« May 2013 | Main | July 2013 »

June 2013 Archives

June 27, 2013

A Spotlight on Pittsburgh -- Discover What Makes Downtown a Unique Place to Explore

By Harriet Frapier
ITWPA Member

It’s 2 p.m., the sun is shining at full blaze, and I’m ready for a rest. Sitting by the market I look across the square to its grand skyscrapers hovering above -- the scene is intriguing. To the left elderly men challenge each other to a game of chess. On the right a clown draws a crowd of kids with his juggling. Everywhere people sit soaking up the sun, reading books, and chatting to friends.

I can’t believe this is not Europe. Maybe it’s the glass replica of London’s Houses of Parliament or the stillness of Market Square or the many people out and about on foot that makes downtown Pittsburgh stand out. Business brought me here but the city’s charm will bring me back.

Market Square is the central meeting place and situated in the heart of downtown, which is also known as The Golden Triangle. A major development program transformed the area into a pulsating business district. “The city has changed a lot in the last six years. It used to be a steel city; it was dirty but now it’s turned into a place loved by the locals,” says Lulu, the barista at Nicholas Coffee Company. The smell of freshly ground coffee lured me here from my place of rest.
With coffee in hand Lulu leads me on a tour of the in-house roastery. Since 1919 the Nicholas family has served freshly-roasted whole bean coffee to discerning customers. The number of coffee varieties is overwhelming. They cover the walls of the dimly-lit shop and the smells of 30 flavors compete for business. From Amaretto to Peaches & Crème, coffee lovers will succeed at finding “the one.”

Pittsburgh has much more to offer than the average business district. There is a free audio-guided tour that shows you just that (download from www.visitpittsburgh.com). Learn about the history of the city’s skyscrapers and important figures such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and discover treasures that will make any architect’s heart skip a beat. One such diamond is the Union Trust Building on Grant Street. Built in the Flemish-Gothic style, it boasts a flamboyant lobby.

In contrast to the city, the natural boundaries of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers create the downtown “triangle.” Point State Park marks the tip of it. Here the meeting of both rivers forms the Ohio River. Skyscrapers behind you, your view extends far beyond the riverbanks to the lush green hillsides of Pittsburgh. Here you can breathe, relax, and hear the rivers’ rushing waters pass beside you.

To get an equally impressive view from a bird’s perspective take the Duquesne Incline up Mt. Washington -- in operation since 1877. For a mere $5 the bright red cable car takes you up in five minutes. Passing through the museum-like station you step onto the observation deck. It unfolds a cityscape view of countless yellow iron bridges and high-rising skyscrapers -- a perfect contrast to the natural flow of the three rivers. In 2009 USA Today voted this scene from above as “One of the Top Ten sites in the world for viewing a cityscape,” and rightly so.

Back at Market Square, at Primanti Brothers, this time the realization kicks in that this is America. Where else could you find a ham and cheese sandwich filled with coleslaw and chips while slurping a bottomless Diet Coke? I’ve seen enough of downtown to wish I had more time to discover all of Andy Warhol’s hometown -- including the Strip District with its ethnic culinary melting pot and Southside’s nightlife scene. The city caught my attention and I will return someday soon.

If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.

Go Back in Time at Fort Vancouver

By Katy Purviance       

Ting! Ting! Ting! It’s hot and dark. Hard to breathe. The enormous fire illuminates the blacksmith’s concentrated, sweating brow. He hammers a red-hot piece of iron into a new pot hook for the kitchen. The other blacksmith tugs at a lever to operate the billows -- which is about the size of a refrigerator, if there had been such things as refrigerators -- and the fire roars.

It’s 1832. This is “the New York of the Pacific” at the end of the Oregon Trail in Oregon Territory, the New World headquarters of the British Hudson’s Bay Company. This little piece of civilization in this vast wilderness is how the ladies in London get their furs. This melting pot -- home and employer of Brits, Hawaiians, and French Canadians as well as members of several indigenous tribes -- will become home to the U.S. Army when they take over in 1860. They will give it a new name: Fort Vancouver.

Outside the stockade, it’s 2013. This is now Washington State. Oregon became its own state, just across the nearby Columbia River. And the original Vancouverites, upset at the new U.S. border and all that it entailed, packed up and headed north to start a new Vancouver.

