Stanley

A year and two months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a night alone at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  Among other things, this hotel is known for being the inspiration for the hotel with a sinister history in Stephen King’s novel The Shining.

Just prior to driving up to Estes Park, I had been in Denver visiting a (now former) friend and took fuNothing Worshipping Satan comicll advantage of the opportunity to escape one frightening experience (the details of which I will leave to the reader’s imagination) and go in search of another.

The drive up from Denver to Estes Park cuts right through the astounding Rocky Mountains.  There’s the scenic route, and then there’s the wildly mind-blowingly scenic route.  I took the former on the way to the Stanley, and the latter on the way back.

Both were adventures.  Because cellular access was spotty throughout the Rockies, I couldn’t rely too heavily on my GPS to get me to my destination.  There are enough signs, though, so you can do it easily the old fashioned way, and once you get near enough, you can see the huge structure from a far distance, which is a pretty cool experience on approach.IMG_1135

And, well, I’m going to cut a corner here and let my August 2016 Yelp review fill in the rest of this story:

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“The Stanley Hotel SAVED what had turned out to be a pretty awful trip to Colorado for me.  Not to mention that it completely lived up to the spooky fear factor I was hoping for by visiting the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining (and I can VERY EASILY see why).

Yeah, I was scared out of my wits for the one night I was there. My stay took place in early March 2016.  I was traveling alone.  I went on the night time “Scary Mary” tour of the hotel.  I had dinner and drinks at the whiskey bar (they appropriately have a drink called Redrum Punch).  The whole thing, for whatever reason, just felt perfectly and beautifully spooky.  I’d love to go for any October special-ness they have.

They do encourage a little ghost-hunting while you’re there — just to keep up the hype — but thank God I didn’t see one (as far as I could tell), because if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this review right now due to death by heart attack from utter fright.

The hotel service was great, very attentive and professional.  The hotel itself was very grand and beautiful, though at the time I was there, there was some construction going on that limited access to certain areas on the grounds.  They are also in the process of planting trees for what will ultimately grow into a replication of the famous MAZE that is featured in the movie version of The Shining.

IMG_1154The room was much bigger than I expected — huge walk-in closet, mirrors, a TV that has an “all-The-Shining-all-the-time” channel that loops the movie over and over.  They have SK to thank for at least a portion of their success, though without the book and movie, it seems to me that the hotel could stand on its own as a beautiful destination amid stunning scenery.  The pop culture appeal just adds a unique dimension.  Seriously, it’s pretty scary. I woke up during the night once or twice and was afraid to open my eyes.  I was also afraid to take a shower or look behind the shower curtain.  If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

They accomplished their goal, and I got my money’s worth (which, actually, was much more reasonable than I expected).

The drive to and from The Stanley Hotel was pretty spectacular (took the standard route through the Rocky Mountains on the way FROM Boulder & downtown Denver, and took the more scenic route on the way back).  The scenic route has spotty cell service, so if you’re relying on a GPS, you’re out of luck, but my advice would be to just turn the damn thing off and follow the road, take in the glorious and magnificent natural sights, and just be in the moment for a few hours.

I look forward to the next visit.  Honestly, it’s the only reason I’d need to return to Colorado, and certainly the best, Rocky Mountains notwithstanding.”  8-17-2016

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And you can stick your face into the cut-out holes of the scary little girl twins from The Shining.

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Sitting on the veranda of this grand, noble, historic hotel, it’s difficult to imagine IMG_1054anything more troubling happening in this hotel outside of being woken up by housekeeping at an ungodly hour, but apparently, it does.

Because, apparently, this hotel actually is haunted.

Apparently.

… though I am not in a hurry to find that out anytime soon.

Posted in Colorado, Road trip, Rockies, Stanley | Leave a comment

Frank

I’ve written several times in this space over the past few years about death and dying and those I’ve lost.  Unfortunately, on April 1, there was another death, this one unexpected. His name is Frank, and he was the longtime companion and partner of a very old, very dear friend.  So, spoiler alert:  This isn’t technically a travel post.

Dan_Frank_me_on_NJ_beach_80sInitially, I met Frank through my friend, his partner. It started in the late 1980s “back east,” going to the beach, attending parties at their comparatively massive apartment (in contrast to my and other friends’ puny NYC pads).  My dances around Frank’s acerbic wit and intimidating intellect bordered on fear, mainly due to its potential to crack my hyper-sensitive 20-something shell.  After those first few years they were together, when I saw them often, I was so bummed out when they moved to the west coast in the early 90s.  At the same time, now trips to California took on a whole new shade of fun.

