Kayaking through the icebergs of Alaska's Prince William Sound, travelers see bald eagles nesting in tall trees while sea otters poke their heads through the water. With a backdrop of blue glaciers and countless waterfalls, this is the endeavor of a lifetime. Nature rules in this place, and that wildness adds to its charm.
To many, Prince William Sound is still associated with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. But the damage is gone and the sound is back to its former glory. Puffins and sea lions are among the diversity of wildlife in this ecosystem that is framed by glaciers as large as Los Angeles.
Afternoon temperatures can reach 70 degrees during the May-through-September travel season. Yet, even then, oddly shaped icebergs stay afloat and intrigue paddlers as they glide by. Some visitors describe exploring the sound as a spiritual pursuit.
The water is perennially calm, since the sound's network of islands and inlets blocks ocean waves and other disturbances. This makes for smooth kayaking conditions.
Scientists explain the glaciers' luminescent blue color as a result of "scattering." Glaciers absorb red and yellow wavelengths while reflecting blue ones. The longer a path of light travels in ice, the bluer it appears.
After a day of rowing, it's time to set up camp on a sandy beach. Travelers can enjoy the midnight sun, fish for salmon or simply stay up late listening to the glaciers crackle like thunder. In the morning, take time to explore Alaska's lush wildflowers and then ready your kayak for another day on the water.
This vacation destination is becoming increasingly popular. To get there, drive 65 miles southeast from Anchorage International Airport. Take the picturesque Turnagain Arm of the Seward Highway, designated a National Scenic Byway. This will lead you to Whittier, a town whose boat harbor is the gateway to Prince William Sound. Whittier is dotted with kayak rental shops, tour-guide outfits, water-taxi services and other establishments that cater to travelers.
â€” Raya Tahan
Aspen is a winter playground for the rich and privileged. But this Rocky Mountain resort has much to offer when the slopes are green, too. And though it caters to those with deep pockets, there's a remarkable array of inexpensive pleasures. Some don't cost anything at all.
Start with scenery. The town's located in a valley 7,945 feet above sea level, surrounded by towering peaks and thousands of acres of protected wilderness. The view from the Continental Divide at Independence Pass â€” at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet â€” literally and figuratively takes your breath away. Down the road is The Grottos, a place of paradisiacal beauty marked by huge boulders, ice caves and waterfalls. A network of trails â€” some challenging, many just a walk in the park â€” provides access to stunning landscapes that show Mother Nature at her pristine best. It costs nothing to look and you'll spend mostly energy getting there.
A round-trip bus ride up to Maroon Bells â€” said to be the most photographed mountains in the country â€” will set you back $6 (private automobiles are restricted). This is the starting point for fabulous hikes that take you to flower-filled alpine meadows, snow-fed lakes, aspen groves, conifer forests and backcountry campsites. Seventeen dollars buys a ride 3,000 vertical feet up and down Aspen Mountain in the Silver Queen gondola. At the top, guided nature walks and concerts are "on the house" in the summer.
In town, public transportation from one end of Aspen to the other is free. So are lawn seats for orchestra concerts featuring world-renowned soloists at the Aspen Institute's Music Festival and School, while a place inside the Benedict Music Tent can be had for only $15 during dress rehearsals. And once you've had your fill of culture and the great outdoors, there's Susie's for the material girl (or guy) in you. The consignment shop sells barely used designer fashions at a fraction of their original price. In Aspen, you can come with a little and go home with a lot.
â€” Laura Taxel
Sweet Home Chicago
The Windy City bleeds the blues. With a sleek hotel
serving as a perfect home base for your pilgrimage, belly up
to the local bars and soak in the sounds of the Delta.
By Lynne Thompson
The House of Blues Hotel rises almost unnoticed from Chicago's North Dearborn Street, the former IBM training center paling in architectural interest compared to the neighboring "twin corncobs" known as Marina City condominiums.
But the 5-year-old hotel's sleek concrete exterior belies its funky interior, a mix of contemporary, gothic, Indian and Moroccan design elements: a posh lounge with velvet and tapestry sofas and chairs under tents fit for an urban sultan; halls carpeted in a leopard print with electric-blue spots that match the guest-room doors; guest rooms featuring plenty of African-American folk art on the red-striped walls.
