Vanderford's Travel Column
Winter in Banff is simply magnificent
After a day of “snow plowing” slowly down the “bunny slopes” at Banff and Lake Louise, (in Alberta, Canada), looking down the mountain at the beginning of a real ski run was terrifying! Less than 24 hours earlier was the first time I had ever donned a pair of snow skis, so I naturally questioned the sanity of this decision by my instructor to attack this famous Banff mountain on a pair of skinny boards.
Though the actual ski run for beginners is only slightly steeper in places than the wider training or “bunny” slopes, one can easily see that the sides of the run go straight down. Therefore, as my ski instructor had warned, I was engulfed by what they call “mountain fear.”
I quickly learned, however, that I could still make the turns or stop in the same way the wonderful instructors from the Banff and Lake Louise had taught me, and my confidence continued to grow. By the end of the day, I was like everyone else … enjoying the experience and the gorgeous views of one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Having never seen the Canadian Rockies during the winter season, I was amazed by the majesty of the snow-covered mountains. Also, the elegance and history of the Banff Springs Hotel was like something out of a medieval fairy tale. This spectacular hotel was the world’s largest when it opened in 1888 to accommodate Victorian tourists who came to visit the area’s hot springs. It was designed and furnished to resemble a Scottish castle at the urging of William Van Horne, General Manager of Canadian Pacific Railways. The hotel, which is known as “Canada’s Castle in the Rockies,” remains as Banff’s signature property and is one of the most beautiful hotels in Canada. This picturesque property is also the hub for those who want to ski Banff’s three famous ski venues at Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay. A complete ski shop with the latest rental ski equipment is located inside the Banff Springs Hotel, and they can arrange daily passes and ski lift tickets for all venues with reliable transportation to and from each area.
Banff National Park attracts roughly four million visitors each year and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is renowned as a protected paradise that encompasses 6,641 square kilometers of mountains, forests and lakes in the middle of a vast wilderness. The small communities of Banff and Lake Louise are the only townships inside the National Park. These villages have a distinctive mountain lifestyle, a deep respect for the natural surroundings and a local history that is as diverse as the people who inhabit this area. All residents must reside in one of the two villages to own a home, which helps to preserve the family qualities of the two communities.
The town of Banff is in the province of Alberta in the southwestern corner of Banff National Park and 90 miles west of Calgary via the Trans Canada Highway. Because the town is surrounded by mountains and wilderness, the community must share its space with a variety of wildlife. Walking about the town, one is likely to see deer or elk at any time during the winter and spring months. Banff is also known for its shopping and excellent restaurants. One of the best is the Waldhaus Restaurant, which is a Bavarian Cottage-style building that was built in 1927 and overlooks the Spray River. The atmosphere is reminiscent of an old hunting cottage with dark, rich wood paneling, and a large fireplace. The menu consists of authentic German and Swiss dishes.
The very quiet hamlet of Lake Louise is 50 minutes farther west and is also within Banff National Park. Spectacular scenery is the norm at Lake Louise, and it boasts 4,200 skiable acres, which makes it one of the largest ski areas in North America. The unique layout allows families and groups of varying abilities to ski together. Visitors will find beginner, intermediate and expert downhill runs from every chair lift. Beginners and intermediate skiers have access to an abundance of gentle slopes and long cruising runs, and experts can explore endless chutes, glades, gullies and remote bowls in some of the Rockies’ most challenging terrain.
Banff National Park was the first such park in Canada and only the third in the world when it was created in 1885. It was named for Banffshire, Scotland, and because of the natural hot springs, it brought in tourists from all around the world.
Though much has changed in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, little has changed in Banff because of the strict laws inherent with being in a national park. Therefore, developers with deep pockets have been kept out of this pristine part of Canada, and the animals have more rights than the people. As it has always been, Banff National Park is still a quiet, but absolutely awe inspiring natural wonder of the world … especially when covered with pure, soft, powdered snow!
Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543 or www.fishinglanier.com.
February 2014 column
Return to a Caribbean paradise to escape the cold
Sitting here in my office watching the cold wind and rain, I close my eyes and remember the morning sun caressing the windblown sand along a deserted beach. Its warming rays refracted by hundreds of white objects that became more visible with each degree of sun angle. For expert shells seekers, this expanding spectacle would be like a treasure hunter finding an ancient Spanish galleon overflowing with gold.
Though many varieties of shells are found in the Turks and Caicos Islands, several species of conch shells are the most dominant. Conch has always been an important part of life and survival in this tropical paradise. These huge sea snails are used as an ingredient in hundreds of delectable food dishes that are served in these islands. In modern times, however, conch has become important in jewelry-making, art work and as an exported food.
The Turks and Caicos Islands are located at the far southeast corner of the Bahamas archipelago. These gems of the Atlantic Ocean are approximately 575 miles from Miami and are comprised of over 40 islands and uninhabited cays, including eight major islands: Grand Turk, Salt Cay, West Caicos, Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos and South Caicos. To the south, the Caicos Bank is a shallow, pale, turquoise sea that is partly composed of swamp and tidal flats that are filled with an abundant resource of conch, lobster and numerous species of fish. In this area, Sapodilla Bay is a popular mooring for yachts traveling through the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The most inhabited of all the islands and certainly the most visited is Providenciales, also known as “Provo.” It’s a wonderfully friendly place to visit and is home to the only Conch farm in the world. A number of diverse lodging possibilities are found on the beautiful, expansive, white sands and tranquil, turquoise waters of famous Grace Bay, which is within easy sight of the protective coral reef. Each property has their own separate identities, but offer an elegant lifestyle in a natural, tropical setting.
Restaurant service throughout the islands is done on “Island Time” … which is somewhat slower and certainly more laid back than what most visitors expect. Nevertheless, the food, atmosphere and presentation seems to always be surprisingly unique in Provo. However, to enjoy a distinctive island experience and authentic cuisine, drive to Blue Hills Beach for lunch at Da Conch Shack. This open air eatery is right on the beach, serves fresh local seafood in an island-style, and is saturated with loud music and plenty of local flies to swat away.
