Share this page on

orange Status orange (Level 6/10)



Trusted by 78 members
See member statistics

Loves history, gardens, travel, and words in general.

Reviews written

since 06/04/2003


Jessie's Journey - Jess Smith 30/05/2013

Jessie's Journey, a Traveller's Memoir

Jessie's Journey - Jess Smith “I am a Scottish traveler.” So states Jess Smith at both the beginning and toward the end of the book that retells the tale of a childhood spent on the road in a 1948 Bedford bus. I say “retells” because it is very clear that Smith has told most of these tales over and over. Storytelling is both her occupation and part of her heritage. Her memoir is presented in a conservational tone, as if she were sitting beside you at one of her campsites—“cracking” about every topic under the sun. You see Jess Smith belongs to a culture that has all but disappeared in modern Britain—she and her family trace their origins through a long line of Scottish and Irish travellers. They lived on the open road, forming nomadic communities with other families, and earning their living through such activities as seasonal farm labor, hawking, metal scrapping, collecting rags, and fortune telling. Smith confessed that she was no historian, but she speculated that her ancestors likely included a fusion between Gypsies and refugees from the land clearances of the 17th and 18th centuries. Specifically, she was (and is) a Perthshire traveller, though her travels made her “Scotia’s bairn”—Scotland’s child in full, with experiences drawn from all parts of the country. Smith clearly loved her itinerant life. The culture of travel suited her, and the bus that housed her family—she was one of eight sisters—was a mansion. She loved the next bend in the road, and she understood the rules of survival associated ...

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York City 15/07/2012

Lodging at One UN Plaza

Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York City Himself and Yours Truly stayed in the Millennium UN Plaza in October 2006 when we traveled to New York to visit a friend who was seriously ill. We booked the room online for two nights, and decided on the Millennium in order to provide easy access to the hospital. As a 4-star hotel, we thought it would offer a level of comfort that would allow us to concentrate on one another and our friend without having to be concerned about our surroundings. We got a sizable discount by booking online and at the last minute, but even so the room ran about $190 per night (plus taxes and assorted fees). The Millennium UN Plaza proved to be an immaculate high-rise hotel with a perfect location. It served us well for our particular mission, but most guests will be more impressed by the local attractions—which include the Headquarters complex of the United Nations in New York, located right across First Avenue from the hotel. The Trump World Tower is just down First Aveune, and Times Square is merely blocks away. Our room on the 21th floor had a stunning view to the north--a view that took in Roosevelt Island, the Queensborough Bridge, the East River, and the Trump World Tower. Otherwise, our generously sized room included a comfortable bed with crisp white sheets, sofa, small round coffee table, combined chest and desk unit, upholstered chair, television, and bedside table. Furnishings were simple and vaguely Scandinavian in character and tended to maximize space while facilitating their ...

Liberty Bell Center, Philadelphia 10/07/2012

'Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land'

Liberty Bell Center, Philadelphia When Himself and Yours Truly visited Independence National Historical Park, one of our first excursions was to the Liberty Bell Center. Every American child learns something about the Liberty Bell. From its original location in the bell tower above Independence Hall, it witnessed key events related to the founding of the United States and became a noteworthy symbol of American liberty—and not a small part of our national mythology. A few facts seem in order. The Liberty Bell was cast in London’s White Chapel Foundry in 1752. It cracked soon after arrival in Philadelphia and was recast in 1753 by local craftsmen. The bell was likely rung to celebrate the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. It derives its name fom the Biblical quotation inscribed on its surface: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto its inhabitants." Its symbolic value was incorporated into the abolition movement during the 1830s, and it later traveled far and widely in post-Civil War America as part of the effort to bind the union back together. There are a number of stories associated with the how and when the bell cracked, but the Park Service maintains that in the 1840s, its tones began to be affected by a tiny crack. Attempts at repair proved unsuccessful, and the prominent crack that now features so largely was acquired when the bell was rung in 1846 in honor of George Washington’s birthday. The Liberty Bell is now the raison d'être for the Independence ...

