All Posts By

Dan

Sognefjord

Norway’s Spectacular Sognefjord

By | Cruising, Norway | No Comments

Cruising the longest navigable fjord in the world

The Arizona Republic — August 18, 2019

SKJOLDEN, Norway – There is a reason the Sognefjord – the longest navigable fjord in the world – has earned the nickname “The King of the Fjords.”

Cruising the Sognefjord

Cruising through the Sognefjord, the longest navigable fjord in the world, on the Holland America Nieuw Statendam

In addition to its length — 127 miles – the Sognefjord’s majestic offerings include waterfalls cascading down snow-capped cliffs that soar more than a mile-high from the sea, emerald-green lakes resulting from thousands of years of glacial melting, and brightly painted Norwegian houses and fertile farmland that dot the base of where the sea meets the massive peaks.

Cruising the Sognefjord was the highlight of a seven-day “Norse Legends” cruise on the 2,800-passenger Nieuw Statendam, Holland America’s newest and largest ship that just began sailing last December.  It officially was dedicated at a ceremony in February by the ship’s “godmother,” Oprah Winfrey.

Our 1,800-mile journey started and ended in Amsterdam, with four Norwegian port stops – Eidfjord, Skjolden, Alesund and Bergen.

About one-third of the ship’s passengers were Americans; there also was a large Dutch contingent.  The weather in Norway was surprisingly – and unusually — warm.  Some days the thermometer neared 90 degrees.  The light parka I brought never once came out of my cabin’s closet.

Skjolden

The harbor in picturesque Skjolden, Norway

I found Skjolden, which lies at the innermost point of the Sognefjord on a branch of the fjord called Lustrafjord, to be the most captivating stop during the cruise.  With a population of only 200 – “not including two dogs and a cat,” as our guide quipped – Skjolden is one of the smallest ports in the world visited by large cruise ships.

Norway has more than 1,000 fjords, the most of any country in the world.  In fact, fjord is a Norwegian word, which describes a long, narrow watery inlet flanked by steep cliffs that was created by a glacier.

The Sognefjord begins in the Atlantic Ocean in western Norway and winds its way inland past small, idyllic villages, fruit farms and popular hiking trails.  Its most famous arm is Naeroyfjord, only 820-feet wide at its narrowest point.  Since 2005, Naeroyfjord has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to have been an inspiration for the 2013 Disney movie “Frozen.”

It never got tiring sitting on one of the Nieuw Statendam’s outdoor decks soaking in the scenery, listening to the ship’s port lecturer describe the geological wonders we were passing.

Nieuw Statendam

The Nieuw Statendam docked in Skjolden, Norway

Skjolden is a gateway to the ruggedly beautiful Jotenheimen National Park.  Jotenheimen, which means “home of the giants” in English, is home to a wonderous landscape of waterfalls, rivers, glaciers and some of the highest peaks in Europe north of the Alps.  The park is a one-hour bus ride – through hairpin bends and steep, winding roads – from Skjolden.

The cruise offered much more than natural beauty. Our northernmost stop of Alesund, a fishing port less than 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle, was virtually rebuilt from scratch following a fire in 1904. Today it boasts one of the most interesting collections of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.

Our final port stop was Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city with a population of about 300,000.  An ancient Viking port steeped in medieval history, Bergen is known for a bustling waterfront with striking wood buildings, one block from a huge fish market.  I rode a funicular up Mount Floyen, where I took a three-hour hike that rewarded us with panoramic views of the city and surrounding fjords.

While Alaskan cruises also offer spectacular natural beauty, the port stops are much more touristy than those in Norway.  The western Scandinavian country is a compelling alternative for cruisers who enjoy scenery and hiking, but don’t want to rub elbows with a lot of other tourists in the process.

Alesund

The colorful architecture of Ålesund, Norway

You will see plenty of Norwegians enjoying the outdoors.  There’s even a Norwegian word – friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-liv) – coined by poet Henrik Ibsen that attempts to shed some insight into the Norwegian mindset.

Loosely translated as “free air life,” friluftsliv describes the deep connection to nature that is such a huge part of Norwegian culture.  Some argue the philosophy is one reason Norway consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries on Earth.

At every stop, we would see the locals camping in pup tents, boating, hiking and biking.  We learned a Norwegian proverb that helps understand the country’s deep love of the outdoors, even during the dark and frigid winter months:

“There is no such thing as bad weather.  Just bad clothes.”

                                                                                             © 2019 Dan Fellner

Important links:
Holland America Cruises
The official guide to Sognefjord

Video:
See video shot by the author of the Nieuw Statendam sailing underneath one of the world’s longest suspension bridges in the scenic Hardanger Fjord in Norway.

The Jews of North Macedonia

By | Jewish Travel, North Macedonia | No Comments

Skopje’s Jewish community survives despite near annihilation during the Holocaust

June 20, 2019

SKOPJE, North Macedonia – Like many countries in Eastern Europe, North Macedonia offers visitors wanting a glimpse of Jewish history and culture a bittersweet experience.

Skopje Holocaust Museum


The Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia

There are remnants and artifacts of a once-thriving community, which dates back to Roman times and ultimately reached a peak of nearly 12,000 Jews before World War II.

There are inspirational signs of survival and a modest rebirth, namely in the form of the newest synagogue in the Balkans, Beit Yaakov, a Sephardic-style synagogue with beautiful stained-glass windows designed by local artists.

There also is a deeply disturbing and moving museum chronicling the virtual destruction of Macedonia’s Jewish community during the Holocaust, when more than 7,000 Jews were transported to their deaths at the concentration camp in Treblinka, Poland.

I recently spent six weeks teaching at North Macedonia’s largest university and had an opportunity to learn more about the roller-coaster existence of the region’s Jewish community.

Macedonia, as the locals call it, was officially renamed the Republic of North Macedonia in early 2019 to resolve a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece, which had long laid claim to the name of Macedonia.  It’s believed the move will pave the way for the country to eventually join the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Skopje synagogue

Inside Skopje’s Beit Yaakov synagogue

Skopje, a city of a half-million people, is the capital of this landlocked country about the size of Vermont.  Macedonia gained its independence when Yugoslavia imploded in the early 1990s.  The country’s Macedonian majority is mostly Eastern Orthodox; however, ethnic Albanians – many of whom practice Islam — constitute about 25 percent of the country’s population.

