Category Archives: History

Visiting Kennebunk/Kennebunkport, Maine

photo 2(90)Recently, a work assignment brought me up to southern Maine, specifically to Kennebunk and its neighbor, Kennebunkport. Typically, Maine gets many visitors during the summer months, but I discovered that these two towns offer day-to-day attractions to see, do, and dine at year-round. In fact, Kennebunkport puts on a holiday celebration called Christmas Prelude every December.

Though some shops and restaurants may change their hours (or shut down completely) during the colder seasons, your chances of exploring much of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are pretty good.

Here are my recommendations:

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Get a culinary lesson through Table Maine. Started by the Kennebunkport Resort Collection in February 2015, Table Maine is a weekend culinary program of classes led by local chefs and offering kitchen techniques on food/beverage subjects such as mixology or preparing meat or seafood dishes. Coursework extends to viewing demonstrations, hands-on lessons, and even local restaurants putting on “pop up” dinners. Depending on the subjects, pricing for classes and events usually start at $35 and go as high as $105.

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Go bike riding. By the water, through town, or even on a nature trail, Kennebunkport has places to trek to on your bike. One recommended route is on the scenic Ocean Avenue. This road leads on a route with views of the sea, beaches, restaurants, and the presidential Bush family’s compound at Walker’s Point (but don’t go too far there). Mountain bikers can try  the trails at the Edwin L. Smith Preserve of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, which has acquired and preserved various natural areas. If you don’t have — or didn’t bring — a bike, consider renting a set of wheels from Kennebunkport Bicycle.

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Find nature at protected reserves. Just over a 10-minute ride from Kennebunkport, the town of Wells has two nature reserves that can be seen on foot. I spent some time at The Wells Reserve at Laudholm, which has a network of trails that you can walk along and notice the different habitats in this protected coastal ecosystem. The trails stay open year-round, range from easy to moderate, and are mainly self-guided. An admission fee is charged from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. Not far from Wells Reserve, consider stopping by the Rachel Carlson Wildlife Refuge. This reserve has designated visitor use areas that enable the public to do activities such as kayaking or viewing wildlife.

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Do some antiquing along Route 1. Known as the Maine Antique Trail, this road doubles as a map for 42 miles of over 50 antique stores. Kennebunk contains a few, including Armada Antiques & Collectibles. The shelves and display cases inside this two-level building must get a lot of looks. Merchandise from dinnerware, to books and periodicals, to sports memorabilia, to even relics from another era can be browsed through.

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Stop at the Wedding Cake House. Said to be the most photographed house in Maine, this Gothic style home off of Route 35 in Kennebunk is literally eye candy. Supposedly, this bright yellow house with white trim was built by a sea captain as a wedding gift for his bride. Today this place is privately owned, but most people might stop to get a glimpse or photo.

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Learn about Kennebunk’s history at the Brick Store Museum. Although this museum was closed on the days that I was town, I think it’s worth a visit. Said to be one of the few U.S. museums to open during the Great Depression, this venue serves as part arts institution, part historic site, and part archives center. Its three buildings date back to the 1800s, but inside, rotating exhibitions highlight the town’s overall legacy through its people and objects.

Where to Eat and Drink

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Get local and seasonal flavor at Salt & Honey. In Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, this restaurant has been dishing out comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner since opening in May 2014. Its changing menu offer staple dishes and New England favorites, particularly with ingredients like Maine blueberries and lobster. Consider the fish and chips combo with a finely breaded North Atlantic haddock.

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Order breakfast at Boulangerie. In Kennebunk, this village bakery produces artisanal breads, croissants, baguettes, focaccia, sticky buns, meat pies, and other flour-based delights. The location is very rustic – a barn dating back to the 1900s – with indoor and outdoor seating for plopping down and savoring a breakfast treat or afternoon snack. Get  their chicken meat pie and monkey bread!

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Grab some lunch at Duffy’s Tavern & Grill. With one location in Kennebunk’s historic Lafayette Center, this family-friendly place has good pub fare. The venue serves up American food for patrons of all ages – burgers, salads, apps, and wings plus gluten-free options – and the scene is pretty casual.

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Do dinner at The Ramp Bar & Grill. Under Pier 77, in Kennebunkport’s Porpoise Harbor, the tiny yet lively waterside venue has both a local and tourist following. What you’ll first notice are the football helmets hanging above the bar, but the lunch and dinner servings run the gamut from New England seafood favorites, finger foods, to more fork-required dishes like traditional penne Bolognese and a Greek meze.