From Provo, the full breadth of the Turks & Caicos Islands is open to enjoy and explore, including dozens of small uninhabited cays and sister islands, many of which are tropical wilderness land. Also known for its favorable year-round climate, the average Provo temperature is a balmy, breezy 78ºF. Therefore, regardless of the season, these islands that dangle at the tip of the Bahamas chain like a shiny gold and turquoise pendant in the sun, are a joy to behold that will conjure up memories luring visitors to surely return.
For more information, check their website: www.turksandcaicostourism.com
January 2014 column
Huatulco is a secret Mexican paradise
As the curtain parted in my suite at the exquisite Quinta Real Resort in Huatulco, Mexico, the predawn colors were as abundant and diverse as those of a light beam passing through a prism. It seemed each degree of angle in the rising sun over the islands and beaches in the Bay of Tangolunda unveiled a new and exciting visual feast for the senses!
The name Huatulco comes from the Náhuatl word cuaúhtolco, meaning “the place where the wood is adored.” It is said that 2,000 years ago, in the time of the apostles of Jesus, the native Indians of this area saw an old, white man with long hair and a beard in an overcoat arrive from the sea. He arrived carrying a beautiful timber, like a cross, which was unusual and amazing to the people of the area. When he departed, the man told them that the holy timber should remain on the beach. Due to these events, large pilgrimages of native Indians from many places would come to the beach to admire the holy timber. Therefore, it seems appropriate to tell the story of Huatulco just after the Christmas season.
In the mid 1600s, the region was used by Hernán Cortés to distribute the produce of his farms along the coast, which turned Huatulco into an extremely active port. This attracted pirates during the second half of the 16th century, including Drake and the famous Thomas Cavendish. Thereafter, the place became a quiet fishing village, until the Mexican government began developing it as a planned tourist complex in 1983.
For more than 20 years, Huatulco has served as the perfect getaway for native Mexicans looking for a gorgeous destination to enjoy a romantic holiday, but few outside of Mexico even knew of its existence. Recently, however, knowledgeable travelers from the USA and Canada have ventured into this secluded section of Mexico. Due to the new influx of international tourists, Huatulco now offers a number of diverse activities and trips for every taste.
Many choose a frolicking trip on one of the tour boats that sail frequently from Santa Cruz Harbor to view the nine bays and numerous white sand beaches of Huatulco. Instead, I would opt for the eco-adventure tours into forested countryside via ATV or horseback. This is an excellent way to observe the local flora and fauna in a forest area that is protected as a nature reserve.
I found the most interesting and educational day trip available was a visit to the Finca La Gloria coffee plantation in the nearby mountains. A virtual kaleidoscope of nature unfolds all around, and it is easy to see the changes in plants and trees as the altitude increases. Numerous birds, lizards, armadillos and multicolored tarantulas are seen before passing through an ancient village after an hour of driving. This small village has existed and remained untouched for more than 400 years, and has a church that dates back to the 1600s.
Before going on to the coffee plantation, we took a side trip to visit a magnificent waterfall near the headwaters of the Rio Copalito. Several Mexican families were enjoying the cool waters, diving from the rocks or swinging from a rope into the pool below the falls. At the plantation we were shown the process of the coffee from its cultivation to the final product. The best part of the visit to the plantation, however, was an Oaxacan style, freshly prepared lunch by the owners.
At the Quinta Real Hotel, we enjoyed plush accommodations, fantastic service, scrumptious meals and hospitality that is rarely matched anywhere in the world! Because the hotel is perched high on a hill overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean, the vistas alone are among the best in Huatulco. Reservations are required and can be obtained by visiting their website at: www.quintareal.com/contact-reservations
In retrospect, I was wrong to have judged Mexico harshly before I had visited Huatulco. This gem that is located south of Acapulco on the Pacific rim is a bastion of ecological-friendly development, natural beauty and historical interest, which makes this hidden treasure one of Mexico’s finest destinations!
December 2013 column
Seeing America's oldest city in a new way
The first streaking light beams of sunrise illuminate the beautiful panorama of America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. It has always been and still is one of the favorite places for many Georgians to visit, but unique changes have made it even better! One of the most notable is the complete, modern restoration of the old Bridge of Lions going to the lighthouse and beach. In the past, it would have taken nearly a half hour to let a boat through the harbor area, but the state-of-the-art drawbridge now opens and closes in less than 10 minutes.
Thank goodness some things never change, and one of those is the immaculate St. Francis Inn Bed and Breakfast, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and less than a block from the certified “Oldest House in St. Augustine.” The St. Frances is certainly the oldest inn in the city and the structure dates back to 1791 when it was built as the home place of Spanish soldier, Gaspar Garcia. Though the building had quite a few owners, it wasn’t until 1845 that the house was converted into a lodging place.
For nearly 30 years, the St. Frances Inn has been owned and operated by the Finnegan family and is always considered one of the finest B&Bs in the nation. It is located at the juncture of two narrow, ancient brick streets ... St. Frances and St. George and boasts a cozy tree-shrouded garden courtyard just inside the entrance gate. Visitors find a plethora of collectable items, great service, quaint rooms, gourmet breakfasts, and even a famous ghost at the inn.
A room on the third floor has become known as “Lily’s Room” because of many strange happenings associated with it over the years. The story goes that a young nephew of the owner in the 19th century fell in love with a servant girl who worked at the inn. One day when the lovers were discovered by the uncle, he dismissed the girl and forbade the boy from ever seeing her again, so the young man committed suicide. According to many former guests and staff members, Lily has been seen in the room, around the inn or passing in the hallway dressed in white ... apparently looking for her lover. More about Lily and the inn is available on their website: www.stfrancisinn.com
Tasting the marvelous creations of French Chef Jean Stephane Poinard at the Bistro de Leon (www.Bistrodeleon.com
) was the highlight of my first day in St. Augustine. His culinary invention of a thin-crusted brioche, which he labeled the iBun and filled with pulled pork, is mouthwatering. This magical iBun has the capability of keeping any filling warm for more than two hours, and unlike wraps or other types of buns, it is never messy to eat. No matter what filling is used, the brioche part of the iBun tantalizes your taste buds.