Today, the country’s Jewish population has dwindled to about 200.  Virtually all of them live in Skopje.

On my second day in the city, I visited the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, a $23 million state-of-the-art and tastefully designed museum located in the heart of what once was the city’s Jewish quarter.  It’s just a stone’s throw from two of Skopje’s most famous sites – the historic Stone Bridge that takes pedestrians across the Vardar River, and the old Turkish Bazaar.

Inaugurated in 2011, the Holocaust museum was built with money raised from a 2002 law providing for the return of heirless Jewish property to the Jewish community, a law that is widely recognized as one of the best in Europe.

Inside Holocaust museum

The Holocaust museum chronicles the prosperous history of Jews in the region

Inside the museum, I learned that the first-known synagogue in Skopje dates back to 1366.  Many Jews came to the region following the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions.  The Jewish community was almost entirely Sephardic, and most spoke Ladino at home.  When Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire, Jews prospered in the fields of trade, banking and medicine.  They also enjoyed fairly good relations with the non-Jewish population.  At one point, there were 14 working synagogues in the country, nine of them in Bitola, a city in southern Macedonia that is close to the Greek and Albanian borders.

The museum has a number of multimedia exhibits depicting Jewish life in Macedonia and the Balkans through the centuries, including historic Jewish religious and cultural artifacts. Most of the exhibits are in English.

In 1941, the Bulgarian army entered what is now Macedonia in an effort to reclaim the region, which it believed was part of its own homeland.  During its occupation, the Bulgarians implemented anti-Semitic laws and began to force the Jews into ghettos and slave-labor camps.  In 1943, under orders from Germany, Bulgarian troops deported most of Macedonia’s Jews to the Yugoslav border with Romania, where they ultimately were transported in cattle-cars by Germans to the death camp in Treblinka, Poland.

Holocaust train

One of the original wagons used to transport Macedonia’s Jews to Treblinka

To Bulgaria’s credit, its government succumbed to public and political pressure and refused to hand over the Jews in its own territory to the Germans.  Sadly, the Jews of Macedonia were not so fortunate.  None of the more than 7,000 men, women and children survived the deportation to Treblinka. 

The World Jewish Congress has noted that no Jewish community in Europe suffered a greater degree of destruction than the one from North Macedonia.  Less than 2 percent of the country’s Jewish population survived the Holocaust.  

Perhaps the Holocaust museum’s most haunting and impactful exhibit is a German cattle-car that transported the Jews to their deaths.  Stepping inside the dark, wooden structure, one can only imagine the inhumane conditions and sheer horror the Jews endured before being murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers.

Outside the museum stands a powerful and evocative statue of two young Jews, heads bowed in grief, next to packed suitcases and shoes.  In the process of being uprooted from their home, they are seemingly on their way to a ghetto or concentration camp.

While few of the country’s Jews survived the Holocaust, the community somehow managed to endure.  The rebirth culminated in the construction of a new synagogue in 2003, the only Jewish house of worship in North Macedonia.

Holocaust monument

A haunting monument remembering the Jewish victims outside the Holocaust museum in Skopje

A 15-minute walk from the museum, Beit Yaakov is located on the top floor of a non-descript three-story building that also houses the Jewish community’s administrative offices and rooms for a small religious school and community events.

During my visit to the synagogue, I met with Jana Nichota, the secretary general of the Jewish community.  She told me that while Skopje’s Jews strongly embrace their history and culture, they aren’t particularly religious.

It’s a symptom of Jewry throughout Eastern Europe, where Jewish communities, decimated by the Holocaust, became less observant during Socialist times, mainly because religion — of any type — was largely frowned upon by ruling governments.

Indeed, the Skopje synagogue has no rabbi and rarely holds services.  Normally, a rabbi is brought in from Belgrade or another location to lead High-Holiday services.  But this past year, Jana said, there just wasn’t enough interest. However, the community did host a Passover Seder in April, with about 30 attendees.

North Macedonia has largely been spared from the wave of anti-Semitism that is creeping across Europe.  The small population of Jews gets along well with its Christian and Muslim neighbors.  The country’s president and prime minister — along with leaders of the Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim communities — attended the inauguration of the Holocaust museum.

“If you build it, they will come,” goes the line from the movie “Field of Dreams.”  With a beautiful 21st-century synagogue and a Jewish museum that outshines exhibitions in much larger European cities, Skopje’s Jewish leaders hope their once dormant community will continue to regain its footing and attract visitors to learn more about Jewish life in a little-understood part of the world.

                                                    © 2019 Dan Fellner

Skopje: Statue City

By | North Macedonia | No Comments

North Macedonia’s capital offers visitors unique and plentiful sculptures

The Arizona Republic — May 5, 2019

SKOPJE, North Macedonia – If a city’s beauty can be gauged by the number, size and sheer uniqueness of the statues it showcases, then this capital city in southeastern Europe – and Tempe’s Sister City – makes Paris, Rome and London look prosaic in comparison.

Skopje square

The main square — bookmarked by two huge statues — in Skopje, North Macedonia

Walk through the heart of Skopje (pronounced Skow-pee-yeh) and you’ll see well more than 100 statues, most of which were erected in the past 10 years in a government effort to boost tourism and build national pride.  The statues depict Macedonian military heroes, politicians, literary and religious figures, and people going about their daily lives.

Some of the sculptures are massive and majestic, showing courageous sword-wielding warriors perched atop regal steeds.  Others are just plain over the top and quirky, earning Skopje the nickname in some circles as “the Capital of Kitsch.”

The statues are part of Skopje 2014, a government-funded project that financed the construction of museums, government buildings and monuments to give the downtown a spiffy new look.  Skopje, leveled by a 1963 earthquake, had long been in desperate need of a makeover.

The odd mix of statues has attracted the most attention and made the city a bonanza for selfie-shooting tourists.

Skopje, a city of about a half-million people and the capital of North Macedonia, is an eclectic blend of Christian and Islamic cultures.

