Category Archives: Historic Interest
Sites, museums, UNESCO, & more
With just a few hours to spend in Montréal, we headed for Vieux Montréal, the 375-year-old center of town. City leaders and preservationists have done an excellent job here of keeping historic buildings and celebrating their legacy.
Entering this section of town, you feel like you are transported to Europe with brick streets, grey-stone buildings and sidewalk cafes and shops (500) for every taste. We re-grouped by starting with lunch in a cute café. There are so many, we finally selected one for ambiance and the thought it might rain. Once situated in front of large plate-glass windows with a good view down the main street Rue Saint-Paul, we shared a steak, salad, and pomme frites and watched tourists dodge raindrops.
It had been so many years since we were there, we took in as much as we could before the encroaching thunder “drove” us back to our car. Highlights include the imposing City Hall, dramatic Notre-Dame Basilica, striking Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (now a museum), imposing Marché Bonsecours, now housing trendy shops, and the lively Place Jacques-Cartier marketplace lined with sidewalk cafes and filled with street artists and performers.
The birthplace of the city is by the river and the Old Port area also has parks, rides and very large ROPES-style course fashioned to look like the rigging on an old ship.
There are lots of parking garages on the outskirts and we had no trouble finding one near Chinatown. Day rate was about $15 CA, which was reasonable. It’s hard to find the tourist information centers; I couldn’t even get a nearby site in the Old Town to come up on my iPhone, so be prepared. You can download a map/guide in advance from http://www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/infos/pdf/attr_09a.pdf.
Note the traffic is awful, in every direction, construction is everywhere. Plan accordingly for it to be busy during peak rush hour times. We actually went to a Costco to get gas for our rental car, only to find out in Canada they require a Costco MasterCard, not Visa like in the U.S.
Le Château Montebello is about an hour from Mont Tremblant, Montreal or Ottawa in the Outaouais region. Situated on the Ottawa/Outaouais River, you feel like you’ve stepped into the pages of a fairy tale. The lobby is huge, yet cozy, with seating groups, game tables and an incredible, massive six-sided fireplace anchoring the center.
It’s the largest log cabin in the world, appropriately known as the “log castle.” Huge black logs make up the distinctive six-sided structure. Trimmed in bright red, the color theme is carried into the lush gardens, and the expansive lawn stretching to the river features plenty of intimate seating areas. The complex is extensive and includes just about every form of recreation you can imagine, from ATVs, golf and swimming in warmer months, to bonfires and ice fishing in the winter. I just want to have hot chocolate and read by one of the fireplaces.
I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place (thank you, Walther). Now a Fairmont hotel, for 40 years it was a private retreat, The Seignory Club, and membership included Prime Ministers, royalty, and Canada’s business elite. Built 1930, workers used 10,000 hand-cut red cedar logs from the forests of British Columbia. It took 3,500 craftsmen 3-4 months (depending on which hotel info you read) to complete. Amazing.
In 1970, it was opened to the public by Canadian Pacific Hotels and has hosted U.S. Presidents Reagan and Bush, as well as celebrities like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
I can just imagine this place at Christmas, in the snow . . . with all those fireplaces roaring.
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we piled into our van and headed out for the noon Distillery Tour ($14) at Woodford Reserve. It’s a beautiful country drive through horse country, rolling hills and endless fences to Versailles, about half an hour from Lexington.
Another historic property with National Register designation, Woodford’s beautiful gray stone buildings reflect the personality of its Scottish founders. Owned today by the Brown-Forman conglomerate (based in Louisville), we watched them bottle Old Forester, helping a sister-product meet demand.
Learning about the process is interesting. I have been surprised about the smells during the cooking and fermentation process. The closest overall is the smell of banana bread. That was a surprise. We tasted the sour mash today and it was not pleasant. It’s very warm by the 100-year-old cypress fermenting tanks and the mash is a bubbling, sometimes moldy-looking, a grainy, yellow stew; not appetizing.
Once in a Rickhouse you feel as if you could become intoxicated just from the smell. The 10% evaporation during the bourbon’s first year in the barrel (and 3-5% each year after) produces the scent, known as the Angel’s Share.
The Woodford property is sophisticated and sleek with lovely grounds, leafy trees, lots of stone and dramatic triple copper pot stills. A 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run is still in place. After our informative tour and tasting, we enjoyed a nice lunch from Glenn’s Creek Café on the back porch before making the one-hour drive to Louisville.