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Shop at H.B. Provisions. At this general store and deli, also in Kennebunk, pick up a souvenir or order a sandwich, specialty wrap, burger, or panini. There’s table space for sitting down and just watching the shop work, and you can also get some groceries while you’re at it. While eating, take a good look at the walls and see photos of some famous shoppers.

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Tour the Shipyard Brewing Company at Federal Jack’s. At this eatery in Kennebunkport Harbor, Shipyard first brewed its craft beer in 1992. Although its main plant is now in Portland, visitors can still see and learn more about Shipyard on tours at its location in the same building as Federal Jack’s. A seven-barrel system uses state of the art technology to produce house and seasonal ales, plus stouts and IPAs, and keeps its upstairs pub neighbor supplied with continuous suds.

Editor’s Note: My visit and itinerary was scheduled through the Chamber of Commerce for Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. However, the list is all based on my suggestions and experiences.

 

GoldenEye: The Jamaican Property Where James Bond Was Born

The Fleming Villa - ExteriorJames Bond fans: did you know that this suave British Secret Service agent was born in Jamaica? Literally.

Writer Ian Fleming, who created Bond in 1953 and featured him in 14 novels and a collection of short stories, first came to Jamaica during World War II for a conference and fell in love with the country. He made a promise to himself to return and after the war he went back and acquired 19 acres of property in Oracabessa Bay on Jamaica’s north coast for building a home.
Living Room in Fleming Villa

It was in this basic bungalow retreat called GoldenEye where Fleming would begin to pen “Casino Royale,” his first book introducing Bond during his winter stays. He went on to write every single Bond thriller, every January and February he was there. (Bonus fact: The spy’s name is said to come from a reference book on birds by James Bond, an ornithologist.)

The Fleming Villa-Entertainment Room

Several years after Fleming’s death, GoldenEye was almost sold to reggae legend Bob Marley, who pulled out of buying it. It was bought in 1976 by Island Records mogul Chris Blackwell and over time turned the property into a world-class resort while still keeping Fleming’s old home.

The Fleming Villa-InteriorBelonging to the Island Outpost collection, GoldenEye now consists of 11 one and two-bedrooms villas located directly on Low Cay Beach or on a seawater lagoon, six lagoon cottages, and one oceanfront villa. Fleming’s former jaunt is still here but now called The Fleming Villa. Rightfully so, it’s marketed as a separate area on the property.

Once you see, you’ll understand why. It’s a place onto itself.

photo 2(13)Far more reclusive and shaded that the other accommodations, the Fleming Villa has its private swimming pool, tropical gardens and a full-time dedicated staff. In the main house, there are five individual bedrooms such as the king-sized 007 Bedroom, which has Fleming’s writing desk; dining/living room area; kitchen and bar; and a private bathroom with an outdoor shower. Up to 10 guests can stay here. A delightful patio area provides a nice lookout over the surrounding beach. There is also a smaller, separate cottage named “The Sweet Spot.”

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Fleming’s detached garage still stands but has been turned into an entertainment room that overlooks the patio and pool area. And James Bond’s presence – movie versions of his books, “Dr. No,” “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with The Golden Gun,” have scenes filmed in Jamaica – is still felt throughout GoldenEye. Readers will find Fleming’s James Bond books placed in bookcases or nightstands inside the various accommodations as well as Fleming Villa. Upon arrival, spot a collection of Bond-related photographs on the walls of a building near the main entrance.

photo 2(12) Spa services are offered at FieldSpa, a lagoon-based cottage, with private and open-air treatment rooms. Spa services include cleansing treatments called bush baths as well as massages, salt scrubs, facials, and herbal wraps.

As for dining, the Bizot Bar provides low-key dining options set near a fresh water swimming pool and the western part of the beach. Breakfast and lunch is served here. Choices include Jamaican fare like saltfish and jerk chicken with rice as well as continental burgers, pasta, and salads.

Its opposite option is The Gazebo. This tree-house style lounge and restaurant provides a bit of a nightlife scene with some international flare. Fine dining dishes include grilled lobster tail and seasoned roast lamb. Its open atmosphere also sets up as a cocktail lounge area where perhaps you might order that martini. Shaken not stirred.

