The Art of the Deal

August 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

by Lynn Ashby

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Republican from Houston, is including language in a foreign relations bill urging the State Department to negotiate with Mexico for the return of the only flag on the Texian side known to have survived the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. It is called the New Orleans Greys flag, carried by two companies of volunteers from the United States who fought on behalf of Texas’ independence. The flag was taken by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna after the battle and forwarded to Mexico (Santa Anna went on to victory at San Jacinto) where it has remained for the last 181 years. It is held in the Museo Nacional, or I guess it is. I first saw the flag there in a big glass case beside several other Lone Star flags captured in battle. A few years later I revisited the spot and the flag was gone. “It’s being restored,” I was told. Three years later I was told the same thing.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

          This brings us to an interesting tale of several arms and a leg, and the plot for a good movie. The flag is not the Lone Star flag we use today, but is 4 feet by 6 feet, sort of dirty gray in color and made of silk. Across the top of the banner are the words: “First Company of TEXAN” then there is an eagle holding a banner reading, “God & Country.” At the bottom is: “Volunteers! From New-Orleans.” The flag was presented by a pretty young girl to the New-Orleans Greys when they entered Texas in 1836. They were headed for a mission in San Antonio. It is known that at least two other flags were taken into the Alamo, but at dawn of March 6, 1836, when the last assault began, the Greys’ flag was the only one flying. It stood atop the barracks and so infuriated the attacking Mexicans that three different color sergeants of the Jimenez Battalion tried to climb up and rip it down. Each one was killed. Finally, Lt. Jose Maria Torres of the Zapadores Battalion made it to the roof, ripped down the Greys’ flag and, with the aid of Lt. Damasco Martinez, ran up the Mexican flag. Both were killed, but the Alamo flag never flew again.

            Later, Santa Anna sent the flag and a note back to the Mexican government explaining his victory, and his huge losses. He wrote, “The bearer takes with him one of the flags of the enemy’s battalions, captured today.” He goes on to write that the “New-Orleans” on the flag clearly shows “the true intention of the treacherous colonists . . . who came from the ports of the United States of the North.” The flag stayed in a drawer in Chapultepec Castle for 98 years, until 1934, when it was discovered. But it stayed put until the late 1960s when Walter Lord, an American historian, pulled open the drawer and found the Alamo flag with the note still pinned to it.

Since then Texas has tried everything to get it back. A special effort was made in 1986 during Texas’ Sesquicentennial celebration. Mexican officials said that the flag was too fragile for travel. There was a plan to trade the death mask of Pancho Villa for the flag. But the mask had been returned to Mexico a short time before by its owner. In 1991 the Texas Legislature asked President George H.W. Bush to make the flag’s return part of the NAFTA negotiations. Again, no luck. (We lost some bargaining chips when, during the 1950s, the United States unconditionally returned 69 captured battle flags to Mexico.) In 1994, State Sen. Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi said that the Mexican consul in that city, Armando Beteta, raised the possibility of trading the Alamo flag for three Mexican battle flags captured at San Jacinto. Nada. One group of Austinites reportedly discussed paying as much as $36,000 to have the flag stolen or otherwise obtained outside official channels, i.e. a bribe, or hire a cat burglar, maybe trade it for Santa Anna’s leg.

This brings us to the leg and my idea. I quote liberally from others’ research. Two years after the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna led a makeshift army against French forces that had invaded Veracruz. After the general was severely wounded, doctors amputated his leg, which Santa Anna buried at his Veracruz hacienda. After he once again assumed the presidency in 1842, Santa Anna exhumed his shriveled leg, paraded it to Mexico City in an ornate coach and buried it beneath a cemetery monument in an elaborate state funeral. However, in 1844, public opinion turned on the president, rioters tore down his statues and dug up his leg. A mob tied the severed appendage to a rope and dragged it through the streets of Mexico City while shouting, “Death to the cripple!”

But the Napoleon of the West had an artificial leg. He had once again become president of Mexico (seven times), and during a battle in the Mexican-American War, the 4th Illinois Infantry surprised Santa Anna, who fled without his cork and wooden leg. The soldiers seized the leg as a trophy and brought back to their home state, where it toured at county fairs before ending up at the Illinois State Military Museum. Mexico’s repeated requests to repatriate Santa Anna’s fake limb have been denied. So we buy the leg from Illinois, which is almost broke and in desperate need of money, then trade it to Mexico for our flag. Or my idea: The heist movie. A Ross Perot-like mogul, who explains he already has the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Magna Carta and Gettysburg Address, (“the ‘real ones’ are copies”), hires Raul “The Cat” LeSneak to steal the Alamo flag. Mexican Detective Jose Garcia is out to prevent it. Midnight roof tops, a fake flag, the car chase, an O. Henry ending. Pass the popcorn. 