One of the most recent additions to St. Augustine is the Colonial Quarter which consists of two acres sandwiched between the main street across from the old fort and the pedestrian only part of St. George Street. This exhibit gives the whole family a fun, hands-on glimpse of St. Augustine’s history from a Spanish settlement of the 16th century through the time of the British during the 18th century. It also includes a tower that allows anyone to climb up to get the best view of the harbor and the Castillo de San Marcos fort.
I found that one of the best parts inside Colonial Quarter complex is the Spanish tavern called Taberna del Caballo as a lunch stop. If the weather is great, sampling their Cuban sandwich, tapas and flatbreads with an interesting assortment of fillings is the perfect culinary break during a busy day of touring. For more information, check their website: www.colonialquarter.com.
An evening spent tasting a variety of the best Irish whiskey in St. Augustine with the owner of the relatively new Meehan’s Irish Pub and Seafood House (www.meehansirishpub.com
) forced me to hang onto a friend while walking back to the St. Frances Inn. Nevertheless, the beverages were outstanding, the atmosphere was entertaining, and the seafood and real Irish dishes were superb.
Almost across the street from the famous Flagler College is a unique place that has pictures all over the walls of people with strange facial expressions. These victims have all earned their 15 minutes of fame at the Hot Shot Bakery and Cafe (www.hotshotbakery.com
) by biting into one of Chef Sherry Stoppelbein’s chocolate-dipped datil peppers. These mild-looking little peppers will burn your mouth like you had sipped gasoline and lit a match! However, I found that hot tea with lots of sugar would bring your mouth and taste buds back to life enough to savor Sherry’s famous pumpkin/pecan waffles with syrup for breakfast.
On the historic side of eating places in St. Augustine is the world-renowned O.C. White’s Restaurant (www.ocwhitesrestaurant.com
) that began in 1790. It boasts both inside and outside dining from a fabulous seafood menu with live entertainment along the waterfront.
An excellent way to have an eclectic taste of many local eateries is to take a food and wine tasting tour with St. Augustine City Walks (www.staugustinecitywalks.com
). Cost is quite reasonable and allows sampling of chef’s specials at several restaurants over a couple of hours during the middle of the day.
For the most part, you will find that the historic section of St. Augustine is a very small town that is easily covered on foot. Just to learn your way around when you first arrive, I would suggest taking the Old Town Trolley Tour (www.historictours.com
) or a more personal trip in a stately car with the St. Augustine Vintage Car Tours (www.staugustinevintagecartours.com
Few places in the Americas command the historical respect and significance of St. Augustine. Its narrow, brick streets, ancient buildings, and Mediterranean atmosphere appear much as they did during the 17th century. Because of this construction, most of the building boom in Florida bypassed St. Augustine and allowed a thoughtful restoration program to proceed. The result is a historical showcase of old and new that draws vacationers from all over the globe. For Americans, St. Augustine is one of those special places that must be seen and experienced at least once in a lifetime!
November 2013 column
Vista Verde Ranch is the best of the west
The cow all the guests at the Vista Verde Ranch had named “Diabolical” had his vicious-looking eyes piercing into mine as he made an instant pirouette, but my anticipation was way ahead of him! Even before his athletic move, I had jerked my horse Gunnar’s head in the right direction and slapped him with the reins to cut off the bad cow. That turned him back toward one of the best cowboys in the West ... Terry Wegener, where he would have no escape!
Terry and I had cut this bad boy out of a herd of Texas cows to teach him a lesson and make him behave. We ran him to the middle of a corral about the size of a football field with Terry and his prize horse, Gun Shy Gangster (better known as Gunny) on one side and me and Gunnar on the other. In order to wear the cow down, we cut him off at every angle to keep him between us until his tongue was hanging out. In retrospect, I labeled our efforts ... Cow Soccer!
No doubt riding and learning about horses and cows is one of the main reasons that people visit dude ranches in Colorado, but Vista Verde Ranch offers so much more. They truly make an extra effort to let you experience everything that they offer, but will go out of their way to see that all of your other requests are satisfied. Much of the staff is comprised of seasonal young people from all over the country who are checked thoroughly ... including a personal visit from General Manager, Ben Martin. Therefore, the youngsters and the permanent staff all have a zest for life, love to engage with guests in conversation or ranch experiences, and have the best attitudes I have ever seen in all my days of traveling the world!
Though I have ridden horses off and on since my childhood, I learned more about them during my week at Vista Verde than I could have imagined. Just being around Terry Wegener is an education in the mannerisms and psychology of horses. He and his wife are also involved in the training and riding of the Denver Broncos horse Thunder at the football games.
The horse program at Vista Verde Ranch is top of the line when compared to any other in the West ... partly because of the very large heated indoor riding area. This venue allows Terry and other trainers like Annie Bolognino from Montana and Nicky Throgmartin from Indiana to work with the younger horses and give special Horsemanship Clinics for guests regardless of the weather.
The Mare Barn also gives the breeding stock a quiet place away from the central ranch to deliver and raise the foals. Though Terry is in charge of the breeding and horse sales, Annie and Nicky primarily work with the younger horses and share this experience with guests of the ranch. Because Vista Verde Ranch is located in the National Forest and has access to the wild and beautiful Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, horseback riding and hiking trails are numerous, adventuresome and breathtaking! You can even ride your horse to a hidden sanctuary among colorful Aspen trees to partake in Wild Yoga with expert instructor Kelli King.
I found the fly fishing and guides at the ranch to be knowledgeable, personable and quite talented in the numerous waters available to anglers visiting Vista Verde. The possibilities range from small creeks to rivers to still water lakes and from very simple fishing to extremely difficult. Rainbow, Cutthroat, Brook and Brown Trout are always possible catches as well as Mountain Whitefish and Grayling.
A true hero from the US Army’s Special Forces, Brandon Martin, is the Director of the Fly Fishing Program and a pleasure to be with anytime. His expert fly fishing partner in the program is Bubba Veteto from Colorado who loves to hang out with the chefs in the kitchen when he’s not guiding guests.
