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July 2013 Archives

July 31, 2013

Historical Plays Coming to a Battlefield Near You

By James Ullrich

There seems to be an interesting trend starting in the theatre world, one which has history lovers and travel addicts like me very, very intrigued.

Theatrical companies are facing declining audiences, many of whom now flock to the more realistic experiences of modern digitally-enhanced blockbusters, and they have been forced to get creative in their choices of staging.

This has prompted some to do away with the stage altogether, catering to people’s interest in a more, shall we say, immersive theatre experience. As a result, some highly-respected British drama companies are beginning to hold performances of historically-based plays on the actual sites where those stories took place.

The latest -- and largest -- to follow this new trend is none other than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The revered drama company recently announced plans to spend its new season performing the Bard’s three Henry VI plays, which cover the tumultuous and violent reign of Henry VI and the medieval War of the Roses, on the sites where the plays’ historic battles were fought. The drenched-in-history surroundings of Tewkesbury, St Albans, Barnet, and Towton (no, not Downton) will see productions of the classic works set where the fifteenth-century king and his knights clashed with his rivals for the crown.

A similar performance was held at the Bosworth battlefield in a production of Shakespeare’s epic Richard III, the main character of which has recently gained new fame after his remains were unearthed in a car park near the site of his death in combat. Across the Channel, a performance of Henry V -- famous for his victory over the French and his “Band of Brothers” speech riling up his hopelessly outnumbered troops -- will take place in Agincourt, the site of his unlikely triumph.

So, if you find yourself near any of these historic and serene locales this year, you might just be able to experience a world-class performance of a historic play -- on the soil upon which it all happened.
Suddenly a night at the theatre doesn’t sound so boring, does it?

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Foynes: A Small Irish Town with a Flying History

By Des Townshend

Where in the world would you find a transatlantic journey that once offered a lounge, a formal dining room, a white linen table setting for up to 35 passengers, a menu of shrimp cocktail, turtle soup, steak, fresh vegetables, peach Melba, and a wide choice of drinks? This was not a transatlantic cruise, because ships took seven to nine days to cross the ocean. No, this was a transatlantic flying boat, which in 1939 took 25 hours and 40 minutes to fly one way.

Today you can relive the era at the Foynes Flying Boat Museum at the actual site of the original terminal, located 21 miles west of Limerick city in Ireland. This was the European center of transatlantic civil aviation up to 1945, and an important strategic site during the years of World War II.

Flying boats were exciting aircrafts in those early days and one of them, the Yankee Clipper, flew from New York to the town of Foynes on the Shannon River estuary, with stops in New Brunswick, Canada, and Newfoundland while carrying a crew of 12 including two pilots, a purser, chefs, and service personnel.

The once famous Yankee Clipper made its maiden passenger transatlantic flight in 1939, some 20 years after the first non-passenger flight by the famous British aviators Alcock and Brown.

The design engineers based their drawings on ship designs allowing for takeoff and landing on water, as there were only a few small runways in Europe during the 1930s and ’40s.  

You can step on board a splendid replica, which was meticulously rebuilt from drawings supplied by The Boeing Company, and sit in the captain’s chair as you reach for the throttle and check the dials.

Late one winter night the Yankee Clipper took off on a scheduled flight from Foynes heading west, but after several hours into the flight conditions turned so bad over the Atlantic that the captain decided to turn back. A Morse code message was sent to advise Foynes of their return.  

The staff was called back to the terminal to prepare for the returning cold and weary passengers, and chef Joe Sheridan added some Irish whiskey to their coffees to warm them up. “Hey, buddy,” said a grateful but surprised American passenger. “Is this Brazilian coffee?” “No,” said the chef, “that’s Irish coffee!” And the name and the recipe stuck to become one of the most famous after-dinner drinks in Ireland and around the world.  

Most passengers during WWII were senior military and diplomatic personnel traveling under false passports for security reasons and were instructed to keep their travel plans to themselves for fear of enemy ears learning sensitive information regarding movements of military personnel. On the museum wall you will read of a wartime security notice instructing all BOAC ground crew to keep their travel plans to themselves. Ireland (called Eire) was a clever place to locate this terminal because it was officially neutral during the war.

This quality museum evokes romance and intrigue, reflecting an era of tense geopolitical times which contributed to shaping much of the western world as we know it today.  

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Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon in the Off-Season

By Marlene V. Battelle

A long weekend in northern Arizona with good friends -- what could be better? Not much! It’s the Grand Canyon and more, in the off-season.

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon, but in combination with other places of interest in northern Arizona, October or March is a great time to visit. You can avoid the hordes of tourists that invade one of the most-visited National Parks in the U.S. during the summer. Whether the temperatures are in the upper 60s to low 70s during the day and chilly and crisp at night or there happens to be snow on the ground, it is magnificent. The unpredictability of the weather is a small price to pay for nearly having the place to yourself.