 


Ashby directs at ashby2@comcast.net

Tantalizing Taos/ Mountain in Tamaya

August 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Photo by Laurette Veres

Just 135 miles from Albuquerque International Sunport and a short, 90-minute drive from Santa Fe, lies the sunny town of Taos, New Mexico. It’s here that you’ll find world-class skiing, hiking, camping, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, and mountain biking.

Taos is also a city steeped in culture and history. It is home to the country’s oldest continuously-inhabited Pueblo community.

In fact, many cultures blend together in Taos’ rich heritage including Hispanic, Native American, African American, Anglo, and more. The diverse cultural traditions that built this community are beautifully evident in the eclectic art and dining scene.

Other hidden gems include cultural sites like the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church (a National Historic Landmark), the downtown plaza known as “El Corazón de Taos,” not to mention a wealth of museums and art galleries.

New Mexicans have a tradition of inviting travelers into their homes and offering incredible hospitality. Bed and breakfast style inns all throughout Taos keep this tradition of hospitality alive. We started our B & B tour at Hacienda del Sol, which is situated on 1.2 majestic acres. The hacienda adjoins 95,000 acres of Taos Pueblo land with Taos Mountain. This stunning, picture perfect vista provides the ideal backdrop for an unforgettable wedding ceremony. We stayed in the oldest of three historic adobe buildings, constructed in 1804. Each morning we awoke to the aroma of freshly-ground, special blend coffee and a delicious breakfast in the air. This property is the perfect launch pad to explore the streets of Taos, or if you’d rather ski, head up to the Taos Ski Valley.

The big news on the slopes this year is the availability of the Mountain Collective Passes.

The Mountain Collective gives adventure seekers a two-day pass to 16 mountain resorts including Taos.

The legend of Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley, is alive and well as people are newly-introduced to skiing and snowboarding daily at the Ernie Blake Snowsports School. It is often said that Taos Mountain has the ability to make you a better skier. Blake knew that a long day of skiing could improve your skills but it could also wear you down so, he planned ahead.

He buried martinis in Spanish flasks called Porrons at the base of certain trees along the slopes then marked the trees with a bow so skiers knew where to look. This tradition continues at the Martini Tree Bar where it’s always après ski time.

Also new this season is The Blake at Taos Ski Valley. The Blake, named for the Blake family, is an 80-room alpine guesthouse conveniently located next door to Lift 1 to deliver carefree mountainside adventures to its guests. If you’re looking for a unique wedding venue, The Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant provides a beautiful backdrop to make your Taos wedding celebration even more distinctive and memorable.

We continued our bed and breakfast tour at the Casa Benavides Inn. This property, a complex of several converted buildings, boasts 37 rooms on the property. Each themed room has a different name and décor from “The Blue Lady Room” to a “Painted Desert Room.” Casa Benavides is conveniently located just steps from the main square in the heart of Taos and all it has to offer. We arrived mid-afternoon and were greeted by tea service and a plethora of sweet pastries. The rooms at Casa Benavides are quite spacious with heated tile floors and our large bathtub had a mountain view. Breakfast was spectacular— the homemade yogurt is perfectly sweet with coconut and cranberries, but be sure to save room for the homemade muffins.

Looking to be pampered? Just down the street from Casa Benavides you’ll find the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort, home to the The Living Spa. With a view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; the Living Spa offers all modern spa amenities with New Mexican flair. The couple’s massage room features a high ceiling and a private bath and shower. Here, you will be pampered by some of the best therapists in the area. Don’t skip the “Sagrado High Desert” massage. This service blends indigenous plants such as cedar, sage, and ginger then crafts them into an herb- infused, body scrub treatment. Next, you are wrapped in an ancient sea-clay mask, which they say helps to “draw toxins out of the body.” After a quick shower, enjoy a gentle butter cream massage. When your treatment is over, enjoy refreshing coconut water in the outdoor garden.

Want some down-home, authentic New Mexican food? Head to Orlando’s New Mexican Café in nearby El Prado. Enjoy the outdoor fire and a margarita while you wait to be seated. Husband and wife team, Orlando and Yvette Ortega are consistently “Best of ” award winners for their Grilled Carne Adovada— a pork cutlet topped with their homemade Red Chile Caribe and fresh tortillas.