In Louisville, we stayed in the elegant, historic Brown Hotel. Tonight, we enjoyed an amazing Chef’s Table dinner, in the kitchen of the English Grill. Under the stewardship of English Grill Manager Troy Ritchie (who also wears the dual hats of Wine Sommelier and Bourbon Steward), we enjoyed the handiwork of archeologist-turned-chef Dustin Willet, and server Kelly. Troy surprised us with a visit to the rooftop for a beautiful aerial view of Louisville and a sneak peek into the Mohammed Ali Suite, chock-full of Ali memorabilia (for the uninitiated, Ali was from Louisville). It was an amazing evening.
Favorite Fact: Opera singer Lily Pons let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite at The Brown Hotel.
Woodford Reserve: www.woodfordreserve.com
Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com
I have been a bourbon drinker since I was a J-school student at the University of Tennessee. Something about the hills, and football . . . . but the love of bourbon stayed with me ever since. Through the last few years, I developed a heightened interest in visiting some of Kentucky’s many distilleries. Finally, with the urging of some good friends, we made it happen.
Eight friends, four days, six distilleries, great food and a lot of laughs later, we headed home.
First stop – Buffalo Trace. The largest property not on the nine-site official Bourbon Trail, Buffalo Trace has deep roots in the community that go back more than 200 years. During the Trace Tour, our third-generation guide, Freddie, kept us entertained while imparting details of the company’s colorful history, as well as facts about the much-sought-after Pappy Van Winkle bourbon now produced here, (they acquired the Van Winkle business in 1972). This is a huge distillery and when their current expansion is finished they will have 1 million 53-gallon barrels in storage warehouses (known as Rickhouses in the distillery world).
On the National Registry of Historic Places, this is one of the only free distillery tours, and runs every hour on the hour. A highlight this day was seeing the by-hand bottling of Blanton’s Single Barrel. I learned about the differences between wheat and rye bourbons and am pretty sure I prefer the wheat. We loved Freddie’s folksy stories and enjoyed learning how to identify a few of the smells and differences between the White Dog Mash (which is really legal moonshine) and their more refined products. We clapped and rubbed hands filled with the clear White Dog, smelling how it changed. Ultimately it proved to be a good skin softener. The group favorite at the tasting was the Bourbon Cream Liqueur handcrafted from small batches of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Delicious, and even better when mixed with root beer. We can’t wait to try it in a root beer float.
Buffalo Trace is located in Frankfort, about 30 minutes from Lexington and the 21C museum hotel, our home for the night. At the hotel, we enjoyed a bourbon flight in the Lockbox bar, under the direction of the hotel’s very capable, bourbon steward. I tasted a few new to me and picked the Wellers 90 (a Buffalo Trace product) as the best of the group. Bourbons can be ordered in a .5, 1.5 or 3 ounce pour, and the assortment, organized by distillery, was impressive. No Pappy Van Winkle, however, at any price.
Favorite Fact: Buffalo Trace kept operating during Prohibition, for “medicinal” purposes. With a doctor’s prescription, you could get a pint every 10 days.
Buffalo Trace: www.buffalotracedistillery.com
Bourbon Trail: www.kyboubontrail.com
If you are a history buff, a business expert, or maybe a little of both, you might enjoy reading my latest articles, written for the Dade Heritage Trust’s bi-annual magazine, Preservation Today. Find out what some of Miami’s oldest businesses have to say about their secret of survival.
It’s easy to take things for granted. Many of us never take the time to see what’s in our own backyard.
Miami’s Stiltsville was a unique, raucous, lively, storied, and often infamous, cluster of shack houses about a mile offshore in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Known for both wild parties and old-fashioned family weekends in the sun, Stiltsville was a destination that promised fun and a hint of the unknown.
When I moved to Miami in the 70s, I took Stiltsville for granted, passing up opportunities to visit. The community had rebounded from Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Betsy in ‘65. But then, on August 24, 1992 – it was gone. Or at least most of it was gone. What was left after the fierce winds of Hurricane Andrew was mired in controversy and political wrangling. Not considered old enough (50 years) for designation by the National Trust for Historic Places, powerful people wanted the remaining seven damaged structures demolished.
My husband and I were among the fortunate few when we recently visited Stiltsville on a glorious, sunny afternoon, and spent some very special time (with very special friends) relaxing at the colorful Bay Chateau House.
For four decades, our good friends’ family owned home #14, “Haven from Slavin.” I’ve always enjoyed their family stories of weekends spent fishing, swimming and exploring the tidal flats surrounding the homes. Water levels on the flats are 2-3’ and during low tide drop to just a few inches; a perfect aquatic playground. Their three sons, now with children of their own, enjoy an exceptional shared history of their days on the Bay. It’s one of those sons who is now part of a group of caretakers for the Bay Chateau House.
