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The Warm Heart Of Quebec City

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

QUEBEC CITY — Shop windows are dominated by winter parkas. A cool, bitter wind blows off the St. Lawrence River. The trees are turning quickly now.

On Fabrique Street, I hurry past a fur store with my inadequate raincoat and fleece, wishing I had a hood. Or gloves. Or both. In this brief season, fall, North America’s most European city glows with brisk vitality. It has broad shoulders and French-Canadian sturdiness. City hall is decorated with giant pumpkins. Spindly geraniums are on their last legs in the flower pots. Cruise ships on color tours of Canada dock at the port, and visitors pour into the winding streets of the lower town.

Most Americans have been to Toronto, or maybe Vancouver or even Montreal. But Quebec City is far different than those large metropolises.

Here, everything is about New France, North America’s French ties, both the past and present. And that sensibility is why Quebec City is also regularly named one of the most romantic cities in the world.

This time of year, it gets dark earlier each day. Already at 2:45 in the afternoon, I feel the hint of winter to come, and how Quebec fights the darkness.

I walk uphill toward the windswept river. I cut through a small alley that doubles as a market. There, artists sell touristy images in oil, acrylic and watercolor, all reds and greens and bright blues. There is a gay feeling of warm color and light in this tiny alley. Nearby, St. Louis Street also is full of bright colors — on the shutters, awnings, and in shop window displays — that soften forbidding gray stone and chilly blue skies.

Inside the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Frontenac hotel, the tradition of afternoon tea is another good insulator against the clutches of winter-in-waiting. There, a waiter serves a gleaming silver pot of steaming tea along with precise little appetizers. The room is hushed, it is warm in here. Couples linger. Nothing is rushed. It feels like a warm blanket, sitting in this room with its wide windows.

One thing about Quebec City. Yes, the language is all French. But this place feels curiously familiar to Americans. Many places in the United States, including Detroit, were once part of Quebec and New France, right up until the French lost their vast holdings to the British in 1763.

Even today, freighters you see on the St. Lawrence River likely have come from the Great Lakes, connected by a ribbon of water. Many names in Michigan (including Detroit, “the straits”) still resonate of French Canada. Quebec City still lives amid history. Madame Cadillac herself could walk down the street and feel at home.

A heavy defensive stone wall still marches around the old town, black canons lining the ramparts. (Actually, at this moment they appear to be trained directly on the white Caribbean Princess cruise ship docked below, so watch out, cruise passengers.)

Even the stone house that belonged to 16th century explorer Louis Joliet is pragmatically used as the ticket booth for the funicular hillside tram that connects the upper town to the lower town.

Last winter saw record-breaking cold in Quebec City, with an average daytime high of 17.8 degrees Fahrenheit in February. Still, people came to the Christmas markets and Winter Carnival.

This year, the Christmas markets will run from late November through early January.

The big Quebec New Year’s Eve festival will feature outdoor shows, lights and a Ferris wheel (Dec. 31).

Winter Carnival, Quebec’s most famous event, runs Jan. 29-Feb. 14.

Other romantic things to do? Rent a car and drive just north of town to Montmorency Falls, a huge waterfall taller than Niagara. Keep going on to Sainte Anne cathedral in the town of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, North America’s biggest Catholic shrine. You also can travel 2½ hours south from Quebec City to visit its big sister, Montreal.

But in my opinion, couples seeking a getaway should just come here, stay put, wander the streets, eat lots of terribly rich food, and find a cozy place to stay.

Bring a winter coat, yes. But I am also sure you will think of other ways to keep warm.

IF YOU GO

Stay: Major hotel brands such as Hilton and Marriott are near the old town, or try a more unique stay in a local hotel or interesting inn, such as the new Le Monastere des Augustines. For a list of accommodations see www.quebecregion.com or call 877-783-1608.

Do: Most tourists focus on the old section of the city (which has an upper and lower town), plus visit the Montmorency Falls. Most just walk around, shop, eat and visit museums. Quebec City also has a more modern section of high-rises and the provincial capitol building.

Shopping: Excellent, especially for clothing, art and fur. Beware, however, that certain fur products sold in Quebec are illegal to import to the U.S., such as sealskin jackets or certain pelts.

Exchange rate: Fantastic. Americans essentially get a 25 percent discount; it costs about 75 cents to buy $1 Canadian. Withdraw money from ATMs when you arrive for best exchange rate.

For more: www.quebecregion.com

©2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: In the Upper Town of Quebec City, fall visitors enjoy the brisk days. (Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

A Market In Boston For Every Taste And Price Point

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

BOSTON — It’s hard to pack an organic egg in your suitcase.