Winning Moves Top Cards - Pit 20/05/2012

Bing! Bing! Bing!

Winning Moves Top Cards - Pit Himself and Yours Truly first encountered the game of Pit about 35 years ago. A family member with a wry sense of humor gave us the game as a holiday gift, and it proved to be the hit of the season—at least among the adults. Pit it a card game based on the commodities market. The deck consists of 74 cards—8 suits of 9 cards representing the commodities being traded, plus bull and bear cards (one each of these). The commodities exchanged are rye, barley, corn, hay, rice, flax, wheat, and oats. The game also comes with a bell, styled to resemble the old-fashioned counter-top bell that customers ring when they need service in a small shop or other place of business. The game is played much like “books,” but with players acting all at once without taking turns—to recreate the pandemonium on the floor of the stock market. The number of cards in play depends on the number of players. At least three people are required, but up to eight can play. Since play depends on suits, one entire suit of cards is used for each player. Thus six players would use 54 cards representing six sets of commodities, with each player dealt 9 cards. Once the cards are dealt, players are given a brief amount of time to determine which market they wish to corner, then the dealer rings the bell to commence play. Players begin simultaneously shouting out how many cards they wish to trade. This continues with players exchanging cards among themselves until one player has all the cards of a particular suit. ...

KitchenAid Professional 5 Plus KV25G0XBU 03/05/2012

The Sad Fate of a Kitchen Mega-Toy

KitchenAid Professional 5 Plus KV25G0XBU As a cook, I favor basic tools in the kitchen. I have my hand tools, if you will: spatulas, wooden spoons, scrapers, whisks—that sort of thing. I also have a good hand mixer. But I have never really wanted or needed a big stand mixer. Himself, on the other hand, likes his gadgets and power tools. He also likes an occasional foray into the kitchen. He has a handful of special recipes for which he is the master, and he prepares them two or three times a year. To enhance his equipment base, at retirement he decided to add a KitchenAid Professional 5 Plus stand mixer to our kitchen. He went with KitchenAid because of its reputation as first in class. All the better for making the perfect cheesecake--or so he reasoned. We waited for a sale and bought the item at $299 rather than the full $399 purchase price. That was still, in my opinion, a hefty cost when compared to my sturdy Black and Decker hand mixer procured 15 years ago for $49. Nonettheless, the Pro 5 Plus is a lovely item—even beautiful. Himself chose the model in basic black enamel, with a stainless steel 5-quart bowl, plus the dough hook, flat beater, and wire whip. It looks positively impressive on our appliance cart. It's available is several other colors, including fire-engine red, white, and cobalt blue, and yellow. The unit is designed for ten speed settings. It has a handle on the side allowing the user to raise and lower the bowl, and it uses 450 watts of electricity. It contains the basic bells and whistles for ...

What is your favourite spring celebration? 27/04/2012

Cherry Blossom Time in DC - Lessons in 'Growing' a Friendship

What is your favourite spring celebration? "Cherry blossom time"—that’s how Washingtonians casually refer to their annual Cherry Blossom Festival on the National Mall. Each spring, politicians in the world’s single remaining superpower must compete with the lovely pale pink blooms of ornamental Japanese cherry trees for dominance in the local headlines. Happily, as often as not the cherry blossoms win. The 2012 festival ran from March 20 to April 27. The festival's ability to trump the political rhetoric of the capital is just one reason why it's one of my favorite harbingers of spring. Much of the festival consists of just what you might expect: a parade down Constitution Avenue complete with supersized balloons, concerts, arts and crafts shows, family activities, food vendors, fireworks, walking and bicycle tours, "royalty" selected to reign over various events, and a formal grand ball. Other aspects of the festival aren’t so usual. The opening ceremonies, for example, are officiated over by representatives from Japan, the United States, and the District of Columbia and involve lighting a 2-ton, 350-year-old stone Japanese lantern. The grand ball incorporates a traditional sushi reception. The festival’s royalty includes Japan's Cherry Blossom Queen. Indeed, there is a distinct Japanese essence to many of the events associated with the festival—including the attendees. Washington typically enjoys disproportionate numbers of Japanese visitors at this time of year. As it happens, the cherry trees that are the focus of ...