ESSENTIALS

www.taos.org www.skitaos.com 

www.taoshaciendadelsol.com 

www.casabenavides.com

www.elmontesagrado.com/taos-spa-resort-amenities

THE DRESSING ROOM WEST

by Owner, Christina Ferrara

In the heart to the Santa Fe historical district, a new retail concept is energizing the bridal business. Offering the thrill of a sample sale coupled with the exclusivity of private appointments, The Dressing Room West is a bridal boutique catering to the needs of today’s brides. “Everything here is off-the-rack,” says boutique founder Christina Ferrara. “You can take it home today.”

What a change from the typical bridal gown appointment! All gowns at The Dressing Room West are brand spanking new and direct from designers or designer warehouses. With this constantly changing, curated collection of discontinued or overstocked gowns, it’s the perfect boutique for the girl who finds it hard to visualize her perfect dress. If the dress fits, buy it. Nothing in the store is over $1,200. – LMV

WHAT’S TRENDING NOW?

“Gowns are featuring open backs and the sheer, illusion backs now. Also, sleeves are very popular” says Ferrara.

FERRARA’S TIPS FOR BRIDES

#1 Always have some sort of idea (about what you are looking for)

#2 Don’t bring too many people

#3 Have an open mind

 

Mountain in Tamaya

Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort

On the majestic Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa offers a picturesque setting for an extraordinary wedding or honeymoon getaway.

The Tamaya is located on the Santa Ana Pueblo, one of the 19 ancient pueblos in New Mexico. As you enter the property, the scenery is so breathtaking that you just might forget you are heading toward a luxury resort. In fact, The Tamaya blends right into its surroundings like a perfect painting with its pueblo-style architecture against the indelible Southwestern landscape.

In the main hotel, there are three glorious options designed to fit your unique wedding plans. For a smaller guest list, consider the Sunrise Amphitheater, a gorgeous flagstone area set against the canvas of the nearby mountains. The Sunrise is an ideal space for an outdoor ceremony particularly in the early evening. The light is just right for your closest friends and family to celebrate and snap unforgettable photos of your happy occasion. This outdoor space can seat up to 350 guests and the adjoining veranda can be set up for cocktails or act as a backup location in case of inclement weather.

For weddings during colder months or large groups, the versatile Tamaya Ballroom might be a better choice. You’ll love the dazzling chandeliers in this capacious yet functional room that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests.

Perhaps the most unique of these spaces, The House of the Hummingbird, duplicates the rustic charm of adobe pueblo ruins complete with views of the Sandia Mountains and the sacred Tuyuna Mesa. This space has it all; it is the quintessential New Mexican setting. This 8,600 square-foot multi- purpose venue can hold up to 300 guests. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom can make an unforgettable grand exit in a romantic horse- drawn carriage.

The Cottonwoods Gazebo and Pavilion seems so far removed from the hotel’s main property, you’ll forget you are at a resort. The gazebo and adjoining pavilion, located right on the Rio Grande River, is the ultimate space for an outdoor ceremony.

It features a unique indoor/outdoor ballroom that can host up to 300 guests for your ceremony and reception.

If you want to offer your guests a destination wedding with an authentic New Mexican flair, the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa is the perfect option.

For more information on the Hyatt Resort:

https://tamaya.regency.hyatt.com

Pops of New Glimmers Old

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Stephanie DiCiro

Courtesy of Visit Mobile

The charming port city of Mobile, Alabama has a character all its own. Deeply rooted within its rich history are streets lined with live oaks and azaleas, time-honored traditions and a remarkable, enduring spirit, all wrapped up in a big dose of Southern hospitality. When you step into Mobile, it always feels like a celebration.

With over 300 years of history brimming with countless stories and traditions celebrated, Mobile can be described as: historic, cultured, celebratory, and above all, unique. Once known as the “Paris of the South”, Mobile has long been the cultural focal point of the Gulf Coast. Even a short visit will provide you with a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience you won’t find anywhere else in the Southern United States!

Recent revitalization in Mobile’s many historical districts provides a picture window to the past. The Steeple on St. Francis is one of old Mobile’s most inspired new event venues that has emerged from the hallowed halls of an old Methodist church.This vintage space holds history within its timeworn walls although it has been renovated and repurposed to host concerts, parties, and weddings. Couples are drawn to this space because it tells an interesting story while also providing the exceptional aesthetic of immaculate stained glass windows and intricate wood-working details. If you visit in the spring, be sure to hit the Mobile Historic Homes Tour. Ancestral homes, churches and house museums are open to the public for this two-day event to benefit the Historic Mobile Preservation Society.

