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Sunday, December 27, 2009


Give me a comfortable, glass-domed train, stunning Alaskan vistas, a little more Denali, a wilderness beyond belief, and incredible stories narrated by an enthusiastic guide, and I’ve got a perfect way to travel the vast distance between McKinley Wilderness Lodge and Denali Wilderness Lodge. Thank you, Princess.

We board our train in Talkeetna, a long, long train with several beautiful domed cars labeled Princess or Holland America. Rob and I have our private table for a four-hour experience filled with mythic beauty.

The train rumbles out of Talkeetna and curls its way around the mountains leading up to Denali. Throughout the trip, high, high mountains, glaciers, and peaks often surrounded by puffs of white, white clouds reach for the bluest sky. The wilderness stretches across and up the most untamed country I’ve ever seen. It seems as if we time-traveled back to the unexplored west of the early 1800s. There’s no place this big, open, or majestic anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s jaw-dropping beautiful.

We get better glimpses of Denali today. We drop the name McKinley and call this mountain Denali as Alaskans do. Its peak, however, is still shrouded by clouds and remains a mystery to us. Even so, it is breathtaking.

Forests of evergreens appear to march toward the mountains. They are so deep and wide that the sight seems more painting than reality. The Susitna River, Alaska’s biggest whose name means First River in Athabascan, and then the Chulitna River cut through the green and leave us with memories of rushing, white-capped rapids. We learn that “na” at the end of a name means “water” in Athabascan, hence Susitna and Chulitna. Along the water we see huge beaver lodges that house Alaskan beavers, many which run to 55 pounds! Eagles and swans are only part of the bird population we spy.

Bunches of fireweed already turning white announce six weeks until winter, and similarly the first signs of fall—the browning of the ferns—hearken the approach of the long, dark, cold season. But what a beautiful world to enjoy this day.

Lunch on the train is a scrumptious reindeer chili in a sourdough bowl accompanied with chips and pickles. This tasty treat is not something we’re likely to find in Warwick, New York.

Our guide, Jan, regales us with stories as we pass what I must describe as settlements with misnomers like Honolulu, Alaska.

This is a photo of Sherman, Alaska, population—two. They are Mr. & Mrs. Lovel. Mr. Lovel has been the mayor of Sherman since 1972.

Off to one side we see that there are other means of transportation in these parts.

This is Cantwell, Alaska. Until relatively recently, the only electricity in town was in the local saloon, and it was there that the population gathered to watch TV. One night while watching America’s Most Wanted, who should appear but the very bartender who was serving them and their very own mayor. The rest is history….

Those little buildings off in the distance are in Windy, Alaska where the only limestone mine in the state exists. Know why it’s called windy? One hundred mile an hour winds are the norm. Talk about inhospitable climates.

Occasionally we see “bush” houses where independent Alaskans practice sustenance living. Their food supplies are in caches high off the ground on legs smeared with bear grease to keep clawed predators away. These citizens are outdoorsmen and women who survive by hunting, fishing, and berry picking.

Once again the Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge is gorgeous. The rooms are still rustic, and the facilities are wonderful. We sit out and sip our bourbon on a gorgeous terrace and luxuriate in the gorgeous scenery. We take the Riverwalk down to the main lodge and restaurants, loving the wild view of rivers and mountains that surround us. Our dinner: Dungeness Crab and Sweet Corn Bisque, Wild Alaskan Salmon grilled with Lemon and Dill Sauce, and Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef (I finally broke down). Rob continued his education in Alaskan brews with some Alaskan Amber. What a glorious day.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


If you live anywhere near New York City, this is a must see—and it’s almost over. The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx is stupendous. The artistry and craftsmanship in this show is astounding, and it is something not to be missed. The show closes on January 10, 2010, so you still have time! The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is transformed into a landscape of handcrafted New York buildings, bridges, and tracks where trains and trolleys travel. It’s marvelous!

This photo is a close-up of one section of Senator William Andrews Clark’s home on Fifth Ave. (click on the photo to enlarge) Notice the shingles surrounding the windows are leaves; the windows themselves are decorated by bits of acorn and twigs which also form the window panes. In the center, notice the figures are bits of corn husks twisted and shaped to look like women. The siding on the middle story is slivers of bark. Every bit of every building in the exhibit is constructed of natural material. The attention to detail and the variety of materials astound and amaze. The artistry is incomparable. While it is impossible to examine each building closely, it is not impossible to admire this incredible exhibit. This is the rest of the building. (although it was torn down in 1925, we taxpayers are probably still paying for it---haha--only kidding?????)

