Category Archives for "U.S.A."

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.

Barnes Foundation – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

One Man’s Priceless Treasure Trove

Few miss Philadelphia’s Museum of Art – with 300,000 artworks it is America’s third largest and consistently ranked as one of the finest – but it’s hard to understand why the word isn’t out about the Barnes Foundation’s collection, which is one of the world’s premier private art collections, with over 6,000 pieces valued in excess of $6 billion filling some 23 galleries.

The Foundation’s center-piece is its collection of French Modern and post-impressionist paintings, with 181 works by Renoir alone, 69 by Cézanne, 60 by Matisse, and 44 by Picasso. You’ll find many other major European artists represented here as well, including van Gogh, Degas, Corot, Seurat, Monet, Manet, Goya, and El Greco.

African art and quirky items such as rustic door hinges and other hardware are arranged cheek by jowl with the masters to emphasize shared form or design. Limited access is the result of local township restrictions which means that the galleries are never crowded (though it also means you should book weeks in advance during busy periods). The gallery’s beautiful 12-acre arboretum is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

The foundation is named for Dr. Albert Barnes, who was born poor and educated in Philadelphia’s public schools, but went on to become a patent-medicine millionaire by the age of forty and a brilliant if idiosyncratic collector by the time of his death in 1951, at age seventy-nine.

Dr. Barnes’s spirit is still palpable in his limestone French-inspired mansion, where his famously quirky collection remains in its original arrangement, as provided in his will.

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Pennsylvania Dutch Country – Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Where the Plain People Live

Amid the blur and traffic of Lancaster County’s tourist gridlock, it’s still possible to get a glimpse of the Plain People (the Pennsylvania Dutch), numbering some 70,000 divided between the strict Old Order Amish, the more liberal Mennonites and Brethren (who are less opposed to making money on the tourism their neighbors attract), and more than a dozen other Anabaptist splinter sects.

The Old Order – numbering some 25,000 here, making it the nation’s second oldest and largest Amish settlement – wear aprons, suspenders, bonnets, and broad-brimmed straw hats, and travel by foot, horse-drawn black buggies, and scooters (but no bikes!). These are modest, religious, and hardworking folk, whose pristine patchwork farms spread across this bucolic corner of “God’s Land,” which looks much as it did when the German and Swiss first arrived in the early 1700s.

The “English” (that means you, and all other outsiders) are encouraged to respect the privacy of these insular but kind people and their simple lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a nice, aimless meander down the area’s backcountry roads, which take you past one-room schoolhouses, neat fields cultivated by mule-driven plows, quaintly named towns like Bird-in-Hand and Paradise, and farmhouses and roadside stalls selling crafts, metalwork and woodwork, and cider and home-baked goods, including shoofly pie.

To keep mind and body in the Pennsylvania Dutch mood, book ahead at the Historic Smithton Inn, welcoming guests since 1763, when it was built as a stagecoach stop. Its eight lovely rooms have canopied beds covered with colorful handmade quilts and fireplaces.

It’s located adjacent to the Ephrata Cloister, an historic site. Composed of more than twenty beautifully restored buildings, it was once home to a Quaker-like monastic sect whose population reached 300 in its 1750 heyday.

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Gettysburg National Military Park and Cemetery – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

A Shrine to the Civil War’s Bloodiest Battle

In the first three days of July 1863, the Union and Confederate armies clashed on these grounds in a battle that has come to be seen as the turning point of the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil, with more than 50,000 men killed, wounded, or captured – almost a third of those who fought on both sides.

Four months after the battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous address at the dedication of the battlefield’s National Cemetery, which held the bodies of 3,555 soldiers.

Today the 6,000-acre grounds are protected as a national park, with more than 1,700 statues, monuments, and cannons marking 40 miles of scenic avenues that wend past the battlefield’s most legendary sites, including Robert E. Lee’s temporary headquarters, Cemetery Hill, and the field on which General George Pickett made his climactic and ill-fated charge against the Union lines, sustaining more than 5,000 casualties in a mere fifty minutes.

Gettysburg Civil War Heritage Days take place during the week surrounding July Fourth, when several skirmishes are reenacted by some 20,000 volunteer participants, many dressed in Confederate gray and Union blue, portraying infantry, cavalry, and fife-and-drum corps.

On a lighter note, the week is filled with many diversions: band concerts, lectures and tours given by prominent Civil War scholars, vendors in costume selling authentic memorabilia, and a re-enactment of a Civil War marriage.

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Willamette Valley – Oregon, U.S.A.

The Way Napa Used to Be

At the end of the historic Oregon Trail, close to 10,000 acres of rolling vineyards unfold in the northern Willamette (“That’s Will-AM-ette, dammit!”) Valley, less than an hour’s drive south of Portland. Much like Napa Valley in its early days, it’s a lush agricultural area and one of two wine-producing regions that have helped make the state the envy of vintners from France to California.

