Butchart Gardens on a Rainy Day

This Used To Be a Quarry

Everyone knows that gardens always look their best under bright sunlight. There is, however, one garden that looks great even on a rainy day. I am referring to Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, British Columbia. There is something about the plants there that shine in all weathers. When in Los Angeles, I love to hang out at Descanso Gardens, Huntington Gardens, the Los Angeles Arboretum, and the South Coast Botanical Gardens—but none of them hold a candle to Butchart Gardens.

The only garden in North America that I could conceive of as competing with Butchart is in Nova Scotia at Annapolis Royal: The Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens. Perhaps it has something to do with both gardens being more in the temperate climatic zone. In Los Angeles, at certain times of the year, even the most beautiful plants can look a little dusty and bedraggled.

Sign at the Garden Entrance

I have visited both gardens twice, and I love both of them. But then, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that there are other great botanical gardens of whose existence I am not aware. As much as I have traveled, I have seen only little bits here and there. Martine and I went to Annapolis Royal to see the citadel, not even knowing of the garden’s existence. The citadel is nice, but the gardens are spectacular.

 

Favorite Cities: Québec

View of Quebec Skyline from La Citadelle

One of my favorite cities in North America is French-speaking Québec. Martine and I have visited it twice, once staying in the city itself and once at Lévis, a short ferry ride across the St. Lawrence. It is a wonderfully walkable place, with spectacular views, fascinating little museums such as the old Ursulines’ Convent, and delicious French Canadian food. It is surrounded by 17th century ramparts which can be walked in several hours.

Many of the buildings along the St. Lawrence waterfront are built to resemble 17th century buildings, though they were built much later. There is even a funicular to take one from the waterfront up to the level of the city.

My Favorite Restaurant in Canada

To enjoy Québec to the fullest, it helps to be able to speak some French. Like the Parisians, the Québecoises appreciate it when visitors try to meet them at least halfway. Even when they speak perfect English, some of the residents will pretend not to, especially if they have reason to think that tourists are being ugly Americans.

One of my favorite restaurants in Canada is Aux Anciens Canadiens in the Old Town. Check out the menu, which comes in French and English. And enjoy your caribou and Canadian maple syrup tartine with cream. If you don’t mind having dinner late in the afternoon, lunch prices prevail until 5 pm.

In the weeks to come, I will name some of my other favorite cities around the world.

“We Are Of This Place”

Courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

One of the very best places to visit in Albuquerque is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, just a mile or so north of Old Town. I have seen various Indian tribal centers before, but not one in which the overwhelming theme is not what separates them, but what unites them. It was founded and is run by the nineteen Pueblos of New Mexico, not all of which even speak the same language. In fact there are five separate languages among the Pueblos: Tiwa, Tewa, Keres, Towa, and Zuñi.

But then, this unity is what makes the nineteen Pueblos strong—ever since they joined to throw the Spanish out of New Mexico in 1680. Sure, they were reconquered twelve years later, but they continued to act as a tribal family. And when the United States took over the territory during the Mexican War of 1846-1848, they settled down and managed to avoid the suffering felt by the more nomadic Navajo and Apaches. There were no Pueblo leaders who were forced to live in swamps of Florida: They pretty much remained in place for the next three hundred years or so.

Fortunately, the Americans were not quite so insistent about converting the Pueblos. As Dr. Joe S. Sando of Jemez Plueblo wrote:

The Spanish pressured the Pueblo People to limit our ceremonial dances and participation in religious activities. Instead we were forced to attend the Spanish house of worship. How could we relinquish a religion which was not a weekly exercise? Our belief system was interwoven into every part of our daily lives. It was this religion that helped to maintain our peaceful attitudes and balance in our daily lives.

Even so, the 19th century Americans had Pueblo and other Native children to be sent to distant boarding schools back East, where an attempt was made to, in effect, de-racinate them.

The overall impact of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a positive one. There are even dances at certain times, and there is an excellent restaurant called the Pueblo Harvest Café which is one of the best places to eat in the whole city.

 

Killing Batteries

Leif Pettersen, Travel Writer Extraordinaire

Travel writers tend to be a bloodless crew these days, which is why I find Lonely Planet writer Leif Pettersen such a delight. He is a specialist in travel to Romania and Moldova (you’ve always wanted to go there, haven’t you?). He is the author of a blog called Killing Batteries, which sends you to some of the more interesting pieces he’s written. My favorite posting is entitled “The 10 Best Lonely Planet Articles of All Time (That I Wrote),” which is a good place to start. It will tell you why Florence is not always the best place to go in Italy, delicious local foods that look ugly, rain and other travel buzz-kills, how to travel with friends (and not want to kill them), stuff you should never take on a trip (includes: children and pets), and best places to stage a cathartic breakdown.