It would take a book to relate all there is to see and enjoy at Vista Verde Ranch near the famous ski resort village of Steamboat Springs, CO. One of the most important things to know is that any visit to this ranch is All-Inclusive ... and they live by that even to the point of free pick up and delivery to the airport that is nearly an hours drive from the ranch.
The Lodge and Cabin rooms are authentic log structures with all the comforts seen in other fine resorts with one exception ... no TVs in the rooms. The diverse cuisine created by top chefs can range from simple barbecue to intricate gourmet meals with many different wines. Summer activities include numerous horse-related opportunities, barn dancing, fly or spin fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting classes, rock climbing, rafting, local shopping tours, and photography just to name a few.
There’s probably not a bad time of year to visit Vista Verde Ranch, but I feel that I hit it at the most opportune moment for the best photography in the early fall. At the beginning of the week, the weather was like summer with midday temperatures reaching into the high 60s and falling to the 40s at night. Soon the mercury began to fall, and all the bright gold Aspen trees changed in two days. During the last part of the week, we were blessed with a blanket of more than a foot of powdery snow. It was the perfect time to experience the gorgeous metamorphosis that occurs annually in the mountains and valleys of Northwestern Colorado.
In my opinion and that of other guests, this is the best, most diverse, and client friendly working ranch in the Western USA. However, it is very busy throughout the year, so reservations in advance are necessary for couples or families. For more information or bookings, go to the Vista Verde website (www.vistaverde.com
) or call them toll-free at: 800-526-7433.
Just one week in the early fall was a revelation to me of this part of Colorado and gave me a taste of summer, fall and winter on a ranch. Now, my dream is to return one day to experience the winter ski season when the ranch is all decked out for a Cowboy Christmas.
October 2013 column
Special tastes of a Boston trip
This is the final segment of a two-part series on Boston.
Before biting into the mouthwatering bone-in filet mignon on my plate, I was mesmerized by the colorful view of the Boston Harbor panorama from my table at Del Frisco’s of Boston
. This architectural masterpiece was built on the popular Liberty Wharf allowing picturesque vistas of the harbor and downtown. Patrons can choose the lengthy waterfront patio dining area or just plop down at the impressive circular showpiece bar. The grand entrance leads to a stylish main dining room, flanked with deep booths and private dining rooms. The interior design features modern fixtures, slashes of color and a unique art collection that highlights the complete dining experience.
The dinner menu is elaborate, but these are suggestions for an unforgettable palate pleasing evening:
Appetizer: Crab Cakes with Cajun Lobster Sauce
Salad: Del’s Salad with Mixed Greens, Tomato, Carrot, Crisp Bacon and Croutons
Soup: Boston Clam Chowder
Entree: 16 Ounce Bone-in Filet
Side: Lobster Macaroni and Cheese
Dessert: Lemon Cake with Lemon Buttercream Icing and a Lemon Glaze
(Unless you’re a big eater, this order is easily enough for two people.)
Del Frisco’s of Boston is THE best steak place in the area, has a special ambience and atmosphere and the friendliest most accommodating staff. Both the Maitre d’ (Jaimie), General Manager (Anthony) and their servers make sure that no guest is overlooked. For more information or reservations, call 617-951-1368.
While touring downtown Boston on the Upper Deck Trolley with Boston Super Tours (617-742-1440), I found two great places for lunch. Both the Granary Tavern in the Financial District and Durgin Park in Quincy Market offer unique tastes using traditional dishes.
is a 250 seat restaurant in a building built in 1816 that has two floors, two bars, an exposed kitchen, a sun-soaked patio and an atmosphere that bridges the gap between historic and modern. Their focus is on healthy preparations with locally sourced ingredients. My suggestions are to try a cup of the freshly made soup of the day followed by their special Granary Burger with beef from Archer Angus Farms topped with Vermont cheddar on a brioche roll and hand-cut fries. For information or reservations, call 617-449-7110.
Though Durgin-Park in Quincy Market
goes back to Revolutionary days, its true fame for serving purely Yankee meals started almost 150 years ago when John Durgin and his partner, Eldridge Park took control of the restaurant. These old Yankees decided that the best advertising is plenty of good food on the table which has carried through to modern times and still works. The lunch specials are: Poor Man’s Roast Beef, Homemade Fish Cakes pan roasted or fried, Chicken Livers sautéed in wine with bacon, Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, Frankfurters steamed or grilled, Knockwurst steamed or grilled, Potted Beef with onions, Boston Schrod broiled or baked with seasoned breadcrumbs, Yankee Pot Roast or Fish And Chips. Of all these historic Yankee offerings, the absolute best is the Yankee Pot Roast, which will melt in your mouth and cause your taste buds to do gymnastics! For a pleasant break in the middle of a day of touring Boston, have lunch at Durgin-Park for a taste of history and local cuisine. Contact them at: 617-227-2038.
Nobody comes to Boston without dining on great New England seafood, and one of the best and most famous eateries is Legal Sea Foods
. This renowned restaurant is just across the street from the harbor at Long Wharf that is the home port for numerous cruise ships and whale watching boats. General Manager Patrick Snow runs a fun and very tasty place with an indoor aquarium and lobster tank to entertain the younger crowd and some of the best seafood dishes anywhere for the older folks. Despite the many entrees and side items, the best choice at Legal Sea Foods is always the steamed lobster. Top that off at the end of the feast with hot coffee or tea and a healthy portion of Boston Cream Pie with chocolate sauce, rum caramel sauce and toffee almond crunch. You may regret the calories later, but you’ll kick yourself if you don’t try it!
For the last night of your Boston visit, go to the best historic atmosphere in the city at the famous Chart House
where General Manager Brian Kirk and his excellent staff will treat you to an unforgettable evening. This national chain restaurant is totally unique in Boston because it is located in the old Gardiner Building which dates back to 1760 and was once the accounting office of John Hancock, who was the most noticed signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is four stories of original brick and the oldest building still in use on the historic Long Wharf.
