Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak our travel plans have changed quite a bit. The 2 month trip to Florence and Rome—well that didn’t happen. Three cheers for British Airways and Road Scholar for promptly sending us refunds after Italy shut down the country. The same can not be said for Hotel Adriano in Rome. After initially promising a refund, they tried to back out until we reported them to American Express. After that they saw the light.
On a happier note, we traveled to the outer banks and stayed in Duck, North Carolina for two weeks. What a spectacular place–for instance, see the image below.
The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands located between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. There aren’t any cities on the 100 miles + of the Outer Banks. Instead the islands are mostly populated by small seaside villages and towns. It is a favorite vacation spot, attracting visitors from the Northeast as well as Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas.
We rented a house for a 2 week stay in Duck, a tony village with plenty of gorgeous beaches, fishing spots and restaurants. That’s right. Restaurants you can actually go to and sit inside and have cocktails and dinner. Or you can get a table outside and relax over food and drinks.
There are other places to go to as wee—for instance Kitty Hawk, where Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first historic flight in their flying machine back in December 1903. And then there is Corolla Park with the architectural masterpiece Whalehead and its Museum.
If you get a chance, visit the Outer Banks and the town of Duck. You’ll be glad you did.
Here are a couple of photos from our trip (below), taken with a Leica Q2 camera. Click on a photo to enlarge it. They can be licensed at Evocative Photos.
We spent a busy weekend in the nation’s capitol. Among other things we saw an absolutely terrific performance of My Fair Lady at the Kennedy Center. Shereen Ahmed, a 26 year old graduate of Townson University was perfectly cast as Eliza Doolittle. She lit up the stage with an astonishingly versatile voice which she combined with first rate acting. The Kennedy Center revival performances of My Fair Lady are the beginning of a national tour. Don’t miss it if it comes to a theatre near you.
We stayed at the Watergate for the weekend which now advertises that you don’t have to break in to enjoy the place. We also got a chance to stop in to see the exhibits on display at the Phillips Collection of Modern art and the National Geographic Museum. The National Geographic had an exhibit featuring Jane Goodall, known for her path breaking field work on chimpanzees in Africa. Both the National Geographic and Phillips Collection Museums are certainly worth a visit when in DC. Finally I should mention a very good French Bistro, the Opaline Bar and Brasserie, where we had dinner. Good food, great atmosphere and a fine Martini can be had there.
Tallinn may be the most beautiful city you’ve never heard of. The capital of Estonia, Tallinn is a small city in a small country with a turbulent history, particularly with respect to relations with Russia. On our walking tour of the city our guide noted that for Estonia, “NATO is everything”.
There are about 1.5 million citizens of Estonia, and about 435,000 people who live in Tallinn. Located on the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn has close historic ties with Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg.
The city proper dates back to the first half of the 13th century, but humans settlements are estimated go back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim for the land was made by Denmark in 1219 after a successful raid. After a couple of centuries of fighting between Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers, Tallinn became an important commercial hub because of its strategic location.
Tallinn is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities and is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the largest number of star-ups in Europe, and is the birthplace of Skype. It houses the EU’s IT agency and is the home of NATO’s Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 10 digital cities.
We went on a walking tour of the city with a local guide and took lots of photos in the process. A few are posted below.
Among the many mind boggling things to contemplate is the fact that the Russian aristocracy didn’t just have one enormous and opulently decorated and designed palace. They had several of them; each one elaborate and ornate. In fact Catherine actually put a halt to all the gold being used to decorate her palace that had begun by order of her predecessor, Empress Elizabeth.
Here, below, are some photos of Catherine’s Palace located in Pushkin, not far from St Petersburg. Please note that while some photos link to Evocative Photos for licensing, photos taken inside the palace may not be used for this purpose, so they are not linked. JFB
It would take years to see all there is to see in St Petersburg; actually it would take years just to see just the important stuff. So we picked our spots and saw all we could, including the winter and summer palaces. This post includes photos taken at the summer palace, located in Peterhof, about 40 minutes outside St Petersburg proper.