Right now, however, it’s fun to pretend that we are back in the days before traffic and texting. The early 19th century comes alive before your very eyes thanks to a troupe of well-versed volunteers. Complete in period clothing, they are happy to converse with you about their lives here. It seems so real.

Keeping the books on a storehouse full of furs -- the currency of the day -- is a gentleman who explains that the local natives didn’t know how to hunt. They were fishermen. So how to get the furs the London ladies wanted? Simple. The Hudson’s Bay Company hired hunters from a tribe further north to come give lessons.






Step into the Trading House and you’ll see the beads and trinkets from London that the Hudson’s Bay Company used to pay for the furs. Make a joke about buying an iPod, and the trader, staying in character, will act like he has no idea what you’re talking about.

Tool around in the Woodshop. Double-check the books at the Counting House. Go to Jail. See what’s in all those little glass bottles in the Infirmary.

On special occasions, you can even make your own sea biscuits in the Bakery.

Meanwhile, in the small, dark Kitchen, you’ll marvel at how many meals were prepared without any of your modern conveniences. Servants carried each meal up a narrow set of stairs to the well-appointed dining room above.
For a more respectable entrance, go around and ascend the double stair of the white clapboard Master’s House and see how Chief Factor John McLoughlin lived. During special events, you can eavesdrop on the family’s period conversation, in period costume and with period hairstyles, as they eat their supper by candlelight. You’ll feel like a foreign exchange student who is studying abroad in The Past.

Before you leave the early 19th century, head over to the turret at the northwest corner of the Fort. It’s not always open, but if it is, you can take the stairs to the second level and peer out in every direction at the brave new world beyond. Your world.

Fort Vancouver is open 360 days a year. Admission is $3. Parking is free. The Fort is located on East 5th Street between Fort Vancouver Way and Reserve Street in Vancouver, WA 98661. (360) 816-6200. http://nps.gov/fova

If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.

Sublime Samana, Idyllic Location for the Restless or the Restful

By Sean Hillen
ITWPA Member

Photographs by Columbia Hillen
A rotund lobby with an intricate mosaic stone floor makes for an impressive entrance to Sublime Samana Hotel & Residence, a two-story, horseshoe-shaped building with palm trees, exotic shrubs, and flowering plants scattered along a well-watered lawn from which a paved pathway leads to a private beach two hundred yards away.

Located on the Dominican Republic’s more isolated northeast coast, the hotel is an oasis of calm, especially in comparison to the liveliness of downtown Las Terrenas two miles away, with a quiet ambiance pervading both the grassy area below the rooms as well as the soft, sandy beach itself. Private casitas line the pathway. A tennis court, a basketball court, a gym, and bicycles provide options for the more athletic while a play area designed with a purple dinosaur theme and complete with swings, a rope bridge, and a hut on stilts caters to the adventurous whims of children.

The curved, palm-fringed beach is a long, sloping, narrow strip where spa treatments take place, with shallow turquoise water just offshore.

After an enjoyable massage under the fluttering curtains of a canopy, I was delighted to be handed chilled milk straight from a coconut.

For the more timid swimmer, there is also a small open-air pool closer to the hotel rooms and casitas, with lounge chairs and wicker tables set all around it for relaxation. Private over-water cabanas located alongside the paving stone pathway leading from the rooms to the beach offer even more languorous options, if one decides to purchase a holiday home there.

The hotel rooms, all self-catering, are located along stone walkways that wrap their way around the entire building. Each has its own veranda overlooking the manicured lawn below, the nearby mountains behind, or the beach area in front. Our door opened on to an expansive living room and kitchen combined, decorated in white, with a substantial-size dining table, sofa, coffee table, television, and large refrigerator. A small toilet was to one side. Beyond, but open to the living room, was the bedroom, with a railed veranda on one side with wicker chairs and a table and on the other, in a recessed area, a second toilet, an open washing area, and a stand-alone, glass-fronted shower cubicle. Simple framed prints with marine themes -- shells, algae, and boats -- adorned the walls.