Vardar River

The Vardar River cuts through the heart of downtown Skopje

Formerly part of socialist Yugoslavia, Skopje became Tempe’s Sister City in 1971, a groundbreaking relationship that endures nearly a half-century later.  At the time, it was the first partnership between an American city and a counterpart in Eastern Europe’s socialist bloc.

As Yugoslavia was disintegrating, Macedonia gained its independence in 1991.  In February 2019, the country was renamed the Republic of North Macedonia to resolve a decades-old conflict with neighboring Greece, which had previously laid claim to the name Macedonia.

In terms of its name, at least, this landlocked nation on the Balkan Peninsula is the newest country in the world.  The resolution of its dispute with Greece is expected to pave the way for North Macedonia’s entry into the European Union and NATO in the coming years.

In the Balkans, where national, ethnic and religious rivalries simmer for centuries with occasional flareups, names matter.

That’s certainly the case with Skopje’s most famous – and controversial – statue, an eight-story-tall sculpture of Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus.  To avoid offending the Greeks, who claim Alexander as one of their own, the statue is officially named “Warrior on a Horse,” even though everyone here knows it’s really Alexander.  There’s even talk of taking it down to further ease tensions with the Greeks.

Alexander the Great statue

The statue of Alexander the Great rides high above downtown Skopje

On one bridge, the Bridge of Civilizations that leads pedestrians to the Archaeological Museum of Macedonia, I counted 31 statues of historical figures.

On the lighter side, there are whimsical statues of a shoeshine man, a beggar, a funky-looking fish and a bikini-clad swimmer about to dive into the Vardar River, under Skopje’s historic Stone Bridge.  Another swimmer just a few feet ahead of her – feet protruding above the water – has already made a splash.

Just five yards from the entrance to my apartment building overlooking the city’s main pedestrian street sits a large bronze statue of a bull.  It resembles the famous statue on Wall Street in New York.  But the artist has said there is no connection to America or the stock market; the bull symbolizes the strength and fertility of the Macedonian people.

The bronze bull was installed 10 years ago.  Somewhere along the line, someone chopped off the beast’s tail.  Nevertheless, the statue is a useful landmark for me to find my apartment building after dark, in case my senses are dulled by a bit too much Skopsko, the country’s most popular beer.

Skopje swimmer statue

One of Skopje’s many unique statues, in which a bikini-clad swimmer prepares to dive into the Vardar River

Skopje 2014 cost an estimated $700 million, a large chunk of change in one of Europe’s poorest countries.  Many Macedonians feel the money should have been spent on education, infrastructure and feeding the poor, instead of on monuments and statues.

“No, it was definitely not worth the money,” says Emilija S. Georgievska, an associate professor in the Department of English Language & Literature at Saints Cyril and Methodius University, the country’s largest university.  Georgievska spent a semester at Arizona State University in 2001 in an exchange program between the two universities.  “Most people do not even know who these historical figures were and what was their legacy.  Unfortunately, they cannot relate to them.”

Still, the statues offer an interesting glimpse into the art, religion, history and political divisions in this part of Eastern Europe, which is still struggling to find its economic footing in the post-Yugoslavia era.

About 50 yards from my apartment is a memorial to Skopje’s most famous native, Mother Teresa, a sainted Catholic nun who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work.  The ethnic Albanian was born in Skopje in 1910.

Mother Teresa Museum

The Memorial House of Mother Teresa, a Skopje native and Catholic nun who was baptized at this site in 1910

At the site where she was baptized as an infant now sits the 10-year-old Memorial House of Mother Teresa, which includes a small museum and Catholic chapel.  The site attracts 80,000-100,000 visitors a year, including Pope Francis, who visited the site in May of 2019. There are only about 15,000 practicing Catholics in the country and it was the first time any Pope had visited North Macedonia.

Not surprisingly, there is a large statue of Mother Teresa – hands clasped in prayer – in front of the building to greet the tourists.

In Skopje, a leading attraction without a statue on the premises just wouldn’t seem proper.

                                                    © 2019 Dan Fellner

The Irrawaddy: Cruising Back in Time in Myanmar

By | Cruising, Myanmar | No Comments

Trip on Scenic Aura offers glimpse into Kipling’s 19th-century Burma

The Arizona Republic — April 7, 2019

MANDALAY, Myanmar – Rudyard Kipling brought worldwide attention to Myanmar – then part of colonial British India — in a famed 1890 poem called “Mandalay.”  Kipling extolled the beauty of this mysterious, off-the-beaten path land and its people.

Scenic Aura

Burmese women living along the Irrawaddy wash their clothes in the river near the 44-passenger Scenic Aura

The poem was further engrained in Western pop culture when it was adapted into a song – “The Road to Mandalay” — recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1958.

Much of this country of 53 million people in Southeast Asia has changed little since Kipling first laid eyes on the place he immortalized 130 years ago.  Once you leave the major cities, rural Myanmar – also known as Burma – is like taking a step back into Kipling’s 19th-century poem.

Farmers still work the rice paddies by hand, many villages don’t have electricity, horses and oxen transport people on unpaved roads past banana trees, women wash their clothes in the river, and the Burmese people cover their faces with a distinctive makeup called thanaka – made from ground bark – a tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years.

I recently had a chance to explore rural Myanmar, with all the creature-comforts of home, on a 10-day cruise down the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay – the country’s second-largest city — to Pyay on the Scenic Aura, a luxurious 44-passenger boat that’s been sailing the Irrawaddy since 2016.

At that time, democratic reforms initiated by a military government opened the door to a flood of tourists to a country that had essentially been closed to the rest of the world for six decades.

Hsinbyume Pagoda

The stunning, all-white Hsinbyume Pagoda in Mingun, Myanmar, built in 1816

Visitors started pouring into Myanmar for a chance to see a region of Southeast Asia that offered thousands of spectacular and unspoiled Buddhist pagodas and temples, and an authentic look into monastic life, which so permeates this deeply spiritual country.

And when the tourists came, so did the cruise lines.  In 2016, there were some 10 international lines offering sailings on the Irrawaddy, which flows north to south through the heart of Myanmar from its source high in the Himalayas down to the Indian Ocean.  The cruises were running at close to full capacity.