Today, there are no private owners left at Stiltsville. Instead, there is the unusual relationship forged by the Park Service and former owners; the non-profit, public-private Stiltsville Trust formed in 2003. Owners were transitioned to caretakers of this incredible resource. The U.S. Government now owns the entire area, a part of America’s only national park 95% under water, Biscayne National Park. Visitors can see the area by boat, but very few have the opportunity to actually enter one of the homes.
At its height in the 60s, there were 27 buildings, most on pilings raising them about 10’ above the sandy flats. Earliest records indicate man-made structures as early as 1922, and in the 30s Eddie “Crawfish” Walker sold bait and beer from a shack nailed to a barge. Later in the 30s, things got really hopping with off-shore private clubs. Then the Quarterdeck Club had a long run from the 40s until it burned in 1961, but much of Stiltsville’s boisterous reputation is due to the Bikini Club. The Bikini Club, run out of a yacht towed out and grounded in 1962, made quite a name for itself in its short three-year history. Its reputation was for hard-drinking, gambling, nude sunbathing and who knows what else. The club was closed down for operating without a liquor license and possession of 40 under-size, out-of-season crawfish.
Private clubs notwithstanding, most of the stilt homes were owned by private families, who just loved the beauty, freedom and camp-like vibe of the natural setting. Of the seven surviving structures, one is the Miami Springs Power Boat Club started by firefighters, policemen and workers who lived near the airport. The others are known as the Leshaw House, Hicks House, Baldwin-Sessions House, Ellenburg House and A-frame House.
I’m told by locals that Flipper’s famous TV scene going from deck to Bay was filmed at the A-frame House. Stiltsville also had many famous human visitors, including several Florida governors, local judges, Steven Stills, rib-master Tony Roma and Ted Kennedy. It’s been featured on film and in print, including TV shows Miami Vice and Sea Hunt, as well as several books by local best-selling author Carl Hiaasen.
Who knows what treasure will be the next to disappear. Look around . . . while you can.
For More Info:
For a well-done 30-minute documentary produced by WLRN and featuring local expert, professor Dr. Paul George, visit Stiltsville through this link: http://video.wlrn.org/video/2365452261/
Biscayne National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm
Just realized I never actually posted this item I wrote while in NYC last week, just saw it lurking in a draft folder . . .
If you like the mansions in Newport or the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, you will love visiting The Frick. The wonderful European art on display seems like a bonus. Located on 5th Avenue, across from Central Park, I don’t know how I never tuned into this beautiful building before.
Finished in 1914, the home was built on property that once housed the Lenox Library, behind the property was a chicken farm. Henry Frick bequeathed his home and art collection so the public would always have access, and after the death of his wife, it opened to the public in 1935.
Much of the furniture is in place and the art is hung as it would have been in the home, eye level and without barriers. It’s wonderful and intimate; a very relaxing way to enjoy such beautiful old masters. Frick like beauty and avoided art that was violent or disturbing, so there is an emphasis on portraits and landscapes. At the moment there is a major exhibition of Van Dyke’s work.
Of course, visitors can’t take pictures, so you will have to go on-line for details, but I enjoyed the Van Dykes as well as paintings by Vermeer, Degas, Velazquez, Reuben, Taylor, Rembrandt and many, many more. Not to mention the gorgeous carpets, Limoges enamels, bronzes, porcelains and French furniture. At the grand stairway, you can look up and see the massive organ installed in the home. Frick employed his own organist who performed concerts twice a week. There are plans underway to restore the upper floors and eventually allow visitors.
You are truly transported to the Gilded Age during a visit to The Frick.
Details: A free audio tour is available. Docents give presentations several times a day about the history of the Fricks and the home, as well as how the collection was put together. There is also a short movie that explains much of the same information.
The small gift shop has a terrific selection of art books, as well as a nice assortment of specialty items.
The Frick is open six days a week (closed on Mondays), and due to the accessibility of the art, does not allow children under 10. Hours: Tue – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM; Sundays 11 AM – 5 PM. Adults $20; seniors $15; students $10. Sunday from 11 AM – 1 PM pay what you wish.
As we conclude our most recent trip to NYC, I thought I’d finished with anything blog-worthy, and then we went on a brunch cruise around Manhattan with Classic Harbor Line.
The Classic Harbor Line uses old-world style yachts in the Roaring Twenties-style. For the brunch cruise, the maximum number of guests is 40, and everyone has a window seat. Their brochure states they are “classically designed for contemporary experiences” and that is very well said.
Our trip was on the Manhattan II, just one year old, but built to resemble a vintage yacht. I’ll let my photos tell that story.