You can fly into Flagstaff but Phoenix offers more options and less-pricey flights. It’s only about a two-hour drive to Flagstaff.

When staying in Flagstaff there are numerous choices, but something to keep in mind if you are a light sleeper is to make sure you stay a long way from the train tracks -- they are busy and thus noisy. A mid-priced choice is the LaQuinta Inn and Suites at 2015 South Beulah Boulevard, back off the busy highway and not on a major street. It’s well-kept, quiet, and the included breakfast is very good.

From Flagstaff head to the northeast on Highway 89 and visit Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments. These two parks share a 35-mile loop road branching off Highway 89, circling through the parks, and rejoining 89. The contrast between parks is significant and the link between them is unusual. Sunset Crater is dedicated to a spectacular act of nature, the eruption of Sunset Volcano in 1064-65, while Wupatki chronicles the ancient people who occupied the nearby area during roughly the same period. The cinder cone of Sunset and impressive lava flows tend to make you feel as if you have stepped into a moonscape. Then you walk through the Wupatki pueblo and it is hard to imagine how the Sinagua people who occupied this arid landscape survived, although the silent remains stand as a testament to their ingenuity. Questions abound concerning their lives and why they essentially disappeared from this area when they did.

Continuing up Highway 89, you come to Cameron, Arizona. Here the Cameron Trading Post is the main draw and there are two very different establishments. One is the typical large tourist store with some very nice things and many inexpensive souvenirs. Then there is the “other” trading post -- this is the one with absolutely beautiful native-made goods. A friend commented, “It’s like an art museum with price tags.” This is a place to spend some time, and quite possibly, some money!

Traveling west on Highway 64, you enter Grand Canyon National Park from the east and your first glimpse is from Desert View and the Watchtower, one of the many buildings designed by Mary Colter within the park. The east entrance offers a particularly suitable beginning because the absolute grandeur and increasing “wow” factor is continual from this point. Be sure to stop at the overlooks on the way to Grand Canyon Village.

Even in the off-season, lodging within the park itself is not always readily available. We made reservations several months ahead of time for a March stay and there was only one lodge available -- the Yavapai, which turned out to be very pleasant and had many more amenities than are found in the lodges at some national parks. The rooms were large and complete with television, coffee maker, and refrigerator. Set in the woods, it was quiet and felt secluded. There are a variety of places to eat within the park. We chose Bright Angel Café the first evening and had good meals, reasonably priced.

A large supermarket and a post office are located near the lodging office. During the day, take a lunch (there is a snack bar at Hermit’s Rest but it is typical snack bar type food), hop on the shuttle bus, and head out west from the Village along the Canyon rim. The road to Hermit’s Rest is closed to public traffic but the shuttle buses are efficient and an excellent way to view the Canyon. With eight stops on the way out and two on the way back and approximately ten minutes between buses, you can spend as much or as little time as you choose at any of the stops. There is something amazing to see at each one. The Rim Trail links a number of the overlooks so hiking any portion is an option. Total distance from the Village to Hermit’s Rest is eight miles.

Yavapai Point is the perfect place to go and sit on the rim to watch the sun set over the Canyon. We followed the sunset with a dinner at the El Tovar, the historical showpiece hotel of the Village. The service was magnificent, truly attentive without hovering or being intrusive, and the food exceptionally good. I would recommend the Grand Canyon chardonnay as a nice accompaniment to dinner. After dinner, we ventured back out to Yavapai Point to see the most incredible sky full of stars imaginable. One of our group commented, “This rivals the Grand Canyon.” With no man-made lights anywhere near, the vastness and visibility were superb.

In Grand Canyon Village there are many options for things to do: the Bright Angel Lodge History Room (check out the amazing “geologic fireplace”), a bookstore, souvenir shops of all types, ranger-led lectures and tours, and, of course, the mules. Back-country hiking and camping are allowed but you must register at the visitor center. It’s also good to keep in mind that visitors each year have to be rescued from the Canyon and there can be a hefty price tag on mule or helicopter rescues. The warnings and precautions posted everywhere should be heeded. The Canyon is beautiful but unforgiving no matter what time of year.

Two days at the Canyon give you a good overview and who knows? You may be inspired to come back and make the two-day hike or mule trip to Phantom Ranch at the bottom.


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They Say You Can’t Go Back in Time, But Sometimes You Just Might

By Joe Brusse

In Brenham, Texas, about halfway between Houston and Austin, there is an old carousel in the city’s Fireman’s Park. I can remember my father taking me for a ride on that carousel about sixty-five years ago. Recently, I had a chance to revisit the park and it brought back many vivid memories.

