Thursday, September 27, 2012

ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN

NAGORNO-KARABAKH REGION
Mardakert
Sights & Sites
Gandzasar Monastery – Vank; www.gandzasar.com; Gandzasar means “treasure” hilltop or mountain in Armenian; monastery holds relics believed to belong to St. John “Baptist” and St. Zechariah (his father); catholicoi residence for Aghvank Catholicosate (Armenian Apostolic Church) from about 1400-1816; 1st mentioned in 10th Century; construction began in 1216, under Armenian Khachen Prince Hasan-Jalal Dawla’s patronage; completed 1238; dome’s drum has exquisite bas-reliefs depict Crucifixion, Adam and Eve, and 2 ministers holding church model above their heads (as offering to God); among Armenian architecture’s masterpieces.

Shoushi
Sights & Sites
Ghazanchetsots Cathedral – Ghazanchetsots Street; www.gandzasar.com/photo-gallery-diocese-of-artsakh.htm; built between 1868-1887; white limestone facade, architect Simon Ter-Hakobyan intending it resemble Etchmiadzin Cathedral; in front of west entrance, freestanding 3-story bell tower, constructed in 1858; in 1998 re-consecrated as church, and now serves as Armenian Apostolic Church’s Diocese of Artsakh’s headquarters and main cathedral.

Sos (includes Martuni)
Sights & Sites
Amaras Monastery – Martuni; www.amaras.org; among world’s oldest Christian sites; St. Gregory “Illuminator” left Armenia for Aghvank to found Amaras Monastery at 4th Century’s start; monastery plundered in 14th Century by Mongols (1387, during Tamerlane’s invasion) and demolished again in 16th Century; in 19th Century, monastery served as Russian imperial troops’ frontier fortress; Armenian Apostolic Church reclaimed monastery in 1848 and still survives as 3-nave basilica constructed from bright white stone.

YEREVAN (includes Artashat, Echmiadzin, Karahunj, Kotayk & Sisian)
Bakeries, Coffee, Ice Cream, Juice & Tea
Club – 40 Tumanyan Street; 011-374-10-531-361; www.theclub.am; tea room, when not too smoky, great place to sit on bean bag and chat.
Hotels
Golden Tulip Hotel Yerevan – 14 Abovian; 011-374-10-591-600; www.goldentulipyerevan.com.
Hotel Latar – 58 5th Street (Silikyan District); 011-374-10-380-711; www.latar.am.
Tufenkian Avan Villa Yerevan – 16 13th Street; 011-374-10-655-877; www.tufenkianheritage.com.
Restaurants
Club – 40 Tumanyan Street; 011-374-10-531-361; www.theclub.am; Western Armenian dishes, including manti, su borek, and midia dolma; underground space very hip; thin crust pizzas are very filling.
Dolmama – 10 Pushkin Street; 011-374-810-561-354; www.dolmama.am; fusion Armenian-World cuisine; outdoor seating is experience of old courtyards that filled central Yerevan in past.
Rossini – 14 Abovian (at Golden Tulip Hotel Yerevan); 011-374-10-591-608; yerevanresto.am/en/leisures/Rossini; Armenian-European.
Shopping
Dalan Gallery – 12 Abovyan Street (Abovyan); 011-374-553-307; www.dalangallery.com; contemporary art.
Sights & Sites
Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art – 1/3 Pavstos Biuzand Boulevard; 011-374-10-568-225; www.accea.info; founded in 1992 by Sonia Balassanian (New York-based artist and poet) just after Soviet Union’s collapse and Newly Independent State (NIS) of Republic of Armenia’s creation; organization co-founded by Edward Balassanian, architect and urban planner; mission is Armenian contemporary art’s discovery, introduction, and promotion.
Echmiadzin Cathedral & Museum – Komitas Square (Echmiadzin); 011-374-10-517-110; www.armenica.org/cgi-bin/armenica.cgi?=2=ba=1====baz0001; founded in 303 by St. Gregory Illuminator (Lousavoritch); built on pre-Christian temple foundations in Vagharshapat (former name).
Geghard Monastery – Geghard Monastery Road (Kotayk, near Goght); contains numerous churches and tombs, most cut into rock, set into landscape of great natural beauty, surrounded by towering cliffs at Azat Valley entrance.
Khor Virap Monastery – near Artashat; www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Khor_Virap_Monastery; notable pilgrimage site; chapel initially built in 642 at this site; over centuries, repeatedly rebuilt; Armenia’s most visited pilgrimage site.
Modern Art Museum – 7 Mesrop Mashtots Poghota; 011-374-10-535-359; www.facebook.com/pages/Yerevan-Modern-Art-Museum/363107129500; works from 1970s on.
Museum of Sergei Parajanov – Dzoragiugh Ethnographic Center, Boulevards 15 & 16; 011-374-10-538-473; parajanovmuseum.am; museum dedicated to memory Georgian-born, Armenian film director and artist; nearly all his film projects and plans from 1965-1973 banned, closed, and/or scrapped by Soviet film administration, both local (in Kiev and Yerevan) and federal (infamous Goskino), almost without discussion until finally arrested in late 1973 on briber, homosexuality, and rape charges; imprisoned until 1977; even after his release (arrested for 3rd and last time in 1982), persona non grata in Soviet cinema; in mid-1980s, when political climate started to relax, resumed directing.
State Theater of Young Spectator – 3 Moskovian Street; 011-374-10-563-040.
Zorats Karer – Bagratuniats Street (Karahunj, Syunik District, near Sisian); www.findarmenia.com/eng/sights/zorats-karer; among world’s most ancient megalithic construction.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NORTH DAKOTA