Luminarc Tall Goblets 26/04/2012

For Our Perfect Garden Party

Luminarc Tall Goblets Two years ago Himself and Yours Truly hosted a joint garden party with his sister and her partner. The excuse for the party was Sis’s 70th and my 60th birthdays. For us, this meant a once-in-a-lifetime event where we wanted everything to be right. As part of that we hired a caterer and worked with her to arrange everything to our liking pavilion, tables, chairs, dinner plates, etc. Among the smaller details for the party was glassware. We didn’t have 50 matching beverage or wine glasses, but that’s what we wanted—proper matching glassware from which our guests could drink. We briefly considered plastic, but the better plastic items aren’t exactly cheap and they are really no substitute for glass. In the end, we got lucky. We found Luminarc tall goblets on a clearance sale and snapped all we would need at a price only a little higher than the cost of the plastic. Happily Luminarc is one brand that is readily available in both the UK and the U.S.—unlike so many of the products used either side of the Pond. I was frankly surprised to find them on the Ciao lists, as I have become accustomed to not being able to find the everyday brands I use here in the States either in British stores or on British review sites. There is difference, however. Here we would more likely call them tall glasses or tumblers, not goblets. That aside, Luminarc tall goblets are strudy, yet elegant. They are constructed with a heavy base and thin walls, though not so thin that one worries they will shatter ...

The Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, United Kingdom 18/04/2012

Where's Nessie?

The Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, United Kingdom Himself, Yours Truly, and our 11-year-old grandson visited the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre in June 2011. The centre is located in the village of Drumnadrochit in the Highlands west of Loch Ness. We were there in hopes of learning a bit more about Nessie lore. What we found was something entirely different. To the diehard Nessie enthusiast, it will likely be a great disappointment. That’s because, as its name clearly states, the primary focus of the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre is on the loch itself—not the famous monster that is its namesake. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that Nessie isn’t mentioned. It’s a bit more subtle than that. What the Centre does is to explain the mythology surrounding the elusive beast in the light of scientific inquiry and exploration. So instead of viewing the evidence ‘for’ Nessie, the visitor is given a multimedia presentation on evidence that effectively argues ‘against’ her existence. The Centre is housed in a Victorian structure that once served as hotel. The old hotel has been modified into a series of seven exhibit chambers, each with its own theme. The tour begins in the lobby in front of the fireplace, and I confess to wondering momentarily if I would be commanded to toss flue powder up the chimney ala Harry Porter. Instead, we stood in the middle of the room while we were given an introductory film projected on the wall above the mantle. The light in the room was not really suitable for this purpose, but that didn’t affect the narrative. ...

White Bridge Hotel, Whitebridge 16/04/2012

Lodging East of Loch Ness

White Bridge Hotel, Whitebridge When Himself and Yours Truly planned our trip to Britain last year, a visit to Loch Ness was high on the itinerary agenda. This trip was for our 11-year-old grandson, and it was his wish to see castles. Urquhart Castle was on the short list of must-see attractions. A secondary attraction in this particular region, of course, was Nessie herself—the infamous Loch Ness Monster. None of us could be classified as Nessie diehards, but the mythology of the illusive beast was definitely appealing, particularly for our grandson. Finding a place to stay in this area is never easy, especially if you require a triple or quadruple accommodation. The obvious choice would have been the Drumnadrochit Hotel, which is located just around the bend from the castle and next to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre. Our problem with this option was that it is a new facility. We wanted something with a bit more character, even if it wasn’t quite as convenient. Eventually we settled on the Whitebridge Hotel, east of the loch in a relatively remote location. The adults in our company were attracted by both the remoteness and the apparent charm of the hotel, which was built at the end of the 19th century and seemed to sit pretty much in the middle of nowhere—albeit a rather beautiful nowhere, which was just our cup of tea. The Whitebridge was built on the site of an old military hostel, a King’s House, which housed soldiers traveling along the old military road—now part of the B862. The setting is ...

