Sunday, December 30, 2007
It’s All About the Girl
By Barbara Barton Sloane
This season designers put basic black and stark white on the back-burner, choosing instead florals, sheer fabrics and vibrant hues. Spring/Summer is shaping up as the ticket for women who like to look pretty.
The Spring collection by the Badgley Mischka boys seems inspired by the 1920s French Rivera of “Tender is the Night” – beads, fringe, champagne-soaked nights. They re-invented a drop- waist flapper dress in blush tulle and satin. In another reference to their inspiration, the designers studded a halter-neck sleeveless dress with crystals in a geometric Art Deco style. The pair said they were taken with “the way that this decade’s clothes were put together and polished, yet didn’t grab the body.” Grabbing delicately at the body and in a more modern vein, there’s an above the knee, spaghetti strapped, chiffon-floaty design, white to the hips and then morphing into a tender leaf green. Their strapless dress of polished cotton printed in boldly patterned blue and white is as fresh and crisp as a spring morning.
Giles Mendel cited the French photographer Guy Bourdin, master of erotic innuendo, as his touchstone. In his romantic nod to spring, Mendel couldn’t resist a painted flower here and a lace insert there. Some of his strongest looks, however, are his fresh basics, among them a sandy-hued, sleeveless, casually belted dress, cut just above the knee with patch-pockets top and bottom, a modern twist on the classic shirt dress.
Lavish is the word for the fabrics Carolina Herrera chose for her Spring/Summer collection. Last year she cited Edvard Munch as her inspiration. This season it’s the interiors illustrator Jeremiah Goodman, among whose clients were Pauline de Rothschild and Diana Vreeland - thus luxe is the touchstone here. Herrera’s heart is in her evening wear. She offers a short and sweet all-white design: an above the knee white skirt worn with a cotton T and topped with a sequined jacket splashed with champagne flowers.
She is nothing if not a savvy businesswoman, but for Spring, Diane von Furstenberg has pleasure in mind. She says it is about “the fantasy of escaping to exotic islands and the wilder shores of love.” Indeed. Her menagerie of print offerings is well-represented in a jaunty black flowers-on-cream dress, swingy skirt and head gypsey-wrapped in the same whimsical fabric.
The fast route to a successful Spring/Summer Pucci show: book a flight to Capri. That’s where, after all, the island paradise most closely associated with this print house was born exactly 60 years ago. One Pucci look this season that effectively channels Capri is a blazingly bright number in citrus-colored tangerine. Pucci avoids sugar-shock, however, in his elegantly cut Bermuda shorts paired with a flowing blouse punctuated with fuschia and slipping sexily off one shoulder. Sizzling as Capri itself!
This season in Milan, it took Versace to get hold of drapey, goddessy dressing and make it look hot, easy and believable. Donatella shows beautifully constructed silk jersey dresses – from short togas to open-backed draped shifts in a rainbow of colors, each piece gorgeous in its own right. One of her more casual designs: shorter than Bermuda, toast-colored shorts . The ample cut and fine tailoring saves them from looking inelegant. She tops the shorts by echoing spring’s theme and going completely printastic! A billowing silk blouse, turquoise slashes slithering around it, puts this look firmly in style for Spring/Summer ’08.
Looking at some Virgina Slims’ advertising of the late 70s and early 80s inspires the Michael Kors collection. “There was something about those women that was very sexy but sporty at the same time,” he explains. Kind of like the Kors woman. Come springtime, she’ll need clothes for lunch at the club, cocktails, cruises and galas too. Kors had plenty of suggestions, and one look that seems designed for a Maidstone lunch – impeccably cut white pants worn with a pristine sleeveless greige, double-breasted top ending at the hips and circled with a narrow gold belt. He accessorizes this with an insouciant wide-brimmed hat, large shades and gold jewelry.
Frida Giannini’s Gucci Spring/Summer designs picks up on some of the things going around this season – the fifties big-skirted silhouette, a bit of toga dressing, patent-leather accessories, and yes, ubiquitous prints. One sure stand-out: a short-sleeved, v-neck dress, gently flowing skirt just to the knee, On white ground, Gucci splashes it with a black and red geometric design, a print that pulses and appears, at any moment, to leap off the dress. She pairs it with short black gloves, big black patent bag and red peep-toe pumps. Ah yes, Spring is here!
Friday, December 28, 2007
Getting Comfortable in your Skin!
By Barbara Barton Sloane
The mercury is dipping, the wind is whipping, and your skin is getting drier, flakier and more uncomfortable by the day. Besides a cup of comforting hot chocolate to the take the chill off, here are some other rich and creamy suggestions - your defense against weather that’s frightful!
The part of the body most exposed and one that we can’t put a glove on: the face. Three facial creams that protect the skin with luxe and exotic emollients: Estee Lauder’s Revitalizing Comfort Cream (1.7 fl. oz., $115). Reishi mushroom, wolfberry and ginseng extracts lock in moisture, help skin boost collagen and protect against cold. Comfort Cream feels light, smooth and, yes, comforting when applied. Shiseido’s Bio-Performance Advanced Super Revitalizer (1.7 fl. oz, $70) offers the latest advances in revitalization and protection against the environment and contains glycerin and squalene to smooth and soften. If you prefer to glow as you go, Kiehl’s Since 185l has Ultimate Facial Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 (2.5 fl.oz., $24.50). It comes in 3 shades, Light, Medium and Dark, and feels light and fresh on the skin. It contains extracts of chamomile to soothe and royal jelly to hydrate.
We can put gloves on our hands, but admit it, we sometimes forget. So for those gloveless days, there’s Kiehl’s Strengthening Hand Salve (2.5 oz. tube, $12.50) that soothes, hydrates and protects. The formula contains a blend of botanical oils as well as natural wax derived from olive oil. It is rich, quickly absorbed, and offers all-day “glove-like” protection from the elements. Shiseido’s Benefiance Protective Hand Revitalizer SPF 8 (2.6 oz., $37) is a hand treatment with bio-hyalauronic acid to deliver moisture, keeping the hands soft and supple. An effective way to combat “sandpaper hands” is with Estee Lauder’s Re-Nutrive Intensive Smoothing Hand Crème, (3.4 oz., $45). It’s non-greasy and is effective even after multiple hand washings. It contains Australian bois oil to prevent dehydration, green tea, a potent anti-oxidant and Chinese spike moss, to quell irritation.
Want to stay winter-kissable? Give those dry, cracked lips a slick of Kiehl’s Lip Balm SPF 4 (0.5 fl.oz. $8.50). It staves off winter’s drying effects and
comes in pear, cranberry and mint flavors. Your lips will be not only kissable but will taste delicious! Shiseido’s Full Correction Lip Treatment
(15 ml, $35) retextures and hydrates. It is waterproof and contains marine collagen to plump and keep lips ultra-moist.
For over-all body care, slather on Avon’s Skin So Soft (8.4 fl. oz., $8.50). This lotion is available in three fragrances, each of which contains natural ingredients to provide a benefit to the skin: Soft & Sensual contains almond extract for softening, Soft & Nourish with Jojoba Oil to nourish, and Soft & Replenish, containing vitamins and antioxidants to condition the skin.
Men, there’s help for you, too. A line dedicated to men’s skin care is Zirh and they offer two moisturizers which seem tailor-made for now, whether you’re walking to the train station, shoveling snow, or occupied with something more pleasurable like skiing or jogging. Protect (3.4 oz., $28) is a daily moisturizer that is ultra-light and fights the negative effects of cold, sun damage and dryness. It contains pine bark antioxidants that improve skin texture and elasticity. Defend Face Moisturizer with SPF 15 (3.4 oz., $29) contains Vitamin E to retain moisture, pine bark extract to purify and avocado oil to nourish and condition. Stepping up to the plate, we have a new men’s line: Derek Jeter Driven Skin Care. His line is available through Avon, and his Driven Moisturizer with SPF 15 (1.7 fl. oz., $15) is a hypoallergenic, lightweight lotion with the added bonus of broad spectrum sun protection.
Drink Your Way to Skin Health
Cheers! Green and black teas have been shown to prevent skin cancer in mice (whether they’re ingested or applied in extract form to the skin). Now, a new study confirms this link in people. Studies conducted by the Dartmouth Medical School show that daily tea consumption was associated with a 20 to 30 percent decrease in skin cancer. Both green and black teas contain anti-oxidants that help fight UV-induced damage. Now that is something to cheer about! Head to toe, inside and out, these products have you covered. Now, go forth and enjoy winter. We’ve only got a few more months of it (we hope!).
Where to Buy:
Estee Lauder: Fine department and specialty stores nationwide
Avon: Call 1-800-FOR-AVON or online at avon.com
Kiehl’s Since 1851: 109 Third Ave, NYC, 154 Columbus Ave, NYC or kiehls.com
Zirh: Sephora, Bloomingdale’s, Zirh.com, Sephora.com
Shiseido: Fine department and specialty stores nationwide
Monday, November 19, 2007
Barbara Barton Sloane
The atmosphere in the vast, cream-colored marble lobby of the Khamsa Hotel in the Tunis suburb of Gammarth fairly crackles with energy, suspense and anticipation. Upwards of 200 attractive, business-attired 20-something men and women sit at low tables that ring the lobby, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes or standing in small groups near the door to a meeting room. Waiting. They have come to a recruiting session hoping to be hired by one of the several airline companies conducting interviews here. Interviews over, now all that remains is to hear the words: “you’re hired!”
I asked if I could join a group of four young women huddled anxiously together on a sofa. They were uniformly dark-eyed, pretty, and two of the gals sported perky pony tails. They were receptive to my questions about their interviews and chances of being hired. Ashraf, slender, soft-spoken and pert in a trim navy pants suit, explained: “We are here because this is a big opportunity for us. We do not have so many chances for jobs. To become a flight attendant for Qatar Airlines would be great!” I wished them good luck, and joined three young men, smoking and feigning an air of indifference. Once we began talking, however, each echoed the young women’s enthusiasm and hopes of landing a job. As I emerged from the dining room a few hours later, there they still were. The waiting for results continued long into the evening.