Look at some of the other structures, but remember that I’ve captured only a few. If you’re familiar with New York, look for the Edgar Allan Poe House, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Penn Station, The Guggenheim, Yankee Stadium, the Apollo Theater, Radio City Music Hall, The Chrysler Building, the lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, and the Arch in Washington Square.

If it’s not too cold, take the tram ride through the garden. Though there isn’t much to see this time of year, you will see the wide expanse and hear of its history and future. This is an important place in our city. Go online to to buy tickets; there are assigned times. How much did Rob and I love this day? We became members. Enjoy this seasonal treat.

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At the McKinley Lodge we should have a spectacular view of Mt. McKinley from our window seat in the beautiful restaurant. But we do not see Mt. McKinley. It is shrouded in clouds although that’s not unusual. Apparently the entire mountain is visible only 30% of the time. We decide McKinley is like Mt. Rainier in Seattle photos—photoshopped in. (Only Kidding). In Seattle we actually drove out to meet the famous mountain in person. Here we’ll have a few more Denali possibilities. Stay tuned!

Continuing our Alaska food expedition, we begin our explorations with Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Chowder, an incredible combination of roasted red pepper and cream, with potatoes, garlic, onions, celery and wild Alaskan salmon smoked in traditional Northwest style over native hardwood.

As we’d been told salmon is not the only Alaskan specialty, we have to try halibut too, so for dinner we order and share Asiago Crusted Alaskan Halibut. These are the menu notes: “Noted for its flavor and texture, prized Alaskan Halibut is crusted with fresh herbs, asiago cheese, and Japanese bread crumbs. Then pan seared and finished with a fried caper and lemon butter sauce. Served with parmesan risotto and fresh brocollini.” The other entrée was Grilled Fresh Alaskan Salmon with Lemon Butter Sauce, lightly seasoned and simply presented with a subtle blend of lemon, butter, and fresh dill. Now, aren’t you just salivating? It is as good as it sounds.

Rob and I are very impressed by our tour already. While there are many possibilities for traveling in Alaska, we are quite pleased so far, and I want to share that with you, particularly if Alaska is one of your future destinations. The accommodations here are in a series of lodge buildings. The decor is rustic, Alaskan-animal oriented and quite "lodgey" and "moosie." Note the bedside lamps. I got a kick out of it. We did, however, miss having a coffee pot in the room.

The Main Lodge and other facilities are hardly rustic! They were beautiful and inviting. Yet that out-in-the-woods feeling prevails. It's inviting and invigorating.

Here is a factoid to tuck away for some future Trivia Pursuit game: Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, is the highest mountain in the United States. It actually is taller than Mt. Everest if measured from sea level, but if measured from its base, Everest is taller. So we’re talking big!!!!!!

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Monday, December 14, 2009


Le Rivage
340 46th Street
New York, NY
212 765-7373

There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than with good friends and good food. That is exactly the combination when I meet with my sorority sisters—friends of more than 40 years’ duration—and we catch up and chat in a NYC restaurant. This time there are nine of us at Le Rivage, part of the 46th Street Restaurant Row selection. Le Rivage is about as authentic a French restaurant as one can find, and it is a total pleasure.

I arrived about 45 minutes early, a matter of train schedules, and I park myself at the bar, order a glass of very nice cabernet, and pull out my book. Immediately I’m offered a dish of mixed nuts on which to nibble until the rest of the girls arrive.

I, being the first customer of the day, cannot help but notice the next two customers address the hostess in French, and after a brief conversation, they’re seated. The telephone rings, and the conversation is in French. The next two customers enter, and again French is spoken. The single waitress already on duty speaks French to the customers. As the wait staff arrives, I hear English with a decidedly French accent, and then, finally some American English. I always enjoy an ethnic restaurant where people of that ethnicity gather.

My sisters come one by one and order their drinks until we decide that our table would be better. As I conveyed the circumstances of the luncheon when I made the reservations, we were thoughtfully put in the back where we could boisterously enjoy the afternoon. I guarantee we did.

Le Rivage’s menu is very practical. There is a $22.00 Prix Fixe lunch (appetizer, entrée, dessert, coffee) or a la carte (appetizer-$8.00, entrée [including salad]-$20.00, and dessert-$7.00). Reasonable and fair. We chose the prix fixe lunch.

The menu is very extensive. From the fourteen choices of appetizers, I chose the Leek and Potato soup, a rich and creamy mixture of flavors seasoned perfectly. My friends chose “Salade verte” with artichoke hearts vinaigrette, country style pork paté, and several other choices.