A compact disc accompanies the key at check-in, a compilation of new and classic cuts by blues musicians such as Koko Taylor, Elvin Bishop and Robert Cray to spin on the CD player waiting for me in my room.
The House of Blues Hotel, operated by Loews Hotels, is the perfect place to bed down during a weekend exploration of Chicago's blues scene. The city that drew such legendary musicians as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Guy from the South during the 1940s, '50s and '60s has retained its reputation as a blues mecca because of a thriving club scene. The hotel even provides a nightly list of local live-music options at the reception desk.
I begin my club crawl on a Friday night by grabbing a cab to Kingston Mines, a modest, family-run establishment in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood that has played host to everyone from The Rolling Stones to Mexican president Vincente Fox during its 35-year history.
The club's appeal lies as much in its friendly atmosphere â€” the man at the door gallantly offers me his arm and escorts me inside when I tell him I'm alone â€” as the continuous entertainment provided by local and regional bands on two stages until 3:30 a.m. on weeknights and 4:30 a.m. on weekends. Owner Doc Pellegrino (he really is a retired doctor) brings me a sampler of the kitchen's specialties â€” barbequed rib tips, blackened catfish, Buffalo wings, fried okra and fried onion strips â€” while local bandleader Charlie Love serves up a rendition of "My Girl." My lips are still tingling from the searing combination of barbecue sauce and Cajun spices when I roll into the hotel lobby around 2:30 a.m.
The following night, I head out to Buddy Guy's Legends a block west of Grant Park in the South Loop.
I order a bowl of gumbo and catch the end of a set by Willie Kent, a local man who, along with his band The Gents, plays classic blues the way purists like to hear it.
By the time I finish my last bite of cornbread, Kent and The Gents have been replaced by the headliner: Guitar Shorty, a stocky Los Angeles-based guitar virtuoso who wears a black straw cowboy hat over his shiny, black, shoulder-length curls. The brother-in-law to the late Jimi Hendrix starts his set by walking down the few steps from the stage into the audience and embarking on his first guitar solo of the evening, an extended series of incendiary free-form riffs that draws continuous cheers from the patrons crowded around the first few rows of tables. A few minutes later, he's back onstage in front of the microphone, moaning about his cheating woman, drawing laughs with a line about finding somebody else's underwear on the floor â€” "They're too small to be mine" â€” as he continues the tragic tale of finding a stranger in his bed.
I drag myself away from Guitar Shorty around 12:30 a.m. to check out Blue Chicago, a pair of small clubs in the River North entertainment district. The band is on a break at 736 N. Clark St., a cozy space with paintings of blues performers on the exposed brick walls. So I walk south to Blue Chicago's second location at 536 N. Clark St., a former Prohibition speakeasy/brothel turned respectable club (Jerry Springer was once kicked out for refusing to extinguish his cigar).
Inside, local vocalist Nellie "Tiger" Travis, backed by the Linsey Alexander Blues Band, is crooning her way through a medley of pop hits.
After a night of very little sleep, I stagger out of bed in time to make the Sunday gospel brunch at the House of Blues concert club. The 9:30 a.m. and noon all-you-can-eat brunches are consistently among the venue's most popular events. People pay $38 to fill their plates at buffet stations and dine at long, checked-tablecloth-covered tables while a gospel choir sings in the main concert hall.
Minister Gregory Austin & The Voices of New Israelite of Chicago inspire plenty of clapping, hand- and napkin-waving and hallelujahs from the audience, a happy mix of young and old, singles and families. And the gut-busting buffets offer everything from made-to-order omelets and waffles with freshly sliced strawberries and whipped cream to peel-and-eat shrimp, Southern fried chicken and jambalaya.
Later that day, I learn I may not have to travel all the way to Chicago to experience the Sunday gospel brunch again. Rumor has it that the Cleveland House of Blues will host them when it opens its downtown location next year. Amen to that!