These young people, bright, attractive and eager to be a part of the global scene are a sure symbol of Tunisia today. This tiny country, squeezed between two very large ones – Algeria to the west and Libya to the east - is, like its neighbors, decidedly Arab and Muslim yet differs emphatically, being secular, with both feet planted solidly in the 21st Century. Since Tunisia’s independence from France, it has had two leaders, Presidents Bourguiba and Ben Ali, both strongly committed to insuring that their country, while situated in the heart of Islamic North Africa, remains secular and Eurocentric.
In the world we live in today, we must choose our travel wisely. We pay close attention to government alerts and before we go, we want to make sure that our destination will be welcoming and safe. Tunisia is that and more. It
stands alone among Arab countries with a message that comes across loud and clear: “Come visit us. You are welcome here!”
Having never visited Tunisia before, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to spend a week there with a colleague. I did a bit of pre-trip research and learned that Tunisia was once the center of the ancient Carthaginian civilization that was ultimately defeated by the Roman Empire. In 1883, the French made the country a protectorate. Then, under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia was granted its independence in 1956. France today still has a strong presence here. As our university professor cum guide explains: “Over 1,000 French companies do business with us and Air France operates several flights each day to Tunis and other cities. Also, most of us are bi-lingual, speaking both Arabic and French.” Indeed, Tunisia’s different facets constitute a frontline territory between Europe and Africa, North and South, East and West, the desert and the sea.
Tunisia has not experienced the levels of political violence as in neighboring Algeria, although it hasn’t escaped some random terrorist attacks, generally accredited to the al-Qaeda network. That said, Tunisia is a liberal, tolerant society and most Tunisians are quite relaxed about their faith.
Women in Tunisia
Conditions for women in Tunisia are better than just about anywhere in the Islamic world. President Bourguiba was a staunch supporter of women’s rights. He banned polygamy and ended divorce by renunciation; he placed restrictions on the tradition of arranged marriages and gave women the right to refuse a proposal. Bourguiba regarded the veil worn by Muslim women as demeaning and banned it from schools. This is not to say that you don’t see countless women still covering their heads with a scarf - jeans, backpacks and headscarves abound. Tunisia is now seen by many as something of a model of how a moderate, secular and relatively open Arab state can resist fundamentalism.
Our first day of sightseeing took us to the capital city of Tunis and its old town medina, ancient and intriguing. The medina is enclosed by ramparts
and gates, and as we entered, we stepped back in time. Here we found labyrinths of light and shadow criss-crossed with lanes and alleys. Amid the
hum and buzz of vendors hawking their wares, there was the constant, tinny sound of metalworkers hammering intricate designs on brass, and permeating all, the sweet, musky smell of incense. We seemed to walk forever and made sure we stayed very close to our guide because to lose him meant we might never find our way out of this maze.
The shops’ offerings were appealing, well-displayed and well-made, from skull caps in black or white knit (I bought one of each) to carved wooden bowls to baubles strung together to make bold, bright necklaces. We traipsed down every lane and everywhere we looked there were new things to buy! The essential oils were particularly beguiling, evoking the exact scent of each flower, and the nice part, they came in roll-on containers and were about $4 US. There were bins brimming with spices in colors of yellow, green and red and candles of every size and shape. You will certainly find exotic gifts here to bring home and it will be easy on the wallet – provided you bargain with the shopkeeper, and, of course, bargaining is part of the fun and it is expected! The “turquoise” large bauble necklace I bought was a bargain. The vendor shaved off a dollar or two. He and I both ended up with a price we were happy with. Win-Win. The medina is a pulsing, living thing, a place of indefinable charm and mystery. This bazaar differed from most others in that the atmosphere was happy and non-aggressive. You will feel comfortable here.
White and Blue and Beautiful All Over
We left the narrow, close confines of the medina for the fresh air of Sidi Bou Said, the elegant and chic resort by the sea. There we found bright white, blue-trimmed villas with fuchsia bougainvillea spilling from terraces. At a sidewalk café perched on a hill with steep terraces set spectacularly on the cliffs and overlooking the gulf below, we sat on kilim covered banquettes and watched men seriously absorbed in smoking their chicas (water pipes). We drank espresso so strong it had a real jolt and ate delicious doughnuts sweetened with honey called boubalouni. Sidi Bou Said is a tourist haven yet even on a summer evening, you can have it to yourself by wandering through the silent backstreets. From our vantage point, we looked across the cliff tops to a monastic fortress and lighthouse built in the early years of Arab rule. Dar Ennejma Ezzahra is
our next stop in Sidi. It is the French Baron d’Erlanger’s monumental and beautiful folly which was built between 1912 and 1922, its architecture a mixture of Tunisian and Romantic Orientalism. This edifice is now home to the Centre of Arab and Mediterranean Music and we saw stunning musical instruments through the ages, a collection of cultural heritage worthy of both study and preservation.
Power to the Palm Tree
The city of Hammamet on the Cap Bon peninsula is 40 miles southeast of Tunis and is rightly called Tunisia’s garden resort. The land abounds with eucalyptus and citrus trees and flowering shrubs. A major expansion has taken place within the last five years causing the government to enact a local law prohibiting hotels built higher than the tallest surrounding palm tree. This has not, however, stopped Hammamet from expanding horizontally with hotels rimming the seashore in each direction as far as the eye can see. In fact, “Las Vegas by the Mediterranean” came quickly to mind. To further this image, the hotels all vie for guests by offering elaborate nightly entertainment and 70’s-style discos. By day, there’s lots to occupy you: two major golf courses, para-sailing, windsurfing or just hanging around the hotel pool, and in summer, Hammamet is the site of Tunisia’s annual cultural festival.
Before leaving Hammamet, our guide told us of a renowned pastry shop here that makes just one thing: makrud, a tiny, triangular-shaped envelope of dough filled with dates or almonds. Although makrud can be purchased throughout Tunisia, this place is known to produce the best. Pulling up to the shop, we found people standing 5 deep at the counter buying boxes of the pastry. We were given a sample and decided on the spot that we must take some home. It tasted kind of like baklava and was delicious. For about $2.50 we bought a box that must have contained at least 2-3 pounds of makrud, enough to share with friends and family – and then some. I think we’ll still be eating this goodie through Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We were looking forward to our visit to Carthage and its acres of Roman ruins. In its day, Carthage was a thriving maritime center that became the
third largest city in the Roman Empire, before being destroyed by Arab invaders from the east in 692 a.d. Virgil wrote of the ancient port of Carthage in the first century b.c. and it has forever more been suffused in a legendary aura of romance, power and decline. This is Tunisia’s best-known archeological site and its ruins are scattered over a very large area. To tour it completely you’ll need a full day. We had only a few hours to walk amid the pillars and statues, some almost wholly intact and preserved but many standing only a little above ground level. Still, if you approach Carthage with some imagination and a willingness to be impressed, it has a good deal to offer. I was mesmerized by a marble statue of a young woman executed perfectly, her eyes gazing wistfully into the distance, the look on her face virginal and sweet, and the robe that she wore flowing about her feet so realistically that it appeared to be stirred by a warm breeze that just then wafted through the cypress trees.
The Holy City
That would be Kairouan, a three hour drive from Tunis. This city is famous for its Great Mosque and is considered the most important religious site in the country. “What a hell of a place to put a holy city” wrote The Times’ military correspondent in 1939, complaining about the heat. Kairouan, because it is situated inland from the tempering breeze of the Mediterranean, can get incredibly hot in summer. In October, we had a comfortable 70-75 degrees, weather made for café sitting and observing the lively street scene which enfolded about us. Robed men and head-covered women bustled about, donkeys pulled carts laden with twigs and branches, shepherds by the roadside guided their flocks with staffs and there sprawled out before us, the awe-inspiring, sand-colored Great Mosque. Surrounding this vast, several football fields-large site were the ubiquitous vendors. Here their specialty is carpets. Kairouan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is Islam’s fourth most holy center. You may visit certain parts of this monument but be aware that the mosque’s prayer-hall is closed to non-Muslims.
The Tip of North Africa
As our Tunisian tour came to an end, we decided to head toward the northernmost part of the country, Bizerte. Driving a couple of hours from our Tunis base, we came to the “untouched, true” Tunisia, if you will. The land here is agricultural with fertile fields growing wheat and barley.
Vineyards and olive groves abound. We passed through dusty villages with kids playing in the rubble and, however small the town, there was always a table set up outside a storefront where men sat, drank tea and smoked – and they were never, ever joined by their women!
Enroute to Bizerte, we get a sense of a definite shift – in people, in traditions, in the way of life. We stop at Utique, a small town dating from 1105 b.c., affording us our finest opportunity to observe the aboriginal people, Berbers. Their ethnic dress is a riot of colors: reds, yellows, purples, the women in long, flowing skirts, heads wrapped in bright, gauzy scarves, wrists jangling with layer upon layer of gold bracelets. The men wear dark colored robes flowing to the ground, the traditional djallabiyya.
In Bizerte, we found a port city known not as much for resort as for industry. However, this place is definitely worth a visit, as it has a monumental heritage covering centuries of strategic importance and is still very much the preserve of Tunisians. We visited Bizert’s Kasbah with its massive walls and on top, a promenade where we had a view of the port - brightly colored boats and fishermen stringing their large, lacy nets. We explored the Old Town with hidden passages, arches and walls painted in pretty pastel shades.
On our way back to Tunis, we made a stop at Raf Raf, about 18 miles southeast of Bizerte. The beach here is surprisingly undeveloped and private. We stood on a cliff top looking towards Cap Farina glistening in the sun, the waves crashing below us – a pure and peaceful moment. The beach is an almost endless curve of white sand backed by dunes, forest and sloping fields of fig, vines and rustling cane. We were told that even on weekends when this beach is very populated, it’s easy to find one’s own secluded cove and escape the crowds.
