Category Archives: All Postings

Legs Inn a Must for its quirky architecture, Polish food and Lake Michigan Views

You don’t just happen to be driving by Legs Inn and decide spontaneously to pop in for Polish sausage. That’s not to say the restaurant doesn’t catch your eye. The unusual stone  structure is renowned for its rows of upended cast-iron stove legs that serve as a kind of rooftop railing (hence it’s name). But the inside, too, is a curious mishmash of handmade wooden furniture, driftwood re-purposed as art, totem poles, a giant bar fashioned from the trunk of a hemlock tree and taxidermic bears, deer, raccoons and other native species.

But Legs Inn is so off Michigan’s beaten path, that unless you’re on your way to Mackinac Island, are driving the nearby scenic  “Tunnel of Trees” or heading to Headlands International Dark Sky Park to gaze at the stars, you probably won’t be passing through the tiny community of Cross Village. Unless, of course, Legs Inn is your destination, which applies to almost everyone who comes here to dine.

Opened in the 1920s by a Polish immigrant and owned by the same family for almost 90 years, Legs Inn is now in its third generation of restaurauteurs. It still specializes in Polish cuisine, including pierogi (dumpings), Polish sausage and a very delicious bigos (a hunter’s stew of various meats, sausage, sauerkraut and vegetables). It also offers the local Great Lakes whitefish, sandwiches, goulash, potato pancakes and other fare, not to mention more than 100 varieties of beer from around the world, including Polish beer.

But the best part? Legs Inn is located on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, with both indoor and outdoor dining offering great views. Open from about mid-May to mid-October, this restaurant is worth the detour no matter where you’re heading, or even if you’re heading nowhere at all.

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Why I Live in Lawrence KS

I was asked to write about my hometown for the Explore Lawrence website. We moved here from Florida when I was 10 because my father accepted a job at the University of Kansas. He promised we’d stay only two years. You can see how that went. I was bitten by the travel bug when I was very young, probably when I learned my grandmother was born in Austria and I started learning German. I also spent countless hours pouring over issues of National Geographic, always thinking “I want to go there!” In any case, I saw early on that there was a big world out there. My first international trip was when I was 16, courtesy of the Girl Scouts, when I spent a month in Sweden and learned to my delight that scouting was co-ed. I then spent my middle university year abroad in Germany, followed by another year while in graduate school. After a year working as a newspaper reporter in a small Kansas town, I quit and moved back to Germany to begin my career as a travel writer. I’ve been travel writing ever since. As a freelancer, I can live pretty much anywhere, but I moved back to Lawrence many years ago. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t live in another country again someday, but Lawrence will always be my hometown. The link below is what I wrote for why I live in Lawrence KS.

 

I grew up in Lawrence, but typical of restless teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get away. After living most of my twenties and early thirties in Germany and Japan as a freelance travel writer, however, I decided that Lawrence was where I wanted to be. We have wetlands, easy access to lakes and hiking trails, diverse neighborhoods, unique museums, an ever-growing roster of ethnic restaurants and a wide range of festivals and entertainment, making Lawrence pretty much the perfect college town. I’ve been a volunteer at the Lawrence Visitor Center for more than 20 years, which I enjoy because I get to meet people from all over the world and answer questions. You never know what they’re going to ask, which keeps me on my toes. I always recommend the free movie we show at the visitor center about the founding of Lawrence and Quantrill’s raid. I also take my out-of-town guests to the Oread Hotel’s rooftop for the view (our dense canopy of trees makes it look like we’re a people of the woods). I love living only a five-minute walk from downtown, in a 127-year-old house where I can also satisfy my inner urban farmer with a garden and chickens. And when the travel writing life calls, Kansas City International Airport is only a 50-minute drive away. Why would I live anywhere else? Lawrence, after all, really is the center of Google Earth. – Beth #nttw17

A post shared by eXplore Lawrence (@explorelawrence) on

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Pisac’s Market is More than I Bargained for

One of my favorite things to do in any city or village is to visit the local market, whether it’s a wet market in Hong Kong or the Feria de Mataderos in Buenos Aires. In Peru, I was most taken with Pisac’s market in the Sacred Valley. We got rooms in a hostal right on the main square (named, as always, Plaza des Armas), with windows providing colorful views. But although Sunday is Pisac’s most famous market day, attracting busloads of tourists, my two sons and I missed it. On the other hand, if we hadn’t gotten sick, we wouldn’t have stayed five nights. I’ve never observed the workings of a market this close for this many days.  I didn’t buy much, but Pisac Market offered more than I bargained for.