BILLINGS COUNTY
Medora
Sights & Sites
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – 315 2nd Avenue (headquarters); 701-623-4730; nps.gov/thro; (1) South Unit entrance is in Medora, accessible via Interstate 94 Exits 24-27 in North Dakota, (2) Painted Canyon Visitor Center is 7 miles east of Medora on I-94 at Exit 32, North Unit is along US Highway 85, approximately 14 miles south of Watford City & 50 miles north of Belfield (I-94 travelers can access US Highway 85 at Exit 42 in Belfield), & (4) Elkhorn Ranch Unit is 35 miles north of Medora (access is via gravel roads, Elkhorn Ranch Guide & Map available online); 701-623-4730; nps.gov/thro; 3 geographically separated badland areas (North Unit, South Unit & Elkhorn Ranch Unit) in western North Dakota; covers 110 square miles; Little Missouri River flows through all 3 units; among most popular attractions is wildlife viewing, including bison, feral horses, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and mule deer, prairie dogs, and at least 186 species of birds including golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys.



CASS COUNTY
Fargo
Sights & Sites
Fargo Theatre – 314 Broadway; 701-239-8385; fargotheatre.org; restored, Art Deco masterpiece that still shows movies.



SIOUX COUNTY
Fort Yates
Sights & Sites
Burial Site of Sitting Bull – Sitting Bull Avenue; ndtourism.com/fort-yates/attractions/sitting-bull-burial-site-fort-yates; site marks original burial ground of Hunkpapa Sioux leader Sitting bull, killed 15 December 1890; remains moved in 1950s to Mobridge, South Dakota.



WARD COUNTY
MINOT
Sights & Sites
Scandinavian Heritage Center – 1020 South Broadway Street; 701-852-9161; scandinavianheritage.org; make sure to see Gol Stave Church Museum, full-size Gol Stave Church replica (original built in 1250 and moved from Gol, Hallingdal, Norway, to Folk Museum in Bygdoy Park in Oslo, Norway, about 100 years ago); noted wood carvers Philip Odden and Elsa Bigton (Barronet, Wisconsin) completed intricately-carved front and side doors and portals; inside corner posts accentuated, heavier, and more richly decorated than other structural elements.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

SPAIN-CATALONIA

(does not include Barcelona)

ANGLES
Restaurants
La Alianca – 3 Calle Jacint Verdaguer; 011-34-972-420-156; restaurantalianca.com.