Mobile holds the distinction of being the original and unsung home to the infamous Mardi Gras parade and celebration. Each spring the parade rolls through the historic streets of downtown with its elaborate and vibrant floats, flooding the streets with beads and pelting the townspeople with Moon Pies. This parade is a grandiose finish to the revelry of a two-and-a-half-week citywide celebration called Carnival! Carnival time in Mobile is a family-friendly time to attend balls, parties, and parades filled with non- stop celebration. In Mobile, the fun doesn’t stop on Fat Tuesday. The Mobile Carnival Museum captures the essence of the Mardi Gras legacy year round, with stunning displays of parade floats, elaborate, century- old costumes and a wonderful history lesson.

Everywhere you turn, Mobile is buzzing with creative souls displaying their amazing expressions of art. Much of Downtown Mobile and in particular Lower Dauphin Street or LoDa, as it is known, is a creative hub for artists to express their talents with studios, galleries and art centers showcasing everything from dramatic murals, contemporary sculptures and abstract paintings, to endless other types of artful creations. The Mobile Arts Council, located in the heart of LoDa, is an agency that partners with art organizations to bring events like the LoDa ArtWalk to the public. The outrageously popular LoDa ArtWalk brings thousands of people together to appreciate the latest in local art, music, food and culture. If carefully curated art is more your style, the Mobile Museum of Art showcases approximately 10,000 eclectic pieces from around the world and hosts exhibits, classes, programs and special events for the community.

The Saenger Theatre brings performance art to life in a historical theater experience; prestige, poise, presentation, and pizazz are all present when describing this glorious concert hall that has played host to local, national, and international performers. From classic and contemporary art, music and dance to luxury hand-made furnishings and homemade crafts, visiting these diverse local galleries and pop-up markets will be an unforgettable experience and will leave you with an enduring appreciation for the southern charm this quaint town has to offer! The arts community in Mobile is flourishing with countless creative and artistic activities and festivals to enjoy. Your calendar will be booked throughout your visit!

Hit the streets of downtown Mobile for some retail therapy where you’re sure to find a hidden treasure or two in one of the local boutiques! After a busy day of shopping, you can choose from a variety of delicious dishes sure to satisfy your taste buds. From the award winning seafood gumbo at Wintzell’s Oyster House to the locally sourced ingredients from the esteemed Kitchen on George, you won’t be disappointed with any food choice in Mobile!

If you’re seeking adventure, whether you take a Delta Safari for an up-close view of local wildlife or take an airboat tour across the picturesque Mobile- Tensaw Delta, Mobile is the perfect place for those of you who love the outdoor life. From boating, kayaking, and duck boat tours to a guided tour of the famous Bellingrath Gardens, this town has the total package for a weekend getaway full of adventure and excitement! Located in the heart of downtown, the Admiral Hotel

Mobile offers a lavish setting and modern conveniences for guests to return to after a leisurely day of shopping and dining. The Admiral has it all; deluxe guest room suites and two delightful dining options on- site, and just walking distance from everything this engaging town has to offer!

Perfect for a family weekend getaway, a romantic escape for two, or even a group of festivalgoers, Mobile attracts a variety of visitors because it provides an authentic experience you can’t find anywhere else!

ACCOMMODATIONS

www.mobile.org

www.theadmiralhotelmobile.curiocollection.com

www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.com

www.mobilesaenger.com

www.mobilemusuemofart.com

www.mobilearts.org

www.thesteeplemobile.com

www.wintzellsoysterhouse.com

www.kitchenongeorge.com

Cabo is Calling

August 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Vicki Dill

Courtesy of Grand Velas Resort

After taking hundreds of pictures of breathtaking views and stunning scenery, I am heading home from the brand new hotel, Grand Velas Los Cabos, that just celebrated its grand opening in December I feel refreshed, tan and ready to book my next trip back to this luxurious resort that catered to my every whim!

Whether you’re planning a destination wedding, a honeymoon, an anniversary trip or just because you’re in love, Grand Velas Los Cabos will go above and beyond at every turn.

Upon my arrival, the smiling hospitable staff warmly greeted me by name. The bold entrance to the hotel features what appears to be a keyhole to a paradise of turquoise waters, purple gardenias and swaying palm trees framing a pristine blue sky. Checking in is stress free when presented with a refreshing welcome drink, a cooling towel and (the clincher) a welcome shoulder and neck massage.