Paying a visit to Cincinnati's high-rise museum of pop art, the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, is akin to entering an alien landscape.
The $36 million facility, an artist's canvas in itself, resembles boxes of different colors and dizzying diagonal shapes haphazardly stacked into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. London architect Zaha Hadid, known for modernist designs described as "controlled explosions," employed tinted glass, black aluminum and concrete in the innovative structure. Her self-described "urban carpet" at the junction of the sidewalks on East Sixth and Walnut streets is a layer of cement that flows into the lobby and then climbs to form the curved back wall of the facility.
When it opened in June 2003, The New York Times touted the nearly demented structure as a "breakthrough design in the use of space to punch up contemporary art" and Newsweek called it "perfect ... for a museum devoted to the 'art of the last 10 minutes.' "
The first new art museum building to open in Cincinnati in more than a century, the undulating, 87,000-square-foot structure is energetic, inducing a sense of motion. Its welded-steel stairways seem to float in midair â€” a sea of elevated cross-sections that weave back and forth as they ascend to the upper floors.
Current and upcoming exhibits include: Kendell Geers: Hung, Drawn and Quartered (through Nov. 7); Nothing Compared to This (Sept. 24 to Nov. 28), an exhibit focusing on a new humility and contemplative spirit in artists; Susan Unterberg (Nov. 19 to Jan. 30, 2005); and Multiple Strategies (Nov. 19 to Aug. 21, 2005), a look at artists who practice in an extraordinarily wide range of media.
For a restaurant that matches these pop-art environs, head directly across the street to Bella. The interior of this trendy eatery is awash in contemporary tile and fascinating mosaics, as well as plenty of pop art on and off the walls.
We started with the Unorthodox Shrimp Spring Rolls in Thai vinaigrette ($12) and the Bella crab cakes in hot-pepper and avocado relish ($11). We'd also recommend the cilantro pesto-encrusted diver-caught sea scallops in grilled herb couscous ($24) or Pasta Frutti di Mare, with saffron pasta, rock shrimp, lump crab and roasted peppers ($20). Atkins diet devotees can dine guilt free on Bella's low-carb seared Ahi tuna black-bean burrito with avocado-orange relish ($14).
â€” Felix Winternitz
Glass from the Past
Its very name could dissuade skittish parents from bringing rambunctious youngsters into its galleries, but the Corning Museum of Glass is anything but hands-off.
IF YOU GO
Corning Museum of Glass
One Museum Way, 1-800-732-6845
Bring the kids (17 and under are free; adults $12) and wander through galleries of exquisitely delicate, boldly colored and intricately blown, molded, cut and polished glass sculptures. Everything is protected from curious little hands, yet is displayed so that the pieces can be appreciated from all angles and heights. Some lucky kids even receive colored glass beads from roving museum workers.
Dark, plush, curved walls meander through Stone Age glass-making displays to some of the earliest glass Egyptian vessels to luxury glass from the Hellenistic period decorated in gold foil. And although the evolution of glassmaking is depicted in historical sequence with descriptions of how it affected the arts and sciences, the enchantment of glass comes alive in the interactive displays. People of all ages can lift a glassblowing tube, magnify themselves in a glass sphere the size of a basketball and assist in glassmaking demonstrations.
One of the most popular attractions is the live glassblowing show, which occurs twice an hour. Tiered seating provides an excellent view of a master glassblower at work. Assistants narrate as molten glass is scooped from an oven, then worked into patterns, blown, twirled, heated, colored and reheated until it takes shape as a vase, bowl or decorative glass animal. Other theaters and galleries allow viewers to explore optics, mirrors and historic glassmaking inventions including the machinery that automated Thomas Edison's light-bulb production.
Artistic souls from preschool ages on up can try their hand at glassmaking techniques. Blow a Roman bottle, form a flower, flamework a bead, sandblast a glass or fuse a mirror. The Studio of the Corning Glass Museum requires same-day reservations as well as additional charges for materials and instruction.
The only area where parents may want to keep their kids on a short leash is the GlassMarket, where many items are openly stacked and displayed. Ornaments, jewelry, plates, glasses and a host of other items are for sale.