For my entrée, I followed a friend and ordered one of my favorites, Escargots—a dozen snails with French Garlic butter. Once again, this is a perfect choice. The snails are just right, and the garlic butter—ooo la la. The French rolls on the table are just perfect for one of the rites of escargot—dipping into that garlic butter. Twenty-one entrée choices grace Le Rivage’s menu, so everyone is satisfied. Some of us order Coquille Bay Scallops, Poached salmon, and Pork Chop “Forestière.” As we all rave about our choices, I can recommend every one enthusiastically.

From the eleven dessert choices, I go with Crème Brulée. Several of us do. Runner up, I believe is Chocolate Mousse. Coffee all around.

When we leave at 3:00 PM (with a 12:30 reservation), we are happy and satiated. It’s also a perfect day to walk with Loretta back down to Penn Station and drop off Angie at Port Authority. Excellent friends and Excellent food. BTW, the restaurant is full, and the wait staff busy scurrying back and forth as we leave.

If you’re in NYC as a tourist or before or after a show, try Le Rivage at this very convenient location. It’s a real treat.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

ANCHORAGE TO McKINLEY--a rainy day adventure

We transfer to the Captain Cook Hotel where we join our Princess tour and leave first thing the following morning for McKinley Wilderness Princess Lodge, our first overnight stop. Despite its size, Alaska has only 13 highways, and as we set out on this new journey with our friendly, knowledgeable, entertaining driver, we get to see some famous Anchorage sites.

We pass the starting point of the Iditarod at the 4th Street Theater in Anchorage. Later we pass the original starting point of this famous 150-mile race to Nome at Lake Susitna. We pass lakes where floatplanes park in front of the houses. We drive through Wasilla (no, we didn’t stop to say hi). On either side of the highway are paths. On one side is a bicycle path, and on the other is an ATV and snowmachine (don’t EVER call them snowmobiles up here). Kids ride on snowmachines, park them by the highway and catch the school bus.

Here’s another bit of Alaskan humor. We pass signs urging this: ELECT DOYLE HOLMES TO THE ASSEMBLY. Ha Ha Guess his mother had a good sense of humor to give him that name.

It drizzles throughout the day. No problem as it is a travel day. Alaska gets 14” of rain in August and September. Come prepared for it. We did with Columbia jackets made of breathable, lightweight, waterproof material. They served us well.

There’s a light rain the following morning; Rob and I are grateful when our 4-hour rafting trip is cancelled. No fun in a raft slowly filling up with cold, Alaskan rain water. We're surprised to learn our trip is not cancelled because of rain; it is cancelled because we are the only two who want to run some rapids in that cold Alaskan water in the first place. LOL On this day we are thankful for small favors.

Instead we board the shuttle and head for the nearest town—no village—no hamlet—no something that vaguely resembled a movie set I once drove to somewhere five miles into the Utah desert. This is Talkeetna, AK, the inspiration for the TV show—one of my favorites—Northern Exposure. They actually filmed a few episodes here before they realized it was too expensive. I have a hunch they longed for a more LaLaLand environment. We have a terrific time in Talkeetna although Rob suggests they must have cleaned the place up for Northern Exposure.

Talkeetna, meaning “River of Plenty” in Athabascan, was settled in the early 1900s, and people still live in those tiny cabins. The population is between 450 and 700; the wide range in number is caused by sustenance living and people not showing their faces in town for years. This fellow has everything he needs: transportation, rubber boots, fishing gear, and some protection from the rain.

Everything in town is very moosie, but we didn’t see any. The shuttle driver had hopes because a moose ambled down Main St. earlier in the day. There are several micro-breweries, a mile-high pizza joint, lots of Alaskan gift shops with very impressive work by local artists and artisans, and a slew of guides—fishing, glacier flights, hunting, etc. President Warren Harding stayed at the Fairview Inn here. NOTICE THE "NO DOGS ALLOWED" SIGN AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE INN. (on the wall to the right of the dog----LOL)

We skip the History of Talkeetna Museum with its $3.00 admission and one-room exhibit, but we do see the local people, and they say it all. It took an hour to get to Talkeetna (the nearest town) from the Lodge, a touch over an hour to enjoy the town—and we really did although we got a bit muddy because not every street is paved—and an hour back. Definitely time well spent. We spend 25 minutes in the Denali Micro Brewery tasting room where Rob samples and likes their IPA. The stout is a bit weak for his taste. I nibble on peanuts and take photos.