The physical scale of the place, along with the wealth on display, is almost beyond belief. The main palace has about 1,000 rooms—big rooms. The rooms we saw, and we saw quite a few, typically were decorated with gold inlays on the walls and ceilings. Classical paintings and sculpture abounded, including collections by Russian, German and French artists.
Outside the palace there were gardens, an elaborate set of cascading fountains and a smaller gold domed castle. And this was just the summer palace. There was a winter palace as well, in some ways even more over the top. Note that in the photo of the throne room below, there is no furniture in the room other than the throne. That’s because protocol demanded that supplicants either stand or kneel in the presence of the King.
A political scientist from Johns Hopkins who was on the trip with us (as a lecturer) made the point that while we refer to her as Catherine the Great, the serfs would be unlikely to do so. Their lot was arguably even worse than that of black slaves in the South of the United States. It’s something you can’t help thinking about when confronted by the staggering wealth on display in the palaces of the aristocracy.
Helsinki, with the highest urban standard of living in the world, is, not surprisingly, one of the most livable cities in the world. It is refreshingly clean; the architecture is magnificent; the city is very walkable and friendly to tourists. With its metropolitan area population of 1.25 million people it is the third largest municipality of the nordic countries after Stockholm and Oslo.
The city was the site of the negotiations that led to the signing of the Helsinki Accords by then President Jerry Ford. Initially thought to be a sop given to the Soviet bloc, the Helsinki Accords, with their emphasis on human rights, turned out to be a powerful weapon in the hands of Soviet reformers and dissidents.
Finland became a member of the European Union in 1995, and it is flirting with the idea of joining NATO in 2025.
Anyway, we went on a walking tour of the city, during which we wound up at the Rock Church, so called because it was built into solid rock by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen—brothers and architects. By denomination it is a Lutheran Church in the Toolo neighborhood of Helsinki. It opened in 1969.
Below here are some photos from our walk around, including photos of the Rock Church. JFB
Banff deserves a priority listing on any to do list. The place is a natural wonderland, with spectacular mountains, valleys and lakes. It is full of good restaurants; it has wonderful hotels, the service is first rate and there are numerous tours lasting from a couple of hours riding a tour boat on a lake to weeks long camping trips. Among other things, we booked a tour that allowed us to walk on a glacier.
We also booked an all-day tour with a guide named Sam who took us all around Banff, Lake Moraine and Johnston Canyon, where we did a considerable amount of hiking around. One place was more spectacular than the next. (Thanks Sam!)
Now we are back in the airport in Calgary waiting to fly back to DC. It was a great trip and belongs on everyone’s to do list. Here below are a few shots from the tours.
Banff is nestled in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada. It is a place of spectacular beauty, which may explain the proliferation of one of the banes of modern life. I refer to that most horrid of devices: The Selfie Stick. It seems like everyone in Banff has at least one, ever ready to snap a photo of the owner with a mountain or lake in the background. Which is not to short change go-pros; they are everywhere as well, if only slightly less obnoxious.
But even the ever present selfie stick fades into insignificance in the midst of the breath taking beauty of Banff. The Canadian Rockies are ever present; the lakes and rivers are a clear gorgeous turquoise, and there are massive glaciers all over the place. Our initial outing included a trip to Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, and the Athabasca Glacier, which we got on chance to walk on. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Here are some photos below. More will be posted in the coming days.
After spending some time in Ireland doing some sightseeing and visiting family, we made our way over to England to visit (and stay with) with our good friends Michael and Sally Oxlade who live in the country side. They were kind enough to take us on a 2-day whirlwind tour that included Winchester Cathedral, Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey is filmed) and the Winchester Museum that, among other things, includes a re-creation of King Arthur’s Round Table. These are just a few of the spots we visited. Perhaps most importantly we all went to the village pub to relax and share some memories before having one of Sally’s delicious dinners.
Thanks, Sally and Michael (and your son Charley) for a wonderful time.Here are a couple of photos of places we visited on the too short visit.