â€” Lori Valyko Weber
Given its reputation as one of the most haunted places in the nation (if you believe that sort of talk), Gettysburg offers
visitors plenty of chances to search for the specters some claim
still wander the home of our country's most famous battlefield.
By Lynne Thompson
It's 9:30 on a Thursday night, but the main streets of Gettysburg, Pa., are still jammed with cars, tour buses and the occasional horsedrawn carriages-for-hire. Darkness has forced the tourists from this south-central Pennsylvania town's main attraction â€” the 5,989-acre Civil War battlefield preserved by the National Park Service â€” to the shops and restaurants of its historic district.
The pedestrian traffic is particularly heavy on Baltimore Street, a stretch of 19th-century storefronts that quickly gives way to row houses and homes. After inching along in my Honda Civic for four blocks, I finally see the reason why: A man in a black period suit is selling tickets for candlelight ghost tours at a table just outside the Farnsworth House Inn, an early 19th-century red-brick home-turned-Victorian B&B and restaurant with a tavern and bookstore next door. On the sidewalk is a three-dimensional sign in the shape of a tombstone that advertises a "Civil War Mourning Theatre" in the B&B's cellar.
An entire industry has sprung up around Gettysburg's reputation as one of the most haunted places in the United States, a result of the staggering loss of life there. (According to figures provided by the National Park Service, 7,708 soldiers were killed and 26,856 wounded during the battle of July 1 through 3, 1863.) In addition to the ghost tours offered by multiple operators, there are books on local ghosts, a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of customers in costume with spirits, even B&Bs that publicize the presence of their spectral inhabitants.
The Farnsworth House, my home for the night, is one of them.
It sounded like a good idea at first, but the concept begins to lose its appeal as I follow a tavern employee up a steep staircase and down a narrow hall to my second-floor accommodations. I'm in no mood at this late hour to encounter anything. And my antique-filled room, minus the window air conditioner and electric alarm clock, looks like the original occupant might be back at any moment.
I decide to sleep with the lights on after I run into the owner's daughter, ghost-tour operator Patty O'Day, just outside the tavern. My room, she tells me, is haunted by a midwife who delivered a stillborn baby there.
The only disturbances that night, it turns out, are caused by the living â€” the footsteps of a ghost-tour group filing past my door on their way to an attic once occupied by Confederate sharp-shooters and the rumble of a passing truck or motorcycle. Yet I'm somehow relieved to check out the next morning.
Unlike the Farnsworth House, the Fairfield Inn doesn't advertise its ghosts â€” prank-pulling soldiers in the kitchen, a crusty old character in the dining room, a female with a dislike for closed doors on the third floor â€” perhaps because owner Sal Chandon doesn't quite believe in them. Located eight miles outside of Gettysburg, the place has the sort of history that supports such a cast. The stone tavern and onetime stagecoach stop, built in 1757, and adjoining "mansion house" constructed in 1801, served as a colonial meeting house, Underground Railroad station and Confederate field hospital.
My large corner room, with its canopy bed and whirlpool tub in the recently remodeled bath, seems inviting enough â€” until, that is, I find out I'm the only one staying at the inn this night. Not even Sal and his wife, who live in Gettysburg, will be on the property. I reluctantly return to my room after a dinner of chicken and biscuits, armed with the cordless house phone (cell phones, I'm told, don't work here) as the last two remaining employees close the dining room and tavern.
First, the same closet door that wouldn't open while I was trying to dress for dinner won't stay closed. The door slowly inches open once, then twice, after I carefully turn the knob and fit the bolt into the doorframe. Then the floor begins to silently vibrate â€” yes, vibrate â€” while I'm in bed watching TV. I screw up the courage to climb out of bed and peek out a window, then stick my head out the door into the second-floor hall. The whole place is frighteningly quiet.
Twenty minutes later, the vibrations lessen in intensity and then stop. By that time, I've changed into my street clothes, turned on all the lights and returned to bed with the phone in one hand, my purse in the other, ready to dial 9-1-1 and make a run for the front door. I don't fall asleep until after dawn.
