19. October 2012 00:18
Tenakee Springs, Alaska
For our recent Group Travel Industry Buyers Guide, I was asked to compile a list of five favorite places I’ve been that could be considered hidden gems. Here are four in the United States and one in Italy that certainly fit that description for me.
Ground Zero, Clarksdale, Mississippi
There are a lot of great stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail, but one I particularly enjoy features live bands, great tamales and fried catfish, and lots of star power. Academy-award winning actor Morgan Freeman is one of the owners and is known to hang out there when he is not on location somewhere. The acts there are not necessarily name bands; they are more often local blues bands that honor the tradition of Mississippi blues. Live music is offered Wednesday through Saturday nights.
Tenakee Springs, Alaska
You don’t drive to Tenakee Springs. You arrive by small vessel or seaplane. Tenakee Springs is in southeast Alaska on Chichagof Island. The little community of roughly 100 residents is a favorite stop for fishermen, and it gets its name from the natural spring that warms the water in the community bathhouse.
The day we arrived, the town was buzzing about the arrival of a new dog. They had lost one that winter, and the new puppy, a lab, came walking up the pier on a leash while we were there.
Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
At the Going On Faith Conference in Richmond last summer, I asked Janie Lawson where I could go for a couple of hours for a run and some relaxation. She recommended Hollywood Cemetery, an urban preserve tucked away in Virginia’s historic capital city. This meandering cemetery lies inside a canopy of trees and includes the graves of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; U.S. President James Monroe; and numerous other historic figures. Walking tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 10 a.m., April through October.
Fertitta’s Delicatessen, Shreveport, Louisiana
Don’t ask me how to get to Fertitta’s Delicatessen because I can’t tell you. But anyone in Shreveport can. We came here for lunch a couple of years ago when we were doing a site inspection for the Small Market Meetings Conference. Our hosts suggested this local favorite that serves muffalettas, sandwiches of Italian origin consisting of olive mix, ham, salami, cheeses and mustard. This unassuming place was filled with local diners dressed in anything from suits to hardhats. And the mint tea you poured yourself in the back was one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had.
A hidden gem in Italy may be a misnomer simply because so many people put this country at the top of their travel lists. But Todi isn’t Rome or Venice or Florence. And it isn’t in Tuscany, which gets so much press as well. It’s a beautiful small city high atop a hill in the region of Umbria. I was there at Christmastime, so its ancient town square was lit for the holidays. Someone in that square was playing old Christmas songs by American artists such as Andy Williams over a loudspeaker that night. Enjoying that holiday music in this heavily garrisoned old city was a memorable paradox to me.
12. October 2012 20:51
Victoria is well known as a beautiful city with a distinctly English flavor, including red, double-decker buses and lovely gardens everywhere. Since (unlike Vancouver itself) it is located on Vancouver Island, some type of water transportation from the mainland is generally required for groups to get there. Ferries, the high-speed Victoria Clipper and Victoria/San Juan Cruises all can take groups to Victoria.
All Alaska cruises departing from Seattle also make a stop in Victoria in order to satisfy U.S. regulations for foreign-flagged passenger vessels. However, in my opinion, one of the best ways to reach Victoria is from Port Angeles, on the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, aboard the classic, 341-foot-long MV Coho of the Black Ball Ferry Line.
Built in 1959, the well-maintained Coho offers passengers (and their vehicles) a leisurely 90-minute crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with views of the Olympic and Vancouver Island Ranges en route. Aboard are a cafeteria, gift shop, comfortable lounges, and plenty of deck space for strolling or sightseeing. During the summer season, the Coho operates four round-trips daily, so groups not wishing to take their coach along and stay in Victoria can easily make a day trip departing Port Angeles at 8:20 a.m., and return there following dinner in Victoria, by 9:00 p.m.
Unlike some other alternatives, the Coho docks right in Victoria’s Inner Harbour is within easy walking distance of the B.C. Parliament Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum, the famed Empress Hotel, and downtown shopping. Other advantages of departing from Port Angeles include combining the Victoria trip with visits to spectacular Olympic National Park, the extensive lavender farms surrounding the nearby town of Sequim, as well as historic Port Townsend.