Getting Here: GoldenEye is located 20 minutes east of Ocho Rios. It is a 90-minute drive from Montego Bay Airport and an eight-minute drive from Ian Fleming International Airport (private aviation) in Boscobel, Saint Mary Parish.

Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! Sept. 27

I like scouting out free events, so if you’re into visiting museums (like I am), here is one offer not to pass up.

“Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live!” is providing free admission for two to participating museums across the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories this Saturday, September 27. This annual event includes a good number of museums and historical or cultural institutions, birthplaces and centers.

The list includes a mixture of places that are either already well-visited, have niche collections or focus on specific subjects. Here is a sampling:

New York City
New York City Fire Museum

Salem, Massachusetts
The House of the Seven Gables

Los Angeles, California
The GRAMMY Museum

San Diego, California
San Diego Air & Space Museum

Washington, D.C.
Newseum

Yet, with all of them, there’s just a slight catch: You must register to obtain a ticket to the venue of your choosing beforehand. Once your ticket is ready, you can download it and print it and/or access it from your smartphone. My suggestion would be to print a copy to take along. Get your ticket here.

 

Taking a Walk in Midtown with Walks of New York

Taking a walking guided tour can be one of the best ways to learn more about a destination. In New York City, one of the newest tour companies is Walks of New York. Recently, I went on a media-only preview of their “Highlights of New York Tour” through major iconic sites in New York City’s Midtown area.

Launched in late April, Walks of New York hosts small, customized tours that center on the city’s cultural marvels. It’s ideal for visitors interested in NYC history and architecture as well as those who enjoy art and photography (more on that later on).

Walks of New York’s “Highlights of New York Tour” takes you along the most well-trafficked sections of Midtown: from Rockefeller Center to Grand Center and then ending in Times Square. Meeting our guide at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, my group walked across Fifth Avenue to spend some time around Rockefeller Center to get a closer look at the first of the many signature Art Deco statues and buildings featured on this tour.

DSCN2643 copy DSCN2641We began our tour with a stop at Atlas, a bronze sculpture installed in 1937 that got a lot of flack because of its resemblance of a world leader at that time. The building behind him was once said to house a covert spy organization set up by the British Secret Intelligence Service in the early 1940s.

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Of course, we spent a good amount of time in Rockefeller Center, a commercial building complex which gets its name from the late John D. Rockefeller Jr. On the site, he was originally going to build an opera house for the Metropolitan Opera but the Crash of 1929 put a major dent in his plans. So he decided go ahead and build this complex – and financed the project entirely with his own money.

DSCN2658DSCN2662We moved along to Grand Central Terminal, another key stop on the tour that often gets passed through. We heard information on everything about this place, from its celestial ceiling to its unique floor plan to handle heavy commuter traffic. Plus, those who haven’t seen the lower level of the terminal will be led down to see and try out a section known as the  “Whispering Gallery.”

DSCN2689 DSCN2684 DSCN2683As our media tour was an abridged one – due to our schedules and our knowledge of New York City – this Walks of New York Midtown tour also takes attendees along Fifth Avenue to the great New York Public Library and its neighboring Bryant Park.

The tour ends in Times Square with a great rooftop view over this vicinity at a great chic hotel. It makes for great photo taking too, like my picture below.

photo(111)Other tours offered by Walks of New York include “Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” “New York City Photography Tour of the High Line,” and “Lower East Side Stories.” Check them out! Take walks!

 

 

 

Walk through Granada’s Alhambra

DSCN1920DSCN1927 DSCN1932Without a doubt, mention Granada, and the first attraction that often comes to mind in this city in Spain’s Andalusia region in the Alhambra. Rightfully so. Talking a stroll through this UNESCO World Heritage site, a standing legacy of the region’s Moorish architecture, can make you feel like you just stepped into an Arabian Nights story.

Dating back more than a 1,000 years, this palace and fortress complex grew over time in space and structure, from once being a small fort to being first a Muslim and then Christian palace and then finally being restored to its glory after rediscovered by explorers and travelers.

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As pictures can show much more than my writing can describe you, here’s my pictorial on my recent visit to the Alhambra. Yet, with some guidance.

Being its own walled-in city, the Alhambra is primarily divided into four main parts: the Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, the Partal area, and the Generalife. I’ll break down each of them.

DSCN1957After going through the entrance, you’ll first pass along the Royal Water Channel and the Seven-Storied Gate to make your way eventually to the Alcazaba. It’s the oldest part of the Alhambra, and it was the military area.