As it will, time and various life experiences ebbed and flowed the frequency of our contact. There were long gaps where we fell out of touch, but then we would bridge those gaps when we eventually saw each other again, usually for some entertaining Los Angeles experience, and the thrill of returning to that familiar bond.

We’ve all by now heard that Maya Angelou quote over and over, the one that reminds Winnie the Pooh for Frankyou that “people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Frank had a way of making me feel curious, interested, attentive, engaged, and a little bit closer to fully alive.  There was no topic I could bring up that Frank wouldn’t be able to talk about with knowledge and authority without losing my attention, being the fabulously reliable font of information that he was.

But Frank had something else I rarely found in anyone I met as an adult, due in part to the fact that he hailed from the general region of the hometown I grew up in — he understood my background:  ethnically, politically, religiously.  Possibly more than anything else, that bonded me to Frank in ways I don’t fully grasp.  In his passing, I, like many who knew him, will feel for quite some time the penetrating absence of this one-of-a-kind man whose impact is hard to match.

Posted in Friends, Los Angeles, Non-travel, Personal | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Happy April Fool’s Day

April Fool 2017

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Table Settings

Atop Cape Town’s Table Mountain, more than 3,500 feet above sea level, there is more to see than a flat tabletop.

Table Mountain can be scaled if you have the right gear and a heart for the challenge.  I met a fellow train passenger who did just that, using the popular Platteklip Gorge route.

I, on the other hand, took the easy way up:  the cable car (locally, the “cableway”), risking vertigo and fear of dropping my phone (which I would still have for a few more hours) while capturing a great photo op.  (I keep wondering why smartphone lanyards are not a more popular accessory for situations like this.)

There are endless views, and lush vegetation, and unbearably cute creatures called dassies, who dwell up there.

Once you get to the top of where the cable car stops, there is a self-guided pathway you can follow, with various outlooks and stops along the way to take in the spectacular views of Table Bay.

 

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Also visible from one outlook is Robben Island, site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment for nearly two decades.

Here are a few more pictures of what it’s like just meandering around the top of the mountain.

Apparently, there have been fires atop the mountain.

Periodically, the path allows you to venture toward one of the edges of the mountain.  It’s safe, for sure, but there’s always that queasy feeling that would creep up in the pit of my stomach, and then that “almost falling” feeling that would rush me all the faster along the designated path toward the gift shop.

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As thrilling as it was to spend an hour or two high atop Table Mountain, eventually it’s somewhat of a relief to take the cable back down to safer ground.

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Cape Town hijinks

img_3228About forty minutes after this picture was taken (right, the shot of a statue of a man in a “heil”-like pose), something dire occurred.

My iPhone was lifted out of my bag, never to be returned.  Or found.

I have told this story several times since that day, and I usually tell it the same way.

During one rare window when — though not completely alone — I still was not accompanied by a local tour guide, I had no sooner dropped my iPhone into a zippered slot in the front of the crossbody handbag I wore close to my side and was just ready to zip it back up — pffft, just like that, the bag felt the slightest mite lighter, thanks to an agile thief with the sleightest of hand.

Now, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I have long lived in an urban environment known for crowds.  I have also traveled to foreign cities on various continents.  I am no stranger to pickpockets and other petty crimes that occur in large crowded metropolises where anyone can become a victim of opportunity if not on high alert.  In fact, no fewer (and perhaps surprisingly, no more) than three times have I had my wallet stolen right out of my backpack or handbag:  Twice in New York City (a shoe store and a pizza joint), and once in a Paris pub.

I’m not surprised it happened any of those times.  I was off guard, not paying attention, engrossed in some other activity, a conversation or something.

This day, however, was different:  I had even felt a strangely close brush past me several times leading up to the event, something I only noticed in context, in hindsight.  I was on high alert.  It was a crowded section of Cape Town, with market vendors selling their wares.  I was aware of strangers too close, held my bag tight to my side, protected my wallet, made sure not to put anything in a back pocket.  But I was protecting the wrong loot against a bandit who was too skilled at his trade (and, I think, was operating in a pair).

All of which is to say that the thief who absconded with my iPhone 5S quite justifiably deserved it.  Like a hard-won prize.

In the moment it happened, I panicked. I looked around. I confronted a couple of vendors at the street market where it happened.  Surely they had seen something and were staying mum.  I even asked a “safety officer” who was wearing some official-looking type of orange vest, and he pointed me toward the police station to report it a few blocks away (which I did, a futile exercise).