Rooms are modern and sexy with rich, dark, wooden doors, sliding bathtub walls that open to the suite, and a mini bar filled with the promise of lively afternoons and seductive nights. Your own private butler is on hand to ensure that all of your needs are met. Soak up the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, three infinity pools and the colorful gardens all from the chaise lounge on your own private terrace.

All-inclusive has never looked this good. Upscale, stylish, and award-winning are terms that best describe the dining experience at Grand Velas Los Cabos. With seven restaurants, in addition to several casual dining areas, you’ll want to stay as many nights as possible to enjoy the culinary genius at each unique Grand Velas establishments. The shining star of their gourmet restaurants, Cocina de Autor, was the world’s first all-inclusive resort restaurant to be awarded Five Diamonds by the AAA. Two Michellin Star Chef, Sidney Schutte, prepares meals that ignite your senses and really should be showcased in a museum of exquisitely presented fine food! For an authentic Mexican experience, Frida, a restaurant honoring Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, offers live music and contemporary dishes reflecting the traditions of Mexican cuisine. The French restaurant, Piaf, is romantic and evokes the feel of 1940’s Paris.

You can’t go home without eating at Lucca, their Italian/ Mediterranean restaurant, which is sure to leave you feeling full and happy!

The spa…wow–Just WOW! You begin your spa adventure with a guided hydrotherapy called The Water Journey. This tranquil area of the spa has a massive pool with several small coves. Each cove has a different type of water pressure, designed to massage your muscles and de-stress your body. There are waterbeds that elevate you with hydro pressure, and knead your joints and muscles as you relax. After that peaceful journey, you can add traditional spa treatments like the sauna, steam room, ice room and a series of unique showers. The steam room was a favorite. It features delicate lights that dim and change colors giving you a feeling of serenity. I had a Blue Agave Candle Massage; something I had never experienced and thoroughly enjoyed. A multitude of services are offered and the Grand Velas Spas are among The Leading Spas of the World. It would be easy to spend your entire vacation at the Grand Velas Los Cabos Resort. Spend a dreamlike day at one of the three infinity pools. Keep cool at the swim-up tables and bar and enjoy sipping the specialty drink of the day. The service is attentive, the beverages plentiful, and the menu is perfect for poolside dining. In addition, Grand Velas Los Cabos offers many activities to keep you engaged. There’s poker, darts, water aerobics, bingo, Ping-Pong, and a fully loaded fitness center with classes. There’s also a kids club and a teen club that even the adults will find entertaining.

If you are a person who likes to take in the sights, there are countless ‘once in a lifetime’ adventures available in Cabo! Situated at the tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the Los Cabos region is well known for deep- sea fishing and seasonal whale watching, but also boasts a lively nightlife. Cabo Adventures is a leading tour and activity operator dedicated to providing memorable experiences for vacationers in Cabo. I was lucky enough to be a guest on their Luxury Sailing Tour aboard the elegant Beneteau Yacht. Our cruise took us to the Sea of Cortes where we jumped off the boat, snorkeled, paddle boarded, swam and enjoyed the breathtaking beauty of the Pacific Ocean. We enjoyed great music, upscale, tasty meals, all you could eat and drink margaritas, mimosas, cervezas, and more! Cabo Adventures also offers dolphin swims, camel safaris, scuba diving, whale watching tours, sunset dinners, whale shark encounters, zip-lining, mountain biking, air adventures and even fly boarding.

If you are planning a wedding or a honeymoon, Grand Velas Los Cabos is a picturesque, accommodating and endlessly romantic destination. Their experienced team will assist you with every detail.With so many beautiful and unique restaurants you’ll have many options when planning your wedding events. A Grand Velas wedding is beyond your imagination. Whether you choose a beach wedding among the oceanside boulders or opt for a garden ceremony overlooking the vast ocean, a private terrace wedding or even a wedding in one of their many ballrooms;it will be a day you’ll wish you could relive over and over again.

Grand Velas Los Cabos will exceed your every expectation. Step away from real life for a few days and treat yourself to the luxury you deserve.

ESSENTIALS:

www.grandvelas.com/resorts 

www.loscabos.grandvelas.com 

www.cabo-adventures.com

Gateway Canyons

July 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Laurette Veres

Courtesy Laurette Veres

John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel, recalls his dad’s love affair with the majestic landscape of Western Colorado. Years later, when he finally took the time to see it for himself, he was hooked!

John regards this part of the world as some of the most awe-inspiring, scenic terrain in creation and his vision is to share it with others. First, he built a ranch. Then he was inspired to add a car museum followed by a café and a few guest rooms to accommodate visitors. Today, Gateway Canyons Colorado Resort and Spa is a full-service, 58-room/14-casita luxury resort.