Pisac’s Sunday market is so large it fills up the square, radiating down side streets and on the slope leading to terraced Inca ruins. Locals sell fruit, vegetables and souvenirs, including alpaca sweaters, jewelry, flutes and handwoven tapestries. Unfortunately, the night before the boys and I ate chicken at a local restaurant while watching the video Motorcycle Diaries (incredibly, life in Peru seems almost as poor as it did when Ernesto Guevara rode through) and on Sunday we were all sick. So we spend Pisac’s most famous day in bed, being able to cast only cursory glances over the street scenes before heading back to the bathroom.

On Monday we awoke to find the square cleared of all its market stalls. It was Independence Day! The morning began with marches and speeches and in late afternoon came the music. The square was packed with villagers–nary a tourist in sight–who all seemed to belong to their own group and who drank copious amounts of beer and chicha, a pink alcoholic brew made from fermented maize. Feeling somewhat recovered, I ventured into the melee with my sister, and everyone was very friendly to two foreign women in their midst, smiling at us and toasting (I have to say, chicha must be an acquired taste). Some Peruvians danced, though with their conservative, modest steps, they will never threaten the Argentinians. We went to bed around 10pm, but the partying went on past midnight.

The next day, Tuesday, was market day again, though on a less grand style. What fascinated me the most is that every single night, all the wares are packed up for transport and all the wooden stalls are broken down and carted away. In addition, every day I went to the market there were different vendors there, thereby assuring that everyone had a chance to sell their goods, either as middlemen selling crafts others had made or those they had made themselves. Tour buses came by regularly, disgorging tourists who must have been weaned on inflated prices. I saw an American guy buy two woolen caps for about three times what he could have bargained for, and a Japanese man paid about 10 times more for a necklace than what I paid after scoping out prices for several days. Striking a bargain is the name of the game, meant to assure that both buyer and seller feel satisfied. With a budget of $3,000 for the three of us for a month, I didn’t have much money to spend. That necklace reminds me of Pisac every time I wear it.

The end of our stay in Pisac was almost the end of our one month in Peru. By then, what had seemed so unfathomable just one month before–what was Peru like! How would we get around! How would we manage!–now seemed commonplace. The fact is, Peru is easy, well geared to meet the needs of travelers on the “Gringo Trail,” making it much easier to get around there than, say, in Japan. And while guide books warned of thieves, pickpockets and taxi-driving robbers, we encountered only kindness and, at worst, indifference. Perhaps it helps to travel with children. Maybe even crooks have too much integrity to take advantage of a child.

 

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Machu Picchu–Better than Imagined

DSCN0103-1Machu Picchu is probably on every traveler’s bucket list, and with good reason. Built by the Incas around 1450, abandoned about 100 years later, and brought to the world’s attention in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu is quite simply an architectural masterpiece. Although there are many traces of the Incas remaining in Peru, none offer such breathtakingly irrefutable proof of their brilliancy. For that and many reasons, I found Machu Picchu better than imagined.

In fact, many of my impressions turned out to be false, gleaned mostly from photographs and from articles in glossy magazines. In pictures, the Inca ruins look virtually inaccessible, so high up as to be halfway to heaven. The Inca Trail, I thought, must be grueling, sending tourists straight up that mountain for four straight days. But because of it’s popularity, I also expected Machu Picchu to be overrun with tourists, detracting from its mysticism and beauty.

It turns out, Machu Picchu is very accessible. The Inca Trail is mostly overland, though not without challenging mountain passes. Furthermore, the Inca Trail–the popular route that severely limits the number of trekkers allowed to sign up on guided tours–is just one way to hike to Machu Picchu. The tour my sons, my sister’s family and I signed up for after we arrived in Cusco was a four-day adventure that included a ride down a mountain on bikes followed by three days of hiking and included just us and three women from Germany. Our tour ended in Aguas Caliente, a nondescript and charmless tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu, but you can also reach Aguas Caliente by train. From there, we awoke before sunrise for the  90-minute climb to the top, but there are also buses. And although I expected swarming crowds, Machu Picchu is so expansive it simply swallows them up.