BAQUEIRA
Hotels
La Pleta Hotel & Spa – Centra Baqueira a Beret (3.5 hour drive from Barcelona, in Aran Valley); 011-34-973-645-550; rafaelhoteles.com; ski-lodge style near 5th Century Romanesque church hamlet; wraparound deck.



BLANES
Sights & Sites
Marimurtra Botanical Garden – 9 Passeig de Carles Faust (Girona); 011-34-972-330-826; marimurtra.cat; 4 hectare at top of very steep hill, above port at north end of Blanes beach; views are breathtaking; among oldest botanical gardens in Europe, established in early 20th Century by German botanist; contains plants from all over world, divided into 3 main sections (tropical, temperate & Mediterranean).



CADAQUES
Hotels
Hotel Rocamar – Dr. Bartomeus; 011-34-978-258-150; rocamar.com; don’t be thrown off by 3 star rating; excellent choice.



CALLDETENES
Restaurants
Can Jubany – Carretera de Sant Hilari, km. 15; 011-34-938-891-023; canjubany.com; outside walled garden; raises own ingredients.



ESPLUGUES DE LLOBREGAT
Sights & Sites
Xavier Corbero House – 57 Montserrat; 011-34-93-371-7137; psihoyos.com/pages/Features/XavierCorbero/xavier.html; Gaudi-like structure; can try to get appointment but this is not open to public.



FIGUERES
Sights & Sights
Cap de Creus Natural Park – 10 miles east of Roses; cbrava.com/capeng.htm; 190 square kms extraordinary landscape value; wind-beaten dry, rocky region, with almost no trees, in contrast with seaside rich in minuscule creeks of deep blue sea; mountains are Pyrenees’ eastern foothills (natural border between France and Spain); region frequently swept by awful north wind tramontana (beyond mountains), which has caused many naval disasters; Sant Pere de Rodes stands out at 500 m altitude, with Cap and Pyrenees views; 11th Century monastery dating from about 750; great diving at Punta d’Els Farallons (grouper, octopus and spiny lobster).
Dali Theatre-Museum – 5 Gala Salvador-Dali; 011-34-97-267-7500; salvador-dali.org; make sure to look at Lincoln picture through camera – amazing.



GIRONA (Albons, Madremanya, Mont-ras, Palafrugell & Torrent)
Hotel
Hotel Albons – Crta La Bisbal a Figueres Km. 18 (Albons); 011-34-972-788-658; hotelalbons.com; 29 rooms and 3 suites, as well as large garden and swimming pool.
Hotel Ciutat de Girona – 2 Calle Nord; 011-34-972-483-038; hotel-ciutatdegirona.com.
La Placa – 17 Calle Sant Esteve (Madremanya); 011-34-972-490-487; laplacamadremanya.com; located in village, behind sunflower field; widely renowned for restaurant; building made of light brown stone dating back to Romans; integrates so well with village’s architecture that can’t tell where hotel starts or ends; apartments are well-decorated, each containing chimney, small lights, and candles; high quality furniture as well as very well equipped kitchen and terrace; rooms are just as attractive and comfortable; surrounding village is charming.
Mas de Torrent – Afores de Torrent (Torrent); 011-34-972-303-292; mastorrent.com; converted 18th Century farmhouse; stunningly smart luxury hotel to rival any in Spain; expansive rooms in main farmhouse masterfully decorated in classic style, all different yet all furnished with well-chosen antiques and rugs; ceiling beams, hardwood floors, and arched doorways lend traditional flavor alongside modern luxuries like spacious black stone bathrooms with deep soaking tubs; outside farmhouse are bungalows, less rich with palpable history yet easily as luxurious, and amid gardens, are suites with private terraces and pools; restaurant is among best in Catalonia, serving seasonal seafood and produce in informal setting.