But Myanmar’s tourist boom didn’t last long.  Civil unrest involving a Muslim-minority group, the Rohingya, erupted in an isolated region of the country called Rakhine.  More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh.  Words like “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” have been used to describe alleged atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military.

In short, Myanmar has become a political pariah and many tourists are spooked.

Most of the leading cruise lines, including Viking and Avalon, have recently pulled out of the country.  Now, Scenic is one of just three major cruise lines that still remains on the Irrawaddy and capacity on its 19 sailings this year is hovering at only around 60 percent.  (Due to water levels on the river and the climate, the sailing season in Myanmar only lasts from August-April).

Bagan

Horse carts take visitors past some of the ancient temples in Bagan, Myanmar

Still, the Australian-based cruise line with a growing presence in the U.S. market remains committed to Myanmar.

“It’s a very tricky situation to address,” says Phil Jordan, general manager of Scenic Asia.  “You can’t turn a blind eye to anything that’s happening in any country.  But by not traveling here, we’re not helping anyone.  We have a commitment to our staff here and we want to continue.”

Tourists are not allowed anywhere near the conflict zone – located in the far western part of the country — and I found Myanmar to be extremely safe.  The U.S. State Department recently issued a level 2 travel advisory for Myanmar – “exercise increased caution.”  But there are numerous other countries that fall into the same category, including Denmark, France and the United Kingdom.

Regarding the ethical issues about visiting a country whose government has been accused of committing atrocities against civilians, that’s a decision every traveler must make on their own.  As for the Burmese people, I found them to be some of the most welcoming you’ll encounter in Asia – always quick to greet visitors with a wave and a smile.  Street crime is virtually non-existent.

Thanaka

Burmese children living in a village on the Irrawaddy River cover their faces with a distinctive makeup called thanaka, made from ground tree bark

All told, we sailed 334 miles south on the Irrawaddy between Mandalay and Pyay, with a brief 6-mile trek north of Mandalay to Mingun, where we visited the stunning all-white, early 19th-century Hsinbyume Pagoda.

In Sagaing, we spent the morning at a monastic-supported school and donated funds provided by Scenic to the principal.  Afterward, we walked to a nunnery where we had the honor to donate lunch to 72 nuns, placing tea, cookies and fruit in their bags while they marched in a procession and chanted prayers.  Some of the Aura’s passengers arose at 4:30 a.m. to give alms to the local monks.

With so many impoverished villages on the route, Scenic is making a concerted effort to improve conditions in the places it visits.  Aside from donating money and supplies to numerous schools and monasteries, the cruise line built a sanitation block in a village we visited called Yandabo, famous for its handmade pottery.

“When we visit these areas, we would like to give back to the community,” says Yi Mon, one of two Burmese guides on the Aura.  “What do they need?  So we donate.”

Myanmar sunset

Sunset on Lake Taungthaman near Amarapura, Myanmar

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was a two-day stop in Bagan, one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in the world that few people have heard of.  Bagan features more than 2,200 Buddhist shrines in a 26-square-mile area, some dating back 1,000 years.

While Angkor Wat in nearby Cambodia gets far more visitors, Bagan is just as spectacular.  It offers the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and ruins in the world.  The sprawling site is best seen by hot-air balloon or while riding in a horse cart.

Cruising the Irrawaddy is an ideal way to experience the hidden treasures of Myanmar, as the tourism infrastructure is substandard in most parts of the country. Electricity outages are common and hygiene at many restaurants is not up to Western standards.

“I think it’s still got that Asia of yesteryear feel,” says Jordan.  “And that’s something that’s going to be harder and harder to find as time goes forward.  You go down the river and easily feel like you’ve stepped back in time.  It truly is a shame that so many other operators are leaving Myanmar, but I also believe it will recover, and quite swiftly.”

                                                                                             © 2019 Dan Fellner

Important links:
Scenic Cruises
U.S. State Department page on Myanmar

Video:
See video shot by the author of a traditional Burmese dance performed by a dance troupe from Mandalay, Myanmar on the top deck of the Scenic Aura on the Irrawaddy River.

Coke: You Can’t Beat the Feeling

By | Blog Posts, Mississippi | No Comments

A thirst-quenching look at the soft drink’s surprising history at a Mississippi museum

 

VICKSBURG, Miss. — This placid town of 50,000 people on the east bank of the Mississippi River about 230 miles northwest of New Orleans isn’t exactly known as a den of iniquity.

Coke ad

A display at the Coca-Cola Museum in Vicksburg

Yet, in the late 19th century, Vicksburg was one of the main distribution hubs of cocaine in the United States.

No, the city wasn’t the headquarters of an international drug cartel.  And the surrounding fields grew cotton and soybeans, not coca plants.

Turns out, Vicksburg was the site of the very first Coca-Cola bottling plant.

In those days, part of the drink’s recipe, which was invented by an Atlanta pharmacist named John Pemberton in 1885, actually contained cocaine in the form of an extract from the coca plant.  Hence the name “Coca-Cola.”  At the time, cocaine was legal and used in a variety of medicinal products.

Coke bottling plant

The first Coca-Cola bottling plant, dating back to 1894

In 1894, Vicksburg native Joseph Biedenharn began bottling the drink in a two-story brick building in the heart of the city’s downtown.

Today, the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum, owned and operated by the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

I recently spent a morning learning about the history of America’s most iconic soft drink during a stop in Vicksburg while on a weeklong cruise on the lower Mississippi River.  I was sailing on the American Duchess, a paddlewheel-propelled riverboat owned by the American Queen Steamboat Co.

Interestingly, there was absolutely no mention of cocaine at the two-story museum amidst all the displays showcasing the history of Coca-Cola.  There was a reproduction of the equipment first used to bottle Coke, a soda fountain dating back to 1900, lots of memorabilia and old Coke ads.

I jotted down the words from a 1906 advertising slogan promoting the many benefits of the not-so-soft drink:  “It relieves fatigue and imparts new vigor and new energy.”

Coke museum

The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Vicksburg

I’m told cocaine will do that.

One of the museum’s docents confirmed that cocaine was used in the early days of the beverage, until the company noticed that teenagers were lingering a bit too long at the soda fountains, consuming copious amount of the cocaine-laced drink instead of going to school or work.

Due to public pressure, cocaine was eventually removed from the beverage, while the amount of caffeine was tripled.