Talkeetna reinforces my positive reaction to Alaska. The area appears to be inhabited by independent, free-thinking people who are content to follow their dreams, and who are not afraid of work or of the environment where the winter might bring 28 feet of snow. I feel as if I am in another world, and I am glad I have the chance to visit.

And then in the evening, another glorious sunset.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009


We are lucky enough to be in Anchorage to see Wild Salmon on Parade. Really. Artists are invited to submit their salmon creations which decorate the streets and are auctioned off at the end of the season to raise money for a worthy cause. We use a map to find the best “fishing holes” around the city. It’s fun, imaginative, and a great money maker for good causes!

Every July and August, the salmon swim the streets of Anchorage. Visitors can get maps. Viewers go online and vote for their favorite. In September when live salmon reach their spawning grounds, these salmon end up at the Fish Fry and Buy dinner. There these beautiful creations are auctioned with the proceeds benefiting Camp Fire USA, Alaska Botanical Gardens, and the Anchorage Urban League. If Rob and I had the opportunity, we would be at this dinner.

Let me share the salmon we saw, but for a better view, visit the Wild Salmon on Parade website at . This was a lot of fun to admire, and if you have a chance to visit a city that does this (Olympia, WA 2001, Chicago 1999, Washington DC 2002), try to see them all.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Before winter closes in on us, Marty, Sue, Rob and I decide to grab one of those last glorious days to spend in Piermont, NY right on the Hudson River. Everything you think a NYC suburb should be, Piermont is not. With its man-made Erie Railroad pier jutting out into the Hudson, Piermont provides space for walkers, bikers, drivers, and runners. Benches along the walkways and mini-greens allow for picnickers, sun-worshippers, and resters. Galleries and shops along its main streets provide opportunities for artists and tourists. Sundays offer a Farmer's Market. Restaurants offer a multitude of choices in price range as well as in cuisine. The marina offers safe harbor. On our Sunday, the sun's warmth crowds out a normally brisk November day on the water making for a perfect outing.

We aren’t the only folks hungry for the last of the warm weather, and we park a few blocks away from the pier. Once we reach the waterfront, we are treated to spectacular views; upriver to the left stretches the Tappan Zee Bridge, its graceful span curving on the Westchester side. Downriver we can't quite see the George Washington Bridge, but the Hudson's width and beauty makes the view majestic.

Along the walk back toward Piermont, we pass condos built along the waterfront. There's an open house in one. While Rob and I soak in the rays, Sue and Marty take a tour. Want to know what this beautiful view will cost you? This two-bedroom apt with a windowless kitchen but with a balcony and big windows goes for 1.5 million dollars. Taxes are $26,000. Monthly carrying charges are $1,200. I am sooooo happy I love Warwick and do not hanker to live here. If any of you are interested, it wouldn't surprise me one iota if the apartment is still available.

We wander through the Farmer's Market, but it is getting late and they're packing up. Still we get a chance to sample some pickles but decline buying them at $12.00 a quart. We also sample a pretty good Cabernet from Slate Hill Winery. There are plenty of gorgeous vegetables as well as organic meats available for these suburbanites, and we see people enjoying the choice. Rob and I recognize two of the vendors from our own area.

On to an early dinner at Pasta Amore. We can see the world through the big picture windows. The restaurant shuns the techno look with no sound absorbers, so rather than being noisy and loud, the volume is comfortable and we four can enjoy conversation without effort. That's two plusses already, and we haven't even looked at the menu! Zagat compliments Pasta Amore’s views, comfortable casualness, and excellent Northern Italian food. Our great day gets better each moment.

It's early, and this is not a day to rush, so we order appetizers. Sue chooses the Portabello, Grifilata, a large Roman Mushroom brushed with olive oil and garlic, served over tri-color green with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It’s as attractive and as tasty as it sounds. Marty is happy with his Grilled Vegetable Plate, marinated fresh vegetables served with a balsamic vinaigrette. Rob's choice is Insalata di Frutti di Mare, an absolutely beautiful presentation of calamari, scungilli, pulpo, scallops, and shrimp served with a lemon vegetable vinaigrette. I favor the Calamari Fritta, served delicately breaded, a rarity, and accompanied by a Fra Diavlo sauce. It is delicious, not dried but just chewy enough. The serving is so big we four could have shared it. Everyone tastes and agrees it is delicious. I take some home with me.

For my entree, I order Pollo Involtini, a combination and presentation entirely new to me. Here is chicken stuffed with ricotta, prosciutto, and basil served with a Fra Diavlo sauce. It is served as a long stuffed roll, partially sliced, entirely tantalizing, and accompanied by a medley of steamed vegetables. The portion is huge, and after the calamari, I take some of this home with me. I really enjoy it.