Restaurants
Blanc
– 2 Calle Nord (in Hotel Ciutat de Girona); 011-34-972-483-038; hotel-ciutatdegirona.com.
Restaurante Celler de Can Roca
– 40 Carretera Taiala (mile and half outside old town); 011-34-972-222-157; elcellerdecanroca.com; Catalan; 2 Michelin stars.
Draps Petit Restaurant – 8 Calle Cort Reial; 011-34-972-080-430; lobster ravioli.

Sights & Sites
Banys Arabs (in Barri Vell) – 4-5 Del Sac; Arab baths.
Barri Vell – old town.
El Poblado – Mont-ras (village center); basically, garden tour; once through village art, garden walk begins; take Camino del Castillo.
Girona Cathedral – Plaza de la Catedral; medieval.
Museum of Jewish History – 8 Calle Forca; Girona has 1 of 3 medieval mikvah in Europe.
La Rambla – cobblestone street with cafes and shops.



LLAFRANC
Hotels
Hotel El Far – Platja de Llafranc s/n; 011-34-972-301-639 or 011-34-972-302-000; elfar.net; on former lighthouse site; beautiful, 360° views; excellent restaurant.



OLOT (Banyoles, Canya, Sanlucar La Mayor & Torrico)
Hotels
El Bulli Hotel Hacienda Benazuza – Calle Virgen de las Nieves (Sanlucar La Mayor, outside Seville); 011-34-955-703-344; elbullihotel.com; sprawling, white-washed country estate dating back to 11th Century; 44 rooms.
Ca l’Arpa – 5 Passeig Industria (Banyoles); 011-34-972-572-353; calarpa.com; owned by former Michelin-starred chef and wife; 8 rooms.
Les Cols Pavellones – Mas les Cols, Cebtra de la Canya (Canya); 011-34-972-269-209; lescols.com; 5 rooms in 13th Century farmhouse (mas); otherworldly experience; after checking in, escorted to “transparent glass-and-black-steel pavilion”; rooms are pure crystal cubes: aside from minibar and closet with sheepskin slippers, no beds, no furniture, no phone, no television, just lounging mat; glass floors offer view of illuminated bare earth below; only sound is trickling of soaking tub, heated to constant 89.2°; 1 Michelin star restaurant next door (Les Cols); when you go to dinner, lounging mat made into bed for night.
Valdepalacios Hotel Gourmand – Carretera de Oropesa a Puente del Arzobispo (Torrico); 011-34-925-457-534; valdepalacios.es; on 1.5K acre private estate; 27 rooms in 19th Century house surrounded by forests full of deer and other game.

Restaurants
La Alqueria – Calle Virgen de las Nieves (Sanlucar La Mayor, outside Seville, at El Bulli Hotel Hacienda Benazuza); 011-34-955-703-344; elbullihotel.com; 2 Michelin stars.
Ca l’Arpa – 5 Passeig Industria (Banyoles); 011-34-972-572-353; calarpa.com; owned by former Michelin-starred chef and wife.
Les Cols – Mas les Cols, Centra de la Canya (Canya); 011-34-972-269-209; adjacent to Les Cols Pavellones; 1 Michelin star.

Sights & Sites
Garrotxa National Park – 2 hours north of Barcelona.



ROSES
Restaurants
Si Us Plau – 58 Rhode; 011-34-972-254-264; siusplau.cat; beachfront café.



SANT CELONI
Restaurants
Can Fabes – 6 Sant Joan; 011-34-938-672-851; canfabes.com; at least until recently, 3 Michelin stars.



SANT POL DE MAR
Restaurants
Sant Pau – 10 Carrer Nou; 011-34-937-600-662; ruscalleda.com; 3 Michelin stars; owns Moments (in Barcelona), which has 1 star.



TARRAGONA
Bars & Nightclubs
Sentits – 25 Placa de la Font (Old City); 011-34-977-222-626; great tapas; indoor and outdoor tables.