“They substituted one buzz for another,” the docent told me with a smile.

Today, Coca-Cola no longer contains even a trace of cocaine.  Unless you want a sugar high or caffeine buzz, you’ll have to get your kicks elsewhere.

© 2019 Dan Fellner

Atlantic City’s Famous Boardwalk

By | New Jersey | No Comments

Guest post by Gabe Miller

Atlantic City may have the reputation of a city in decline, but its boardwalk remains a sought-after destination. The city is actually attempting to bounce back from some severe financial difficulties radiating outward from unsuccessful casino and real estate deals, and a little bit of life is coming back to it.  Even during the worst of times though, the boardwalk held a certain charm – despite portions of it having something of a lighthearted ghost town vibe.

Many don’t fully grasp the history of the Atlantic City boardwalk as – almost ironically – a symbol of American progress and grandeur.  It may actually help to know that it is this same boardwalk that, along with other locations around Atlantic City, inspired the board game Monopoly (in which the Boardwalk is famously the most expensive and lucrative property on the board). It’s just a game, but in a way this gives you an idea of how the area was once perceived, in its heyday.

Atlantic City

But what is it actually like to walk the Atlantic City boardwalk today? You can’t get quite the right idea from playing Monopoly of course, nor from watching the famous drama Boardwalk Empire. Furthermore, most travel articles focusing on Atlantic City revolve exclusively around the casinos, and neglect to convey the boardwalk’s appeal. Here, though, are a few things you can still enjoy about this particular attraction, regardless of any decline the city around it may have experienced.

For one thing, you can get a strong sense of history. There remains a sort of intangible, late-19th or early-20th century vibe on the boardwalk, such that you can almost imagine it as a thriving hot spot in simpler times. The very idea of a boardwalk such as this is less and less common, particularly in the American Northeast, so if you like to have a sense of the past when you travel, this is something you can really cherish.

In a more active sense, you can also enjoy easy access to the beaches and the surf that run alongside the boardwalk. Atlantic City’s beaches don’t have the most glowing reputation around the country, though most who have spent time there would agree that there’s some complexity to the perception. Surfers have called the ocean dirty, sketchy, and beautiful simultaneously. The Netflix comedy Friends From College spent a whole episode more or less mocking Atlantic City as a destination before showing characters on the beach at dawn admitting that from the right angle, the place is kind of beautiful. Basically, it’s a beach area you have to experience the right way and gain an appreciation for, but in its own way, it’s quite nice.

Atlantic City

The Boardwalk also gives you quick access to some of the main casinos of Atlantic City. Now, as implied previously, these aren’t quite what they were once upon a time. Casinos played a role in largely bankrupting Atlantic City, and the comeback of the gaming industry has taken place largely online, with New Jersey’s sites for legal gaming attracting a great deal of activity and revenue. With all of this said though, the actual casino venues of Atlantic City are, if anything, nicer than their reputation. They are not shabby, poorly maintained traces of what they once were; they’re simply not quite as glamorous as some would like them to be. If your goal is a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, a few cocktails in a casino lounge, or the games themselves, you’ll still have a nice time.

Lastly, but maybe most importantly, you can enjoy the establishments that line the boardwalk itself. Little shops and cafes are still operational along the boardwalk, and there’s just something charming about being able to make your way along a wooden walkway on a nice day, popping in and out of these establishments and enjoying the ocean views. Candy shops, clothing stores, souvenir shops, and even places for fresh fudge and salt water taffy are among your options.

All in all, though it may not be quite what it once was, the Atlantic City boardwalk remains interesting and, in its own way, charming. It’s worth a stop on any vacation to the general area.

Gabe Miller is a freelance writer and travel enthusiast.  He writes about popular landmarks, exploring new cities, and various other adventures around the world.

Rollin’ on the River

By | Cruising, Louisiana, Mississippi | No Comments

Cruising the Mississippi on the paddlewheel-propelled American Duchess

The Arizona Republic — January 13, 2019

THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI RIVER – Big wheel keep on turning.

American Duchess

The American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Duchess in Vicksburg, Miss.

John Fogerty’s 1969 iconic song about hitching a ride on the “Proud Mary” evokes images of paddlewheel-propelled steamboats hauling people and cargo on the Mississippi River through the American South.

Today, most of the paddlewheels are gone, replaced by more efficient propulsion systems.  But for those wanting an illuminating trip to learn about the era of antebellum plantations, Mark Twain, the Civil War and the horrors of slavery, there are still a few remaining paddle-wheelers traversing the waters still known locally as “Ol’ Man River.”

I recently spent a week on one of the paddle-wheelers — the American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Duchess, originally built as a casino riverboat in 1995, then elegantly refurbished in 2017 to accommodate 166 passengers.  The boat, which reaches a top speed of 15 mph, resembles a floating two-tiered white wedding cake with red frosting.

According to Joe McKey, the Duchess’ Captain, the red paddlewheels on the back of the boat aren’t just for nostalgia.  They provide 20-30 percent of the Duchess’ propulsion; the rest coming from diesel engines (see video shot by the author: paddlewheels propel the American Duchess).

Cruising the Lower Mississippi is an eye-opening way to learn about the region’s history – good and bad – and the rich mixture of Creole, Cajun, French, Spanish and African-American cultures, which has created one of the most diverse and intriguing melting pots in the country.

Duchess paddlewheels

Paddlewheels help propel the American Duchess up the Mississippi River

The cruise started and ended in New Orleans, which has rebounded nicely since it was decimated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Like most of the ship’s passengers, I arrived a day before the cruise departed so I could explore “The Big Easy.”  I walked through the city’s historic heart, the French Quarter, and dined in one of New Orleans’ most famous restaurants – the century-old Arnaud’s – known for its Creole cuisine and live jazz music.  It was the first time I ever tried alligator sausage, an Arnaud’s specialty.

After leaving New Orleans, the Duchess stopped in four ports in Louisiana and Mississippi.  In each port, American Queen provided free hop-on, hop-off buses with tour guides so that we could explore at our own pace.

“Premium excursions” were also an option.  Priced at around $70, they focused on specific themes or sites like the Civil War, Southern cooking or cotton plantations.