Departing Port Angeles with Olympic Mountains in background
Passing the U.S. Coast Guard Station
Arriving in Victoria's Inner Harbor
12. October 2012 20:48
Just about everybody who visits Victoria, British Columbia, to see the sights is sure to head for the magnificent, world-renowned Butchart Gardens. Having toured the gardens many times in the past, however, I decided to seek out a different Victoria attraction to explore on my most recent trip there in September.
Just a short distance east of the downtown area is the sandstone-faced Craigdarroch Castle, built between 1887 and 1890 for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the wealthiest man in British Columbia at the time. This imposing Victorian landmark sits atop a hill overlooking the city and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with floors of splendid woodwork, stained glass windows, ornate furnishings and 17 fireplaces. In fact, it took five railcars to ship the Castle’s 2,128 individual oak panels from Chicago. Unfortunately, Dunsmuir died just months before construction was completed, so his wife Joan, three daughters and two orphaned grandchildren were the only family members to live in the mansion and original 28-acre estate.
Upon Joan’s passing in 1908, the Castle, its contents and surrounding property were divided among nine heirs. Over the years the hospital was converted into a hospital for veterans in WWI, Victoria College, the Victoria School of Music and the Society for the Preservation and Maintenance of Craigdarroch Castle.
Since the Conservatory departed in 1979, the mansion has been operated solely as a historic house museum, and the monumental task of tracking down artifacts for the restoration of the house began in earnest. Today most of the rooms have been painstakingly furnished with period antiques, some of them original. The result is a most impressive attraction sure to fascinate anyone with an interest in historic mansions of the Victorian era or the privileged lives of those who amassed immense fortunes from the industrial transformation of North America.
Oak-paneled main staircase
English billiard table
12. October 2012 20:44
All of us (hopefully, at least) have a few friends that we can always count on to “be there” whenever we need them. I am fortunate in that my best friend, Graydon “Gig” Gwin, has also been gainfully employed in the travel industry, so we have a lot in common professionally and have been able to regularly supplement each other’s knowledge in our particular areas of interest.
Our relationship goes back four decades to the early 1970s, when we both worked at the incentive and meeting travel giant, Maritz Travel Company in suburban St. Louis. Although I am now semi-retired, Gig still owns the largest retail travel agency in the “Gateway City,” which specializes in both corporate and upscale vacation travel. But what makes him really unusual is that Gig is one of but a handful of individuals who have visited every single country on the face of the earth (all 320 some-odd of them).
Extensive travel has definitely made Gig into the type of character that makes it a challenge for those he meets to determine whether or not he is pulling their legs, as telling entertaining tall tales has become a Gwin specialty. Even after 40 years of experience, I’m still regularly surprised and amused by some of the things he says and does to complete strangers on the street in foreign lands!
Since Gig’s wife Terrie is not nearly as enamored with being on the road, we have frequently traveled together to places as diverse as Egypt, France, New York City, the Texas Hill Country, South America and Antarctica. Gig has authored an award-winning book entitled Travel Dreams Sold Here – Crafting an Extraordinary Vacation, for which I was privileged to write the chapter on America’s National Parks. This book for leisure travelers is available at amazon.com.
He has also done a substantial amount of travel writing for respected newspapers and magazines, so secondary writing careers are something else we have in common. Furthermore, he currently serves as a regular guest host for a travel-oriented, nationally syndicated radio program heard in 125 markets. As a speaker, he has entertained over 200 businesses and organizations, so if a truly interesting fellow is needed to liven up a conference or meeting, Gig is certainly worth your consideration. He can be reached at www.gwins.com/gig or (314) 571-6937.
Gig listening to a presentation at Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
At the Budĕjovice Budvar Brewery, Česke Budĕjovice, Czech Republic
Taking a break during evening exploration in Bordeaux, France