A good beginning is the Lobster Bisque laced with sherry to get that lobster taste satisfied followed by a Chart House Signature dish of Pine Nut Crusted Shrimp Linguine with lobster, fresh heirloom tomato and basil in a light wine sauce including a side of Crab Tater Tots. This lighter fare will leave room for the Signature Dessert of decadent Hot Chocolate Lava Cake. It is a rich chocolate cake with molten center, made with Godiva liqueur and served warm, topped with chocolate sauce, Heath bar crunch and vanilla ice cream. You may need some help for this sinful creation! For more information or reservations, call: 617-227-1576.
This is simply a small sampling of the outstanding and historic places to dine in this city by the sea that is so much a part of American history. I am always pleasantly impressed by the openness and hard work ethic of the wonderful people of Boston and constantly thrilled by the high caliber and magical tastes I find in all of their eateries. Therefore, I can already tell that my taste buds and stomach will rebel if I don’t make plans to return soon!
September 2013 column
The best way to see all of Boston
“Oh my God,” was my stunned reaction when I realized that I had left my bag with over $5,000 worth of camera lenses on the Super Tours bus! As most tourists feel in an impossible situation so far from home, I was terrified! It all happened when I got off of the “hop on-hop off” Upper Deck Trolley to see the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) at the Boston Navy Yard. So, I quickly dialed the phone number listed on the Super Tours guide map and told the dispatcher what had happened. Within seconds, the Group Sales Manager, Marc Dube, called his driver Joey, who secured my bag with the expensive lenses. Less than 30 minutes later, Marc showed up at the Navy Yard bus stop in his personal car with my bag and drove me to the next event on my schedule. This was simply a microcosm of the professionalism and care that I was afforded throughout my series of trips associated with Boston Super Tours.
After two failed attempts to see all that Boston has to offer on my own, one phone call to Bob Leikauskas (Master Captain at Super Duck Tours of Boston) was all I needed to assure me the best view of the city, harbor, and surrounding area. All one needs is this one simple ticket: Premium Upper Deck Trolley Tour with Cambridge Loop & Harbor Splash at www.BostonSuperTours.com
Hop On/Hop Off over two days
The Hop On/Hop Off package includes a free Super Duck Harbor Splash plus your choice of five more free tours. See Boston and Cambridge including Harvard Square in the custom high riding trolleys. Your tour stops at more than 21 Boston destinations and spans 400 years of American history.
Purchase a Boston City Pass to go with the Premium Super Tours ticket, and you will have all you need to see and do everything important on your trip to Boston. Here are some of the locations you can visit via a Boston City Pass (www.citypass.com/boston
New England Aquarium Offering more than 800 species of marine animals.
Museum of Science Explore hands-on, minds-on science.
Skywalk Observatory. Only observatory in New England with 360-degree views.
Museum of Fine Arts. Featuring masterpieces of art from around the world and across the ages.
Harvard Museum of Natural History. Admission to all permanent and special exhibits, as well as special programs at this highly acclaimed natural history museum.
Even though money is saved when buying these passes, the best parts are that you bypass long ticket lines, you have your own tour guide and you solve the major problem of getting around in Boston traffic. Renting a car in Boston with its overabundance of vehicles and impossible parking problem is a bad option. Either use Super Tours trolleys, local mass transit, or do as I did ... call Alex with 555 Limo Service at 857-544-6050. He will take you anywhere in the Boston area for $3.50 per mile in a very nice car with a friendly driver.
During my two days of touring in Boston, I was amazed at the historical buildings and artifacts that have been preserved among the modern skyscrapers, which the Super Tours drivers eloquently explained. The walk through a maze of interesting shops and eateries in Quincy Market is a must. Also, nobody should come to Boston without standing on the deck of “Old Ironsides” in the Boston Navy Yard. That old ship once saved our country from the most powerful navy in the world and is still the oldest active naval vessel in history.
The Super Duck Splash and Harbor Tour are both entertaining as well as enlightening, and I found the Charles River Cruise by the Charles Riverboat Company (www.charlesriverboat.com
) between Cambridge, Harvard, MIT and Boston proper to be picturesque and educational. That company also has an interesting, laid back Sunset Cruise on a real paddle wheel boat in Boston Harbor each evening.
It would take a book to mention all that I saw during my Boston stay, but some of the best other memories were of the New England Aquarium, Long Wharf, the Old State House, Boston Common, the Cheers Boston Bar and Grille, Fenway Park, the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, the Boston Tea Party Museum, and the Old South Meeting House.
What I failed to elaborate in this article is one of the best experiences when visiting this old seacoast town ... the fantastic food! In my article next month, I will take readers on a culinary tour of some of the tastiest and most unique restaurants in our country!
August 2013 column
North Georgia Indian heritage honored at islands
Sidney Lanier’s words from his famous poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee,” only reveals a small part of the fascinating history of the Chattahoochee River that is the heart and soul of Lake Lanier. Long before the European settlers came to this area, a proud nation of native Indians roamed the foot hills and mountains of this picturesque land, and that history is now being recognized at Lake Lanier Islands Resort in the form of exquisite bronze statues by sculptor Art Oldham.
The Cherokee Nation in Northeast Georgia was of Iroquoian lineage from the Great Lakes Region and the largest of the tribes in the Southeast. They called themselves “Ani’-Yun’ wiya” or “Principal People” and controlled more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians by 1650 with a population estimated at 22,500.
Their nation was a confederacy of towns, each subordinate to supreme chiefs. When encountered by Europeans, they were an agricultural people who lived in log homes, not teepees, and observed sacred religious practices. In most cases, the Cherokees were far better educated and civilized than most of the settlers.
Though the Cherokees, as well as other Indian tribes, sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, they quickly adapted to the white man’s culture, and even volunteered to fight with Andrew Jackson against the British in the War of 1812. Nevertheless, Cherokee culture continued to flourish with the invention of the Cherokee syllabary in 1821. This system, in which each character represents a syllable, produced rapid literacy. It made possible their written constitution, the spread of Christianity and the printing of the only Indian newspaper The Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. The newspaper is again being published, but acted as the official voice of the Cherokee government for its first seven years before being silenced during the roundup to march the Cherokee Nation on the “Trail of Tears” to reservations in Oklahoma.