DSCN0118-1In other words, Machu Picchu is both overwhelming and mystical, truly one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It would be DSCN0087-1hard not feel viscerally moved and impressed; the architectural genius of the Incas is impossible to overstate. They built walls and buildings of stone blocks crafted to fit so precisely without mortar that they’re able to withstand earthquakes. Their terraces, cut into hillsides to maximize irrigation and layered with stone, sand and other materials to prevent landslides and erosion, are testimony to their farming prowess.

I kept trying to imagine the city as it was back then, crawling with Incas instead of tourists from around the world, but my imagination was too dim. If only I could time travel. And though I and my family spent eight hours at Machu Picchu, much longer than I’d imagine, it now seems like a dream in the clouds. Albeit, a very powerful dream.

Machu Picchu in the day

Machu Picchu in the day

DSCN0115-1Note that because Machu Picchu’s popularity grows every year, authorities announced that beginning July 1, visitors will be restricted to visiting either in the morning from 6am to noon or in the afternoon from noon to 5:30pm. I suggest the afternoon, because it seems everyone wants to see the sun rise and crowds tend to thin out as the day progresses. In my opinion, the sunrise wasn’t that great anyway. That’s not why you’ve come.

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Ise-Shima Famous for Shrines, Pearls and Female Divers

Ise Shima National Park2Ise-Shima National Park is home to Japan’s most famous Shinto shrine, making it a must-see destination for the Japanese for centuries. Its ragged coastline and many islands also make it a natural for the cultivation of pearls and as a habitat for many sea creatures. Women living in fishing villages have been free-diving for edibles for centuries; some have opened rustic restaurants for visitors wishing to learn more about their lives. Easily reached from Osaka or Nagoya, Ise-Shima is worth getting off the beaten track for its beauty, history and attractions geared toward families.

Ise Shima Grand Shrine

The Kaguraden, one of many buildings at the Ise Jingu Grand Shrines

The Ise Jingu Grand Shrines date back some 2,000 years, founded to honor the sun goddess, considered the legendary ancestress of the Imperial family. Remarkably, it’s torn down and reconstructed every twenty years. Also remarkable is the fact that its inner sanctuary is off limits. Yet that hasn’t stopped this being one of Japan’s most important pilgrimages through the ages. Nearby is Oharai-machi, once the main footpath leading to the shrine for worshippers during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and now lined with restaurants and souvenir shops catering to today’s visitors.

Ise Shima famous for pearls

This Liberty Bell replica, made for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City and now on display on Mikimoto Pearl Island, contains 12,250 pearls

Ise-Shima’s other claim to fame is its pearls. It was here, in 1893, that Kokichi Mikimoto finally succeeded after five years of failure to induce an oyster to create a pearl by artificially inducing an irritant. Female divers (called ama in Japanese) were employed to maintain the oyster rafts floating in Ise-Shima’s many bays, not surprising that they were already experts in diving for Ise lobster, seaweed and other edibles from the sea.

One of the most unique things to do in Ise-Shima is to have lunch at one of the rustic ama huts, where women grill and serve seafood they fetched themselves and talk about their lifestyle, fast disappearing because of more options now open to younger Japanese women.

For more about Ise-Shima, see my report and photos published by frommers.com called The Undiscovered Delights of Japan’s Ise-Shima National Park.

Ise-Shima's Ama prepare lunch in their hut

Ise-Shima’s Ama prepare lunch in their hut

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Beyond Tokyo and Kyoto

Every first-timer to Japan should see Tokyo and Kyoto, but there’s so much more to explore. From the beaches of Okinawa to the rugged mountains of Hokkaido’s national parks, Japan has enough to keep travelers busy for a lifetime. I myself have been traveling around Japan for more than 30 years and have been to more than 60 cities and towns, mostly while writing and updating Frommer’s Japan. But there are countless places I haven’t yet seen.

I have, however, visited all the destinations cited in this advertorial I wrote on Japan that appeared in the March issue of Conde Nast Traveler. Even so, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Conde Nast Advertorial

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JNTO offering a Free Trip to Japan: The Winner chooses a World Heritage Site

Shirakawa-go in the Japan Alps

Shirakawa-go in the Japan Alps

I haven’t been to all of Japan’s World Heritage sites, but they’re on my list. Kyoto, of course, is king, with an astounding 17 locations that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site, including Kiyomizu Temple, Nijo Castle and the Saihoji Moss Garden.