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DSCN1981 DSCN1980 DSCN1973 DSCN1972 DSCN1971 DSCN1970Going inside, the Nasrid Palaces are a thing of sheer beauty. With three palaces in this collection, the ornate designs with circular patterns and colorful mosaics showcase different living periods.

DSCN1986 DSCN1988 DSCN1989 DSCN2011 DSCN2010 DSCN2007Heading onto what’s called the Partial area, this section contains a portico, gardens, the Rauda, the Palace of Yusuf III and the Paseo de las Torres along several towers.

DSCN2017 DSCN2018  DSCN2022 DSCN2025DSCN2041DSCN2047 DSCN2048DSCN2057 DSCN2062 DSCN2064 DSCN2065 DSCN2066 DSCN2073 DSCN2075 DSCN2076 DSCN2078The Generalife area was built as a leisure area for Granada’s monarchs, where beautiful gardens provided a pleasant escape from day to day living. This section includes the Alhambra’s lower and upper gardens and the Generalife Palace.

DSCN2081 DSCN2085 DSCN2092 DSCN2107As you can see, you can spend a good portion of your time here. And it’s well worth it!

Toledo: A City of Three Cultures

DSCN1722A short distance from Madrid, heading south, Toledo makes for a pretty good day trip. Founded by the Romans as a fortified city, Toledo carries the nickname the “city of three cultures,” due to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations that once had lived alongside each other for years. Like much of Spain’s southern region, this mountainside city has had its fair share of change over the centuries due to being take over by different rulers.

Toledo once had been an industry powerhouse too: everything from steel to silks and ceramics were produced here. Yet even today, this old’s city artistic and architectural legacy still attracts visitors. Plus, you can get to this UNESCO World Heritage site by car, train or bus.

DSCN1740If you’re heading to Toledo by car (I got there by bus), the hillside scenery along the route from Madrid (you travel down via the A-42 highway) is worth the “stop to take photos” scenario. It’s a panoramic view. Stare straight ahead in the distance and among this skyline you’ll find the Alcázar of Toledo, built as a stone fortress, then used as a royal palace, and then during the height of the Spanish Civil War was severely damaged. It was rebuilt and presently holds a museum and library.

Of course, you explore Toledo by foot. Very carefully. You’re walking up hills and on cobblestone streets. There are a number of churches, monuments and museums that are not badly far in distance from each other.

DSCN1756DSCN1752DSCN1754Inside the Church of Santo Tome, groups primarily come to view “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” a masterpiece by the artist El Greco (meaning “The Greek” in Spanish). El Greco, which is what he is referred to than his actual Greek name, spent the latter part of his life in Toledo. This quite large, oil painting hangs in a tight fit room, but from wherever you’re standing, you can take in all this painting. It’s based on a local legend involving a very pious man, and is divided into two sections.

DSCN1743DSCN1831El Greco was chosen to paint this masterpiece, which best replicates how the Spanish men looked in time this painting was created in the late 1580s. You can also spot El Greco’s self-portrait in the painting. He’s the third man from the left side.

DSCN1793Another landmark is the cathedral of Toledo, a beautiful 13th-century High Gothic cathedral that was built on top of the city’s former mosque. It’s considered to the best of this architectural style in Spain. If you walk up a street across from the cathedral, and hit just the right angle with your camera/smartphone lens, you can get a postcard snapshot like mine below.

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While walking along Toledo’s former Jewish Quarter, a thriving section up until the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, look down at the pavement. You’ll notice markers that are religious symbols, indicating that you’re following along the quarter.

DSCN1795DSCN1798 In this quarter, pay a visit inside the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, considered to be the oldest synagogue in Europe that’s still standing. Seeing its interior might make you second guess this place had been built as a synagogue, as its appearance doesn’t reflect how many of them commonly look.

DSCN1814DSCN1820DSCN1819Designed by Moorish architects, the temple is was constructed using the Mudejar style (created for non-Islamic purposes). The floor plan consists of an unusual mix of aisles. There are a series of beams supported by octagon piers. Arches are graced with intricate designs, more in line with nature-inspired symbols than religious ones (my guide happened to point out a hard-to-find Star of David carvedon one beam). Now as a museum, the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue later went from being a temple to a monastery, and then was used as an armory and warehouse for a sword factory.   DSCN1818 DSCN1815One sweet find in Toledo is marzipan, a creamy confectionery made from almonds and sugar. It’s not hard to find a shop that solely offers this handmade treat. You can find it in its basic state or filled with chocolate and even shaped to look like little fruits or vegetables.