Breakfast can be taken either in the Bistro restaurant on the ground floor beside the lawn or, more interestingly, adjacent to it, outside, on a small terrace shaded from the sun by white curtains and large exotic plants. The menu is a balanced one, including healthy options of fruit, yogurt, and cereal as well as more substantial items such as pancakes, ham, cheeses, omelets, breads, and pastries. Two of the hot choices represent classic local flavor: Mangu of Samana, a traditional dish of mashed, boiled plantain served with fried eggs, caramelized red onion, coconut, cheese, and sausage, and eggs ranchero, fried eggs served with fried corn tortillas, tomato chili sauce, and guacamole. So replenished were we after trying them, we did not require lunch. The other must-have is the coffee -- strong, dark, and Dominican, brewed strongly.

In terms of food, however, the highlight for us was dining under the stars down at the beach. Each evening candlelit tables are placed on the sand under the coconut trees with hanging lamps strategically positioned here and there and the soft, swishing sounds of the waves providing a rhythmic, melodic backdrop. Argentinian chef Cristian Baéz swears by fresh local ingredients, naturally placing a strong emphasis on fresh fish and seafood.
We began with fish croquettes in coconut, crisp with a surprising but refreshing passion fruit mayonnaise, plus carpaccio of fish with grated tomatoes and yucca croutons, following the starters with a selection of dorado (or mahi mahi) with passion fruit guacamole and baked catch of the day, a complete fish cooked in a traditional Dominican coconut sauce consisting of tomato, onion, and coconut milk.

As passion fruit seemed the leitmotif of the evening, we chose for dessert cheesecake of the same name, speckled and smooth just like the sky as seen through the fronds of the coconut trees above us. Waiter service was warm and informal, so much so that the next morning when we ordered glasses of fresh passion fruit juice, the same waiter smiled, remembering, and promptly brought regular refills.

Mention must be made of Bruno Gaudio, the Argentinian general manager, who proved to be a most amiable host, staying late on the first evening to welcome us personally and conversing with guests each morning over breakfast, making sure they had all they needed.
While Sublime Samana provides enough diverse activities for an enjoyable stay, short excursions are possible. There are bars and restaurants in Las Terrenas. Also available are leisurely boat trips such as those organized by Tour Samana With Terry to see the humpback whales that arrive in Samana to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. Other choices include a visit to the island of Cayo Levantado or to the Los Haitises National Park with its calcified hills, caves, mangroves, sea turtles, and a variety of bird species.

More information can be obtained at http://www.sublimesamana.com.

If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.

If you would like to purchase any of these photos for your publication, please click here to contact the photographer directly.

The Inn at Castle Rock -- Bisbee’s Not So Hidden Treasure

By Carol Martindale-Taylor

Want to savor breakfast or lunch served over the depths of a deserted mine shaft turned spring-fed well? How about occupying a coveted chair at a unique dinner restaurant and a room for the night with a resident ghost? The rustic yet modern Inn at Castle Rock in Bisbee, Arizona, also offers a relaxing veranda -- one overlooking a picturesque street bordered by a rugged rock monolith.

Built in 1895, this former miners’ boarding house experienced periods of activity comingled with quiet abandonment. When Rick Brown, a newly-minted U.S. citizen from New Zealand, purchased the inn in 2009, he knew it would be a labor of love. His work continues and his love for the inn shows.

Although feeling like an old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast, with 14 individually-decorated rooms (beginning at $89 per night) lacking telephones and televisions and with no elevators to the second floor, this inn does provide window air conditioning units and private bathrooms. Then there are those rooms with ghostly reputations like the “Crying Shame” on the second floor. Opening onto that veranda facing Castle Rock, this room was the site of the accidental shooting of a woman passing on the street below; now guests may be gently touched or have doors quietly swing open on their own. Other rooms, like the “White Eagle” on the third floor, are reportedly ghost free. Well, unless you count the sound of a doorknob turning -- with no one near it -- as ghostly.

As you’re munching that exotic sandwich in the Apache Spring Cafe, picture two miners scrambling over still-visible mineshaft beams in the spring’s well just inches from your plate while a third miner slips into the spring’s depths. But don’t fret. Ghost hunters have found electromagnetic disturbances along the semicircular eating counter possibly caused by paranormal activity. Maybe he’s just waiting for leftovers, but if you prefer not to visit with the drowning victim, other tables are available.