On a foggy morning near White Castle, La., we visited the Nottoway Plantation, built in 1859.  With 64 rooms, it’s the largest antebellum plantation house in the South and is reminiscent of the fictional Tara plantation from “Gone with the Wind.”

Slaves quarters

Slaves’ quarters built in 1840 at the Laura Creole Plantation in Louisiana

It was sobering to learn about the lives of slaves working the sugarcane and cotton plantations we visited.  Our guides didn’t try to romanticize the South’s antebellum history, instead painting a realistic picture of the slave trade and the awful conditions that millions of Africans brought to the Americas against their will had to endure from early colonial days to the end of the Civil War.

“We don’t shy away from that kind of stuff,” said guide and historian Kyle Crosby, when I asked if I could see the 180-year-old former slaves’ quarters at the Laura Plantation, a woman-run-and-owned Creole sugarcane plantation near Vacherie, La.  We were taken to the cabins where slaves lived – typically two families per cabin – which have been restored to show what conditions were like for the more than 300 slaves who once worked the plantation’s sugar fields.

In Natchez, Miss., we stopped for a visit at the notorious “Forks in the Road,” which at one time was the second-largest slave market in the South.  Located about a mile outside of the city limits, there’s little to see other than some signs and small markers. But the historical magnitude of the site – where human beings were bought and sold like cattle – was difficult to absorb.

It somehow seemed fitting that it was pouring rain during our visit to the Forks in the Road.  Not so fittingly, the site is located on Liberty Road.

Vicksburg battlefield

The battlefield at Vicksburg, where one of the most pivotal Civil War battles was fought in 1863

At our final stop in Vicksburg, Miss., we visited the site of one of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War.  The surrender of Vicksburg by the Confederacy on July 4, 1863, gave the North control of the Mississippi River.  Along with the Confederacy’s defeat the day before at Gettysburg, Pa., the South’s chance of winning the war had all but vanished.  On a hillside across town, we visited the Vicksburg National Cemetery, where 17,000 Union servicemen are buried.

All told, we traveled 682 miles roundtrip from New Orleans to Vicksburg, with a slight detour on the Yazoo River.  The weather was surprisingly chilly; there were days when temperatures never climbed out of the 40s and a heavy fog often blanketed the river in the mornings.  But cruise fares on the Mississippi in the winter are cheaper and the crowds are smaller than in the spring or summer; our boat was only about 70 percent full.

Cruising the Lower Mississippi offers a distinctly different experience than river cruising in Europe.  True, the scenery on the Mississippi isn’t as resplendent as what you’ll see on the Danube, Rhine or Seine.  Instead of cruising past historic castles, churches and quaint villages, you’ll mostly sail by industrial barges and oil refineries.

Duchess Captain

Capt. Joe McKey steers the American Duchess down the Mississippi toward New Orleans

But the onboard experience on the Duchess was better than what I’ve experienced in Europe.  The boat – including the cabins — was far more spacious, offered nicer amenities, and there was first-rate entertainment every night.  In addition to an onboard house band and entertainers, local singers would be brought on the boat to give concerts featuring music that originated in the region, including blues and country.

The boat’s “Riverlorian” would give lively daily lectures about the river and its history.  And the crispy Mississippi catfish, Louisiana gumbo and vegan jambalaya served in the Duchess’ two restaurants were delectable.  It was never hard to find a bottle of Louisiana-made Tabasco sauce to add some heat.

While the towns on the river can’t compete with the ambiance and architecture of a Vienna, Budapest or Strasbourg, a trip on the Mississippi offers its own unique charms and an authentic slice of Americana – especially music and food — that is difficult to replicate anywhere else.

As Mark Twain once wrote:  “The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit.”

Rollin,’ rollin,’ rollin’ on the river.

                                                                                             © 2019 Dan Fellner

Bagels on the Bayou

By | Jewish Travel | No Comments

New Orleans is home to a unique and surprisingly vibrant Jewish community

Aish.com — January 6, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — A “po-boy shrimp” sandwich, chicken jambalaya, and red beans and rice with sausage aren’t items you’ll typically find on the menu at an authentic kosher delicatessen.

New Orleans

Jackson Square in the heart of New Orleans

But at the Kosher Cajun Deli and Grocery in Metairie, La., a suburb of New Orleans, these are popular dishes, along with more traditional deli staples like corned beef, chopped liver, potato knishes and bagels and lox.

Welcome to Jewish life in a city known as “The Big Easy,” where Jews have carved out their own colorful and unique traditions and thrived for centuries in the Deep South, a part of America where many other Jewish communities have struggled to maintain their religious and cultural identity.

Indeed, the New Orleans metropolitan area is home to nine working congregations and about 11,000 Jews, a number that has tripled since Hurricane Katrina decimated the city in 2005.  I recently spent a weekend in this city of about 1.4 million people, before boarding the American Duchess, an old-fashioned paddlewheel boat for a week-long cruise on the Lower Mississippi River.

Before boarding the Duchess, I had a wonderful lunch at the Cajun Deli in Metairie with the restaurant’s founder and owner Joel Brown, walked from New Orleans’ famous French Quarter to visit the city’s oldest functioning synagogue, and spoke with Arnie Fielkow, the CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

Anshe Sfard

Anshe Sfard Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark

Fielkow, a former two-term New Orleans city councilman and executive vice president with the New Orleans Saints football team, assumed the reins of the Jewish Federation in 2017.  Fielkow told me he is especially proud of the role the Federation has played in helping to rebuild the Jewish community since Katrina — one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history — ravaged the city more than 13 years ago.

Before the storm hit, about 10,000 Jews lived in New Orleans.  Fielkow says that number shrunk dramatically – down to about 3,000 – 4,000 – in the years following Katrina.  But now, thanks in part to several Federation initiatives, the Jewish population has actually swelled to about 11,000, higher than pre-Katrina levels.

“Since Katrina, we’ve added a lot of younger Jewish people that came to either help with the rebuilding process, or to enter one of the new fields that have grown since Katrina,” says Fielkow.  “It’s very much a hybrid of new and old and it’s an exciting community to be a part of.”