The Bardo Museum
We saved one of the highlights of our trip for the last day when we visited the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Housed in the former royal palace of the Bey, this museum has the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. The building itself is spectacular, built up over the centuries and surrounded by gardens full of Roman and Punic statues. The mosaics are splendid and awe-inspiring. Viewing them so bright and vivid is like looking through an
album of color snapshots. These mosaics offer a direct and beautiful visual record of what was considered important by this extraordinarily powerful civilization. The collection is too vast to take in on a single visit but even a glimpse of some of the designs will flesh out a picture of Roman life and times. Two artworks that I think back on with a smile: one, a glorious rendering of a scene from Homer’s Odyssey where Odysseus sails past the Island of Sirens, and his men, to prevent temptation, are all tied to masts. The more things change…. The other, in one of the fresco rooms, among the rare surviving fragments - a wall painting depicting a bottle of wine wrapped in straw, a bag full of eggs and a leg of lamb. Ah, the good life!
Strangers into Friends
Our guide summed up the Tunisian experience very well: “Here in Tunisia, one kills four birds with one stone. You have a country that is Arabic yet European; you are in Africa and here you can experience the wonders of the Islamic world.” He went on to explain: “Tunisians are a liberal people and the idea welcoming strangers is a centuries-old tradition. It is a cosmopolitan country which offers exploration of an historic and exotic land.” When we arrived the Tunisian people were but strangers. We leave with strangers becoming friends. Tunisia welcomes you.
If You Go:
Tunisian Tourism Office
1515 Massachusetts Avenue
Washington DC 20005
Tel: 202- 466-2546
The Tunisian Cultural & Information Center USA
168 Madison Avenue
NY NY 10016
Director: Naima Remadi
Corinthia Khamsa Hotel
Les Cites de Carthage-Gammarth-Tunisie
Tel: 216-71 91 11 00
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Get Ready to Shine for the Holidays
Barbara Barton Sloane
Festive dinners, receptions, concerts, theatre and yes, the dreaded office party. You’ve waited all year to break out those flashing Christmas tree earrings, so ready, set: Glow!
Two designs from Carolina Herrera’s Winter/Holiday season are stand-outs. The designer has used an Edvard Munch painting to inspire her palette. She offers a dress of shiny silver fabric stopping just short of the knee, the neckline a large key-hole that dips almost to the waist. It is paired with this season’s “must-wear”- black tights. Another, a sweetheart strapless number, bell skirted, the fabric streaked boldly with black, champagne and red. The full skirt features deep patch pockets encrusted with shiny colored stones and worn with, you guessed it, black tights. Knee-high black leather boots complete the look.
Think luxe and thoughts inevitably turn to Bottega Veneta. Tomas Maier defines true style this way: “Clothes are a means of expression, not an end in themselves.” Amen. What he offers up are fashions for the woman who looks like a woman: curvaceous, individualistic and beautifully grown up. His holiday look: a stunning black column topped with flesh-colored crepe chiffon. Also, a girly yet sophisticated black dress, short, cap-sleeved, with five layers of chiffon comprising the skirt, striking just the right note for a festive party and making a powerful statement in just one word: Fabulous! For sheer, icy coolness, there’s a white satin design, full skirt stopping at the knee, the neckline a voluminous cowl, and the sleeves cut at ¾, full and floaty.
Luca Orlandi of Luca Luca likes glitz, from filling his fashion show’s front row with the likes of Carmen Electra, Petra Nemcova and Amber Tamblyn to his Winter/Holiday collection which is chock-full of metallica. He worked glitz again and again in all manner of sequins, Lurex and iridescent silk. Orlandi shows a pretty white sequined top and a shiny, above the knee white skirt. He surprises us by pairing this with sheer black legs. One exception to shine but a sure holiday stunner: his bright red, sleeveless knit top, a small frill around the neck, and a full, swingy skirt to the knee covered with over-sized red flowers. Not for a shrinking violet!
J. Mendel. Ahh, J. Mendel. Can it get any more “red carpet” than this? Giles Mendel tells us that “this collection is not about colors but textures.” Thus, he’s restricted his palette to ivory, slate and “blacks of many shades.” One heart-stopping example: a closely-cut, just below the knee black crepe dress, the sleeves long, tight and sheer, the top see-through black net, all except for two small panels of black crepe that rise from the waist to the neck, just wide enough to cover the bare essentials. Perhaps this is not the best choice for the office party. Otherwise, go for it! Guaranteed, you’ll be a stand-out.
At Badgley Mischka, the boys’ Winter/Holiday is inspired a bit by Wuthering Heights with a moody, platinum gray color scheme and a bit by India’s jeweled embroideries in their evening dresses. Still, a few of the more understated sparklers stood out. There’s a festive strapless mid-thigh design, black flower-patterned lace over pink satin. Direct and to the point. The point? You’re working it!!
Winter/Holiday for Stella McCartney’s show was unpretentious and playful. There were knits, cardigans and jumpsuits. It wasn’t all lighthearted, however. If you want to be noticed, go with her bubble-gum pink dress with tiny, spaghetti straps, short, short, with a flirty flamenco flounce crawling up one side of the skirt. Count on McCartney to bring on the charm and have everyone asking “who’s that girl?”
Speaking of girls, that “forever-girl”, Betsey Johnson, she of the cartwheel down the runway to close each of her shows, had her prototypical sex-bomb baby models stride the catwalk this season. One wore an irresistible, below the knee champagne satin confection, thin straps, with three huge satin roses cascading down the skirt. Betsey, true to form, letting her playfulness shine through.
Marc Jacobs, with his surfeit of cool, has designed a number that is the be- all and end-all fantasy for the most important event you’ll attend this holiday season. It is a teal blue velvet gown falling unencumbered to the floor, a wide strap of darker teal satin on one shoulder and a large bow of the same
sumptuous fabric covering the décolletage. Over the top? Not really. If not at this happy time of the year, then when? Gals, it’s your time to shine!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Norway - Land of the Midnight Sun
by Barbara Barton Sloane
The sun never takes a break here in northern Norway. The country, called “the world’s top destination” by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, has always been known as “the Land of the Midnight Sun” and its light never fails to inspire.
I feel inspired right now as I recline on a deck chair gazing up into a ghostly pale sky studded with dark, brooding clouds and surrounded by majestic gray cliffs. Although it seems like midday, it’s actually 10:00 at night! I am aboard the MS Nordlys on its Coastal Voyage cruise. Webster says that “cruising” means “moving along in an unhurried or unconcerned fashion.” Exactly the way I prefer to navigate. I’m there!
I am with a group of 8 companions, and we will travel south from Kirkenes near the northern-most point on the continent to Bergen. Along the way, we will stop at many ports, each town or city unique in its landscape, traditions and way of life. To begin our journey, we fly to Oslo and then on to the top of the world, Kirkenes, to board our ship. Before leaving Oslo, we take a tour of Norway’s capital city. Formerly called Kristiania, the royal family lives here sans fanfare on Oslo’s best-known street, Karl Johan.
Small enough to be intimate, squeaky clean Oslo offers world-class dining and appealing attractions, including countless parks and recreation areas. We take a stroll along the very bridge which was the inspiration for Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.” A large and imposing modern white building has just been built which will open its doors in early 2008 – the Oslo Opera House. As the first opera house in Oslo, its opening is awaited with great anticipation. There are some 45,000 students in Oslo, so you can count on finding trendy boutiques, good music and clubs as well as displays of Norwegian design, important collections of the explorers Amundsen and Heyerdahl, the Munch Museum, and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, a not-to-be missed experience. The park covers an area of 80 acres featuring 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. These works of art are divided into six sections, each part displaying sculptures depicting life’s stages from birth to old age. Walking through this park is a moving and poignant experience.
A two-hour flight brings us to Kirkenes, a city lying just 6.2 miles from the Russian border. It is exciting to be here, and even more exciting to see before us the beautiful MS Nordlys in its entire white, red and black splendor.
The gangplank lowers, spirits soar, and our six day, five night fjord cruise is about to begin.
A little information about our ship: It is considered a “working vessel” as it conveys cargo to 34 ports of call all year round. This does not mean, though, that luxury or comfort are sacrificed aboard the MS Nordlys, as we are about to find out. To make our voyage all the more interesting, there are several land-based tours and excursion opportunities during the sail and each port visit is unique, differing in landscape, architecture, food and traditions.
Once on board, we rush to check out our cabins. They are small, as cabins on ships typically are, but our porthole looking out to the open sea staves off any feelings of claustrophobia. The bathroom is doll-sized. Our miniature shower is hard against a tiny sink, and at first I can’t imagine how to make this work. As it turns out, it is entirely adequate and functional. After all, when in a Lilliputian environment, think small!
Salute to the Sun
Four hours after departing, we arrive at our first port: Vardo. We clamor off ship and jump into a van which takes us to visit the Vardohus Fortress, built in the mid-18th Century for a Danish king. Today, only four soldiers and one commanding officer hold down this fort. There they execute a special salute that is done nowhere else in the world. On the 21st of January, when, after two months of darkness the sun can be seen once more above the horizon, the soldiers salute and kids get the day off from school. Sun-Day!
Breakfast on the Roof of Europe
The next morning at 5:45 a.m. we’re bright-eyed while most passengers are still sleeping soundly. We arrive in Honningsvag, and debark to board a bus to the North Cape Exhibition Center in West Finnmark. A reward for rising so early: we have the very special privilege of breakfasting 1,000 feet
above the churning Arctic Ocean with dazzling sunlight dancing across the horizon. We view a film about life on the North Cape throughout all four seasons. The morning is crisp, the sky a piercing blue, and the air sparkling and fresher than our citified lungs have ever known.
We hike up a rocky path leading to the Oscar Memorial, a stone monument raised by King Oscar II of the Union of Norway and Sweden in 1873 to mark the Union’s northernmost border. Here, too, we find a monument created in 1989 by seven children from different parts of the world to symbolize cooperation, friendship, hope and joy across all borders. Towering above the entire area, a mammoth globe, the symbol of this dramatic land, the North Cape.