This happened because in 1830 the Congress of the United States passed the “Indian Removal Act.” Although many Americans were against the act, most notably Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, it passed anyway. President Jackson quickly signed the bill into law. The Cherokees attempted to fight removal legally by challenging this law in the Supreme Court and by establishing an independent Cherokee Nation. At first the court seemed to rule against the Indians. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the court refused to hear a case extending Georgia’s laws on the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester v. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign, making the removal laws invalid. The Cherokee would have to agree to removal in a treaty. The treaty then would have to be ratified by the Senate.
Despite the warnings of Chief John Ross and the support of most of the Cherokee Nation, several tribal leaders, who only had a following of around 700 of the 17,000 Cherokee in North Georgia, signed a treaty for the whole tribe. This action gave Jackson the legal document he needed to remove the Indians. Among the few who spoke out against the ratification were Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, but it passed by a single vote. So, in 1838 the United States began the removal to Oklahoma. When he was ordered to remove the Cherokee, General John Wool resigned his command in protest, delaying the action. His replacement, General Winfield Scott, arrived at the Cherokee Capital on May 17, 1838 with 7,000 men and began moving the tribe. In one of the saddest episodes in history, men, women and children were taken from their land, herded together with minimal facilities and food, and then forced to march a thousand miles in horrible conditions. About 4,000 Cherokee died as a result of the “The Trail of Tears.”
Ironically, a country formed 50 years earlier on the premise “that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... ” brutally closed the curtain on a culture that had done no wrong.
Therefore, with great pride and humility, I believe that the Cherokee Nation and my Cherokee ancestors would be eternally grateful for this striking recognition in superb art from the vision of Mr. Virgil Williams and the hands of Art Oldham!
Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Lake Lanier Islands several years ago, but with all the division in our country at the present time, I felt it to be a good time for a reminder of our local history.
July 2013 column
Cumberland is Georgia's most special island
With more than 20 miles of beaches and dunes facing the Atlantic Ocean, the hundreds of wild horses understand the freedom and beauty of running alone with the breezes and tides of Cumberland Island. This breathtaking vision of the way life was more than 100 years ago is the true beauty of Georgia’s southernmost barrier island. It is situated three miles from the mainland and boasts a diversity of ecosystems including saltwater marshes, mud flats, tidal creeks, maritime forests, white sand beaches, and dunes. Cumberland Island is three miles wide, slightly larger and much less inhabited than New York’s Manhattan Island, and limits visitation to 300 people per day.
Cumberland is an important sanctuary to threatened loggerhead sea turtles. These turtles can weigh up to 350 pounds, lay eggs from May to September, and are fervently protected by both state and federal biologists. Cumberland was established as a national seashore in 1972 which has allowed the sand, wind, sea, and natural flora and fauna to reclaim some of the land.
One of the most striking relics of the past is the remarkable Dungeness ruins that Andrew Carnegie’s brother Thomas built as a magnificent estate in the early 1900s and abandoned in the 1920s. A fire burned much of the structure in 1959, leaving the haunting stone ruins that are seen today.
Though time and tide move slowly, one part of Cumberland Island seems to stand still, and that is Greyfield. Located on the western shore facing the Intercostal Waterway, this rambling old home was built in 1900 for Margaret Ricketson, daughter of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie. It was opened as an inn in 1962 by Margaret’s daughter, Lucy R. Ferguson, and her family. The Greyfield compound includes over 200 privately owned acres on Cumberland including its own small wooden gazebo on a high dune at the beach where one can perch to watch the great blue herons, gulls, ibis, osprey, and terns paint an ever-changing kaleidoscope of nature above the constant crash of waves from the sea.
Greyfield is quite exclusive and extremely expensive, so unless you have permits and plan to camp, I would suggest coming to St. Marys and obtaining a room at the Riverview Hotel which was built in 1916. This property has also been the choice of such notable people as John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Andrew Carnegie, Governor Eugene Talmadge, Senator Richard Russell, and even weatherman, Willard Scott. This old hotel is on the waterfront and has become the central gathering point for folks headed to Cumberland Island. From the dock of St. Marys’ Waterfront, visitors board the Cumberland Lady for camping or day trips to enjoy swimming, shelling, fishing, wild horses, loggerhead sea turtles and much more.
No picture or story could ever accurately capture Cumberland. One must become caught up in the natural rhythm and feel this special place. The desert-like sweep of sandy beach is dotted with shells, the slight movement of ghost crabs, and free-roaming wild horses. Inland, the moss shrouded live oak and pine maritime forests provide ample habitat for a wide array of wildlife, including deer, feral hogs, bobcats, and a diverse bird population.
A team of experienced naturalists are always on-hand to take patrons on eco-tours of Cumberland Island. This is the absolute best way to experience the unforgettable beauty and unique history of this barrier island.
The unique experience of combining the natural wonder of the shifting sands and ever-changing flora and fauna of Cumberland Island make this diverse geography one of the most romantic and interesting places in our part of the world!
Ferry to Cumberland Island and National Seashore:
Senior Citizens: $18
Children 12 & under: $14
Park User Fee: $4
Reservations: 877-860-6787 or 912-882-4335
Tip: Ask about Plum Orchard Tours
Ticketed guests must check-in at the Cumberland Island Visitors Center a minimum of 30 minutes prior to departure.
June 2013 column
St. Marys is the beauty at the end of the road
Exploration has always been in my blood, so even when traveling down a dead-end road, I find it impossible to turn around before I discover the mysteries that might manifest themselves at the end. Therefore, going off the map on Highway 40 into the historic village of St. Marys, Ga., seemed a natural progression. I found this tiny picturesque seacoast town to be unique, quite lively, historical, and much like Key West, Fla., on a smaller scale. It offers several interesting lodging opportunities, dining establishments that run the gamut for the taste buds, and a bar with one of the most outspoken characters I’ve ever encountered.