Sue orders Pollo Grandama, a breast of chicken sautéed with mushrooms, walnuts and black truffles in a marsala wine sauce. Once again, the chef has hit on a winner. Rob chooses Roughy Ligurian Style, sautéed orange roughy with fresh and sundried tomatoes, capers, olives, shallots and herbs in a white wine sauce. He liked it as much as Marty enjoyed the Salmon al Porro, sautéed with leeks, fresh tomatoes and herbs in a white wine garlic sauce. Beautiful preparation and presentation.

It is a lovely meal that leaves us no room for the tempting desserts. It does make us want to go back out and walk—to explore more of Piermont and to walk off some of our dinner.

We enter the Piermont Fine Arts Gallery, an amazing cooperative of 24 artists. Serendipitously we run into Marty’s and my former colleague, abstract artist Alan Levine whose exhibition has just ended. He has his portfolio with him and we get to peek at a sampling of his work. Even more incredible is that Sue knows the artist whose photography is currently on exhibition, Mariela Dujovne Melamed. This day is the opening of her show. Of course we spend a lot of time there.

It is a long day, but it is a lovely day with good friends, wonderful weather, excellent food, and a bit of art. Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday?

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Friday, November 06, 2009



Although the clouds blanketed the Chugash Mountains, we were prepared for the rain. Taking the free shuttle out to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, we found one of the best museums of this kind we’ve ever seen. Staffed by young people, some still in high school and others in college, the museum is alive with history and culture, and we learned of an Alaska no one ever showed us in school.

The building was an eye opener. There are eleven or twelve recognized tribes, but because of geographical isolation, about twenty languages are spoken, and the differences often make it impossible for the tribes to communicate with one another. Because Alaska is so huge and so varied, the tribes survive in different ways. Some live solely by the sea, others are farmers, others are hunters and fishermen. This is definitely NOT a one size fits all state.

Outside the main building is Lake Tiulana, around which there are replicas of the different living quarters of the five predominant cultures. While we are in a museum, much of what we see still exists as tribes maintain their ways of life, particularly in some of the remote and challenging regions of the state. It’s also true that modern conveniences have been incorporated; some dog sleds have been replaced by snow machines, and modern communication systems are used when possible. However, values, and proven methods of existence continue unchanged. Guides answer our questions about the way each tribe lives, and it’s particularly interesting to see how the native Alaskans hunker down for the long winter—not only in their preparation for physical survival but also for social survival through music, dance, story telling, etc. Picture a long winter in tight quarters….

The young dancers in the videos explained that because space in the winter quarters is limited, too much foot movement is difficult, so tribes developed “hand dancing.” Hand movements had meaning, and we learned some movements so we could follow the story of the dance. These dances are still created, often about more modern themes.

Today there are native games—competition in the athletics of the tribes and limited to those who are native Alaskans. You’ll see the skill, strength and balance required by these young athletes in the video. Notice in the photo that she is balanced on one hand while she reaches overhead to the ball. You can also imagine the practical aspects of maintaining strength and agility as a necessity for survival.
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Rob and I had lunch at the center. First a wonderful chowder brimming with salmon, lobster, potatoes and other vegetables. Then we had caribou stew—a rich, dark, tender stew with meat leaner than beef. Excellent. We’re not going to get that kind of food in the lower 48.

There is a concerted effort to make native Alaskan culture accessible to all. There is a move, as well, to inculcate the culture into the young people. They study and learn here, and they are able to learn at the universities. There is an effort to develop a written language to preserve the cultures, but it is an exceedingly challenging effort. The Native Heritage Center, therefore, plays an important part in preserving as well as in educating everyone who enters. For us it was a thoroughly enriching experience.

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Friday, October 23, 2009


Alaskan humor is as rough and tumble as the state itself. We hit those gift shops in Anchorage, and we did a lot of chuckling. I guess you've got to find a way to keep jolly during those long, dark, cold, snowy Alaskan winters, and it appears that Alaskans like to play with words. Rob and I spent time laughing at the silliness, the raunchiness, and the way Alaskans have no problem with self-deprecating humor. Start with this riddle: What is the Alaskan State bird? Answer: The mosquito.

Whether we're looking at the name of a store or the merchandise for sale, nothing is sacred. Here's a partial sampling of some of the fun things we found in Anchorage. The joking didn’t end in Anchorage, and I’ll share some of the other funny stuff we saw as we traveled. Meanwhile, just enjoy these, and don’t be afraid to laugh!

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