Still, tourists can find souvenirs galore at Boston’s newest tourist attraction, the Boston Public Market. You may even find lunch.

“Bring a knife, and you can get some smoked sausage, some bread and cheese, and you’ve got lunch to go,” says Becky Stillman of Stillman Quality Meats, standing next to her family’s bierwurst case.

Opened on July 30, the year-round indoor public market features products and produce from across New England. The wide, bright space near Boston’s North End is next to the Rose Kennedy Greenway park. It also is near Boston’s tourism heart, Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall.

Inside, the aisles are still being populated with permanent vendors. Each is more artist than farmer. One sells Rhode Island-made capocollo cured meats. Another features dairy products from the Massachusetts Cheese Guild. You can buy fresh fruit vinegar. Handcrafted chocolate. Perfect sunflowers. Piles of heirloom tomatoes show nary a blemish.

I visited the public market twice on a Saturday, once in early morning with few visitors and once in the late afternoon when it was packed.

Although geared to fresh food, there are plenty of options for souvenir-hunting tourists. You can buy raw honey from a Massachusetts beekeeper. You’ll find fieldstone trivets, where all the fieldstone comes from old stone farm walls in New England. You can purchase bowls made from wood salvaged from fallen trees in the region.

The Public Market also has a new demonstration kitchen and a seasonal outdoor market on Sundays and Wednesdays.

The market is fun. It is sure to have an effect. I’m just not sure on whom.

Why? Cost. That artisanal handmade sausage is $17 a pound; beeswax candles are $12, and a type of cheese called Pinnacle is $25.99 a pound. Come to this area on a Saturday, and it seems that most of the actual grocery-shopping public is directly next door at the chaotic, lowbrow, outdoor Haymarket farmers market where you can buy five lemons for $1.

Of course, walk two blocks farther, and you are at the biggest traditional market of all: Quincy Market at Faneuil Marketplace, the city’s most visited tourist attraction.

Quincy Market was saved from the wrecker’s ball in 1976. Today, it is a food colonnade surrounded by a web of buildings, push-carts and shops, where you can buy everything from Sunglass Hut shades to shadow lanterns. Inside the hot, aromatic building, shoulder-to-shoulder tourists quaff chowder and shawarma, curry and cheese steaks. The building still has great bones, especially the center court with an oval balcony and sweeping staircase. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is about to embark on a needed renovation – and longtime tenants are afraid they’ll be up-scaled right out of their space.

Across the street from Quincy Market, climb a few steps and you are inside the Great Hall of Faneuil Hall. The old building known for its role in hatching the American Revolution is a National Historic Landmark. And it is hushed and cool in comparison to the chaos outside.

Tourists sit quietly, observing the expansive and serene colonial architecture.

One can imagine firebrand patriot Samuel Adams arguing here, and he certainly did, back in the day. One can also imagine the Son of Liberty taking a break, wandering outside through the clanging streets and markets of Boston of today.

I picture Adams wandering past Quincy Market’s push carts and chain stores and into the new Boston Public Market, sniffing and analyzing. I see him walking past the kiosks and pausing to hear the vendors’ stories. Products from New England! Hardworking small farmers! Heirloom tomatoes! Trivets from fieldstone and bowls from fallen trees!

That’s how you build a country, Sam Adams would say. Hard work. American ingenuity. Shopping locally. One organic egg at a time.

Then, he’d give it his stamp of approval.
___

IF YOU GO

Boston Public Market is at 100 Hanover Street, next to the Haymarket T stop on the Green Line. It is a couple blocks from Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. It is open Wednesday-Sunday year-round, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Free.

Lodging: Ouch. Plan to spend about $250 a night even for a mid-range hotel. If you want to focus your stay on the North End near the Boston Public Market, think about staying in Cambridge near the Green Line.

Nearby attractions:
_ Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace: 200,000 square feet, 70 shops, food colonnade.
_ Rose Kennedy Greenway: Created after the Big Dig buried the unsightly freeway underground. Now mature plantings and fountains make it a pleasant walkway.

(c)2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Down The Cape And To The Islands

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

BARNSTABLE, Mass. — Rotaries. Lobstah rolls. Beaches. Widows’ walks.

Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are the popular kids of summer vacation.

The Obamas just stayed two weeks on trendy Martha’s Vineyard. This summer’s best-selling beach book, “Rumors,” is set in tony Nantucket. Cape Cod is so coveted that vacationers spend hours inching along in miles of traffic just to get there.