This one-of-a-kind resort sits at the mouth of five converging canyons, creating a picture-perfect setting for your destination wedding. The exposed rocks near Gateway Canyons are 300 million years old. Most notably, The Palisade is a three-mile long butte and the most prominent geologic feature in the area. Whether you capture it on film from afar or climb to the top, you’ll be in awe of its beauty and grandeur. Surrounded by breathtaking red rocks in every direction, you and your guests will never tire of the scenery here.

As you might expect at a Colorado resort, outdoor activities reign supreme. Whether you’re keen on mountain biking, hiking, riding ATVs or horseback riding, they’ve got you covered. If you’re feeling adventurous, opt for the scenic heli-tour. Heli-Yes!

For $525 you and four friends can get an aerial tour of these beautiful red rock canyons and the surrounding area.

The resort’s full-time curator, Zebulon “Zeb” Miracle (yes, this is really his name) is on hand to help guests interpret the curiosities of this land. Accompany him on a Rock Creek Ranch Art Hike and discover an ancient world of art and storytelling. Zeb explained that before the Ute Native American tribes inhabited the land, the Anasazi and Fremont people left their mark on the rocks with both abstract and realistic figures. Since none of their descendents remain, we are left to interpret the art for ourselves. If there are youngsters in your group, Zeb is also the guide for the Jurassic Experience, a dinosaur tour that includes a dinosaur dig and a chance to actually see prehistoric footprints. Get a bird’s eye view of the five canyons as you ride an ATV to the top. The stables also offer horseback rides taking you to scenic locations. Still a working cattle ranch, you just might see cowboys at work on your stay.

The bride and her maids can enjoy panoramic views from the treatment rooms at the full- service spa. The women-only outdoor Jacuzzi is the perfect place to kick off the relaxation. Their signature treatment, the Desert Flower Poultice Therapy, is their twist on a hot stone massage. As you enter the room, fragrant sage, lavender and other herbs simmer in muslin sachets similar to large tea bags. In fact, from an auditory perspective, this treatment is reminiscent of a facial due to the relaxing hiss of steam filling your senses. Deep tissue massage is administered using the herb packet.

A rare and unexpected offering here at the Gateway Canyons is the Driven Experience, allowing guests to drive some of the world’s most luxurious cars. Speeding down one of America’s most scenic roads such as the Unaweep/ Tabeguache Colorado Scenic Byway, a spectacular 133-mile road running around the National Forest and the Dolores River, feels exhilarating in a luxury car. Surprise your guests with an airport pick up in a Bentley or take a 4-hour spin in a Viper. Driving experiences such as these and more are available right on property. For a historic perspective of American cars, a visit to The Gateway Canyons Auto Museum is a must; don’t miss the one-of-a- kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car, considered a rare American icon.

Accommodations are five- star, each room containing a balcony with personal fire pit and in-room fireplace. The barn door entrance adds a dose of rustic charm as you enter the full bath with floating bathtub, walk-in shower, double sinks and ample counter space. One and two bedroom casitas are also available. There are 14 in all and a complete buyout for your wedding allows private access to the casita pool.

Your group will surely come hungry and they are in good hands. The Kiva Café is open daily for breakfast and lunch.

The Paradox Grille Patio is the perfect outdoor location for a quick Angus burger, Cobb salad or grilled cheese with tomato soup. Entrada offers fine dining nightly and can cater to any dietary needs. Wedding menus are customized, of course, but you might consider staying true to Colorado character with their signature Garlic-crusted Venison Loin.

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF SPACIOUS AND ELEGANT VENUES AVAILABLE FOR YOUR CEREMONY AND RECEPTION:

  • The Mission Bell Amphitheatre sits near the center of the property andis the perfect location for a cocktail reception or ceremony. As the name implies, this structure resembles a historic mission reflecting the Pueblo Revival style of the 1920s.
  • Cottonwood Terrace is the perfect grassy area to stage a small ceremony. Views of the surrounding canyons lend a unique sense of place to this setting.
  • Paradox Grille Courtyard is an outdoor brick courtyard perfect for a small, casual reception.
  • Gateway Ponds reflect the red sandstone mesa or the Palisade and can accommodate an intimate ceremony up to 75 guests.
  • The Palisade Grand Ballroom is the largest indoor venue accommodating 200 guests. These functional rooms are mainly used as weather back up spaces.