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness 20/12/2011

Urquhart Castle - aka, Nessie Central

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness Urquhart Castle is an impressive ruin on the western shore of Loch Ness, near the village of Drumnadrochit. For those driving along the A82 between Fort Augustus and Inverness, Urquhart can quite simply take the breath away. It sits beautiful and serene on a small spit of land extending into and slightly above the loch. The ruins are graceful, honed by time into a tranquil scene that belies their original purpose as a stronghold for waging the endless clan wars of the region—not to mention the wars between the Scots and the English. Pass the castle at night and it will be floodlit, its stones appearing golden in the surrounding darkness. Pass it in spring, and the bright yellow accents of gorse dot the surrounding landscape. Pass it in winter after a snowfall, and its outlines are draped under a white blanket to create a fairyland effect. Any time one passes Urquhart there will be a reason to pay attention. Like the effects created by the seasons, the surface of the loch will add drama to the surroundings. Whether catching rays of sunlight, reflecting an overcast sky, or dancing under a deluge of rain, the loch dominates the mood of the view. Himself and Yours Truly have passed the castle several times, but until this summer when we took our grandson on a tour of British castles, we had never actually toured the grounds. Since Urquhart is also what you might call "Nessie central" (with most of the sightings occurring near here), it was on our list for two reasons—as a ...

Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City 21/02/2011

A Shabby Reminder of Better Times

Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City About 4 years ago Himself and Yours Truly traveled to the Big Apple to attend an international wrestling meet at the New York Athletic Club. Our youngest nephew was a competitor, and we wanted to join other far-flung family members to cheer him on. We stayed at the Hotel Pennsylvania because our nephew’s athletic club had arranged for a group discount and had extended the option of a special rate to the athletes’ family members. The 22-story Hotel Pennsylvania should have been a great place to stay. It has a perfect location on 7th Avenue at 33rd, across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Macy’s flagship store is just a stone’s throw away, and most of the attractions of Midtown are within easy walking distance. For those who prefer not to walk, connections to public transportation are close and plentiful. The hotel’s façade and lobby speak of luxury from another era—Ionic columns at the entrance; marble and mirrors in the lobby, overshadowed by an oversized crystal chandelier; and a history that includes performances by a legion of famous names from the Big Band era. Now the Pennsylvania’s elegance is overshadowed by its shabbiness, and renovation is badly needed. Our room was large enough, but there is no way around it—it was dirty. The carpets were worn and soiled, with a disagreeable buildup around the edges. Grout around the bathroom tiles was black with age and lack of vigorous cleaning, and nowhere did the floor stand up to close inspection. I usually ...

Quality Inn and Suites Johnson City, Johnson City 21/09/2010

Solid Quality and Comfort in Johnson City

Quality Inn and Suites Johnson City, Johnson City Given the geography of the United States, long-distance travel is often undertaken in the form of road trips lasting several hours—or even several days. As a result, our interstate highways are lined with a profusion of motels, hotels, and inns offering overnight accommodation to travelers who are simply in transit. It’s fair to say that many of these establishments look alike. They are mostly modern, have tall pole-mounted signs that can be spotted from the roadway, are relatively simple in their design and decoration, and offer basic relaxation to road weary travelers in the form of swimming pools, fitness rooms, and cable television. During a recent road trip to help care for my mother (who lives 1,000 miles away), Himself and Your Truly decided to break our return journey home with a side trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This meant extending what is usually a 2-day road trip to 3 days (and 2 nights). Our second night out, after spending most of the day wandering into various corners of the Blue Ridge Mountains, found us near Johnson City, Tennessee, looking for a place to stay. We solved the problem by phoning the toll-free number for one of our favorite chains (Choice Hotels, in this case) and requesting a reservation. After a brief conversation, we settled on the local Quality Inn & Suites, which happened to be a recent recipient of the chain’s awards for excellence. Quality Inns are usually classified as 2-star hotels. They typically have few interior ...