What Makes Sami Run
One of the neatest things about North Cape – its reindeer. Wherever one looks, it’s wall to wall reindeer grazing in herds, their impressive antlers touching the ground. These surprisingly small animals climb steep, craggy rocks as surefooted as mountain goats. And, where there are reindeer, there must be –no, not Santa but Sami! The Sami are an ancient people whose main source of existence are the reindeer. They keep herds of them, and make use of every single part of this animal. The site called Salen is where we find the traditional Sami goahti (a turf hut or earthen lodge), constructed just as they have been building shelters since time immemorial. The Sami serve their traditional delicacies: reindeer meat, smoked fish and local cloudberries. I find myself longing for the divine repast I know awaits me onboard ship. But before we depart, I have the chance to get up-close with my own personal “Rudolf”. Petting his head makes me think Christmas can’t be far behind!
Magical Mystery Tour
We arrive at the port of Tromso, known as the “Paris of the North” near midnight. But go to bed? Not on your life! Outside, it’s still twilight so we decide to do a walk-about in this, the largest town on the North Cape. Tromso, quaint, bathed in a pearly light, is magical. Back on board, we’re
too jazzed to think of sleep just yet so we decide to have a nightcap. The Nordlys has on-going entertainment in its nightclub. Tonight, it’s a charming gentleman, a kind of jack of all instruments, who accompanies
himself while singing Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash tunes. There’s also a dance floor, and despite the late hour, we give it a whirl. Returning to my room, I can’t resist a last peek at the beauty just outside my porthole. We glide silently by countless tiny islands in the icy, slate gray water and the gentle motion of our ship leads to a deep and peaceful sleep.
Our next port is Harstad and our land tour here takes us to the Trondenes peninsula, a medieval Viking region. This was a military area during World War II and some of the barracks can still be seen by the lake. In the Trondenes Museum, we view church sculptures from the 16th Century and other ancient artifacts. We visit the Trondenes Church which dates from 1250 and was, at the time, the most important Roman Catholic church in northern Norway. The resident priest, an affable young man, conducts a brief service for us and then leads us in “Praise to the Lord”, one of my favorite hymns.
O Captain, My Captain
Now we head southeast, seemingly straight for a wall of mountain and ahead a majestic sight: the narrow Trollfjord where only one ship can pass at a time. But, not to worry. We are in the hands of our experienced Captain and he steers us skillfully through a lake that fills with chunks of ice even in summer. Sky high cliffs with their sheer sides seem to pose a permanent threat of rock falls. Our Captain reassures us that the Trolls sleep for 1,000 years after their midday nap and before they start throwing stones at the ship!
Jonathan Livingston & Friends
Once through the Trollfjord, we leave our ship through an underground passage to immediately step aboard a boat, the Sea Eagle Safari. This is one of the highlights of our voyage. Happily, the crew on the Safari has thought of everything. It is chilly so they give us warm jumpsuits to keep us toasty. For those that are game, there’s a bucket with fish to hand out. The aggressive seagulls swoop down and grab fish from our hands! We’re on a White-Tailed Sea Eagle watch, and we are not disappointed. One of the crew yells “there!” and soaring majestically above us two beautiful birds with massive wing spread. They glide and dip, and although they don’t come close enough to take the fish we’re proffering, they pierce the water gracefully and come up with their catch. After this bout of sheer excitement and thrill, we return to the Nordlys tired but happy.
Mmmm, Dried Cod
Early evening, we come to Svolvaer in the beautiful Lofoten Islands, and visit the fishing village of Henningsvaer. There are red and gold cabins,
white sand beaches and a countryside dotted with wooden racks upon which the fishermen hang cod to dry throughout the winter. In spring, when the dried cod resembles small gray planks of wood, it is shipped world-wide as an edible delicacy. An acquired taste, I’m sure.
On day five, we are now in pretty Trondheim, a historic city and the original capital of Norway, founded in 997 by the Viking King Olav. By Norwegian standards, Trondheim is a large city but it has the intimate feel of a small town. We visit one of Norway’s cultural treasures, the Nidros Cathedral built over the burial place of St. Olav, the country’s patron saint. Construction of this enormous Gothic church began in 1070 and it is considered the most beautiful in Norway. Trondheim marks the last of our land excursions. Tomorrow we pull into Bergen and from here we have a stretch of open sea till morning.
Bergen. Bring Your Brolly!
As we pull into port and stand waiting for the gangplank to lower, there’s an almost palpable feeling among all the passengers: Too soon. Must we really get off now? Sadly, the World’s Most Beautiful Voyage has come to an end.
Our ship, the MS Nordlys (which means Northern Lights), is part of the Hurtigruten fleet of 15 ships which operates along the coast of Norway. The entire staff onboard has been warm and professional, eager to assist whenever the need arose. Our meals were exceptional. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, and the dinners were one of the highlights of our day. We had the chance to visit with passengers at nearby tables, some who traveled with us from the start, some who joined at various ports of call -- a convivial atmosphere in an attractive setting. I enjoyed a dish to remember, the ultimate comfort food called, intriguingly, Rommegrot Og Spekemat. Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? It is! It’s a sour cream porridge swimming in butter and eaten with smoked, cured ham. I adored Rommegrot and think of it still, but where shall I find it in Westchester?
It’s now time to bid adieu to the Nordlys. We step off to terra firma in Bergen. Three words: Bring your brolly. Due the city’s placement between high mountain peaks it rains well over 200 days of the year. No surprise, it’s raining right now!
Between rain drops we have a tour of this ancient city founded in 1070, walking through its famous fish market and through the UNESCO World Heritage house of “Brygge” (the wharf). We take a funicular to the top of Mount Floyen and have a spectacular view of narrow, cobbled streets and brightly colored wooden warehouses that huddle around the harbor below. There are fine restaurants here and I’d venture to say that one of the best, the Floien Folk Restaurant, is like none that you’ve ever experienced. It dates back centuries and is completely made of wood (www.floien.no). I’d recommend, as well, the Noboen Restaurant, very trendy, elegant and modern. (www.grannen.no).
If you plan to travel in winter your voyage will be greatly enhanced by the Northern Lights. You will experience the Polar Night and celestial displays of greens, yellows and reds that dance in the wind. In winter, you’ll also have the opportunity to see pods of Orca, have a dog sled safari, snowmobile across frozen tundra, check out ice caves in search of Polar Bear and for the very warm- blooded, you can spend a night in the Alta Igloo Ice Hotel. There are special activities geared to the winter holidays. If you choose the Northern Lights Voyage departing on December 21, you’ll enjoy a traditional Christmas with a holiday dinner and music. Imagine – hot toddies, making friends with a reindeer, carol singing under an Aurora Borealis sky! Dreams are made of this.
Planning to go?
Oslo: Clarion Hotel Royal Christiania, www.royalchristiania.no
Bergen: Neptun Hotel, www.neptunhotel.no
Norway Tourist Information: www.visitnorway.com/us
Hurtigruten Group: www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us
Thursday, September 6, 2007
by Barbara Barton Sloane
If it’s classics you’re craving for fall, you’re in luck. The designers have put a new spin on retro with sculpted shapes and silhouettes a bit more streamlined. As for the volume we’ve seen in past seasons, fall’s shapes are more restrained. Looks are both strong and feminine, lady-like not with girliness but in super-chic way. That said, the question of the moment is, simply, what should we buy this season and, hopefully be able to wear for years to come.
Diane von Furstenberg’s singular focus was on dresses. At her show, we saw her signature wrap done in ruffled black taffeta that hinted of Spanish influences. Many of the dresses came with matching coats – a nod toward the designer’s sense of practicality making these outfits work on many levels.
Swingy frocks with a touch of detail were offered up by BCBG Max Azria. Raffish, magpie styles that Kate Moss and Sienna Miller favor were strutted down the runway. He showed an adorable toast-colored, double-breasted short coat with three-quarter sleeves worn with long leather gloves and cropped pants, a look bound to appeal to the BCBG customer.
Strong yet feminine was the theme of Calvin Klein’s fall presentation. There was a funnel-neck coat in lead gray, the non-color of the season, with sloping shoulders and gently curving seams to the knee. His dresses hugged every curve his models had. A particular hit was his marble-print wool-felt sheath with face-framing collar. From his White Label line, Klein showed a real winner: a simple pale peach, knee-length sheath circled loosely with a narrow black belt. So very Calvin, so eminently easy to wear and suitable for all body types.
Grown-up elegance is Giorgio Armani’s signature. However, for fall, he took this collection in a decidedly more youthful direction. It felt almost like prom night as his baby blues, Bazooka pinks and minidresses paraded down the runway. He worked his way through a teenage army of tiny frocks: A-lines, innocent baby dolls, and swingy trapezes accented with bows or crystals. Armani kept pants to the sidelines, and the few he did show were cropped and worn with abbreviated jackets.
The designs of Anne Klein have, through the years, defined American sportswear. This season marked the debut of Isabel Toledo as the designer of this brand with the lion’s-head logo. While the collection didn’t come out roaring, it did contain many solid pieces like a navy cashmere cardigan with an asymmetrical closure. Her camel robe coat was an enviable addition to anyone’s wardrobe with true staying-power.
Revisiting one of her earliest signatures, Donna Karan built fall’s collection around bodysuits. They introduced a welcome dose of ease to hourglass silhouettes in silk satin. There was an interesting interplay of matte and shine (stretch satin belts cinching wool double knits) and bright shots of chartreuse, teal and violet against black. In her DKNY line, a particularly cheery number was a cherry-red suit with Peter Pan collar and swingy mid-thigh skirt worn with black tights. Fall is all about the black leg. Whether matte or shiny, black tights are the ticket – and they make legs look great!
Now, happily, we can all start wearing our leather boots again. This season’s best are ankle-length or mid-calf in black or burnished brown leather and are definitely made for walking …. straight into fashion’s bright colors and pretty, wearable designs for Fall.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
I Came, I Saw, I Drank Vino ! by Barbara Barton Sloane
Lest you get the wrong impression, my recent trip to Burgundy encompassed far more than drinking wine….really! However, when we hear the word Burgundy, our thoughts do meander toward great wine, non? Actually, you cannot think about Burgundy without thinking about its famous wines. But let’s first think about getting there.