The next day, I drive back to Gettysburg to explore what should be the area's most haunted site: the battlefield that rings the town. Even after my experience at the Fairfield Inn, I can't imagine running into a ghost as I begin to drive the 18-mile auto-tour route on this sparkling Saturday afternoon. The roads and monuments along them are so crowded with tourists that the smell of sunscreen wafts through the well-preserved fields and woods. But by the time I get out of the car to check out Slyder Farm, which served as a field hospital during the battle, from a shady spot on South Confederate Avenue, I am alone. A sign by the split-rail fence describes the horrors that once transpired in this bucolic spot: soldiers being shot from their saddles "like ducks in a shooting gallery," Army surgeons laboring over every type of conceivable wound until they collapsed, amputated arms and legs accumulating in piles. I hurry back to the car, suddenly too uneasy to stay and read the rest in the late-afternoon shadows.
I finish the driving tour, stop at Gettysburg National Cemetery, take one of Patty O'Day's 90-minute candlelight ghost tours, even join the crowd around the coffin in the "Mourning Theatre" to hear another round of ghost stories. I don't see, hear or feel anything that might be a ghost that evening. And I draw courage from the knowledge that I'll be bedding down in a different, relatively new hotel that I've been assured isn't haunted.
When the Paramount Theatre opened its doors in 1931, the residents of Ashland, Ky., were downright giddy. The Paramount was the only talking-picture theater in the Ohio Valley. And what a theater it was.
Originally designed for the exclusive showing of Paramount's films, Ashland's theater was a model of Art Deco elegance. Copper-and-glass chandeliers illuminated its elaborate lobby and the foyer gleamed with gold, aluminum and bronze accents. Inside, solid-brass fixtures filled the Paramount with a warm glow. Hand-painted wall murals depicted theatrical characters and the ceiling was painted with lightning rods, thunderbolts and gazelles celebrating the momentum of the industrial age. The proscenium arch bore Egyptian designs, made popular by the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the '20s. And 1,400 wine-colored velvet seats invited guests to settle in for the show.
It's been more than 70 years since the Paramount opened to visitors and its original splendor remains intact. But while sumptuous surroundings may bring people in once, the quality of the theater's entertainment persuades them to return.
Country-music concerts are the theater's most popular events, particularly homegrown stars such as Billy Ray Cyrus, Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn and Ricky Skaggs, who perform here often. The WTCR Highway 23 Jamboree features more country music the first Saturday of every month. Modeled after the Grand Ole Opry, the live radio broadcast incorporates musical acts, comedy and commercial jingles followed up by a headline act.
Not into country music? The Paramount's 2004-2005 calendar includes a variety of theatrical performances, such as stagings of "Fiddler on the Roof," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Full Monty." The Prague Symphony Orchestra, the North Carolina Dance Theatre's "Red, Hot 'n' Bluegrass" and the Lexington Philharmonic Pops fill out the musical lineup.
â€” Amy S. Eckert
Go just for the pool. It sounds crazy, but this is one amazing pool with a vanishing edge that appears to spill over into the Pacific Ocean 100 feet below. Swimming here, you feel as though you're in the sea and simultaneously high above it, taking in the stunning view of Todos Santos Island, a surfer's paradise, and the endless expanse of sparkling jewel-blue water. Boulders rise up like big, black, glistening sea creatures, and whales regularly pass by.
The same scenery is available from your terrace, guaranteed. That's because each of the 31 rooms at Las Rosas, a small hotel on the Baja peninsula in Mexico, has an ocean view and a balcony. In fact, the entire place is designed to keep the breathtaking view in sight, whether you're reclining in a deck chair on the palm-shaded patio, margarita in hand; relaxing in the outdoor Jacuzzi; or sitting with a book and a cup of cafe con leche in the four-story, glass-walled lobby. Even the sauna has a window so you look out to sea.
This surprisingly affordable resort is all about beauty served up in an atmosphere of luxurious pampering that begins the moment guests arrive, with tropical drinks delivered to the front desk during check-in. There's a full-service spa, a fitness center and tennis courts on site, along with a piano bar and an outstanding restaurant serving both continental and Mexican fare and a sumptuous Sunday brunch buffet. Golf courses, wineries and the town of Ensenada are only a few miles away. But it may be enough to just watch the hummingbirds hover among the roses, geraniums and gladiolas.