For more information visit:

www.GatewayCanyons.com

ANOTHER LITTER LETTER

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

By Lynn Ashby                                                                       24 July 2017

 

ANOTHER LITTER LETTER

To my constituents:

From time to time, like every week, as your U.S. Representative, I like to bring you up to speed on all the great things I am doing for you. True, some of my political enemies, actually some of my friends, say that sending out such a letter to 600,000 citizens telling how great I am is a waste of taxpayers’ money. I say in reply: what about Benghazi? Let me begin by pointing out that, despite what the fake press is saying, thus far I am not under indictment. To quote a report from the House Ethics Committee: “His dealings are beyond comprehension.” Considering how little House members can comprehend, this is a low bar, but I’ll take it. The photos of me accepting a briefcase allegedly full of cash from the Compost Cable Co., which is having FCC problems, are obviously fakes, not to mention the bag of unmarked bills from the Friends of Smog. I blame the press. Who are you going to believe? Likewise, the hacked emails to the Russian embassy couldn’t be from me since I don’t speak Russian.

This session I introduced a bill to legalize personal ownership of howitzers, but only for home defense. It’s known as the Howie Bill in honor of Bill Howie who made a brave political statement by attempting to fire off a round from his front yard. Doctors say he should be walking within months. The bill is bottled up in the Sub-Committee for Absolutely Stupid Ideas. My effort to make sure any law passed by the Texas Legislature is approved by Congress is being filibustered by some members of the Gang for Total Control because “it doesn’t go far enough.”

There is a movement by do-gooders to redraw my Congressional district. They call it “gerrymandering.” I call it “the perfect Rorschach test.” The district lines simply put those voters with similar political philosophies – like mine — in one group, even if some live in Beaumont while others live in Seguin and Amarillo. Hey, you think I like those 700-mile campaign trips? There have been questions about my lack of town meetings. Again, false. Perhaps you missed my open town meeting to answer all your stupid questions at the Lions Club basement in Waco at 3 a.m. True, it was not very well attended, but I did my part. Actually, I did try to hold another town meeting at the Aaron Burr Elementary School, but it was called off after the SWAT squad couldn’t guarantee my safety. Those of you who tried to storm my home office demanding a face-to-face meeting with me were understandably irritated over the use of pepper spray and fire hoses.

Of course, I have received many phone calls, letters and emails asking about my stand on the administration of President and Grand Kleagle Donald Trump. His health plan, aka Trumpcare, doesn’t mess with those who don’t have health insurance, and I’m proud to say that Texas is Number 1 in that category. Under Trump’s, plan, if you like your disease, you can keep your disease. If you don’t have a doctor, you probably don’t need a doctor. If you like Obamacare, you can’t keep Obamacare. As for the President’s alternative facts, don’t you want a President who sees things differently? That’s leadership! It has been pointed out that photos show Trump had a smaller inauguration crowd than Obama’s, but they didn’t count the invisible majority.

As for voter fraud, it is true: Three to four million people illegally cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton. They are called “Democrats.” The tale that the Time magazine covers showing Trump as “Man of the Century” are fake has been confirmed by Time. But do you expect those snowflakes to keep track of every weekly cover they publish? I say in reply: what about Monica Lewinski? Finally, King Donald has been called arrogant, a narcissist and possibly unhinged. Hey, what do psychiatrists know? Besides, those findings have been clearly knocked down by Fox News with its three-hour special: “Donald Trump – A great president or our greatest president?” Also, I hope you saw the Sean Hannity show: “President Trump – Our 51st State.”

Moving on, there have been rumors that Deep State is attempting to undermine the present administration. For those of you who don’t, or can’t, read more than the label on a Bud can, Deep State is made up of holdovers from the Obama administration still in office, plus commie-lib college professors and, of course, the media, who are secretly trying to sabotage all the new rules, regulations and Tweaks put out daily from the White House. My shrink says I am pretty well cured of paranoia, but those anti-Trump traitors are in place, with their secret handshakes and greetings like “Hello” and “Hi.” I personally have not seen any black helicopters hovering over Lafayette Circle, but at night, from my backyard, I hear the voice of Rachel Maddow chanting, “Russiagate. Russiagate.” This brings us to the scurrilous rumors that President Vladimir Putin secretly tilted the 2016 Presidential elections to Trump by spreading false stories about Hillary, the DNC and global warming. Those reports have been absolutely denied by Breitbart News, and if you can’t trust an objective, down the middle, purveyor of the truth, who can you trust? I, personally, called the West Wing to ask if there was any Russian interference or influence in the White House, and was told flatly, “Nyet.”