The northern Willamette is home to an estimated 260 (and growing) wineries, both small artisanal operations and more commercial enterprises that rival anything in the Napa Valley. A meander along bumpy roads promises gracious inns, picturesque barns, innovative restaurants, and farm stands around every bend.

North to south on scenic Route 99W through the heart of the valley, you’ll find the small towns of Newberg, home of Rex Hill Vineyards, whose wines and museum both warrant a stop, and Beaverton, home of Ponzi Vineyards, one of the state’s first oenological visionaries, and the Argyle Winery, which produced some of the first Oregon wine served at the White House.

Dayton is worth an overnight stop. If you park your bag at the inviting Wine Country Farm B&B and Cellars, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the estate’s wine-producing hills from the 1910 farmhouse, plus firsthand access to their popular wine-tasting rooms.

You’ll also have the chance to sample the one-of-a-kind menu at the Joel Palmer House, created by the celebrated Jack Czarnecki, a truffle and mushroom hunter and chef whose award-winning restaurant is a regular pilgrimage site for visiting foodies.

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Crater Lake National Park – Oregon, U.S.A.

Nature’s Theater in the Round

The 6-mile-wide caldera in which Crater Lake sits was created more than 7,000 years ago by catastrophic explosions that caused a volcano to collapse on itself and slowly fill with water. Today it’s America’s deepest lake (at 1,932 feet) and is the centerpiece of the only national park in Oregon.

Scenic 33-mile Rim Drive encircles the 21-square-mile lake at an average elevation of 7,000 feet, offering awe-inspiring views for motorists, bicyclists, and hikers. Just as inspiring are the views looking up from boat tours on the lake’s hauntingly mirror-still waters – both at the rim and to the peak of cone-shaped Wizard Island, a volcano in miniature.

For a more thorough exploration of the Cascade Range’s unearthly lava-field landscape, few drives can match the 140-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, which starts at the park and heads south to Klamath Falls, near the California border. Crater Lake Lodge was begun in 1909 but never properly finished due to budget constraints.

Refurbished and re-created in 1995 with historical details and a rustic aesthetic (think massive bark-covered ponderosa pine pillars and walls, reproduction Stickley furniture, and huge fireplaces), it’s now a gem among the national park system’s great lodges. The Great Hall boasts a 60-foot span of picture windows, and though the rooms have no telephones or televisions, about half are endowed with that spectacular view of the cobalt-blue lake to compensate.

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The Lewis and Clark Trail – Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, U.S.A.

Terra Incognita in the American West

In the winter of 1803-1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent two Virginians, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to lead the search for a navigable route through the American West to the Pacific Ocean, estimating that they’d be home within a year.

He underestimated the task by about sixteen months, as Lewis and Clark endured a veritable American odyssey, blazing a 3,700-mile trail through a land previously known only to Indians and trappers.

Many sites along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (which runs from Wood River, Illinois, to the Pacific Coast) have been established by the National Park Service, and from January 2003 till 2006 will take part in Lewis and Clark’s bicentennial, giving “lewisandclarkers” the chance to follow in the footsteps of the great explorers, their thirty-three-man “Corps of Discovery,” and Sacagawea, their Shoshone guide and interpreter, who gave birth to a son (“Pomp”) along the way.

Segments of the trail can be explored by foot, horse, bicycle, car, or boat, and patches remain where the landscape appears virtually unchanged since the explorers’ journey. The notorious Lolo Trail through the Bitterroot Mountains on the border of Idaho-Montana remains almost as tough going today as then, when Lewis and Clark described it as the hardest test of the expedition.

A lot of attention has understandably been focused on the expedition’s final and arguably most scenic leg: Oregon’s 80-mile-long Columbia River Gorge, where thundering waterfalls such as the Multnomah (the second highest in the United States) drop from steep basalt cliffs on both sides of the Columbia River.

The natural beauty of this geological wonder convinced Congress to designate it the nation’s first national scenic area in 1986. At its end awaits the “great waters” of the mighty Pacific. “Ocian in view! O! the joy!” wrote William Clark on November 7, 1805. They soon headed back east to report the details of their most excellent adventure to the president.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival – Ashland, Oregon, U.S.A.

A Panoply of Elizabethan Diversions

The Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival is America’s largest and longest celebration of the Bard, running eight months out of the year in this sunny, picturesque town, where theater lovers stroll around in “Will Power” T-shirts and boast of having crammed six plays into one weekend.

Inaugurated in 1935, the festival’s repertory group has since grown into one of the nation’s largest professional theater companies, with more than seventy actors performing up to 200 roles each season.

In addition to the eleven plays presented annually – four by Shakespeare and seven by various classic and contemporary playwrights, each with a run of four to eight months – there are also backstage tours, lectures and discussions led by actors and scholars, alfresco concerts featuring a mix of period and world music and dance.

Particularly evocative are summer-night performances at the open-air Elizabethan Stage, the most important of the festival’s three official venues, built in 1959.