Combining Mexican charm with American-style comfort, this hideaway is a wonderful place to recharge and renew body, mind, spirit and relationships. A great way to get there is to fly into San Diego, rent a car and drive an hour south along the coast down the Tijuana Ensenada Highway.
â€” Laura Taxel
Old World Flair
You come upon the village of Tremblant suddenly. Round a bend in the road and there it is, picture-postcard perfect. The gaily colored cluster of buildings perched on the lakeshore at the foot of the mountain looks like something out of a fairy tale. Up close, this four-season resort in Canada's Quebec province is best described as a cross between St. Moritz and Disneyland.
That's because Tremblant resembles a genuine European town in appearance and attitude. Shopkeepers, servers and ticket-takers speak French among themselves and French-accented English to visitors. But the whole thing is a stage set, a 3-D reproduction right down to the winding cobblestone streets and lovely sidewalk cafes. What appears to be a real village at first glance is actually a cluster of hotels and businesses catering to tourists.
It's nonetheless charming with an Old World ambiance that's reinforced by the complete absence of cars, which must be parked on the perimeter. But what's absolutely genuine is the natural beauty of the nearby Parc National du Mont-Tremblant, a nature preserve of mountains, forests and lakes the surrounding Laurentian region.
If your idea of fun is lots of challenging physical activity, the options are numerous: skiing, rock climbing, snow- and wake-boarding, rafting, horseback riding and a high-speed trip down the first luge course in North America. Rent a mountain bike, do the ropes courses, golf on world-class courses, go whitewater rafting or test-drive a racecar.
For those satisfied with less strenuous pursuits, there are walking and hiking trails, a Scandinavian spa, shops selling everything from souvenirs and designer clothes to handmade chocolates, interesting restaurants and clubs and scores of inviting little spots to stop for a glass of wine, a beer or an espresso.
â€” Laura Taxel
Room with a View
New York Cityâ€™s Mandarin Oriental hotel and spa
provides breathtaking vistas of Central Park and some of
the most luxurious pampering youâ€™ve ever experienced.
By Colleen Mytnick
You can't help but feel letdown after leaving the Mandarin Oriental New York and its spa. Letdown that there is no fresh orchid in your shower at home. Letdown that your friends and family lack the willingness and training to give hot stone massages or foot baths. Letdown that there is no plasma TV in your bathroom, no sweeping panorama of Central Park from your bed.
Other than that, New York City's swankiest new hotel is a delight. Opened in December 2003, the Mandarin builds on the legacy of Mandarin hotels in more than a dozen cities, including London and Hong Kong. The design is a blend of modern and Asian. From the Oriental moss garden in the lobby with its glass Dale Chihuly sculpture to the Italian marble and granite flooring to the bar stools made from New York brownstone and carved with Chinese-style patterns, the overall effect is sleek and luxurious.
And then there are the guest rooms. Sitting on a chaise longue that spans the width of your room along the wall of windows, you're free to nibble on dainty chocolates and shortbreads presented on a bed of finely shredded coconut, taking in the view of Central Park and buzzing 59th Street. Had the vantage not been so enticing, we might have even turned on the 62-inch plasma TV wired into Bose speakers.
The theme is continued in the bathroom, which, in addition to a second flatscreen TV, offers a glass Sharper Image scale. The shower and separate tub are both made of white limestone from Portugal. The shower boasts two showerheads, one directly overhead for a caught-in-the-rain effect.
After exciting, but frenetic days spent shopping or sightseeing in the city, the comforts of the room are hard to leave. But an even deeper level of relaxation can be had in the Mandarin's 14,500-square-foot spa with its bamboo flooring, natural stone and Japanese rice-paper window treatments. After passing a half hour in the heat room (rain shower, vitality pool and sauna), we tried the two-hour "time ritual." While a therapist washes your feet, he or she assesses your state of mind. "How do you feel?" we