As we cruised up the East River and down the Hudson, we ate. Brunch was a delicious four-course affair, served buffet-style. First with bagels, lox, pastries and self-made waffles, followed by frittata and incredibly good pork sausage (which we are seriously trying to locate for purchase). Spiral-cut ham, potatoes and salad were followed by a wonderful fruit assortment, puff pastries, small napoleons and cannolis. A glass of Champagne, Mimosa, or Bloody Mary was included along with soft drinks and coffee; a full bar was also available.
The crew was amazing. They could not have been nicer or more helpful. The Captain’s commentary was interesting but not intrusive. Many of the passengers also asked the knowledgeable crew for more information about what we were seeing.
It didn’t hurt that it turned out to be an incredibly beautiful day. We ventured outside for some photo-ops, and often pulled back the large sliding picture windows by our comfortable table to snap a good iPhone shot.
The entire 2.75 hour trip was quiet, relaxing, un-hurried, interesting and very scenic. A perfect adventure for all the ages in our group, from 30-something to 85.
Classic Harbor Lines is the same company that offers architectural harbor tours narrated by the AIA NY and sailings on majestic schooners. Boats leave from Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers, and Pier 5 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina. Check out the options at: Sail-NYC.com or call 888.215.1739. You may also be able to find a discount voucher if you search on-line. BTW, the bathrooms on board are comfortable and pristine.
This was a great tour. Led by fourth generation Italian-American, Eric Ferrara, we really gained an insight and understanding into the origins and evolution of the five major New York crime families and the history of New York City’s Little Italy.
Eric founded the Lower East Side History Project and has consulted on several projects including programs for TV’s History Channel, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the recent Great Gatsby movie and the Mafia Museum. He has written several books including the Manhattan Mafia Guide. Eric has not only researched his topic, he has lived it. He was clearly very comfortable in the area and able to tell many personal stories about his life and that of his family members.
There are a lot of similar tours available, but what I liked about this tour was the focus on fact versus sensationalism and media-driven urban legends. Eric set the record straight about many misconceptions and put a face on the daily struggle faced by the vast majority of the men involved with the Cosa Nostra. We learned about the speakeasies, the social clubs, early investment in the drag clubs of NYC, and the lynching of Italians. Eric had photos and newspaper articles to help tell the story and visualize the past.
I was surprised that what was once known as Little Italy is really now only about four one-street blocks of very tourist-oriented restaurants. Once a large and thriving section of town, it was eventually cleaned-up by NY Mayor Giuliani and has now become gentrified, with expensive boutiques and new construction. It was sad to learn that much of the area’s original character has been erased.
The tour was interesting, educational and, as a bonus, we found out which were the better area restaurants with the most authentic family history. We all received an information sheet summarizing key spots visited and follow-up resources.
We ended our two-hour tour in the restaurant area. Eric stopped to say hi to actor Tony Danza, who was just hanging out, sitting outside by a cannoli vendor, reading a paper.
After the tour we took a break and enjoyed some pizza at the Mulberry Street Bar. This restaurant was the setting for regular scenes on the Sopranos and has appeared in Donny Brasco, Godfather III, and Law & Order. We made one more quick stop to grab a cannoli (for me) and gelato (for my husband), before we headed back uptown. Do you think Tony is an investor in that cannoli stand?
Tours are offered twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays at noon and generally last 1.5 hours. For more info, check out:
Who’s hanging out on Mulberry Street?
This charming enclave of The Met is housed in a re-constructed ensemble designed to resemble a medieval-era monastery on four acres in Fort Tryon Park. Located in the Bronx, the lovely park runs along the Hudson, with views across the river of the New Jersey Palisades’ plateau, and is beautiful in the spring.
The museum focuses on medieval art, architecture and gardens with the main focus on religious artifacts. It’s not large, but beautifully appointed and you truly feel you are transported to a hilltop somewhere in Europe. It’s hard to believe you are a short subway ride from the middle of Manhattan.
Open since 1938, The Met Cloisters has been heavily endowed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., including the gift of the famous Unicorn Tapestries, my favorite. There is an incredible collection of striking tapestries on display. Exhibits span from the Romanesque through the Gothic periods.
If You Go:
Open seven days a week, during the day from 10 AM, closing hours vary slightly by season, so check the website for up-to-date details. Adults $25; seniors $17; Students $12 and children under 12 free. Tickets also entitle same-day admission to other Met museums. If you go by subway, take the “A” train to the 190 Street stop and walk through the gardens to the museum. Or, grab an Uber to 99 Margaret Corbin Drive. There is a nice gift shop as well as a café (open April – October) on premises.