Few small cities of this size (20,000, minus theatergoers and artists in residence) can boast the number and variety of lauded restaurants and charming accommodations found in Ashland. The aptly named Peerless Hotel (once a railroad-workers’ boarding house, today offering Frette linens and Aveda toiletries) has six lovingly appointed rooms.

These take a backseat to the restaurant next door, whose acclaimed wine cellar guarantees the perfect complement to a menu that showcases the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. It’s the best table in town.

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The Oregon Coast – Oregon, U.S.A.

Nature’s Rugged Artistry

The Beaver State’s boulder-strewn shoreline is 362 miles of perfection, with craggy, ocean-carved sandstone lining some stretches and other areas where forest runs right down to the water’s edge, sheltering peaceful farmland and picturesque towns.

Follow Route 101 for one of the most awe-inspiring drives in America, beginning at Astoria, near the Washington border at the mouth of the Columbia River, where you’ll see massive basalt sea stacks such as 235-foot Haystack Rock (on Cannon Beach). The route runs south toward Brooking Harbor, passing a wide-open, tumultuous seascape full of galloping waves and 600-foot sand dunes – some of the highest in the United States, often draped in fog and rolling mist.

One of the classiest hotels of the coast is the Salishan Lodge and Golf Resort, on Siletz Bay. Big yet environmentally sensitive to its 350-acre private pine and cedar groves, its reputation is built primarily around its championship-caliber golf course and a restaurant that knows its way around the Northwest’s specialty seafood-and-game cuisine. Its acclaimed wine cellar is so prodigious it offers guided tours.

Newport’s quirky Sylvia Beach Hotel (named for the American owner of the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s) is the coastline’s most notable refuge, a gourmet treat perched on a bluff above surf-pounded beach. Its 1912 green-shingled building has twenty guest rooms decorated to evoke the spirit and work of various authors.

Ask for any of the “classic” rooms – Agatha Christie, Colette, Mark Twain – which come with fireplaces, balconies, and views of the pounding Pacific. The hotel’s Tables of Content restaurant is ranked one of the best in the state.

In the extreme south of the state, 30 miles north of the California border, Gold Beach lies at the mouth of the wild Rogue River, one of many that empty into the Pacific, creating a seacoast rich in bays and coves.

Seven miles upstream is the Tu Tu Tun Lodge, a handsomely appointed fisherman’s retreat with an acclaimed restaurant featuring the bounty of the nearby river, ocean, and forests. The Rogue River’s run of Spring Chinook salmon, one of the finest eating fish, is world famous, as is its steelhead trout season (August-October).

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Cattlemen’s Steakhouse – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.A.

Where Beef Reigns

The Cattlemen’s sits smack dab in the middle of the Oklahoma National Stockyards, the largest livestock trading center on earth, full of saddleries and Western-wear clothing stores. This is red meat country, and Cattlemen’s is the consummate Western steakhouse, unpretentious but luxuriously delicious, lauded as paradise for lovers of good red meat (and with just as excellent fish dishes, though most patrons never discover them).

Slowly aged and quickly broiled over hot charcoals, the corn-fed sirloin steak is so tender you can cut it with a butter knife – filet mignon will seem lackluster by comparison, as will the accompanying unremarkable salad and baked potato and bread, which come with a perfunctory pat of margarine.

If you want to go local with the spur-wearing cowboys, dig into a plate of lamb fries – sliced and fried testicles of young lambs, a dish that makes most out-of-towners shudder. Content with your ultimate hedonistic meal, sit back and enjoy the 1910 decor, full of murals, cattle-branding irons, and other Old West paraphernalia.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.

Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland has long been famous as home to the esteemed Cleveland Orchestra, but among the other catalysts in the city’s emergence as a cultural – even trendy – destination was the 1995 opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (a.k.a. the Rock Hall), a bold seven-story glass-and-porcelain I. M. Pei structure located on the shores of Lake Erie.

Inside, hands-on interactive displays, archives, and thought-provoking videos and films pay tribute to the artists, songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, and others who launched the genre in the 1950s and sustain it today. More than 100,000 bits of memorabilia and poignantly personal artifacts belonging to music royalty are on display, including Jim Morrison’s Scouts uniform, Janis Joplin’s 1965 Porsche, and ZZ Top’s Eliminator.

You’ll also see the Everly Brothers’ report cards, and scribbled lyrics by Jimi Hendrix together with his much-tortured Stratocaster guitars. There’s also Buddy Holly’s high school diploma, plus stage costumes worn by Chuck Berry, Iggy Pop, and the Temptations. Special exhibits aim at showcasing a mix of music, history, and sociology.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s most visible annual event, the induction ceremony, continues to be held in the music-industry meccas of New York and Los Angeles. So why Cleveland?

Could be because Alan Freed, a Cleveland radio disc jockey, coined the term “rock ’n’ roll” in 1952, the same year that Cleveland hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, the first rock ’n’ roll concert. This and a boatload of other pop-culture trivia flood the Rock Hall, full of energy, high- and low-tech eye candy, and music, lots of music.

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