As the Peninsula’s best-kept secret, it is only seconds away from wine-tasting facilities in the Carmel Valley Village and just 20 minutes away from Carmel-by-the-Sea. Holman Ranch spotlights a variety of Pinot Noirs, as the grape-growing region is perfect for them. They also make a palatable Rose of Pinot Noir, a Pinot Gris, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Their tasting room is spacious and the tastings are generous.

The romantic setting, breathtaking grounds, colorful gardens, and 400 acres of property make Holman Ranch a truly magical venue. You are welcome to join in the glamour and peace of Holman Ranch. As a guest, you could be invited to any special event you can imagine. Come discover the secret for yourself at a place where the past meets the present and anything and everything is possible.

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Introduction to Steamboat: Colorado’s Resort Town with a Strong Community Connection

By Leia Thomas
ITWPA Member

Steamboat is a safe, beautiful, robust, and perpetually cold mountain community that never stops reconstructing itself. Shops relocate to the other side of town, newfangled condo projects are always on the rise, and jobs are available for a man with a trade certificate. The demography is skiers, construction laborers, and physical therapists. The common story goes that men move here for the construction work and return with their families to call it home. Their kids start taking gymnastics and the rest is history.

First impressions are of thin, adrenaline-addicted people who avoid sunscreen and makeup -- imported midwesterners driving large vehicles for safe maneuvering in the yearly wonderland blizzards while dodging the soccer mom motif.

Visitors can take advantage of “mud season” prices in November and April, when restaurant and spa deals -- and parking spaces -- abound.

Busier times of year create hub points along downtown streets and on the mountain. Fireworks bedazzle the sky at New Year’s on Mt. Werner and again on July 4th behind 5th Street, on the Olympic athletes’ training grounds at Howelson Hill. Parking on July 4th is non-existent. Bring your patience and ride the bus. The best restaurant offering a bird’s eye view of Howelson Hill is the Rio Grande Mexican Grill, on their upstairs, outdoor balcony.

There are lesser-known jewels as well: the Steamboat Meat & Seafood Company along the river purveys varied, quality goods like mandarin juice from Italy and farm cheese from Wales. Bamboo Market and Sweet Pea Market (both along the river’s route) live up to their names by bringing true health to a growing-season-deprived customer base. These smaller businesses prove beneficial for avoiding crowds and parking problems, not to mention providing an alternative to the flavor-deprived food offered ubiquitously at the hackneyed Safeway and City Market.

A favorite locals’ restaurant is Sweet Water Grill, along the river, with live music groups and ample seating, delicious martinis, interesting salads, and scrumptious chocolate cake. Delightfully different menu choices will please you at your table with its smart blue napkins, or your round bench encircling a fire pit on the cozy porch. Don’t mind the sound of the coal train just over the river. It’s all part of the charm, they say.

It’s not dramatic to claim that this locational pearl will mesmerize you. The scenery is stunning and the warmth of the locals will remind you of your last trip to Texas.

Wait a year -- you’ll be back. 

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About January 2013

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in January 2013. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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