Burgundy is set in the central eastern part of France, 200 miles from Paris. You can fly into the Dijon-Bourgogne airport from most major cities in Europe. The region is also accessible by TGV, the high-speed train from Paris. If you like flying along at break-neck speed, arriving in Dijon in a brief hour and forty minutes, this train is for you. They reach speeds of 200 mph and your journey will not only be quick but comfortable.
The vineyards of this region cover an area of 27,000 acres, and there are over 4,500 individual wine-growing estates in Burgundy – a formidable presence in the world of wine. A little known fact: each Burgundy wine is produced from only two grape varieties: Pinot Noir (black) and Chardonnay (white).
As our small group of 6 – not terribly knowledgeable about wine but oh so interested to learn – traveled from vineyard to vineyard, each displayed signs identifying the wine they produce – Vosne Romanee, Romanee Conti, Nuits St. George. We sensed we were in a rarefied and special region as we learned that the pinnacle of a vintner’s crop is called Gran Cru and that some of these wines sell for as much a $1,000 a bottle. After being teased by these tantalizing vineyards, we stopped at Dufouleur Pere & Fils in Nuits-Saint-Georges. We descended into a dark, cool cellar, and had the chance to sample some of their superior and rare wines. Our host, Bernard Pennecot, cellar master, was good natured and patient with us neophytes and provided an in-depth explanation of each wine we tasted.
Castles, Chateaux and Mansions
This region of France is a destination unto itself, dotted with impressive and historically significant castles and its Route des Chateaux includes 17 castles from different periods of French history, including Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical. We visited the sumptuous palace Chateau de Bazoches, home of the architect Vauban, whose castles and fortifications for Louis XIV are found throughout France. Nothing quite prepares you for Bazoches. The approach to the palace is impressive. As our van slowly climbed a wooded hill, the medieval chateau lay directly before us, it’s twelfth century towers gleaming in the distance. Unlike many unoccupied castles, empty and forlorn, we were delighted to find that this is an entirely furnished chateau, with the bed-chamber, armor and library of Vauban intact. Outside the chateau, it was picture-taking time, with its 17th century décor and nearly a thousand coats of arms hand painted on Limoges porcelain. The gardens were by Andre Le Notre, landscape designer of Versailles, and we found this a wonderful place to sit in the shade and ponder the magnificence of this home.
A 3-Star Experience
We had the great good luck to spend the night at a delightful resort, L’Esperance, in the town of Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay. The owner/chef of
L’Esperance, a Relais and Chateaux property, is Marc Meneau. He and his wife Francine were gracious hosts who led us into a cave/wine cellar to sample their superb Chardonnays. Waiters from the restaurant gingerly descended into the cellar with trays of amuse-bouches, tiny, tasty hors d’oeuvres to enjoy with our wine.
A Michelin three-star honor has been bestowed on M. Meneau’s restaurant, and dining there is a true haute-cuisine experience. The restaurant is enclosed in an airy glass arboretum where we gazed out at elaborate formal gardens. The meal consisted of several courses, and one truly delectable surprise: a potato dish which was presented in four distinct ways – in a puff pastry, another, whipped till light and fluffy, an au gratin morsel and a potato cooked in a clay pot. Each was subtly different in flavor, texture and taste, and each was delicious. Leave it to the French to elevate the humble potato to this divine fare. Marc Meneau told us that he created L’Esperance for lovers of beauty, luxury and nature. He’s succeeded royally.
Did Somebody Say Dijon?
The next day we set out for Dijon, a two hour drive from Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay. This city is the capital of Burgundy and the heart and soul of fine
French food. Dijon is an exciting city of almost half a million people. Apart from food, this city offers a wealth of cultural activities, festivals and museums: the Fine Arts Museum which displays kitchens that date back to the mid-1400’s, the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne which offers a glimpse into how Burgundians lived in olden days, and the Musee Archeologique. However, hungry travelers that we were, we headed straight for Les Halles, the famed Dijon Market. As we traversed this gargantuan space, it seemed that every single resident was there strolling the aisles, sniffing, squeezing and tasting the market’s sumptuous fare: meats, cheeses, breads, fish and even some comestibles so unique and unusual that one has to ask what it is. Our guide through the market was a Bronx-born expat, Alex Miles, who has lived in France for 25 years and has the distinction of being the only American giving cooking classes in the heart of Burgundy! His culinary and cultural experiences are vast. He is acquainted with most of the market’s merchants, and at some of the more delectable counters, he asked for samples for our group. They were happy to oblige. The Dijon market, we quickly discovered, is far more than just a place to buy food. It is an integral part of the Dijonaise quotidian pastime, a place for neighbors to meet, greet, exchange gossip, be happy, feel sated. As we left the market, we simply had to stop around the corner at the Maille Store, home to 36 varieties of mustard. There’s Green Tea, Brittany Algae, Fig and Coriander mustards as well as 33 other strange and wonderful flavors.
Burgundy is a region with much to see and do, from hot air ballooning, biking along cool mountain trails to climbing to the tops of castles and delving deep inside wine cellars. Everyday we spent there was a happy adventure. We were captivated by the beauty of this place and the charming (yes, charming!) French people. A votre sante. Bon appetite. Come to Burgundy!
Plan to go?
Hostellerie du Chapeau Rouge, Dijon
Sofitel Dijon La Cloche
The French Tourist Office (212-838-7800)
Maison de la France
Friday, July 27, 2007
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Gone are summer’s baby-doll dresses. Fall/Winter ’07 captures the strength and electricity in clothes that Illuminate the power of a woman. The color palette reflects a dark, dark season shot through with lightening flashes of shine and color.
One exception to all this somberness is Matthew Williamson’s collection for Pucci. He showed tunic dresses, short skirts and A-line coats in Popsicle orange and pink. A departure from the ultra-bright was a pretty, hip-length pearl gray vest worn over a short, cobalt blue dress. Wiliamson’s prints were angular and geometric, true signature Pucci.
Valentino Garavani is one of the few designers who persists, at each show, in giving us all he’s got, and Fall ’07 was no exception. Seventy outfits came down the runway, a distinct challenge to a modern audience with an attention span permanently set on “tell it to me quick!” This old-school master’s collection referenced forties’ movie star glamour with puffed-up shoulders, tunics over pants, and a spectacular signature red suit with cropped jacket and an ultra-wide band of black, quilted leather encircling the skirt.
Somber will never be Carolina Herrera’s style. However, there is an almost brooding, mysterious quality to her Fall collection. Side by side with chic little skirtsuits and covetable furs, she showed a cropped jacket in broadtail with a sly, standup collar, plaids and jacquards, and long, languorous skirts. There were moments of lovely simplicity in her show, especially a luxurious black maxi coat worn with an organza blouse and wide-leg pants.
When Frida Giannini for Gucci showed pretty, forties-inspired floral-printed silk dresses and blouses in her first collection, they were a commercial hit. This Fall, after veering through glam-rock disco and last summer’s folkloric frocks, she returned to vintage-inspired dressmaking. “I’ve been reading a biography of Lee Miller, a woman who was a close friend of the surrealists and then a war photographer – a strong woman with two sides to her,” she explained, adding,
“I was thinking about the dresses of the thirties and forties, with high waists and emphasis on the shoulder.” Since the idea of the forties is gaining traction this season, these dresses steered this collection in line with the general direction of fashion at large. Referencing the forties theme was a persimmon-colored sweater worn with jodhpurs, high black leather boots, and an iconic Veronica Lake wave falling softly over the model’s eye.
Delicious dichotomy. Michael Kors’ collection was at once youthful and elegant, covered and bare, with tonal shades of truffle, loden, oatmeal, coffee and heather, and bold accents of taxi and royal. Black and gold touches added graphic glamour. His short, short sculptured tweed chubby coat with large, pointed collar and oversized buttons was a nod to both youth and sheer sophistication.
Delivering a self-assured collection, Ralph Lauren once more proved that he has the power to delight. Classic cardigan coats in hand-knit metallic tweeds cut a reliably elegant figure. One of his best coats: Slim on top, sexily hugging the waist, then flaring out to just above the knee. Youthful, fresh, a winner!
Oscar de la Renta’s Fall inspiration gave us a take on the good life: crystal embroidery, trimmings of chain and stone, from beginning to end and day to night, a collection that sparkled! On top of that, the fur was flying, with après-ski fur vests to weightless chinchillas for warding off the wind as it whips down the avenues. Even the designer’s sweaters were lined and edged in the stuff.
Michael Vollbracht for Bill Blass continued to reference the forties with his choice of music for the runway. It was Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” that put one in a retro mood. His cropped jackets with fur collars and cuffs gave this collection a pure luxe feel. One of Vollbracht’s best efforts was a series of slithery mermaid dresses done according to a technique borrowed from the great American master, Norman Norell. Remember Norell’s liquid sequined mermaid creation worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 50’s? In these dresses, Vollbracht’s sterling level of craftsmanship was clearly evident.
One ubiquitous feature in all Fall ’07 shows: black tights. Whether matte or shiny as patent leather, models strutting the runway wore them. Black tights slim the leg. Legs look longer and downright sexy and strong. Powerful women, this is your season!
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Exploring Kauai – The Garden Island by Barbara Barton Sloane
Want a vacation that encompasses everything from saddles to champagne, with fun-filled activities from morning to night, and that makes you feel like you’ve just stepped back in time wandering through Jurassic Park? Come to Kauai. I promise, it is no place like home!
Doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it - in movies, on TV -
you arrive in Kauai, Hawaii, step off the plane, walk through the airport, and as a gracious greeter places a lei of fresh orchids around your neck, you feel so special….ok, it’s a bit hokey, but special.
This magical island, approximately 150 miles west of the Big Island of Hawaii, has 553 square miles of beach, rain forest, desert, mountains and plains. At Wai’ale’ale, it rains nearly every day, making it the wettest place on earth. Go a few miles west and rain is rare. The north shore is as lush as any place on the planet, and the south shore is a sunny playground. Kauai is known as the land of a thousand waterfalls; some tumbling hundreds of feet out of the jungle, some small enough to walk across, then jump into a lagoon and swim directly under a symphony of rushing water. One thing is certain. Kauai is nature on a very grand scale.
Let’s Get Physical
You don’t just go to Kauai, you get into Kauai, feeling its age-old beauty, moving through its unspoiled landscapes. Called the Garden Island, it has a calm, peaceful side, but also offers exhilarating diversions – activities and adventures that you will find no place else on earth. So let’s get physical!
Some of the “adventure” activities were clearly outside of my comfort zone, which zone is best experienced from a comfy chaise lounge by a swimming pool. But, loathe to appear totally wimpish before my gung-ho traveling companions, I found plenty of diversions that were well within my “zone”. No, not zipping over a 150 foot ravine or careening through canyons in a helicopter, but activities that were still semi-challenging and lots of fun.
Do Something Dirty!
In reading the pamphlet about the ATV Waterfall Tour, it explained that you venture into jungle-like tropics while sitting in a custom built 2-seater dune buggy, and end with a picnic by a waterfall. I thought “I can do this!” This vehicle is known island-wide as the “Mud Bug,” and as I signed the release form, donned complete head-to-toe outerwear, helmet and goggles, it occurred to me to ask “Why Mud Bug?” I discovered it’s because this long and winding road that we were about to traverse is typically very muddy and full of holes. If it’s been raining, one is encouraged to crash through every puddle. Today it’s dry, so the trip will be very dusty. Either way, I’m going to get dirty, and that explains why I’m now in a huge pair of camouflage pants, a shabby t-shirt, and eye protection. Okaaaay.
The Mud Bug adventure covers 22 miles winding through thick vegetation and rugged terrain. We bump, we grind, we feel as though our cute 2-seater Mud Bug is gonna fall apart, but finally we reach a secluded waterfall and swimming hole. We have bathing suits on underneath all the mud clothing, so we plunge in. It’s a refreshing reward but there’s still the drive back to think about! When we get back to the tour office it is a pleasure to shed our scruffy clothes. The shower later is a truly cleansing experience.
The Napali Sunset Sail is a peaceful way to end the day. Our 65 foot power catamaran takes us on a breathtaking tour of the Napali coastline. We enjoy a dinner buffet and mai tais, wine and soft drinks. A nice touch: we stop before pulling back into port to watch a spectacular sunset while sipping
Horseback Riding at Princeville Ranch is an activity you don’t want to miss. Our leader, Robin Cooke, was professional and jovial. She made sure that everyone stayed together and that we didn’t startle the wild boars in the brush and cause our horses to spook. She cautioned a seasoned rider in the lead not to trot or gallop as horses tend to “follow the leader” and all of us would then be off on a wild trot. Thank you Robin! This being only my second time on a horse, galloping was not what I had in mind today.
A nice, slow walk suited me just fine. The sights were amazing. Cliffs, boulders, mountains, all reminiscent of the Jurassic Park movies where, on this island, each of those 3 films was made.
On Princeville Ranch, I also did the memorable Waterfall Hike. We were a group of 4 plus Tom Meyers, our guide, who was incredibly knowledgeable about the tropical plants and foliage we saw, as well as history of the Ranch. Our hike took us to the spectacular five-tiered Kalihiwai Falls and then – a lagoon – where we glided around in big black inner tubes. Surprise! When we climbed out of the tubes, Tom had set a table with a pretty cloth for a lunch of veggie roll-ups, chips and soda.
100% Downhill, 100% Fun
This was one of my favorite activities. Run by Outfitters Kauai, with the claim that “our business is going downhill!” this is truly the bike ride from heaven. The entire 12 miles is downhill! A van took us to the top of the mountain at 5:00 a.m., making a stop en route for donuts and coffee. By the time we reached our destination, about a 45 minute ride, we were all bright eyed and ready to start our ride. And what a ride it was, with speeds sometimes reaching 40 mph. We stopped several times to view the ocean and the mammoth green/gray canyons surrounding us. Our trip was further enlivened by our van driver, Ka Pono, who then played “sweep”, following our group of 13 as we coasted along. He regaled us with jokes, stories of his Samoan ancestors, and his experience holding the title of 4-time state champion bull rider. All downhill, all fun. Wheeeeee….
For The More Courageous
You’ll find it all here in Kauai. There’s the Mountain Tubing Adventure, where you float down historic waterways, open channels, flumes and tunnels ( www.kauaibackcountry.com); Princeville Ranch Adventures offers a Zipline that actually combines 8 ziplines, the longest of which is 750 feet (www.kauaiadventure.com); and for a birds-eye view of the Garden Island there’s Island Helicopters (www.islandhelicopters.com).
The ResortQuest Kauai Beach Hotel at Makaiwa on the Coconut Coast is a pretty, oceanfront property that just completed a $30 million dollar
renovation. An added feature: they have an award-winning luau with traditional Hawaiian food, beef teriyaki, poi, haupia (cocoanut pudding) and much more. Performances include Hawaiian hula, Tahitian dances, and exciting Samoan fire-knife dances
Everyone gets their own condo at Castle Kiahuna Plantation with a fully-stocked kitchen, dining room, living room, patio – and just beyond that, a beautiful white beach and the calm, turquoise ocean. If you’re needing some R&R after all that physical activity, here’s the place to do it.
The Princeville Resort is located on Kauai’s North Shore and is in Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List of ‘world’s best places to stay.’ My room had a terrace so naturally I raced out to check the view. There, before me, majestic mountain peaks piercing a robin’s egg blue sky, dotted with tiny cotton puff clouds. In the distance, a tiny white sailboat seems to have been placed there just to make this scene picture-perfect. And crashing below me, the green-blue sea . Princeville Resort calls itself “a sanctuary for the senses.” I agree. Smell, sight, touch, sound and taste are aroused to capture “ike ika wahi”, which translates to “Hawaii’s sense of place.” This property is famous for its unforgettable wedding packages - in effect, a wedding ceremony set in paradise. There’s the Luxury Wedding, the Princeville Wedding, and Eternal Love. Very romantic.
Trivial but Interesting Facts
Look but Don’t Touch
One day I took a walk down to water’s edge. Just a few feet from me, a fat, gray Monk Seal struggling mightily to flip himself up on the moss covered rocks. After several tries, he succeeded and immediately closed his eyes to bask in the morning sun. The Hawaiian Monk Seal is among the most endangered creatures on earth. Often referred to as “living fossils,” the Monk Seal has remained relatively unchanged for over 15 million years. There are less than 30 of these seals on Kauai, and state and federal laws prohibit touching or harassing them in any way.
It’s a curious but wonderful thing: Kauai is relatively insect-free. Yes, whether in dense jungle foliage or hiking over arid plains, no bugs. Another interesting fact: No snakes! I’m not sure why, but I sure am glad!
Spam-a lot – Hawaiian Soul Food
Hawaiians have a Spam fixation. On this island you can find Spam enchiladas, Spam frittatas, Spam Reuben sandwiches. There’s even a festival dedicated to this mystery meat-in-a-can. Spam worked its way into the hearts–and arteries–of Hawaiians during WWII when fresh meat was scarce. As it needs no refrigeration, islanders stock up on this proletarian pork product and find it comes in handy during hurricanes, tsunamis or other natural disasters. Spam jam, anyone?
The Meaning of ALOHA
A stands for AKAHAI, meaning kindness
L stands for LOKAHI, meaning unity
O stands for OLU’OLU meaning agreeable
H stands for HA’AHA’A, meaning humility
A stands for AHONUI, meaning patience.
Hawaiians believe that it starts with each one of us. It starts in the heart.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The Best Little City in Europe
by Barbara Barton Sloane
This depends, of course, on your particular taste. If you’re looking for great theatre, head to London. Fabulous designer fashions, choose Milan or Paris. However, if you want to visit a city that is pure magic then you have to go to Prague! One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, thanks to its location and to more than a thousand years of glorious architectural tradition, it has a rich artistic, musical and literary history. The citizens of Prague are rightly proud of their city’s history, recently awarded the title World Heritage Site. But Prague, by no means, lives on its illustrious past alone. It’s a modern metropolis. Here the past and the present merge in a unique and very special symbiosis.
Tourists, Tourists Everywhere
If you stand in the Old Square surrounded by what seems like every single tourist in Europe, you realize that Prague is a prime tourist destination. But don’t let this discourage you from visiting. The very fact that visitors from all over the world come here makes Prague a vital, exciting and very cosmopolitan city with great energy and style.
Czech Airlines – Strange but True
I recently decided to discover for myself why Prague is called “the little Paris of the East”. I found a city alive with music and culture, breath-taking views, café-lined squares, and a multitude of fabulous museums. But more about that later. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, you’ve got to get to Prague, and the Czech Republic’s national airline is a wise choice, being the only carrier with non-stop daily flights from JFK to Prague. Now, here’s the strange thing about Czech Airlines: they get you there on time. No, let me amend that: they get you there ahead of time. My flight landed forty minutes ahead of schedule and on the return trip, we landed a full hour before our scheduled arrival. In light of the many problems airlines are fraught with today, this “ahead of time” business is strange. And kind of
wonderful! Coupled with fine service, friendliness, and professionalism, it all adds up to a very pleasant and comfortable trip.
A Neighborhood Inspired by Wine
When deciding where to stay – and there are, indeed, countless superb hotels to choose from – I offer this: In the quiet residential neighborhood of Vinohrady, which means vineyard, I found a distinctive Belle Epoque five-star hotel, Le Palais. It is a mere 15 minute walk from Wenceslas Square, the heart of town, and yet light years removed from the crush of tourists. The hotel offers guests all the amenities of a deluxe property. One evening after a day of serious sight-seeing, I checked out Le Palais’ well-appointed health club. Tired as I was, I couldn’t resist trying out all that shiny, impressive exercise equipment, and after that: heaven. I visited their really steamy steam room. In the process hopefully I lost a few of the pounds I put on with my spectacular lunch at The Intercontinental’s Zlata Praha restaurant with a view that just won’t quit! Then a hot, hot, hot sauna where I was able to really unwind. Finally, the piece de resistance and something unique to this hotel: an aroma shower. Don’t ask; you’ve just got to experience it for yourself, but suffice it to say, it’s a great way to end your day.
Staying in Vinohrady I experienced a true Prague neighborhood. Moms pushing babies in prams, lovers walking hand in hand down tree-shaded lanes, and everyone, it seems, walking their dog. Several evenings, before returning to my hotel, I stopped off at one of the many sidewalk cafes and never once saw another tourist! After a busy day, it’s nice to be able to retreat into the quiet and calm of Vinohrady and Le Palais. After my soothing bout with steam room and sauna, I was ready to call it a day.. I curled up under silky sheets and a down comforter. However, if you’re one of the many sleep-challenged among us, you’ll be delighted to know that you have both room service and a cozy bar and library open 24 hours a day!!
Now, let’s go discover!
The Other Five Towns
Prague is a virtual jewel, barely damaged by World War II. Settled by the Celts in 500 BC, it is made up of five towns: The Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, the Little Quarter, the New Town and Hradcany, the village around Prague Castle on the hill above the Little Quarter.
When one sees photos of the city of Prague, invariably in the background there’s Prague Castle. It seems to dominate every image of the city. So visiting the castle was numero uno on my list of things to do. It’s a long trek up the hill to this site, but oh so worth it. Originally the castle was the seat of Czech nobility and royalty. It is a monumental complex consisting of a palace, church, monastery and garden, all built in different styles. There’s a new boutique hotel, the Crown Plaza up on the hill, some small sidewalk cafes and several fine restaurants. On the day I visited Crown Plaza, it was hosting the Czech soccer team. In addition to experiencing the elegance of this property, the buff and cute team members provided a cool distraction.
A Most Excellent View
I had a once in a lifetime dining experience: dinner at Allegro, the restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. I was given the choice of dining inside or on the terrace, overlooking the Charles Bridge and the Vltava River. Not a hard choice. It was a balmy spring evening, the setting sun cast a golden glow over the city, and I could barely tear myself away from the view to scan the menu. Luckily I did and had one of the most memorable dinners ever. For starters, a delightful lobster timbale with asparagus and black truffle dressing, followed by asparagus lasagna with taleggio cheese fondue, (asparagus is in season right now) and for dessert, strawberry-lemon cheese cake. The creator of this heaven-sent repast: Chef Vito Molica. Long may he reign over this kitchen!
In case you’re wondering, yes I did from time to time leave the table to stand at the terrace’s rail and gaze at the beautiful Charles Bridge. It spans the Vltava River and joins Prague’s Old Town (Stare Mesto) with the Little or Lesser Quarter (Mala Strana). Take a stroll across it. You’ll enjoy the sandstone sculptures, black with age, that adorn both sides. This is the oldest of Prague’s bridges, built in 1357 by Charles IV. It was from this very bridge that St. John Nepomuk was thrown to his watery death in the 14th century by order of King Wenceslas IV for refusing to divulge what the queen had told him in confession. The legend claims that as John drowned, five stars appeared on the water, and these five stars have become the symbol of the town’s patron saint.
Everything Old Is New Again
The roots of the Jewish Town reach down to the Middle-Ages, and happily the original network of streets is preserved. In addition to the Old–New
Synagogue (from the 13th Century), the Jewish Town Hall and most of the legendary Jewish Cemetery have been preserved. The cemetery was founded in 1478, and the area was quite limited. Thus, for lack of space, the graves had to be made in several layers – there are areas with up to twelve layers and more than 100,000 souls are buried here. The Old-New Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Europe still in use. It was completed in 1270 and has endured much – from fires to pogroms.
Walking through Prague is like walking through a textbook of European architecture dating back from the 10th Century to….The Dancing House!
Gazing up at this building (Tancici dum in Czech), I feel a touch of vertigo. It is wavy, round in some places, flat in others, and undulating all over. The Dancing House is the work of renowned architect Fank Gehry and it is a joyous piece of architecture. Kind of makes you feel like dancing!
The Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) is the central meeting point for all of Prague’s tourists. Young, old and everything in between, you’ll see it all here. I stand in the center of the square and slowly turn around, admiring all the glorious, historic buildings that circle it. The façade of the St. Nicholas Church dominates the square, a great example of both Gothic
and Rococo styles. The buildings’ facades are pastel, ice cream colored.
Sidewalk cafes are everywhere. Gelato anyone?
Near the Old Town Square, if you see a maze of people standing together, staring up at a tower, you’ll know you’ve found the medieval Astronomical Clock which dates from 1410. In the 17th Century, moving statues were added as well as figures of the Apostles. The figures are set in motion on the hour, each figure representing the four things which are despised. Starting with death, represented by a skeleton, then vanity, a figure holding a mirror, there are two more figures which are just too politically incorrect to even mention. You can think back over history and use your imagination. Anyway, though viewing the Astronomical Clock may not be your cup of tea, watching these four little figures do their thing each hour is very popular in Prague. I prefer people-watching myself and as I enjoy my pistachio gelato at one of the square’s cafes, I have a ring-side seat.
Before I return to my hotel, I take a walk through Wenceslas Square. Founded in the 14th century initially as a horse market, today it is home to elegant restaurants, cafes and shops selling the world-renowned Bohemian crystal.. So from humble roots selling horses, Wenceslas Square is now called Prague’s Champs Elysee.
Do You Believe in Magic?
Take a walk through this city’s winding streets at dusk. It’s not hard to believe you’ve stepped back in time and around the next corner you may just meet one of the famous from Prague’s past. Isn’t that Franz Kafka, sitting on a bench under the chestnut tree, deep in thought. Oh wait,
here’s Mozart out for a stroll with some musician friends. Past and present merging. But back to reality. It’s just my friends and I enjoying a typical Prague evening. And yes, it’s magic.
If You Go:
Czech Tourism, www.CzechTourism.com/USA, Tel: 212-288-0830
Czech Airlines, www.usa.czechairlines.com, Tel: 800-223-2365
Le Palais Hotel, www.palaishotel.cz, Tel: 420- 234 634 111
Four Seasons Hotel, www.fourseasons.com/prague, Tel:420-221 427 000
InterContinental Hotel, www.ichotelsgroup.com, Tel:420- 296 631 111
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, www.mandarinoriental.com, Tel: 420-233-088-888
Radisson Alcron Hotel, www.prague.radissonsas.com, Tel: 420-222-820-000
Crown Plaza Hotel, www.CrownPlaza.com, Tel: 800-315-2621
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
“IT TAKES A VILLA”
An Authentic Tuscan Experience
By Barbara Barton Sloane
Belpaese. Beautiful Country. Tuscany.
Haven’t we all, at one time or another, dreamed of staying in an Italian villa? Midway through our dream, however, reality sets in and the actual prospect of finding the perfect villa, arranging a stay, all seems daunting. Where to start?
A good starting place is by contacting Doorways Villa Vacations, based in Bryn Mawr PA. Kit Burns, the president of Doorways, is intimately acquainted with Italy and represents many of its villas, estates and homes. She and her staff match their clients to the property. They will work with you to choose the perfect location, the residence, and, if you wish, even create an itinerary personalized for your particular needs.
I recently had the chance to experience one of Kit’s Italian villas on the Buonvisi Estate near Lucca. The Buonvisi villa dates from 1505, and the owners, Joe and Gianna Dini, are gracious hosts who invite their guests to dinner where one samples foods typical of the region.
Driving up to Villa Buonvisi, high atop a Tuscan hillside, we wind through olive groves bursting with fragrant spring blossoms and vineyards just beginning to mature, gearing up for their September harvest. Finally, we reach our destination. Set back from great manicured lawns, the walk-way is lined with gigantic terra cotta planters, and before us lies Villa Buonvisi. It does not disappoint. In fact, it’s even more splendid than in the photos we’d seen. Fully restored to its original façade (as dictated by the Italian government), the villa is a lovely pink beige color, bearing a “Juliet” balcony and a fresco from the 16th Century over the doorway that the Dinis discovered when the façade was being restored.
Joe Dini, charming and affable, welcomed us with a glass of his fruity Chardonnay as we sat around the pool, trying to take in the vista, the gardens, the long grape arbor, and the mountains behind us. After a tour of the villa, we settled into our room. High, high ceilings, original, ancient tile floors, and a picture-perfect view - myriad church steeples, chestnut, olive and orange groves, iconic Tuscan cypress trees dotting the hills, and the town below, all under a Tuscan blue sky. Someone pinch me, quick!
The wonderful thing here is, whether you want to do nothing but chill out at the Villa or get active and explore the area, it’s your choice. Either way, it’s pretty darn wonderful. If you feel adventurous, try hiking the mountain behind the Villa. However, a word of caution: this hike is for the seriously hearty! One climbs through some really rough terrain, winding through fields of pink, yellow, white and scarlet wild flowers and dense vegetation. Guaranteed, you’re going to get a few scratches, and at some point, you’ll ask yourself: “Why did I start this?” But it’s too late to turn back, so you forge on. After almost two hours, you arrive tired but awfully proud of yourself, as you turn, look down, and see what you’ve accomplished. You’ve just climbed a mountain! Oh, and there’s a delicious reward at the end of your climb. Perched on the top of the mountain, a cozy country restaurant, Quatri Venti, where the owner herself serves you at a long communal table set under a grove of chestnut trees. Try the hearty Ribolita, a typical, thick Tuscan soup with vegetables, beans and bread and drizzled with olive oil - a delicious and unique primi piatti and a nice, midday reward for your morning’s efforts.
One day, plan to visit Lucca. In this small yet cosmopolitan walled Tuscan town, you’ll find wonderful trattorias, upscale clothing and jewelry boutiques, and music. Lots of music. Let’s not forget that this is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini. The town offers hosts of concerts and operas, and in July, the famous Puccini festival takes pace in nearby Torre del Lago. About an hour from the villa, the Ligurian coastal jewels of Cinque Terre, five unique fishing villages, is known as Italy’s “flower-Rivera”. As you walk between the villages, you’ll have breathtaking views of the emerald blue Mediterranean Sea, vineyards, lemon trees and pine forests. Sit at an outdoor cafe overlooking the sea, and participate in one of my favorite pastimes: people-watching. A fun way to spend an afternoon.
And for museums and shopping (including many designer outlets), you’ll want to spend a day in Florence, only an hour away.
During your stay, check out the nearby ancient town of Pietrasanta, founded in 1255. One evening, we visited this pretty village and at twilight sat at a sidewalk café in the town square. Soon, we were joined for an appertif by the town’s mayor, Massimo Mallegni, a youngish, elegant man, who was delighted to explain Pietrasanta’s illustrious history. As light faded, before us lay the 14th Century Church of Sant’Agostino, in the background the Apuan Alps, and flanked on every sides, the famed marble quarries where Michaelangelo himself chose the perfect piece of marble to create
“The Pieta” and “David.”
Speaking of marble, in this region known as Versilia, visit the town of Carrera and you can arrange for a walking tour of Michaelangelo’s quarry and then visit the many sculpture studios in the area. Here also you’ll find Parco delle Alpi Apuane and Corchia’s Cavern, the most imposing underground cave in Italy, and one of the biggest in the world. Its amazing interior of stalagtites and stalagmites is bathed in artistic lighting and will leave you breathless.
Feeling a bit tired? Visit the Bagni di Pisa Spa, near Lucca in San Giuliano Terme, where you can luxuriate with their Silk Thermal Face Treatment or their Seaweed Body Wrap. Or simply walk from the villa to the bottom of the hill and refresh yourself with one of the many pastel colored gelati at the café La Perla. Finally, swim or laze by the Villa’s pool while Rufus, the resident German Shepard drops a tattered ball at your feet and with soulful eyes, asks you to play “fetch”. Be forewarned: once you throw that ball, he’ll drop it at your feet again, and again and again…
Now, the event you’ve been waiting for all day: Dinner! Visit a local restaurant and linger over a traditional Tuscan meal. Among the restaurants we tried: All’Olivo in Lucca, L’Antonio in Pietrasanta and Bimbotto in Vorno. And don’t rush this experience. Dinners in Italy are long, food is discussed, tasted, appreciated, and the wine flows. A perfect end to a perfect day.
As our departure from Villa Buonvisi draws near, I think back over the week – the warm hospitality of the Dinis, the unique and special
experiences each day brought, the tranquility of soft Tuscan evenings, playing “fetch” with Rufus, and the sheer delight of living like a Tuscan!
Sorry Marriott and Hyatt, you just can’t compare. Memories are made of this, and yes, it takes a Villa!
Kit Burns, President
900 County Line Road, Bryn Mawr PA
(610) 520 0806- (800) 261 4460
Corchia’s Cave – Tel: 39 0584 778405
Bagni di Pisa Spa – Largo P. Shelley, 18, San Giuliano Terme
Ristorante All’Olivo – Piazza S.Quirico, 1 - Tel: 0583 496264
L’Antonio – Piazzetta Crispi 11-12 - Tel: 0584 793384
Bimbotti – Via di Vorno, 177 – Tel: 0583 971193o
Good News for 2008
Joe & Gianna Dini have decided that, in addition to the two villas they presently rent on the estate, the Villa del Barbaro and the Villa Cardinale, they will rent, in 2008 for the first time, their home, the Villa Buonvisi. With air conditioning, large living spaces and ten bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, this villa even comes with the use of their private beach cabana! Some of the Villa’s amenities are a billiard table, bocce court, home theatre and gym. Also, it is fully staffed with a cook, gardener and housekeeper. If you’re planning a vacation with family or several friends, look no further. Kit Burns of Doorways, Ltd. calls this experience a “golden dream”. In her capable hands, your Tuscan dream is about to come true!
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
By Barbara Barton Sloane
There is no where else on earth even remotely like this area. Its enchantment is almost impossible to put into words. Edward Abby, one of the most famous voices of the Western deserts, spoke of the “huge vibration of light and stillness and solitude.” Welcome to Flagstaff, Arizona.
Route 66 Runs Through It
Flagstaff, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, is a city of 60,000. It nestles in the cool pines of Northern Arizona, 2 ½ hours from Phoenix, and just 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon. The rather quirky name – Flagstaff - comes from a group of settlers who, in 1876, selected a site at the foot of the San Francisco peaks. They chose a tall pine, removed its branches and in observance of the 4th of July, attached a flag to the top. Over time, the flagpole remained and became a landmark for travelers. The name Flagstaff became prominently used from that time on.
There’s lots to do in Flagstaff, and summer has some very special offerings:
How about a ranger-guided hike or climbing camp? There’s a chili cook-off and a fajita festival and sampling. There are Native American art exhibits, the Flagstaff Music Festival and the 74th Annual Hopi Festival of Arts & Culture! For more summer happenings, check with the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Home of the Expanding Universe
Whether you’re an astronomy buff or just want to visit the place where the planet Pluto was discovered in 1930, the rings of Uranus were first seen in 1977, as well as the sighting of the three largest known stars in the universe, then you’ll want to check out The Lowell Observatory. A fun fact: to aid in the Lowell’s ongoing astrological research, the city of Flagstaff has instituted an aggressive anti-light program. All the lights of Flagstaff must be reflected downward. The result: a sky that comes alive in the darkness with a magnificent display of more stars than you’ve ever seen before.
In 2008, the Lowell will acquire the $30 million Discovery Channel telescope which will be able to image an area of the sky 16 Full Moons wide, and will detect objects more than 40 million times further than can be seen by the naked eye.
America’s Mountain Garden
The Arboretum at Flagstaff is a wondrous place where you can explore several miles of Alpine meadows, cool Ponderosa Pine forests, cultivated gardens and see plants characteristic of this elevation of the Colorado Plateau. At the Arboretum, you can have a bird walk, listen to a summer concert, see wild birds of prey demonstrations. Care to hold a red-tailed hawk or a great-horned owl? Here, you can!
Before you leave Flagstaff, if you’re hankering to experience an authentic, old-West hotel, check out the Weatherford Hotel. Back when Arizona was a territory and vigilantes ruled the dirt streets, John W. Weatherford rode into these parts by horse and buggy with a grand vision for the West. It was on the very first day of the new century that he threw open the doors of his hotel—doors that would ultimately welcome presidents and gunslingers alike to a civilized oasis in the wild, dusty West. Having just undergone 20 years of restoration work, the Weatherford is open again for business and offers a chance to sample the flavor of Flagstaff’s pioneer beginnings.
While there, you’ve got to visit the Zane Grey Room. Here are original stained glass windows, an antique Brunswick bar from Tombstone, wood floors and original wool rugs. This, my friends, is the authentic old West!
If you’re yearning for a Grand Canyon experience, remember that Flagstaff is a relatively short drive away. It’s a good idea to make this city your home base , and do a day trip to the Canyon. But now it’s on to Page!!
Gateway to Canyon Country
Page, Arizona is 120 miles from Flagstaff and an equal distance to the Grand Canyon. Located in the north central part of the state, Page, at an altitude of 3,700 feet, is home to 7,000 residents. Local attractions abound: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Colorado River Float trip, Village Heritage Center, a PGA professional national golf course.
Let me tell you about just two spectacular, not to be missed wonders: Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell, one of the cleanest, healthiest lakes in the country.
In Antelope Canyon, also known as “Corkscrew Canyon”, you’ll discover one of the most spectacular, yet little known attractions of this area. This, in a word, is sculpture set in stone. It is at once awe-inspiring and just a tiny bit frightening as you stand between its very narrow walls, looking skyward at the sliver of blue that’s visible. Perhaps not such a good idea for the claustrophobic. Otherwise, a joyous, mystical experience. If you want to go, know that it is a site owned and run by the Navajo Nation. They offer Antelope Canyon Tours, in which you enjoy a scenic ride to the canyon where a Native American guide will explain geology and its cultural history.
Magical Mystery Tour
Lake Powel awaits! First, a little history: Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963, and Lake Powell reached “full pool” in 1980 at 3,700 feet. To give you some idea of its size, the lake is 186 miles long with 96 major side canyons, and the shoreline of Lake Powell, including all its meanderings through the side canyons, is actually greater in length than the California coastline.
The recently completed Antelope Point Resort & Marina offers gourmet dining, a beautiful lounge area, boat rentals, and is the largest floating platform of its type in the world!
How’s this for service? The Marina staff will personally meet you at your vehicle and transport you, bags, gear and all, down to the marina. They will take you to your personal or rental boat, load your belongings and will return you to your vehicle at the end of your Lake Powell experience, all as a complimentary service. If you want the ne plus ultra in luxury, consider renting a houseboat. Picture this: you’re relaxing in a hot tub atop your private houseboat while gliding silently across a lake sparkling like a sheet of blue glass and gazing up at the most astonishing canyons towering above you, all the while, breathing air so clean and fresh you want to take huge gulps of it. Like the picture?
The canyons defy description, but I’ll try: Their colors change in the sun: ochre, sienna, orange, cream, mauve. They look at times like gigantic cathedrals or Balzac sculptures. They are, quite simply, breathtaking. The lake itself alternates between an icy blue, glistening with diamonds refracted by the sun to late afternoon when it is teal turning to inky black.
The Navajos believe Lake Powell must be treated with respect, that it is a hallowed and spiritual place. I think you’ll feel that way too.
If you go:
Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Arboretum at Flagstaff
The Weatherford Hotel
Page Lake Powell Tourism Bureau
Antelope Canyon Tours
Antelope Point Marina
Days Inn & Suites Lake Powell
Lake Powell National Golf Course