Filled with New Englanders and New Yorkers, the Cape and islands can make a regular person from, say, Michigan, feel like an outsider (“Why does WBZ radio keep telling the weather for the Cayman Islands?” I ask, prompting my husband, normally a nice guy but who, after all, is from Massachusetts, to laugh hysterically at my Midwest dimwit ears that can’t hear “Cape and islands,” which is what this area is collectively called).

There is, however, one thing that makes it worthwhile to join the teeming throngs spreading to Falmouth and Edgartown and Oak Bluffs and Chatham and Nantucket and Hyannis. Beauty. Sheer beauty.

That, and the feeling that you stepped into a novel, where everything is more vivid than in your plain old dull life back home.

Where’s the ferry?

The first problem people who are not from the East have is figuring out where the heck these places are. Is the Cape an island? How far is Martha’s Vineyard, and is that a city or what? Where does Nantucket fit into the picture?

So a basic geography lesson. All of them are in Massachusetts. The Cape is part of the mainland, south of Boston and Plymouth. It is an hourlong fast ferry trip from Cape Cod to the islands of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.

The Cape is 339 square miles, and the Vineyard is 87, and Nantucket is 105. All of them have cars and traffic jams. In winter, lots of people still live on the Cape, but the islands empty of vacationers.

Wealth-wise, Nantucket is the most exclusive, followed by the Vineyard, then the Cape. History-wise, all of these places are significant: settled by native people for a thousand years and by Westerners since the 1600s.

Everyone on the Cape and islands thinks they are special. Maybe they are.

The real star, however, is the climate. Temperate and mild in summer and winter, it always smells good here, with a bracing salt tang and the scent of scrub pines. The light is gentle, with vivid riots of daisies and effervescent blue hydrangeas. The houses are a soothing gray. Down Cape, on the far eastern edge, the Atlantic sweeps in hard on the shore, but the rest of the beaches are delightful and somewhat protected.

Where can a beginner start? I’d recommend visiting Cape Cod in the fall _ September and October _ and taking day trips to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Cape Cod: More than other destinations, you will feel the whispers and ghostly presence of generations of vacationers who have been here before you. It is big, so don’t try to see it all. First-timers should try to get out to see the Cape Cod National Seashore, a windswept and rather forbidding swath of natural beauty. For fun, shop in downtown Falmouth, wander the art shacks by the harbor in Hyannis, eat cantaloupe ice cream at the famous Four Seas in Centerville; take a whale watch tour. The Kennedy legacy is big on the Cape; the Kennedy Museum in Hyannis is moderately interesting. You will find excellent beaches all along the southern Cape and warm water through September. Fall is a great festival time, with the Scallop Festival in September and the Wellfleet Oysterfest in October. By the time you leave, you’ll be feeling like a local as you head “off Cape” and “over the bridge” back to the real world.
  • Nantucket: A carefully managed island so pleasing to stroll that it looks like a movie set. Thick cobblestone streets, soothing gray cedar shake homes, old mansions of brick, pale yellow and white. The stores are something to marvel at: cashmere shops, a store with giant spherical clocks, a store with $2,000 handmade Nantucket baskets and a dandy department store called Murray’s Toggery Shop. Do not miss the wonderful whaling museum here, which illuminates the island’s past. Nantucket Restaurant Week is in late September and the Nantucket Arts Festival is in October. Best deal on the island? Shuttle buses that charge only $1 for a ride to the beach or elsewhere. A nickname for Nantucket is the “Gray Lady,” but don’t call it that in casual conversation or people will look at you funny.
  • Martha’s Vineyard: A joyful island full of lively restaurants and nightlife, celebrities, conspicuous consumption and “Jaws” tourism. Known by locals as “the Vineyard,” it features notable architecture such as a string of “gingerbread” cottages in Oak Bluffs and the classic white town hall in Edgartown. Interesting beaches include the Oak Bluffs Town Beach (Inkwell) and State Beach, where part of “Jaws” was filmed. This island also has great African-American heritage sites. The Food and Wine Festival is in October. You will fit in even more if you shop at the super-preppy Vineyard Vines clothing store and wear that getup around the island.