Hotels
AC Tarragona – 8 Avinguda de Roma; 011-34-977-247-105; ac-hotels.com; in city’s new part and 15-minute walk from old city.
Hotel Lauria – 20 Rambla Nova; 011-34-977-236-712; hotel-lauria.com; venerable; couple blocks from old city; ask for renovated “executive” room; swimming pool.

Restaurants
L’Ancora – 25 Carrer de Trafalgar Serrallo); 011-34-977-242-806; great seafood served on tables that spill out into shaded portion street closest to docks.
L’Ancora – 2 Passeig Maritim Sant Joan de Deu; 011-34-977-694-777; restauranteancora.com.
Barquet – 16 Gasometre; 011-34-977-240-023; restaurantbarquet.com; famous for its romesco sauce; near Mercat Central, and Roman Forum-Theater.
Degusta – 6 Cavallers; 011-34-977-252-428; degvsta.com; somewhat formal restaurant with most inventive food in Tarragona.
Sentits – 25 Placa de la Font (Old City); 011-34-977-222-626; great tapas; indoor and outdoor tables.

Sights & Sites
Aqueducte de les Ferrers (Pont del Diable) – CN-240 de Valls a Lleida (4 kms north of Tarragona); whc.unesco.org/en/list/875/; large aqueduct that once supplied (still supplies?) Tarragona with water from Francoli River; water goes from Rourell area, about 92 ms above sea level, and travels 10 km through aqueduct; 217 ms l, 2 ms w, and 27 ms h; upper tier has 25 arches; lower tier has 11; built in 1st Century CE, using stone without mortar.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ITALY-GENERAL

GENERAL
Services
Bellini Travel – 7 Barb Mews (London); 011-44-20-7602-7602; bellinitravel.com; run by Emily FitzRoy; no-nonsense, upper-class-connected woman who can arrange behind scenes tours of private gardens and mainstays.
Delicious Italy – 15 Via Benaco (Rome); 011-39-6-841-1222; deliciousitaly.com; food and travel portal for independent visitors to Italy; everything from accommodations, cooking, events, food, handicrafts, to recipes.
Merrion Charles – 32 Via Ariosto (Cotto, Fivizzano); 011-39-585-92098 or 011-39-392-155-1464; merrioncharles.com; high-end rental agent and travel consultant.
IC Bellagio – 6/A Salita Monastero (Bellagio); 011-44-39-31-952-059; icbellagio.com; arranges everything from villa rentals to tours; extensive conversation with potential client makes sure exact needs are understood.
Insider’s Italy – 1468 Midland Avenue, Suite 2H (Bronxville, New York); 914-470-1612; insidersitaly.com; owner Marjorie Shaw actually operates business from Rome.

Trains
Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori (“Italo”) – 149b Viale del Policlinico (Rome); 011-39-6-422-991; italotreno.it or www.ntvspa.it; Naples-Rome-Florence-Bologna-Milan line; highspeed train that competes with national highspeed line.

Monday, September 3, 2012

NORTH KOREA

MYOHYANGSAN
Sights & Sites
International Friendship Exhibition – large museum complex located at Myohyang-san mountain, North Pyongan province; collection of halls that house gifts presented to former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il from various foreign dignitaries, opened in 1978; built in traditional style, consisting of over 150 rooms covering between 28-70K square meters; no windows; between 60-220K gifts, including: bear’s head (Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu), metal horseman and ornate chess boards (Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi), crocodile skin suitcase (Cuban leader Fidel Castro), gem-encrusted silver sword and miniature mosque in mother of pearl (Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat), antique gramophone (China’s 1st premier Zhou Enlai), armored train car (Chairman Mao Zedong), ivory lion (Tanzania), gold cigarette case (Yugoslavia), bronze USSR tank (East Germany), silver chopsticks (Mongolia), basketball (signed by Michael Jordan, given by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright), bullet-proof limousine (Soviet leader Joseph Stalin), and copy of Bootsy Collins’ 1994 album Back in Day: Best of Bootsy.