After your reasonably-priced meals in the cafe, dinner awaits you in the friendly yet elegantly set Table 10 Restaurant, where Hazel Hunter prepares her unique blend of Central American and Latin flavors. A different menu is served each day, and keep in mind it’s called Table 10 for a reason. (Well, she can actually seat 12 guests.) Make reservations.

Even the layout of this inn is unique, with an office for checking in and staggered landings to the office, a kitchen, the lobby, and the veranda. Wandering narrow hallways will take you to an outside garden along the rocky cliff behind the inn, a walkway to Tombstone Canyon Road, and a community rental room (the Octagon Room) where you’ll be wrapped in a cozy, glassed-in tree house.

If you’re looking for old frontier ambiance with friendly ghosts and friendlier staff, The Inn at Castle Rock awaits. With its good location for walking around Old Bisbee and its unique dining experiences, it doesn’t disappoint. For more information call (520) 432-4449 or visit www.theinnatcastlerock.com.

If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.

A Russian Rose in Chinese Harbin (Café Russia 1914)

By George Chalagonian

Good Russian food in Harbin, Manchuria? Why, of course, but you need to go to the right place. Café Russia 1914 is in the heart of the pedestrian mall that is the hub of this Manchurian city undergoing a Renaissance. Established in 1914 by the Russian noble family who still own it, the restaurant was once named Lucia’s in honor of the grandmother.

The restaurant is located about a half-mile block north of the Stalin Park Promenade (yes, they named a park after him) on the city pedestrian mall. You enter the medium-lit soft yellow dining room and encounter a subdued European bistro that you would expect to see in Rouen rather than in a garish Asian city like Harbin. Above a well-tended fireplace and mantel you will notice a large, painted, Mona Lisa-like smiling portrait of Lucia in her youth, done just about the time the original building was her family home. On an opposite wall, resplendent in Czarist uniform with too many medals and wearing a great muttonchop beard, is the Russian general who was also the founder of the Harbin Institute of Technology, today one of China’s leading universities. In addition, photos of the early 20th century Russian Orthodox and Russian Jewish communities are displayed, including those of the great 1932 Sonjiang River flood and the surprisingly efficient rescue efforts during the same. FEMA could take note of the cooperative spirit of both communities. Balalaikas, religious icons, and photos of prominent business and professional people of the era abound.

I imagine you might want to know something about the food. The menu of some 20 pages, including photographs, offers popular dishes of traditional Russian food. Manchurian and Chinese beers are among the most popular drink selections. Highly recommended are the moist and delicately breaded veal cutlets, succulent beef- or chicken-filled piroshki, and of course the ground and lightly grilled beef-stuffed cabbage, the mainstay. Wash all this down with a few Chingdao or Kirin and you are ready to inspire friends and patrons with your expertise with the galunka, the well-known Cossack dance that requires stout legs and a high tolerance for liquor. Of course they have Stoli chasers, too.

Maybe you are not so into after-dinner feats of fitness; you might choose to enjoy tea and chocolate cream pastries and enjoy the recorded music instead.

If you go during the winter, after lunch or dinner you can walk a block towards Stalin Park, then cross the frozen-over Songhua River and see the famous ice-palace sculptures on Sun Island. During the summer, when it really is Sun Island, you can catch a riverboat ride there to take in a Russian folk dance or folk play in the wooded resort areas. You might want to just enjoy a leisurely walk on the city mall (one of the few in any Chinese city of this size), shop the many Russian import stores, or tour the Harbin New Synagogue. Recently reopened as a Jewish cultural and heritage museum honoring the contributions of this community of twenty thousand people, this former synagogue (Haerbin Youtai Xinhuitang) located at 162 Jingwei Street contains an art gallery, photos, and exhibits of early 20th century Jewish life in Harbin.

Na Dezrovia!

For restaurant reservations in Harbin call (0086-451) 8456-3207. Open from 9 a.m.-12 a.m. Location: Xitoujie (West Toudao St., Daoli) #57 on the mall. Price range for a medium-sized lunch or dinner is from $8-$16.

If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.

About June 2013

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

May 2013 is the previous archive.

July 2013 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33