LOBSTER ADVICE
Every restaurant on the Cape and islands has its claws into lobster rolls. With lobster in season, lobster rolls (either plain, or more authentically, mixed with mayonnaise or other secret ingredients) are on every menu. While they may be plentiful, they are not cheap. A lobster roll meal with fries and coleslaw at the classic waterfront restaurant Baxter’s in Hyannis is $23, while their chicken salad roll is $8.99.
Still. The best lobster rolls, with buns, a bit of lettuce and the lobster piled high in the fold, is a delight for those who live far from the lobster’s realm. Ranging from about $18 to $25, the sandwich sings of summer. It feels light. And it’s tasty.
One other note? Massachusetts folks are extremely particular about clam chowder. While tourists might like big chunky potatoes in their chowder, locals prefer a more authentic, quite thin, almost gritty, white soup with plenty of clams.
It may sound like a lot of regulations and rules, I know. How thin the soup. What texture the lobster. What flowers to grow. What ferries to take. What nicknames are allowed. But the Cape and the islands promise you, it’s worth it.

IF YOU GO
Getting there: Getting to Cape Cod, frankly, can be exhausting. It is 60 miles south of Boston Logan airport, but travel time can be hours if you try to cross over on a Friday afternoon or weekend, when bridge traffic backs up for miles. Once on the Cape, ferries take you to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. There also is air service from Boston, New York City and other cities to Cape Cod and both islands.
Lodging: Try for a house rental through Airbnb or VRBO; also check out hotels and bed and breakfasts. Rentals are not cheap, especially on Nantucket. But there is a place for you. For more good lodging links and information see www.nantucketchamber.org; www.capecodchamber.org; www.mvy.com.

(c)2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Lobster roll at Baxter’s, a Hyannis institution on Cape Cod. (Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Mighty Zion National Park Envelops Visitors In Natural Wonder

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah– This is a spiritual place. A glorious place. A place of serene ocher mountains and leaning narrow canyons.

“People are coming not only to tour the park but to nourish themselves,” says Harriet Killshorse, owner of a local antiques shop, who has lived amid the enviable scenery for 25 years. “You can’t help but feel the mountain spirits.”

As Zion National Park’s popularity rises, those spirits may be feeling a bit crushed and crowded these days. But Zion is coping.

“We are having severe issues with parking,” says park ranger Jamie Mansfield. “We have to figure out how not to love the place too much.”

When America’s naturalists and lawmakers began designating national parks, the idea was to preserve beautiful places for future generations.

In 1903, artist Frederick Dellenbaugh’s painting of Zion’s ravishing loveliness was displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair, prompting people back east to marvel and officials to name it a national monument in 1909, and in 1919, a congressional bill designating Zion National Park was signed into law.

With its towering sandstone cliffs and slot canyons shaped over the millenia by the winding Virgin River, Zion is one of the nation’s busiest national parks. This year, an 18 percent jump in visitors through May puts it on pace for 3.6 million visitors in 2015–1 million more than in 2006. The visitor center parking lot is full by 10 a.m. A system of park and town shuttles is efficient but can get overwhelmed.

One thing protecting Zion’s treasures? The far-sighted decision in 1997 to ban cars in Zion Canyon from March 15 to Oct. 25. You either have to take a shuttle or hike.

Yet, solitary contemplation of nature’s beauty can still be had at Zion, which sprawls over 229 acres. You just have to look harder to find it.

One morning on the Emerald Pools Trail, waterfalls spill from above as visitors stroll below, gripping an iron railing fastened to rock. Because Zion is in oft-parched southwest Utah, visitors expect arid conditions.

But the microclimate of Zion and its meandering Virgin River creates lush, green areas flush with ferns, columbines and cottonwood trees.

I meet Sherry Schmidt, her husband and twin 11-year-old daughters. The family is trying to see highlights of Zion in just two days as part of a sightseeing circuit. They’ve just left arid Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and are enjoying the green of Zion.

“The parks are all very different,” Schmidt says, pausing at a lookout that encompasses Zion Canyon from a bird’s-eye view. “But you can see how they are all connected.”

Zion’s most famous sights include Emerald Pools and the Narrows, a water-filled slot canyon that, at points, is only 20 feet wide. Zion’s most famous hike is Angel’s Landing, a not-for-the-faint-of-heart trek with precarious drop-offs.

The park’s most famous vista may be the Court of the Patriarchs, three peaks that reminded early visitors of three biblical figures: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But Zion also is special because of its American Indian roots, from ancient Pueblo settlers to the Paiute, says Killshorse. Her husband is Kiowa Native American. Their Springdale antiques and Indian trading post, about a mile from the park gates, is called Frontier Plunder.

No matter how many people pile into the park, it will remain steady, she predicts. Zion’s ancient mountains have patiently endured generations of eager tourists, skilled climbers, foolish hikers, disrespectful louts and solace-seekers.