Fielkow says one of his priorities has been to further enhance relations with the city’s large African-American population, which comprises about two-thirds of its residents.  He says Jews have a “very close connection” with the city’s Black residents, dating back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  He adds that due to the city’s rich diversity, Jews have encountered little anti-Semitism.

Arnie Fielkow

Arnie Fielkow, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans

“We’re not a traditional deep-South city,” he says.  “New Orleans is unique in that it has a French and Spanish background to it.  It has a Cajun and Creole connection to it.  It’s very different from a Montgomery or a Birmingham (Alabama) or one of the more traditionally thought-of Southern cities. In our community, we have a great tolerance and a great diversity and get along very well together.”

The first Jews arrived here in 1757, only a few decades after the city was founded.  The Jewish population started to grow after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, with most settlers arriving from the Alsace region of France.  Jews became successful merchants and active in politics.  In fact, Louisiana elected a Jewish lieutenant governor and attorney general in the 1850s.  Most Jews in 19th century New Orleans, however, were not religious and intermarriage with the local Catholic population was commonplace.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Jews opened successful retail stores in the downtown part of the city and synagogues were constructed to meet the religious needs of the growing community.  One of the synagogues, Anshe Sfard, was founded by Hasidic Jews from Lithuania in the mid-1920s and still exists as a Modern Orthodox congregation.  Located at 2230 Carondelet St., it’s the only synagogue within walking distance of downtown New Orleans.  It took me about 45 minutes to walk to Anshe Sfard from the French Quarter to a section of the city known as the Garden District.

With a beautiful exterior marked with triple-arched Neo-Byzantine doors, Anshe Sfard has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  While the synagogue was forced to close for several months after Katrina, its Torah Scrolls were saved.  Visitors are welcome for Shabbat services Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Many of New Orleans’ Jews have recently moved to a western suburb called Metairie, which is home to a Jewish Community Center, two Jewish schools and several congregations.  It’s also where Joel Brown, who was born and raised in New Orleans, decided 30 years ago to open a kosher grocery store, which has since expanded to a restaurant and Judaica shop.

Kosher Cajun Deli

Joel Brown, owner of the Kosher Cajun Deli & Grocery

At the time, there were no kosher restaurants in the city and Brown saw a business opportunity which has “grown beyond my wildest dreams.”

Today, the Kosher Cajun Deli and Grocery has become a central meeting place for the Jewish community and a popular attraction for out-of-town visitors – both Jews and non-Jews alike.  Like any astute businessman, Brown was looking for a way to give his restaurant a unique twist.  That’s why he decided to add to the menu kosher dishes called “New Orleans Favorites.”

“Visitors coming from all over the country would say, ‘We have great New York deli.  We want something different.  We want your specialty foods that New Orleans is known for,’” says Brown.

So Brown now serves such dishes as chicken and sausage jambalaya (made with kosher chicken and beef sausage), red beans and rice, and a popular local specialty called a “po-boy” sandwich.

“It is Alaskan pollock fish that is formed like shrimp,” he says.  “We bread it with different seasonings, we fry it, put it on a toasted sub-roll with an excellent cocktail sauce.  And it’s very, very popular.”

Kosher Cajun dishes

“New Orleans Favorites” served at the Kosher Cajun Deli

All of the meat Brown serves is Glatt Kosher under the supervision of a rabbi with the Louisiana Kashrut Committee.  Brown has also carved out a niche as a leading supplier of kosher foods to conventions and the many cruise ships that depart out of New Orleans, including the ship I was on – the American Duchess.

“We’re a one-stop kosher food shop, restaurant, grocery, deli, Judaica shop, with (sports) memorabilia all over the walls,” says Brown.  “We’ve become sort of a Jewish Chamber of Commerce.”

New Orleans has a reputation as a party town with a wild nightlife.  But for Jewish visitors, it offers much more – a chance to experience a growing and vibrant Jewish community in a place many wouldn’t expect to find one.

Adds Fielkow, who moved with his family to New Orleans in 2000:  “We were Yankees from the Midwest and immediately fell in love with everything about New Orleans – its food, its music, its architecture, but most importantly, its people.  I think this is the greatest city in the world and I urge everyone to come down and enjoy the hospitality.”

© 2019 Dan Fellner

A sticky situation in California

By | California, Photo Essays | No Comments

San Luis Obispo’s quirky Bubblegum Alley

 

SAN LUIS OBISPO, California – Walk down the wrong alley on Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo and you could find yourself in a sticky situation.

Literally.

Bubblegum Alley

Bubblegum Alley in downtown San Luis Obispo, California

It’s not street crime about which you’ll need to be concerned.  Indeed, this sleepy college town in central California – called “SLO Town” by the locals — isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of nefarious activity.  No, there isn’t a local chapter of MS-13.

Instead, you’ll want to make sure you keep your hands off the alley’s brick walls, which are covered with thousands of pieces of already-been-chewed Bazooka, Juicy Fruit and Trident.

Welcome to Bubblegum Alley, a curious tourist attraction where adults can act like children – stick their used gum on a public wall — and no one will chastise them.

There are different stories about how and when Bubblegum Alley originated, but most believe it started in the 1950s as part of a high school tradition that – well — stuck.  Over the years, the city tried to discourage the practice, as many locals considered the place an eyesore.

But downtown business owners realized it was attracting tourists, who brought not only their gum, but dollars as well.  Now, a local bar owner steam cleans the alley once a month to keep things relatively sanitary.  And a nearby candy store does a booming business selling gum to tourists who wish to leave a mark in San Luis Obispo – at least until the next steam-cleaning.

Gum in Bubblegum Alley

Thousands of pieces of already-been-chewed gum are stuck to the walls in Bubblegum Alley

As for me, I’m not much of a gum-chewer, so I just looked at the mass of used gum on the alley’s wall rather than add my own contribution.  When posing for a picture, I did place my hand on the wall so as not to look like a stiff robot.  As soon as my hand made contact with the sticky goo, I realized it wasn’t my smartest – or most hygienic — move.

But the remnants of the pink Bubblicious came off after a thorough hand-washing.  As I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring downtown SLO Town, my visit to Bubblegum Alley reminded me how much I enjoy exploring rather bizarre and offbeat landmarks.

In terms of magnitude, history and beauty, Bubblegum Alley may fall short in comparisons with Niagara Falls, the Pyramids of Egypt or the Louvre in Paris.