Comfort Inn On The River, Gatlinburg 03/05/2010

Beware of Grunge Lurking in Corners

Comfort Inn On The River, Gatlinburg Himself and Yours Truly recently spent the night in a Comfort Inn located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We were headed for a day’s outing along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we planned to make our way there by cutting through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in order to catch the parkway at its southern end. We chose a Comfort Inn because they generally provide the courtesy, comfort, and cleanliness our aging bodies crave. We find that Comfort Inn generally means affordable quality, and I admit to allowing past experience and expectations to make me lazy. Clearly, I didn’t ask enough questions when I called for reservations. Comfort Inn on the River has a great location—close to downtown Gatlinburg with all its attractions and right on banks of the Little Pigeon River. The hotel is located on a narrow strip of land between the river and the highway. Standing on the room’s small balcony, one cannot help but enjoy the sight and sound of a small mountain river as its waters rush past. From the room itself, however, it’s the traffic on the highway that one hears. It’s almost as if the designers decided to soundproof the hotel against the sounds of the river while allowing the noise of traffic to pass unmuffled. Of greater concern than the noise was the grunge found lurking in the corners of the bathroom. I’ve come to realize that there are two basic types of hotel rooms: those in which housekeeping has kept the corners and edges of bathroom floors clear of buildup and ...

Coney Island of the Mind - Lawrence Ferlinghetti 18/04/2010

Awaiting a Rebirth of Wonder

Coney Island of the Mind - Lawrence Ferlinghetti Lawrence Ferlinghetti is hardly a household name these days. Nonetheless, I doubt that anyone who has read or heard his verse could have forgotten the experience. Emerging from the Coffee House/Beat tradition of the 1950s, Ferlinghetti's poetry serves as a powerful time capsule that captured the conscience of an era. I've owned my slim copy of A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (first published in 1958) since I was a senior in high school. Remarkably, not even the cover design has changed since I made my purchase in 1966. The cover price, of course, has risen significantly from $1.50, which at the time I thought outrageous for a paperback book. As the title of this volume suggests, its content touches a kalidescope of themes. Ferlinghetti's poetry uses plain language to expound upon everything from childhood innocence to pacifism, social and political alienation, the quiet joys of everyday life, and an analysis of the works of Goya. The book is divided into three distinct sections: ~ A Coney Island of the Mind, which allows the reader to accompany the poet on his flights of fancy; ~ Oral Messages, a series of poems meant to be read (and heard) aloud; and ~ Poems from Pictures from a Gone World, a group of previously published works. Ferlinghetti's poetry is powerful, passionate, and vivid--often using sarcasm to illustrate its message. It also reflects an innocence and hopefulness that often eludes writings associated with what ...

New Linden Hotel, London 08/12/2009

Home Base for Traveling with a Grandchild

New Linden Hotel, London Last spring, Himself and Yours Truly took our eldest grandchild on his first trip abroad. The destination he selected, perhaps with a bit of coaxing from Grandma and Grandpa, was the UK. In planning our 2-week trip, we set aside 4 days for London. Once that was decided, I went off in search of a base of operations for those 4 important days. Acting as the family trip planner, I selected the New Linden, a small hotel straddling Bayswater and Notting Hill, not far north of Kensington Gardens. The location was handy for buses and the tube, easily facilitating our forays around and about London. In the end, that choice came down to space and price. I wanted a space that would provide both our grandson and us with an opportunity for privacy, and I wanted to do so without paying the usual London prices for a ‘suite’. Our room at the New Linden was billed as a quadruple, though effectively it was a suite. It consisted of two bedrooms, one with two twins and one with a double, a small sitting area, and a generous bath. The double bedroom was several steps down (just short of a full flight), connected by an attractive staircase complete with columns, built-in shelves, and a small landing about midway down. There was no door between the two sleeping areas, so the layout provided access as well as privacy--both of which were needed by an 11-year-old so far away from Mom and Dad. For a London hotel, this was an incredibly delightful space. Our grandson loved it, and so did we. The ...
See more reviews Back to top