To really receive an introduction to the diversity of the St. Marys scene, I would suggest at least one night at the Riverview Hotel built in 1916 and owned and operated by the former mayor, Jerry Brandon and his wife, Gaila. The property has been the home base to such notable people as John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Andrew Carnegie, Governor Eugene Talmadge, Senator Richard Russell, and even weatherman, Willard Scott.
This old hotel is on the waterfront and seems to be a central gathering point for folks headed to Cumberland Island, but is very popular with the local crowd as well. One reason for the success of the Riverview Hotel is their Captain Seagle’s Restaurant that boasts fabulous fresh seafood, great steaks and pasta, and Rock Shrimp, which are historic on this section of the Georgia Coast. After a scrumptious dinner, however, visitors need to saunter through the hotel lobby to Seagle’s Saloon for the unforgettable experience of meeting Cindy Deen! Believe me ... there are not enough adjectives to describe the behavior and personality of this middle-aged, drink-slinging woman with a sharp tongue! Leave the kiddies at home, don’t bring your minister, and prepare for some strong language and lots of fun!
Another imaginative place to stay in St. Marys is the Goodbread House built in 1870 and hosted by a lady of much different character than Cindy Deen. Her name is Mardja and her immaculate B&B is about a block from the action of the waterfront. The rooms are based on romantic themes from great love stories that keep guests spellbound. The porch swings are made for lovers, and the breakfasts are quite gourmet incorporating Mardja’s own mouthwatering recipes. For more information or reservations, check her website at: www.goodbreadhouse.com
Two other eateries in St. Marys are certainly worth your time and money for an evening meal, and these are: Shark Bites (912-576-6993) and Pauley’s Cafe (912-882-3944). Shark Bites has an extensive menu for informal dining with a view of the waterfront from a second level, and the best place for sunsets in the town. Pauley’s Cafe, however, is a small “hole in the wall” restaurant with great Italian cuisine and a unique taste in a very laid back atmosphere.
If you want a more nature inspired stay in a really nice place that evokes a local country ambience, I would suggest Emma’s B&B (www.emmasbedandbreakfast.com
) just outside the waterfront area. The breakfast is Southern and simply tasty, the rooms are comfortable and clean, and the owners are very friendly and accommodating.
For those who love the game of golf, it would be hard to find a more picturesque or challenging venue than the Laurel Island Links (www.laurelislandlinksgolf.com
) that was designed by Davis Love III and located a short drive from St. Marys. Georgia pines line the perimeters of this course that affords gorgeous visitas of the marshes that abound with waterbirds, geese, and ducks. These are 18 holes that you will fondly remember!
The sleepy coastal village of St. Marys was founded in 1787 and still displays numerous Victorian and Antebellum homes, which can be seen by hiring local guides for a nominal fee. Visiting anglers will find numerous public fishing piers located within several miles of St. Marys. The main catches from these piers are spotted sea trout, redfish, flounder, black drum, and sheepshead. Day trips from St. Marys to Cumberland Island are also available from the waterfront.
Despite recent changes to this area, St. Marys remains the sleepy fishing village it’s been for more than two centuries. It is a place where the stars seem closer, and the nights are quieter. Time appears to move as slowly as the river. Nevertheless, whatever your interests, wonderful memories will be a part of any visit to beautiful St. Marys!
May 2013 column
Horse Stamp Inn is Georgia Elegance with a western flair
Even before my visit to the Horse Stamp Inn (www.HorseStampInn.com
), located about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, I had heard wonderful things about this gorgeous property. The physical beauty, however, wouldn’t begin to tell the story of the unique personal touches that have been incorporated into this facility by owners, Kris and Tom Hutcheson.
Though a fairly recent construction, the property has the feel of the Old South from the long driveway leading to an elegant fountain in the middle of a circular driveway to the steps of the inn. Nevertheless, the interior displays touches of the Hutcheson’s former home in Colorado with a Kentucky flair because of rooms named after famous horses like Seabiscuit.
Naturally, the best part of the Horse Stamp Inn is the genuine friendliness of Kris and Tom who immediately make you feel at home. Be it lemonade in the afternoon, wine and cheese before dinner, or a wonderful, home-cooked breakfast creation, the Hutchesons are good at what they do and a joy to be around.
On special occasions, they offer the expertise of Chef Dave Snyder from the famous Halyard’s Restaurant on St. Simons Island (www.halyardsrestaurant.com) to entertain and astound guests of the inn. Dave can easily takeover the kitchen and prepare a dozen unique and tasty hors d’oeuvres followed by a mouthwatering and unforgettable meal.
The Horse Stamp Inn offers a laid back atmosphere that beckons every guest to relax and take in the gorgeous 16 acres of the property. This includes an inviting swimming pool, a small pond for guests who have the urge to catch a bass, and an immaculate barn complete with working chickens that provide eggs for great omelets. The resident quarter horse is named Belle Fleur, and she can be seen roaming the grounds looking for a fresh vegetable from willing guests.
For those who have an urge to swing a golf club, the nearby championship course at Sanctuary Cove, designed by Fred Couples and Davis Love III, is very picturesque and quite challenging. The Golf Club at Sanctuary Cove provides a true and fair test of golf which appeals to players of all ability levels.
A short ride to the old town of Woodbine can provide great entertainment and a taste of local culture and cuisine for the evening at Capt. Stan’s Smokehouse. It has a reputation as one of the best BBQ restaurants on the Georgia Coast complete with a bonfire, Capt. Stan, and local outdoor music. This attraction can give you a new appreciation for the peace and quiet of the inn.
The Horse Stamp Inn is a great place from which to explore the nearby Golden Isles and the rest of the Georgia Coast, but it is also a special place for weddings. Kris, Tom, and their staff can provide all that is needed for an unforgettable wedding that is unique to every couple regardless of age.
This beautiful property offers qualities that would be memorable to guests for any reason, but reservations are necessary. Contact the Hutchesons at: 912-882-6280.