Zion “amplifies spirits, both good and bad. We often do ceremonies to protect the visitors, that they not harm Mother Nature or themselves,” she says.

“For us, this is a metaphysical place.”
___
IF YOU GO

Getting there: Zion National Park is a 3-hour drive and 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas. It is 300 miles south of Salt Lake City. The park has two entrances, the main Zion Canyon entrance in Springdale, and the Kolub Canyon entrance 45 miles north.

Lodging: The Zion Park Lodge within the park has some limited availability for summer, about $209 per night (www.zionlodge.com). Just outside park gates, Springdale has many clean, decent hotels (for a list, see www.zionpark.com) including Hampton Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express (both about $200 per night in season.)

Zion Park entry fee: As of July 1, vehicle entry is $30; pedestrians are $15. Entry ticket is good for 7 days.

Activities: Zion has horseback riding, climbing, cycling, camping, hiking, ranger programs and canyoneering.
For more:www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit
___
THE GRAND CIRCLE

Zion National Park is part of the so-called “Grand Circle” of parks in the southwest U.S.

Notable attractions on the Grand Circle include Monument Valley; Mesa Verde National Park; Lake Powell-Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Canyon de Chelly National Park; Valley of the Gods; Natural Bridges National Monument.

For a free visitors guide see www.grandcircle.org.
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Photo by Diana Robinson via Flickr

Travel Smart: Berlin Borrows From Detroit To Lure Tourists To Vibrant City

By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

As a tourist destination, is Detroit like Berlin?

Germans think so.

They see both cities as having the same gritty, urban, post-industrial heritage, fueled by the pulsing beat of techno music. In Detroit, Berliners feel a kindred sensibility of old troubles, lingering decay, layered with current energy and optimism.

And they’re full of ideas for Detroit to attract visitors and new residents. Among them?

“Cancel the 2 a.m. curfew, and many people would come,” says Lutz Leichsenring, of Clubcommission Berlin, a city that pulsates with 334 music venues, including round-the-clock clubbing and all-night parties.

Techno was invented in Detroit. Now Berlin is not only Germany’s capital but a global electronic music hotspot, which helped to change the image of Berlin to a young city.

The Berlin folks–visitBerlin tourism officials and artistic creative development brains–were in Detroit this month, and they met by invitation with counterparts in the arts community here and public officials.

“They told us, ‘You have a very romanticized view of Detroit,’ ” admits Mario Husten, chairman of Berlin’s Holzmarkt Cooperative, who focuses on urban creativity issues. “I don’t think so.”

The reason? Detroit may not be appreciated by everyone, but it has one thing that soulless, bland cities don’t have: a unique, authentic, creative culture. That quality is more important than money, he says: “Economy follows culture, not vice versa. You can’t buy culture.”

For me, the Berliners’ enthusiastic embrace of all things Detroit was a breath of fresh air. But it also says a lot about Berlin, too. The powerful city that rose and fell with the Third Reich in World War II was ruthlessly chopped in half by Russia and the Allies after the war. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, it revealed deep emotional tears in the reunified city and miles of dilapidated city buildings.

“Berlin was a severely wounded city,” says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, adding that music, clubs and creative culture were the first positive healing forces there. “Crucial was the courage of the people to take their fate into their own hands.”

It’s been an exhilarating uphill climb for the city of 3.5 million since then.

Did they give in to despair, an emotion many metro Detroiters have felt in our darkest days?

“No, never,” says Husten. But tourism officials showed photos of the barren, gray city center of the past and the lively, colorful thriving city of Berlin now.

The city also did other things they think Detroit could copy.

They invited as many discount airlines to fly into Berlin’s airport as possible.

They have a vital, well-operated public transit system. (Sadly, no Detroit M-1 rail is going to be matching that anytime soon.)

They attracted artists and creative types with very low-rent studio space and embraced spontaneous types of projects and artwork and people. Detroit is all that.

The Detroit journalists at the meeting were both flattered and perplexed when the Berliners said there even is a small theater in Berlin that shows only Detroit-themed movies.
I never heard of it, but, hey, I’m all for it.

Of course, any tourist who has visited Berlin knows it could never be mistaken for Detroit. It has 6,000 new hotel beds just this year. It has 180 museums. It has 400 galleries. It is the nation’s capital. Berlin is now the third most visited European city behind London and Paris.

Still, the Berliners have an affection for Detroit. They want to help. They believe in the power of art and creative ideas to heal ragged wounds of the past. And that is kind of inspirational.

___
(c)2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Bryan Debus via Flickr