One could read travel articles for information, but if Leif is the author, you will also enjoy them, because the man has a great sense of humor.

Pettersen has recently come out with a book entitled Backpacking with Dracula. Remember, he is an expert on travel in Romania. And he thinks one of the safest places in the world to have a cathartic breakdown is Bulgaria. So you can feel comfortable with Pettersen behind the Slivovitz Curtain.

Leaving the Heat Far Behind

One of the Seagoing Ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway

We’re barely into July, and I’ve already had it with this summer! It started with triple-digit daily temperatures in New Mexico and continued with a Mexican Monsoon heat wave in Southern California. I am looking to take a vacation along Alaska’s Inside Passage using a combination of a flight and a series of short trips on the Alaska Marine Highway. I would not consider taking a regular cruise line for the following reasons:

  • I don’t want to eat myself into an early grave.
  • I don’t want to be sociable with other passengers: I would rather grimace at them than play in their reindeer games.
  • I don’t want to pay a ridiculous single-traveler penalty—because I would be going alone, me and my Kindle loaded with 1,500 books.

The places I would like to visit include Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier, Skagway, and nearby parts of the Yukon. Ideally, I would go after the first frost has killed off most of the mosquito population. I understand there is a narrow gauge railroad that connects Skagway with Carcross in the Yukon, and I would not be averse to visiting Whitehorse.

My question is: Can I manage to afford two vacations in one year? Perhaps, if I’m lucky. But I have a strong desire to leave summer far, far behind me.

 

 

Flateyri Will Get You Nowhere

The Town of Flateyri in Iceland’s Westfjords

One of the most picturesque parts of Iceland is its northwest, usually called the Westfjords. Here the mountains come close to the coast, and distances between towns are magnified by roads that laboriously travel around the shores of the long fjords that characterize the region. One town I went through in 2013 was Flateyri on the shores of Önundarfjördur, scene of a disastrous avalanche in October 1995. The town had a small population to begin with; and, after twenty people died in the avalanche, many of the survivors pulled up stakes and moved to other parts of Iceland which were not as susceptible to avalanches.

There is still an active fish processing industry in Flateyri, so guest workers from Poland and the Philippines were invited to take up the slack. This caused some problems, as the town fractured on cultural fault lines, with the native Icelanders not mixing well with the Poles and Filipinos, and the latter not making much of an effort to mix with the natives. You can read about this in a 2006 article from the Reykjavík Grapevine. I imagine that, over the last eleven years, the situation as changed for the better. For one thing, there is now a tunnel connecting Önundarfjördur with Isafjördur, the largest town in the Westfjords, taking hours off the trip by highway. I took this tunnel, called the Bolungarvíkurgöng, and it is quite an achievement—17,717 feet in length,

To protect against future avalanches, the Icelanders built a retaining wall (visible in the above photo, shaped like an upside-down “v”). The local restaurant, Vagninn, has re-opened; and a cultural center has been built.

Small towns in Iceland have had a difficult time surviving, especially when there are no large local projects such as aluminum smelters to act as an employment draw. Meanwhile Reykjavík continues to grow at the expense of rural Iceland. One possibility is that global warming will benefit rural Iceland, with more cash crops being grown outside of greenhouses.

John Wayne Never Fought Them

Old Photo of Jemez Pueblo Architecture

The Indians we know most about are the ones that appeared in the old Westerns: The Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux. There are some twenty Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that, insofar as I know, never appeared in any. John Wayne never fought them, nor did Randolph Scott or Jimmy Stewart or Audie Murphy. I am referring to the Pueblo Indians, most of which are located around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We know that the Navajo, Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux have been warlike. But did you know that the only successful Indian revolt against Western colonization was fought by an alliance of Pueblos in 1680. It was not until twelve years later that the Spanish reconquered the territory, but even then with difficulty. Many of the most warlike Pueblos simply united with the Hopis and Navajos.

I have just finished reading The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). The key word in the title is “secret.” To this day, the Pueblos do not choose to discuss the conflict—even one that occurred over four centuries ago. Consequently, most people do not know about it.

Pueblo Revolt Scene Painted on a Hide

Why the secrecy? I think it is a cultural trait. Years ago, Martine and I spent the night on the Zuñi Reservation at a time when most of the town and surrounding areas were off limits to non-Zuñis because some tourist had misbehaved at a ceremonial in the distant past. One cannot just waltz into a Puebloan reservation and have the run of the place. You will be referred to the tribal authorities, who most likely will ignore your request as a matter of course. It’s not that they are unfriendly: For them survival involves buttoning their lips, even if it involves a 450-year-old secret that just happens to be none of your beeswax.