The carousel is a unique and historic antique. Remarkably, it has been operating in the same location for eighty-one years, delighting children young and old. Owned by the city and registered with the Smithsonian Institution, it is truly a Texas treasure.
Of course, when visiting Brenham, especially with children, you just have to visit Blue Bell Creameries, home of Blue Bell Ice Cream. But to really put a gleam in the kids’ eyes, and possibly a tear of longing in yours, arrange to ride the old carousel.

This carousel is one of the extremely rare remaining examples of a portable, turn-of-the-twentieth-century entertainment attraction. It was designed and built in the 1890s to be easily erected, dismantled, and moved from town to town by a traveling carnival.

How did the carousel end up in Brenham? In 1932 a farmer who had agreed to store the carousel for a carnival promoter decided to throw it in his junk pile for nonpayment of the storage fee. Several citizens of Brenham went to the farmer and offered to move it for him. They took the carousel to Fireman’s Park and put the contraption together -- and lo and behold, it worked. Since then, it has been one of the main attractions for children, teenagers, and adults who visit Brenham.

The Brenham Carousel had been continuously in use for special occasions since 1932, and by 2006 had become pretty dilapidated. The entire apparatus was in desperate need of substantial repair. The money was found and the restoration done and it was returned to its original glory in two years. The city now has a working piece of history. The 18 horses on the carousel look just like they did when I was a kid. Surprisingly, during the restoration only a few of the wooden supports had to be replaced to bring it back to perfect working order. The original electric motor still runs the ride. An old sack filled with horse hair was discovered near the operating mechanism. The horse hair was used in the reconstruction of the horses. When you ride the carousel, look at and feel the tails of the horses. The hair of the tails is real horse hair!

Only children thirteen and younger are allowed to ride on the horses. Folks fourteen and up are no longer allowed to ride them. They are, after all, antiques and not as strong as they once were. However, anyone can stand beside the horses and support the younger riders or ride on the bench gondolas. These rules are designed to protect this priceless treasure from damage, while still allowing it to make memories for the future.

When traveling through Brenham, take the time to make some memories of your own.

All the facilities in Fireman’s Park including the carousel can be reserved for private gatherings on special occasions. To find out about times and dates for viewing and riding the carousel, contact the Brenham Parks and Recreation Department at (979) 337-7250. Further information regarding the carousel and Fireman’s Park can be found at www.cityofbrenham.org.

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Double-Wheeling It to Wheels Through Time

By Dawn Hertzog
ITWPA Member

The most direct route from the coast of North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park system in western Carolina is Interstate 40, past Maggie Valley, where any self-respecting biker -- or classic automobile enthusiast, for that matter -- must take time to stop and explore Dale Walksler’s Wheels Through Time Museum, a shrine to rare American vintage motorcycles (www.wheelsthroughtime.com). You walk in the door of what appears to be a huge barn-like structure full of all the old fascinating stuff your grandpa used to collect. You know -- the place where your mom always said, “Be careful. Don’t touch.”

People have a tendency to stop in their tracks just inside the front door simply because it’s hard to figure out where to look first. You start with eye-level, at the extended geometric tangle of old and painted metal circles and horizontal and vertical rectangles. Every vantage point looks like the beginning of a Norman Rockwell painting -- which is fitting, since everywhere you look, a classic piece of vintage history catches your eye. It’s not just antique American bikes, either; classic autos creep into the mix, as well. And that’s only floor level. Your eyes move up and you realize that every wall is contributing to the ambiance, and your eyes keep going up even to the ceiling. It’s no wonder traffic stalls out of the gates here at the world-famous iron horse museum.

Once you’re moving, the tangle it appears to be at first opens up to well-displayed vintage pieces, each one a work of art. It reminded me of drawing class in art school, when we practiced our craft by sitting in front of this sculpture or that, committing the lines to paper. This space makes you want to find a place just out of the traffic lane to sit and study the architecture of one of the greatest motor vehicles in the world, committing its lines to the artistic, classic ride, bike-crazy soul in each of us.

A new show called “What’s in the Barn?” documents the classic collection and new vintage finds. It debuted on cable June 18 and according to their website, is distributed on Charter (Channel 778), DirecTV (Channel 281), and Dish Network (Channel 364) and runs at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesdays for the eight-episode season.

Just in case a well-deserved vacation or Sunday drive coincides with an exciting new opening or exhibit, and with special events scheduled throughout the year, you’ll want to keep checking their website. The museum is open Thursday-Monday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., from March 28 through November 26 this year, and closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65 and up), and $6 for children.

P.S. Enjoy living on the edge? Finish off your Maggie Valley tour with a mile-high climb to the Cataloochee Valley on half dirt roads, many with steep drop-offs and no side rails. Elk and turkey abound, as well as oft-sighted black bear. Fish for wild trout in the Cataloochee Creek, or hike the Boogerman Trail, a seven-mile loop through ancient forest (http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cataloochee.htm).

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About July 2013

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

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