DSCN1763DSCN1751For a whole day or just half of one, it’s good to head to Toledo and explore its three cultures.

 

Must See Places in Madrid

As Spain’s capital city, Madrid mixes cultural and culinary influences with politics, commerce and royalty. I got to spend a few days there recently, wandering along streets and plazas and visiting museums, landmarks and districts. Here are some of the places I went that I definitely recommend checking out.

With museums, Madrid has a good standing. In the city center, there is a section known as the Golden Triangle of Art, which consists of three important art museums located along the street, Paseo del Prado.

DSCN1463 DSCN1486First, the most recognized art museum in Madrid is Museo Nacional del Prado. In comparison in size to the Lourve Museum in Paris, the Prado contains a massive collection: around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents. It’s one of the best collections of European art. Pieces date from the 12th to early 19th century, a number made by artists who were assigned to create works specifically for the Spanish royal crown.

DSCN1470DSCN1473It can feel a bit daunting to try get through a lot of the Prado in one visit. I got there on a Monday afternoon, still recovering a bit from my early-morning flight, and, due to my jet lag, I decided to stick to about two floors. Or perhaps focus on a certain artist or join in a tour. Francisco de Goya has a high representation, as well as Diego Velázquez, Titian, and El Greco, among others. Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German and French masterpieces are also well featured. If all else fails, one painting I recommend seeing is Velázquez’s Las Meninas.

For those who like modern art, the second museum is this “triangle” is also worth a visit. Across from the train station, Estación de Atocha, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is located in a former hospital and holds works by 20th century masters.

DSCN1399 DSCN1398It’s similar to what you would see at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of its most significant pieces is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” which Picasso painted in protest of the Spanish Civil War. Major works by fellow Spanish artists, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, are also here. The museum is also open late on Friday nights, with free admission.

In addition to these museums, consider checking out the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, once a baron’s private collection, and a great navy museum called Museo Naval, run by the Spanish Navy. (Bring your passport with you for this one, as it’s in a government building. An ID is required for admission).

Along with public buses and the Metro, Madrid can be great to explore on foot. In fact, there are different squares you can walk through to reach landmarks as well as stop for a meal or people watching.

DSCN1423-sol DSCN1421Plaza Mayor is cobblestone-lined section is literally squared away, and its remote feeling is like stepping back into a different era. Buildings with beautiful balconies line this square and its different arches open out different streets. Yet, Plaza Mayor has an interesting history. Trials by the Spanish Inquisition took place here, but the location also has been a setting for bull fighting. Nowadays, there are cafes, restaurants and shops here.

DSCN1678 DSCN1676 DSCN1682 DSCN1681Plaza del Sol is a well-trafficked pedestrian area, quite lively in both day and particularly at night. Likewise there are shops and restaurants, in this older section of Madrid. On New Year’s Eve, people gather here to conduct the tradition of eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight for good luck for the incoming year.

DSCN1456-SolDSCN1576 DSCN1581 DSCN1582With dining, if you want to try a mix of everything, from tapas to seafood and even something sweeter, pay a visit to The Mercado de San Miguel. Located near Calle Mayor, this older building houses a nice mixture of delicatessens, restaurants and bars. For a few Euros, you can purchase different small plates and appetizers to try. During my visit, I dined on everything from stuffed olives to croquettes to fried calamari and even sampled a few pastries. My entire bill for the evening averaged out at most to 15 Euros.

DSCN1563 DSCN1545 DSCN1546 DSCN1547DSCN1556 DSCN1553Traditionally, the Spanish eat dinner late, so it’s possible you might have to wait until 8 p.m. or so for your restaurant reservation. One place I went to Reservante Botin, a restaurant that has been in existence for almost 300 years (it’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records). Down the street from the Mercado, and in existence since 1725, Botin’s specialty dish is a roast suckling pig that is quite tasty.

One final place that might be of interest to you ties into Spain’s royal history. Palacio Royal is Madrid’s royal palace is built upon an old fortress and is now mostly used for ceremonial occasions. You can check out the views on the patio area, but definitely take a tour of its lavish interior and exquisite rooms!

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Hope my suggestions get you started!