Ultimately, after racing all over that area, visiting cell phone “re-sellers,” and scanning the area for guilty-looking parties and reeling from thoughts of the irretrievable and un-backed-up contents of my phone (mainly the two thousand or so photos and a multitude of notes and lists and writings), I let myself be devastated for about 24 hours (okay, maybe a tiny bit more), and contacted my service provider, who happily informed me that I qualified for a free phone upgrade, and eventually started looking ahead to the new phone that would be waiting for me when I arrived home a week later, the following Saturday.

Ultimately, I just chalked it up to being part of the “vacation experience.”  There was far too much to love about this beautiful country and its people to get dragged down by one bum circumstance.

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This fellow in the “heil”-like pose, by the way, is Cecil John Rhodes, the British imperialist who took over large swaths of African land and named portions of it after himself (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, for instance), until 1980 when his name faded into the distant past.

Sort of like the loot a thief makes off with.

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For the Love of the Grape

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In addition to cemeteries, sunsets, and trains, I love wine.

There was one particularly cloudy, wet, drizzly day toward the end of my Cape Town IMG_3459.JPGsojourn, and that is the day that called for one of those other things South Africa is well known for:  Its VINO.

While I am not necessarily a connoisseur of grape varietals, I can easily distinguish between a wine that is a good match with my palate and one that isn’t.  It’s not too complicated.

I selected a half-day (about four hour) Winelands tour of a couple of vineyards along the Stellenbosch wine route.  Thimg_3460e tour was comprised of about seven tourists and included two stops.

I’ve been to wine tastings in Santa Barbara, CA and in Sonoma County, CA, but these tastings were unique in the way they were conducted.

Instead of standing around at a bar with a very brief introduction for each wine presented, the way they usually are, we were seated at a picnic bench and served cheese and crackers to accompany each of the wines — and to that, all I can say is, when is cheese an unwelcome addition to anything?

The first stIMG_3478.JPGop was at the Zevenwacht wine estate.  They extended generous portions.  As a wine tasting should be, it was an easy, non-rushed experience, with plenty of time to take in the aromas, the vibe, the company of our fellow travelers, and gather an overall sense of the room, including a friendly house dog.

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After the tastings, we were taken into another room, where we were given a tour of the wine cellar and shown the large barrels of wine used in the Zevenwacht wine-making process.

After Zevenwacht, we hauled back into the van to be transported through the afternoon rain over to another wine estate on the Stellenbosch route:  Saxenburg.

This tasting room had a similar format but quite different feel.  The wine steward (if that is the technical name for the person who presents and pours the wine) emphasized the history of the estate much more than the previous one had.

As evidenced in the photos below, the timeline of the Saxenburg history was laid out on the wall of the tasting room.

A “must” experience for those so inclined, I highly recommend the Winelands Tours for a stay in the Cape Town region, regardless of weather.  Once we were well into the tastings, we didn’t notice the weather anyway.

The trip back to our respective hotels occurred during the midst of the local rush hour, but that didn’t seem like much of a problem either.

Save it for a rainy day?  Definitely!

Posted in Africa, Day trips, South Africa, Stellenbosch, Tourism, Wine, Winelands, Zevenwacht | Leave a comment

South Western Township

There are many, many sights and “must-see” spots on a trip to South Africa, but probably topping the list (especially for anyone with any awareness of the long and hard ongoing struggle in this strong and resilient country) would be SOWETO.

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Soweto is a neighborhood in the Gauteng province of Johannesburg, South Africa that is most well known for being the site of a political uprising among students that occurred around the mid 1970s.  There were violent clashes between the students and police, during which hundreds of people were killed.

The township has a long history dating back to the 1800s, and its residents have included Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

img_3004The township is very poor, and many of its residents live in what are known as shanty towns that are poorly equipped with services, if there are even any at all.  img_3006

I saw a news story on television during my stay in Johannesburg that described promising efforts being made on the part of some local politicians and groups to create better housing and improved living conditions in these communities.

Like any vibrant locale full of people coming and going, there was much to see.  The only thing I might not have expected, however, were goat sightings. And yet…

After driving through these neighborhoods, I went on to tour the Nelson Mandela House, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner resided for about sixteen years.  After that was lunch on Vilakazi Street in Soweto on the busy outdoor terrace at Sakhumzi Restaurant.

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That afternoon in Soweto was a moving experience that was edifying and inspiring, and left a deep and strong impression.

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Posted in Mandela, May 2016, South Africa, Soweto | Leave a comment