But this competition, offered by the Japan National Tourism Organization, strives to get travelers off the well-beaten path by offering the chance of a free trip to one of six lesser-known World Heritage Sites. These include Shirakawa-go, a village with thatched-roof farmhouses; the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine from the Edo Period, which I discovered to be much more fascinating than I’d imagined; and the ancient ruins of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which once ruled over Okinawa. Of course, there are plenty of other things to do once you’re there. Scuba diving in Okinawa, anyone?

And by the way, I wrote the description for each of the six sites. Just writing about them made me want to go to every single one, even those I’ve already seen.

http://us.jnto.go.jp/morejapan/

 

 

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John Lennon in Karuizawa

Karuizawa's main shopping street is lined with boutiques, galleries and cafes

Karuizawa’s main shopping street is lined with boutiques, galleries and cafes

Karuizawa, nestled in wooded hills only an hour’s ride away from Tokyo, has a reputation as a destination for the wealthy, many of whom have summer homes and come to escape the capital’s sweltering heat. So during my trip there a few months ago, I was surprised to find Karuizawa laid back and rather unpretentious. There’s money there, of course, but in the same low-key way that there’s also money in Aspen or the Hamptons.

In any case, there was something about Karuizawa that attracted John Lennon, together

This photograph of John Lennon hangs in the French Bakery, Lennon's favorite cafe

This photograph of John Lennon hangs in the French Bakery, Lennon’s favorite cafe

with Yoko Ono and their son Sean, back year after year. Indeed, they spent the last four summers of John’s life in Karuizawa, ensconced in the historic but modest Mampei Hotel. I like to think he could spend his days like any other visitor, riding his bike to his favorite bakery, joining friends in Mampei’s bar, walking down Karuizawa’s main street unencumbered by adoring fans. Of course, just being a Westerner–and a tall one at that–would have made him hard to miss. But moneyed Japanese would have respected his privacy even if they knew who he was, just as they did with the many politicians, members of the Imperial family and other celebs in town.

One cafe is infamous for having refused to serve John Lennon, with word on the street that it was probably because the musician’s long hair made him look like a hippie. But maybe he got a kick out of that, too, being so anonymous that a waiter wouldn’t serve him. Maybe that’s why Bill Gates has a summer home here, too.

I wrote Karuizawa, Japan: In the Footsteps of John and Yoko, published in www.gonomad.com

Karuizawa, Japan: In the Footsteps of John and Yoko

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Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak Always a Draw

The View from Victoria Peak's Sky Terrace 428 on a really clear day

The View from Victoria Peak’s Sky Terrace 428 on a really clear day

I consider Hong Kong one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Not, necessarily, on street level, where there’s such a jarring juxtaposition between the profound and the mundane, the grand and the gross, it’s hard to take in the whole picture.

Take the Peak Tram to The Peak, however, and you’re met with a sweeping panorama of the harbor, the high rises of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and undulating hills in the distance. There are plenty of restaurants and shops in Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, but my favorite thing to do is take the circular, 2-mile hike around the peak, which offers different views along its shaded path and glimpses of millionaires’ mansions.

Because of the differences in what you see, I recommend going to The Peak twice: during the day and again at night, when the city lights up like few others do. If it’s cloudy or rainy, however, don’t bother. In fact, pollution over the years has become so ubiquitous, if you have a clear day consider yourself very fortunate.

I discovered this article about The Peak, which quotes from my Frommer’s Hong Kong:

Hong Kong Victoria Peak Is A Must See

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A 12th-century Buddhist Utopia in Japan

The Pure Land Garden in Hiraizumi

The Pure Land Garden in Hiraizumi

 

Most of Japan’s history–skirmishes and wars between feudal lords, legends surrounding ancestors of the Imperial Family, even the location of its capitals–played out on the southwestern end of the main island of Honshu, so it’s not surprising that most of its historic sights and World Heritage sites are also found there. But in Tohoku, the northern region of Honshu,Hiraizumi is a town I very much would have wanted to visit if I had been alive in 12th-century Japan. It was created as a Buddhist heaven on earth, a place of sprawling temples, pagodas, sutras, gardens and quarters for hundreds of monks. It lasted only 100 years before being sacked by the man who would go on to become shogun over the land, but Hiraizumi’s influence on Japan was tremendous. This article I wrote for BBC.com/travel, A Pure Land Inspired by Treachery, tells why.

 

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