But try sticking your used Juicy Fruit on the Mona Lisa – if you can get close enough — and I’m guessing the authorities won’t look the other way.

Anyway, something to chew on.

© 2018 Dan Fellner

SLO and Easy

By | California | No Comments

San Luis Obispo County offers a slow-paced, but action-packed vacation destination

The Arizona Republic — November 25, 2018

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, California – The locals in this central California region on the Pacific Coast Highway about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco refer to their county simply as “SLO CAL.”

Morro Rock

Kayakers paddle past Morro Rock in San Luis Obispo County

Spend a few days in San Luis Obispo County amidst the colorful tapestry of vineyards, rolling hills, sand dunes, cattle ranches, beaches dotted with lounging elephant seals, and seaside shops in Morro Bay selling saltwater taffy, and you’ll see that SLO is much more than an acronym.

It also describes a slow-paced, less-pretentious way of life that differentiates San Luis Obispo from many of the state’s more well-known tourist destinations.  As the county’s tourist board – SLO CAL — proudly proclaims with its new marketing slogan, “life’s too beautiful to rush.”

“We consider it the California less-traveled,” says Brooke Burnham, SLO CAL’s vice president of marketing.  “We’re kind of hidden and we offer similar experiences to other places but at a different pace.”

True, but for those not content with sunbathing on the golden sands of Pismo Beach while munching on a tri-tip steak sandwich – a local specialty – and washing it down with a chilled Chardonnay produced in the nearby Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo also offers adventure-seekers plenty of chances to experience the outdoors in a more exhilarating way.

During a recent four-day visit to this county of about a quarter-million people, I went paragliding in Santa Margarita, rode in a military Humvee up and down the wild terrain of the Pismo Dunes, took a three-hour sailing trip in a 44-foot yacht along the California coast, pedaled my way past several vineyards in the Edna Valley, hiked the Boucher Trail to the famous Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, and ziplined high above pinot noir vineyards.

And for a more cerebral activity, I was even able to squeeze in a visit to perhaps the most iconic castle in the country – the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.  The former home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst has 165 rooms full of art that rivals museum collections.  The castle is part of a working cattle ranch set on 127 acres and offers stunning views of the Pacific and rolling hills of central California.

Here are my five top choices for adventure-seeking travelers visiting SLO CAL:

Riding the Dunes

Pismo Dunes

Riding the dunes in a Humvee at the Oceano State Recreation Area near Pismo Beach

“Do you want wild or mild?” our driver asked our group of five as we strapped ourselves into a 1987 U.S. Marine Corps Humvee for the drive to the dunes at the Oceano State Recreation Area near Pismo Beach.  I was outvoted.  Wild it was.

The trip made prior four-wheeling dune rides I had taken seem like the Disneyland teacup ride in comparison.  But our seasoned driver with Pacific Adventure Tours, the largest Humvee tour company in the country, was firmly in command.  Never once did I feel like we were close to tipping over, even when the driver zig-zagged across dunes seemingly as tall as skyscrapers.

The views of the Pacific – which I enjoyed while holding on tight and clenching my teeth — were magnificent.  Following the ride, we enjoyed a bonfire and clam chowder at nearby Grover Beach.

 

 

Bike and Wine

Edna Valley biking

A biking tour through San Luis Obispo County’s wine country

With more than 250 wineries, San Luis Obispo County is California’s third-largest wine-producing region (behind Napa and Sonoma).  I took a 6-mile bike tour past numerous vineyards through the bike-friendly Edna Valley, and stopped at two wineries for tastings along the way.

SLO CAL is known for producing top-notch reds and whites and offers a less touristy experience than wineries with more acclaimed – and expensive — products 200 miles up the coast.

“You’re often going to find the winemaker in the tasting room,” says Burnham.  “You’ll be able to have a much more casual experience.  You don’t need to make appointments.  And the cost of tastings is much lower.”

 

Paragliding

Paragliding

View from a paraglider in the skies over San Luis Obispo County

Not for the faint of heart, this is the most exhilarating way to experience the natural beauty of the ocean, mountains and farmlands of San Luis Obispo County.

My WingEnvy Paragliding pilot and I took off on a motorized paraglider attached to a parachute in Santa Margarita, a few miles inland. Originally, we were scheduled to fly closer to the coast, but the ocean winds were too strong.

My ride lasted just 10 minutes and the landing was a bit bumpy, but it was the most spectacular and picturesque activity of the trip (see video shot by the author of the landing: Paragliding in San Luis Obispo County).

Hiking Past Elephant Seals

Wildlife lovers will enjoy a 2-mile hike on the Boucher Trail that begins at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, the largest on the West Coast.

In peak times — December through March — there are 17,000 seals on these beaches. Docents are stationed on the trail to explain the animals’ behavior and mating habits. Gray-whale sightings also are common, especially in the spring when the whales migrate to Alaska.

The hike ends at the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, which was first illuminated in 1875. It’s open for tours and is now used as a research facility and wildlife sanctuary.

Ziplining

For those who want amazing views of the landscape but a tamer experience than paragliding, Margarita Adventures offers a zip-line tour in Santa Margarita. 

The two-hour tour includes six zip lines spanning more than 7,500 feet and takes about two hours to complete.

ziplining

Ziplining past vineyards in Santa Margarita

Odds ‘n Ends

It’s easy to get to San Luis Obispo; American Airlines offers daily 90-minute nonstop flights from Phoenix.  The airport is just a 10-minute drive from the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, the county seat.

“SLO Town,” as it’s called by the locals, has a population of 45,000 and is home to a major university, Cal-Poly.  Founded in 1772, San Luis Obispo is one of California’s oldest communities and is worth exploring for an afternoon.

Accommodations in the region are pricey; an average hotel costs about $250 a night.  The Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon is a good choice; it’s a short drive to the Hearst Castle.  You’ll want to rent a car as public transportation in the area is virtually non-existent.  Even finding an Uber or Lyft driver was difficult.

But it’s best to act like the locals if things move at a more relaxed pace than you’d like.  Chill out, have a glass of wine and enjoy the sea air.

In other words, take it SLO and easy.

© 2018 Dan Fellner