Travelrific® Travel Journal

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Archive for November, 2016

A Treasure Chest of Science

By Linda Tancs

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawai’i, Palmyra Atoll is one of the most spectacular marine wilderness areas on Earth. Declared a national marine monument, its pristine and unoccupied environs are jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. As a center for scientific study, research there helps inform island conservation efforts around the world. Imagine a place where sharks still dominate the reef ecosystem, a place where over a million nesting seabirds and the rare coconut crab find refuge. Although it has never been settled, its history is nonetheless interesting. Named after an American shipwreck, it was claimed by the sovereign Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1862 and came under United States jurisdiction following the annexation of Hawai’i in 1898 (Hawai’i later entered statehood in 1959). Nonetheless, it was privately owned and even used by the U.S. Navy as an air refueling station during World War II. The Nature Conservancy acquired Palmyra from the Fullard-Leo family for $30 million in 2000. Because the atoll is specifically excluded from the State of Hawai’i, it was the only privately owned territory in the United States. These days its inclusion as part of a new national Pacific marine monument increases the amount of protected ocean wilderness surrounding Palmyra from half a million acres to 13 million acres, including nearby Kingman Reef.

Tasteful Art in Hungary

By Linda Tancs

In Ajka, Hungary, art never looked so tasteful. That’s where Hungarian artist and pastry chef Judit Czinkné Poór summons her inner Rembrandt and creates intricately designed and bedazzling cookies, often highlighted with doily designs and richly hued flowers embodying traditional folk art. Her business, Mézesmanna, arose from a love of pastry arts that takes her on worldwide expeditions teaching the tricks of her trade to motivated bakers. These treats are too good to eat, and they shouldn’t be. Although edible, Hungarian tradition is to dole them out as keepsakes for special occasions, giving a whole new spin to the notion of a sweet reminder.

A Nut in New Mexico

By Linda Tancs

Travelers along U.S. 54 between Alamogordo and Tularosa in New Mexico have an oddity to tickle their fancy. That’s where you’ll find the world’s largest pistachio. Appropriately enough, the giant-sized attraction is located at PistachioLand, a family farm featuring every take on the nut imaginable, like habanero lemon, BBQ, bacon ranch and garlic. The motorized tour of their orchards will show you how pistachios (and grapes in the vineyard) grow in their desert climate. The pistachio is one of the oldest edible nuts on the planet and is very nutritious. They’ll have some grafts for sale at the farm next February.

Art, History and Anthropology

By Linda Tancs

The Grace Hudson Museum and Sun House in Ukiah, California, is an art, history and anthropology museum focusing on the life and works of artist Grace Carpenter Hudson and her ethnologist husband, Dr. John W. Hudson. The result is a treasure trove of cultural and educational resources on Western American art, California Indian cultures and the history of California’s North Coast region. Their legacy is further highlighted by their Craftsman-style home, the Sun House. In addition to their personal touches, the home sports such classic Craftsman elements as a sloping gabled roof with overhang, the sleeping porch, the use of natural redwood and stone, board-and-batten walls, burlap and monks cloth wall coverings and exposed timbers.

The Stone Chariot

By Linda Tancs

It isn’t the only stone chariot in India, but Kallina Ratha in Hampi is an architectural jewel fit for a king. In fact, it was built in the 16th century during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya, reputedly one of the greatest kings of the Vijayanagara dynasty in southern India. Located inside the Vittala Temple complex, the stone shrine is dedicated to Garuda, a half-man and half-eagle mythical being associated with Lord Vishnu. Locals believe that the world will end when the chariot moves. Let’s hope it stays put for a while.

Britain’s Oldest Manufacturer

By Linda Tancs

London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry is listed in Guinness World Records as Britain’s oldest manufacturing company. How old, however, is a matter of debate. Once thought to be established in 1570 (during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign), additional research has revealed an unbroken line of founders in Aldgate and Whitechapel back to the year 1420 (in the reign of Henry V). Regardless of its age, the world’s best known foundry on Whitechapel Road is responsible for some very big chimes. The largest bell ever cast there (in 1858) is none other than Big Ben, weighing in at 13 1/2 tons. Another famous bell hailing from the foundry is the original Liberty Bell, commissioned by order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania in 1751 for the Statehouse in Philadelphia. Other exports followed worldwide.

UPDATE 5/8/17: The foundry, once open for guided tours on select Saturdays year round, is sadly closing its doors. The very last tower bell to be cast at the Whitechapel site is for the Museum of London, to which the foundry is donating many artifacts including old machinery, items to provide a display about bell manufacture and items that the foundry has in its possession pertaining to the making of Big Ben.

Rural Estonia

By Linda Tancs

A pleasant day trip from the capital Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park is located in northern Estonia. The country’s oldest and largest national park at nearly 8,000 square feet, it’s also one of Europe’s most important forest conservation areas. South of the park, the large forested Kõrvemaa area is home to moose, wild boars, brown bears, lynxes, foxes and other wild animals. And of almost 840 plant species in the area, 34 are rare. A multitude of hiking trails gives visitors ample opportunity to explore the gently rolling terrain. You needn’t do it all in a day, of course. A plethora of guesthouses, manors and campsites offer respite. The first snowfall generally occurs this month, and the impending winter brings the ice castles of nearby Jägala Waterfall as well as a winter wonderland in the park.

Art Under Glass

By Linda Tancs

Chihuly Garden and Glass is a sculptural oasis in Seattle, Washington. Its centerpiece is the Glasshouse, a 40-foot-tall, glass and steel conservatory hosting a 100-foot-long suspended floral sculpture in eye-popping hues of red, orange, yellow and amber. You can learn more about the artist, Dale Chihuly, at the eight galleries and three drawing walls that offer a comprehensive collection of his work. Outdoors, the lush landscape is equally matched by floral installations. The facility is located next to the Space Needle (spectacularly visible inside the Glasshouse) at Seattle Center.


A Step Into the Past in Texas

By Linda Tancs

Padre Island National Seashore in Texas is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world, a time capsule of sorts with dunes and other natural formations that look the same today as they would have to the Native Americans and European settlers who inhabited the area hundreds of years ago. Owned at different times by Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and later the United States, it comprises mostly prairie/grasslands with ephemeral marshes and ponds bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico and on the west by the Laguna Madre, one of only six lagoons in the world that is hypersaline (saltier than the ocean). The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies and wind tidal flats teeming with life, including the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and 380 bird species.


A Hotbed for Machine and Mammal

By Linda Tancs

In the 1800s, Florida’s Blue Spring Landing was a hotbed of activity for steamboat owners. It was owned by gold prospector-turned-orange grower Louis Thursby, who purchased Blue Spring (a first magnitude spring on the St. John’s River) in 1856. In the 20th century, the site even hosted an episode of the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau. The documentary highlighted Blue Spring as a winter refuge for the manatee, Florida’s state marine mammal. As a result, the state ultimately purchased the land, creating Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. Manatee season runs from mid-November throughout March, and the park fills to capacity quickly. A self-guided tour of the Thursby house is also available.

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