April 2013 column
Fun, food, racing and adventure - all a part of visiting Austin
Watching a pack of 70 race cars decelerate from more than 150 mph into a 30 mph hairpin turn at the start of a race is spectacular, and that happens each race at the brand new Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin, Texas. This world-class race track was only completed last November, just in time for the first Formula One race held in the USA in nearly 10 years. It is a state-of-the-art venue for all motor racing activities that include Formula One, Rolex-Grand Am, Australian Super Cars, SCCA, and MotoGP for motorcycles. Food selection and other services are limited, but it’s a fantastic place to watch top notch International racing. Austin, however, offers far more than racing, the University of Texas, and the government of the Lone Star State. It is known for unique Tex-Mex eateries, tasty barbecue, great music, history, diverse dancing opportunities, and friendly Texas hospitality.
A great introduction to downtown Austin is the famous Z’Tejas Restaurant that was born in an old Victorian house on historic 6th Street in 1989. In its own distinct style, this eatery has a tasty menu with bold, robust flavors that are typical throughout the Southwest. The area is always bustling with people, cars, and the restaurant has a vibrant, young exuberance like that found throughout the city. For needed reservations, call 512-478-5355.
For dinner, entertainment, and the best BBQ in Texas, make the short ride out of downtown to the renowned Salt Lick in Driftwood. Be sure to come early and bring cash because the place will be packed by sundown, and they don’t take checks or credit cards ... it’s the old Texas way! Actor Dennis Quaid said, “Salt Lick is 10 miles out of town in the Hill Country, but it’s well worth the drive!” Sandra Bullock added, “My God, this food is the best ... I mean the best!” It’s a BYOB kinda place, but great beer and wine are for sale in the restaurant complex. They also have a playground for the kids, plus live music, so bring the whole family. The BBQ offerings are numerous and mouthwatering, the BBQ sauces are fantastic, and the desserts are decadent! You will be so stuffed by the time you leave that you will have to roll to your car instead of walk. For more information, call 512-858-4959.
To see and feel another side of the Texas scene, I would suggest having breakfast with the working folks at Dan’s Restaurant in the suburb of Buda. Even though Dan’s is more famous for its burgers, they have been serving the best traditional breakfast in the Austin area since opening in 1973. For information or directions, call: 512-312-5361.
No trip to Austin would be complete without visiting the old town of Gruene (pronounced Green) less than an hour drive away. This historic village was started in 1872 by Henry D. Gruene who bought the land to farm cotton and built a house that still stands today as the Gruene Mansion Inn. Though it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Texas Historic Landmark, it is still operated as a bed and breakfast. For reservations, call: 830-629-2641.
The most famous structure in Gruene, however, is Gruene Hall built in 1878 and is the oldest continually active dance hall in the USA. This historic building has served as a beginning place for numerous great songwriters, musicians, and singers ... including George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, Lyle Lovett, Hal Ketchum, and too many others to name. Great stars of music have also played here, including Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowwell, Bo Diddly, the Dixie Chicks, Arlo Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Leon Russell, Marty Stuart, and many more. During my visit, I had the pleasure of listening to the unique Country Rockin’ Blues of Mike Zito and his band. Their music had everyone in the place clapping their hands and patting their feet to the great rhythmic sound.
A great place to eat in the downtown area is the Gruene River Grill that overlooks the beautiful Guadalupe River. This rambling eatery has a large interior area, a special wine room, and a comfortable outside patio with a river view. The food is great, the atmosphere is casual, and it is quite family friendly. For more information or reservations, call: 830-624-2300.
Since the Guadalupe River flows through Gruene, a multitude of outdoor recreational pursuits are available. This is the only river in Texas that is cold enough to maintain a population of rainbow and brown trout, and is home to the rare Guadalupe bass. It is also very popular for tubing, canoeing, and kayaking in the cooler waters coming from below Canyon Lake, which is one of the deepest lakes in Texas.
For me personally, the trip to Austin, was a chance to hook up with an old friend who had worked on my pit crew during my racing days in Europe more than 40 years ago. Ray Gay lives in the area, and is an expert on all the right places to see, eat, and enjoy. His knowledge and gracious Texas style opened a whole new vision for me about the wonderful possibilities for fun, food, and adventure that I had never envisioned in the Lone Star State.
March 2013 column
Springtime at Lake Lanier is simply spectacular
While easing along a flowering shoreline at Lake Lanier, I was suddenly startled by the sound of movement nearby. I whirled around to see what appeared to be some small dogs playing near the water, but on closer inspection, I realized that they were actually red fox pups! During my more than 40 years of being a fishing, birding, and wildlife guide on Lake Lanier, this was simply one of thousands of pleasant surprises that I have encountered throughout many springtimes on this gorgeous lake.
As the path of the sun and its warming rays move more toward the north and the days begin to lengthen, Lanier shakes off the winter chill and comes to life with color, sound, and subtle movement. Love seems to be in the air for fish, birds, and wildlife that magically appear in every direction. Spring is the best time to enjoy the great fishing, abundant bird populations, or diverse flora and fauna. Even though I travel all over the globe, when people ask me where I would rather be at this time of year, my answer is always ... Lake Lanier!
First we see the tiny buds adorning the very tips of tree limbs, the bird songs become more prevalent, and animals are seen beginning their mating rituals along the forested red clay banks of the lake. When spring finally bursts out completely, however, the shorelines explode with colors from the dogwoods, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and wild azaleas.
One of the best discoveries in the past few springs is the return of bald eagles to Lanier. Since my first sighting of a family of these magnificent raptors on the north end of the lake several years ago, I have had the pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breathtaking presence with my guide clients on many eco tours and fishing trips. At first, we only saw them on birding or wildlife viewing trips with my jet boat into the upper Chattahoochee River above the lake, but now they seem to be showing up more frequently on the main parts of the lake. I still have cold chills whenever I encounter any of these gorgeous creatures because of the national pride that goes with this magnificent symbol of our country.
Ospreys are also relative newcomers to the area around Lanier, but these birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, however, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative, and even more obvious is the osprey’s white breast feathers. Bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
Throughout the spring one can see and hear the most unique bird that has ever graced the waters of Lanier ... the common loon. Loons are divers that are 24 to f40 inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bill. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached