Monday, May 4, 2015

Take the slow lane through France on a hotel barge

Under bridges and through locks is a great way to see a country. Photo © by Judy Wells.
It took less than six nights to hook me on barging.
La Renaissance. Photo courtesy European Waterways.
• That I was on European Waterways' La Renaissance, one of the most spacious hotel barge in its fleet, helped.
Spring blooms were glorious. Photo© by Judy Wells.
• That spring was in full flower in France's Loire Valley was enchanting.


Hannah presents the wine. hoto© by Judy Wells.
Isabelle introduces us to a new cheese. Photo© by Judy Wells.

• That we were only four guests instead of the usual eight meant extra special service from the young, affable and competent crew.

Montargis, the Venice of France. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 • That we eased through 800 years of French history and culture, seeing a few things thoroughly was most appealing.
Rump of lamb. Photo ©by Judy Wells.
• That Chef Luke prepared inventive, delicious meals that were accompanied by excellent wines and cheese certainly fueled my enthusiasm.

Our activity, Sunning and relaxing. Photo © by Judy Wells.

That it was the perfect vacation for Levelers clinched the deal.

Tip: There are steps aboard. You will have one and occasionally a short gangplank to get on or off the barge and 13 down to cabin level. There is a low cowling to get into the fore and aft cabins and a tiny step between the lounge and foredeck areas. One cabin is wheelchair accessible on the eight-passenger La Nouvelle Etoile, which primarily plies the canals of Holland in March and May, Burgundy in June and July and Germany and Luxembourg in September and October. There's also a wheelchair lift.

Market at Briare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The pace of life aboard is perfect for most of us Levelers. Nothing except breakfast begins before 9 a.m. If we barged from one locale to another in the morning, in the afternoon we piled in the eight-passenger Mercedes van with driver/guide/deck man/captain-in-training Arnald for an excursion to a chateau/castle, medieval village, winery or other site of interest. If the change of mooring comes in the afternoon, we toured in the morning.

How many steps?

Castles are the most challenging for us, thanks to steps, steps and more steps. On the Briare Canal cruise we visited three.

Adieux Courtyard, Fountainebleau. Photo รง by Judy Wells.
The first challenge was Fountainebleau with its 138 acres and 1,500 rooms. Fortunately, we only saw the royal apartments and the major entertaining spaces. The cobblestone Adieux Courtyard, where Napoleon I said farewell to his troops before exile, is the first hurdle, definitely difficult walking. Next were the bathrooms, downstairs, of course, 23 steps if I counted right.

From the 28 steps with three landings to the Napoleon I exhibit to the six steps up to the large apartments you will have flat surfaces to amble, stopping frequently to take in the rooms, their history and decor. Then it's 42 steps down and five steps up to Trinity chapel.

Tip: There is an elevator but in France you have to have a special card to use them in historic buildings. If you qualify for handicapped parking, bring one of the hanging tags with you and show it when you buy your ticket. Might work. 

Chateau Sully sur Loire. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The 11th century Chateau Sully-sur-Loire is considerably smaller and has a smaller cobblestone area, but is no less encumbered by stairs. Here it's 22 steps to the bathrooms and 38 steps to the first floor great hall and king's room. There are 60 steps to the top floor, but it is empty and I skipped that. Instead, took the 13 steps to the steward's office, 15 steps down to the Duchess's apartments, 10 steps up to the duke's chambers, 21 steps down  to the great room, 23 steps down to the dining room and finally, two steps to reach courtyard level.

Chaeau la Bussiere. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Our third castle, Chateau la Bussiere, fondly known as the Fisherman's Castle and owned by only two families since the 12th century and still privately owned by the De Chassevals, was our favorite. Still with the steps though: six into the chateau, 26 up to the dining and living rooms, 13 steps down to the kitchen, eight to get to the entrancd and another six to reach the 18th century aromatic, vegetable, fruit and medicinal garden, part of the designs by Le Notre, the landscaper of Versailles. If you see a slender, silver haired lady working i the garden, that's Maria de Chasseval, Duchess of Sully.
Maria de Chasseval, Duchess of Bussiere. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: Our other excursions to markets, a winery and faience factory were much less strenuous. This was the first trip following a third hip surgery in October and I managed, taking advantage of chairs and ledges to sit whenever possible and taking it easy on board the barge the rest of the time. If it sounds too daunting, you can always opt to stroll about the grounds or skip the excursion altogether.There are always interesting towns and villages within a block or two of the barge.
The view from the dock at Montbouy. Photo © by Judy Wells.

 For a day-to-day account of the trip on La Renaissance, go to Aboard Renaaissance at All Things Cruise.

La Renaissance at Briare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Personally, I'm looking forward to doing a whole survey of barges and the countrysides through which they can take me.







Leia Mais…
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Inside Atlanta

Ready to go for the greenest motorized tour in Atlanta.
Atlanta is a fascinating city with an interesting history, but it can be hilly and is hot in summer. This can present problems for Levelers, but I've found a solution. Just remember, touring a city you think you know can be an humbling eye-opener. I've been visiting Atlanta since I was seven years old,  but on a city tour with ATL-Cruzers, I saw new sides of the city.

The relatively new company offers Segway tours but we piled into their five-passenger-plus driver/guide electric cars for a 90-minute tour of downtown, during which we saw and learned that

• Thrasher, Marthasville and Lumpkinsville were among Atlanta's several previous names.

Sweet Auburn Avenue was where the affluent African American community gathered including John Wesley Dodd, who began as a postal clerk, rose to wealth and was the late Mayor Maynard Jackson's grandfather and Martin Luther King Jr.'s mentor. Aretha Franklin debuted here the Top Hat, now known as the Royal Peacock. The Sweet Auburn Bread Company makes the best sweet potato cheesecake in town.

King Center. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Ebeneezer Baptist Church, now a museum,  and the King Center where MLK Jr. and his wife are buried are a national park. Both Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. were originally named Michael.

The Kings lived here. Photo © by Judy Wells.
After reading about Martin Luther, King changed his and his 5-year-old son's name to Martin. The yellow and brown house is where MLK Jr. was born.  

Don't resist the Cremolattas. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Lotta Frutta is a must stop for Mexican-Ecuadorian breakfast, lunch, coffees, smoothies and their famous fresh cut fruit cups. Say hey to La Duena,  Myrna Perez Cifuentes

Now anyone can stay in Inman. Photo © by Judy Wells.
• The Inman area was the original millionaire's row. Designed to keep the ordinary citizen as well as the riffraff out, lots alone cost $3,000 in 1890! One of the original houses  Sugar Magnolia, is now a bed and breakfast.  Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler lived  here.

The last week of April, the Inman Park Festival attracts all of those ordinary people to tour a dozen or so of the houses, for a fee.

Cabbage Town and the Edgewood neighborhood are fast becoming an entertainment and foodie hot spot.

Oakland Cemetery, opened 1850, is a fascinating area to wander. Here you will find the final remains of Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones and Maynard Jackson. Every summer there is the Tunes from the Tombs music festival.

Bring your appetite to Municipal Market. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Municipal Market, known to locals as the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, is a great farmers' market where you can nosh on the cuisines of 11 different countries and try a piece of that sweet potato cheesecake.  USA Today named it 16th of the world's top 20 farmers' markets.

SoNo, South of North Avenue, is where you'll find Emory University as well as Gladys Knight and Ron's Chicken and Waffles Restaurant

Margaret Mitchell lived here. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Midtown Village is where you'll find the Flying Biscuit, a 24-hour breakfast spot, the Interactive Rock and where Margaret Mitchell lived in a basement apartment she referred to as  "the dump."

Skyview Atlanta. Photo © by Judy Wells.
• Next came Georgia Tech, the Varsity, the striking new Center for Civil and Human Rights, next to World of Coca Cola, the unexpected Skyview Atlanta ferris wheel ($15 for two rotations, $30 for four rotations in the clear-bottom VIP gondola) and we were back at home base, entertained and surprisingly wiser.



 


Leia Mais…
Monday, July 7, 2014

Atlantic City for Levelers

Diving horses are gone but the streets made popular by Monopoly game boards are still there. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Atlantic City, which may have been America's first beachfront resort, has been supplanted by newer, glossier destinations but it still offers visitors an interesting stay. After all, this city of 487,000 welcomes and entertains 20 million of us a year.

The good news for Levelers: It's flat.

The bad news for Levelers: Casino hotels are like airports with flashy decor and electronic slot machines. In other words, you will have to walk a lot to get wherever you want to go unless you are content to stay in the casino.

 Apologies to casino owners' bottom lines, but that would be a shame.

The city

Nucky's hotel home. Photo © by Judy Wells.
First there's the iconic resort as portrayed in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire." As city fathers will tell you, the show would be a lot better if it had been filmed in Atlantic City, but they also point out the hotel Nucky Thompson called home.

Hard to miss the Steel Pier. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The Steel Pier hasn't been steel for a long time (it's concrete) and no horses dive into tiny tanks, but you'll find midway-type games and rides, including helicopter spins over the area.

Games are popular but pricey - $5 a go. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The view of the Boardwalk from the end of the pier is pretty impressive.
Atlantic City shoreline at night as seen from the end of the Steel Pier. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Strolling the boardwalk is a must. Photo © by Judy Wells.
 The Boardwalk itself is wide and infinitely stroll-able. The rolling chairs to save you steps are still there as are salt water taffy shops and assorted kitsch. Speaking of the taffy, it comes in more flavors than Ben & Jerry's and the two original competitors, James' and Fralinger's, are now made under the same roof.

A new museum on the boardwalk.Photo © by Judy Wells.
New this summer is the Historical Museum at Garden Pier, a small but fascinating collection of Atlantic City artifacts from an original wicker rolling chair and Mr. Peanut costume to the champagne bottle with which Frank Sinatra christened Resort's International.

Mr. Peanut was a popular regular on the old Boardwalk. Photo © by Judy Wells.




Ducktown and Southern Italian cuisine are synonymous. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Head to Ducktown for southern Italian fare. The once marshy area where ducks congregated is where Italian immigrants settled, bringing with them those rich, dense tomato sauces. 

That's also where you will find popular bakeries and the results of efforts by the city and Richard Stockton College to revitalize downtown. The Stockton Noyes Arts Garage is home to dozens of artisans and their work. The Dante Hall Theater, once the gymnasium and hall for St. Michael's Catholic Church, has been renovated and turned into a performing arts center.





Seafood Zuppetta at Capriccio. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Tip: For Northern Italian, head for the exquisite Capriccio at Resorts. 

Other arts installations have been introduced to revitalize the downtown but are dwarfed by casinos.

Absecon Lighthouse. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The 1870 Absecon Lighthouse is hard to miss. It is New Jersey's tallest, the third highest in the U. S. That means 228 steps to the top. Tip: I recommend Levelers just look at it.

Gardner's Landing and the back bay.

 Absecon (Ab-SEE-kin) is the original name of the island now known as Atlantic City and you will find a far less flashy world as you head away from the ocean.

Blocks of pristine, pastel-toned Victorian Modern homes - attached, single, condos - are a successful example of city revitalization and gentrification.

Boats, breakfast and the view are highlights of Gardener's Landing. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Gardner's Landing is another stab at it in one of the more historic areas. The excursion and fishing fleets anchor here accompanied by a small aquarium, gift shops, a pub and another Atlantic City institution, Gilchrist Restaurant, where locals flock for breakfast and lunch.

Yum. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Tip: Ask for a table outside to enjoy the view and order the blueberry pancakes. Locals also recommend the spicy Italian sausage.

Bootleggers' paradise. Photo © by Judy Wells.
While you are sitting there, note the two older, brown shingled houses across the basin. This was once a hotbed for bootleggers as you know if you've watched "Boardwalk Empire," and these houses are the remnants of that. Speed boats could outrun revenuers, tuck into the covered slips and the booze would be off premises and on its way in minutes.

Dale Chihuly greets you with a splash at Borgata Water Club. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Across the basin you can't miss the highrise casino hotels. The most tasteful is Borgata's Water Club with Chihuly chandeliers, a dream of a spa and a knockout view. It's a resort first, casino second and one place where you don't have to walk yourself to death.
Good view from Water Club's Immersion Spa. Photo © by Judy Wells.i

Getting around. 


The better casinos have door-to-door limo services from the Philadelphia International Airport. In town, the jitney service goes just about everywhere for $2.25.

#satwac

Leia Mais…
Monday, April 28, 2014

The King's new clothes: King and Prince Beach Resort and Golf Club

Unlike the fairy tale, this king's new clothes look as good as they feel. The King and Prince has been a popular destination on St. Simons Island, GA since the late 1930s. It has had many renovations over the years, but the most recent one is a winner.

The noisy indoor pool is gone and in its place a casual seating area, already popular bar, cozy banquets, tables and Echo, a restaurant with emphasis on fresh, local and responsible harvesting.
Bar is popular with guests and locals.
Outdoor dining.

The breakfast bunch.
Oh, and an unbeatable view of the ocean and shipping in and out of Brunswick's busy port.

Cozy banquettes and an open kitchen.
The whole lobby has an airy, elegant look that invites guests to linger and see who else is checking in.

One thing has stayed the same: the staff is as pleasant and helpful and imbued with Southern hospitality as ever. 

Tip: Alas, a problem for levelers can't be avoided in the older part of the hotel. Steps. As additions and adjustments came along, it took a series of stairs to tie them all together.  I'd recommend asking for a room in the newer wing, where elevators and breezeways connect upper levels to the main building.

Other that, it's happily level as is the island itself.





Leia Mais…