So, my dear constituents, I hope this answers all your questions. If you wish to pester me with your looney opinions, call or email me. My staff will be happy to handle your views. I wish I could personally answer you but I shall be on a fact-finding trip to Cancun, Monaco and Bali. I would be back after Labor Day but that is only a short time to the Thanksgiving recess and Christmas is just around the corner, so my work schedule is still undetermined.

 

Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystical Mayan Adventure

July 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Jade Lewis

Photo by Jade Lewis

After a short 15-minute drive from the Cancun International Airport, you arrive at Kukulcan Boulevard, home to Cancun’s Zona Hoteleria and two JW Marriott resort properties. Prepare to be greeted by name by an upbeat, attentive staff if you stay at either of these 5-Star resorts.

After checking in at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort, the staff provided a mini tour of the property and luxurious guestrooms. The JW Cancun offers 448 elegant ocean-view rooms and suites, all just steps from beautiful white-sand beaches. Featuring five sparkling pools, the JW caters to couples, adults and families alike. The CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort located just up the beach is tailor-made for a family vacation with its tantalizing pool, kid’s club and amazing restaurants. The resorts are connected with a walkway so that you can choose either location and have an unforgettable stay.

Feeling hungry? There are a number of great choices within the adjoining Marriott properties and the nearby local eateriesto have an amazing dining experience. If you have a taste for Italian, Gustino Italian Beachside Grill boasts a phenomenal menu and a 4-Star rating from AAA. During my visit, Gustino’shosted high quality tequila tasting in their private tasting room, offering a sampling of Don Julio Luxury Tequilas in a wide range of vintages. Are you ready for food that is as beautiful as it is tasty? Try the fantastic Sasi Thai Cancun restaurant in the CasaMagna next door. Sasi Thai’s menu is a combination of nouveau Thai cuisine and traditional favorites. You simply can’t leave Cancun without getting out of the hotel and having some great tacos. Although good tacos are not hard to find in Cancun, I was lucky enough to attend the main event of Cancun’s annual Wine & Food Festival, the Star Chefs: Gourmet Taco Competition. This event invites you to taste signature tacos from 16 award-winning chefs along with the best wine, tequila and spirits and vote on your favorites.

With loads of great adventures to be had in Cancun, it can be hard to choose but visiting a Mexican cenote is a definite must! The Cenote Samulà and Cenote Xkeken are located about two hours outside Cancun but this adventure is well worth the trip.

A cenote is a freshwater sinkhole that creates a natural swimming hole of beautiful, refreshing water often surrounded by an underground cavern. While swimming at Cenote Samulà, the sun beamed through the roof of the cave and reflected off the water creating mystical lighting all around us. It was an unforgettable experience! After our swim, we grabbed lunch at El Meson Del Marques, a very traditional Mexican restaurant just like something from the movies. Another “must-do” on the Riviera Maya is snorkeling in the Mexican Caribbean. Visualize yourself navigating the Nichupte Lagoon in a speedboat, then jumping in and snorkeling in the clear, blue coastal waters. What better way is there to spend time with a loved one than exploring the Caribbean together?

After an adventurous day exploring Cancun or if you just want a little bit of heaven, escape to the luxurious spa experience at the JW Marriott. This 3-story Mayan-themed spa offers 17 treatment rooms, plus a steam room, sauna and lounge all dedicated to guests’ health and relaxation. Customized facial, massage and body treatment packages are available or you can opt for the ultimate Mayan traditional massage, the Hunab Ku Ritual. Of the three Mayan treatments available, the Hunab Ku is a mixture of unconventional healing movements and energy flow rituals based on traditional Mayan beliefs. They also offer relaxing couples massage therapy, perfect for honeymooners.

Adventure and mystical beauty await you at every turn on the Riviera Maya.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND RESERVATIONS:

www.marriott.com

www.mesondelmarques.com

www.wineandfoodfest.com

www.marinabarrcuda.com

Paradise Forever

July 12, 2017 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

By Marian Jacob

Photo by Marian Jacob

Mayakoba – “Village of Water”

On the majestic Caribbean shores of Mexico, the Mayakoba Resort on the Riviera Maya offers four exclusive luxury hotels surrounded by natural forests full of wildlife, freshwater lagoons and crystalline beaches. The newest of these is the long-awaited Andaz Mayakoba-Riviera Maya, a welcome addition to round out this spectacular master-planned retreat.

Mayakoba prides itself on sustainability and protecting the natural environment, while creating a luxurious escape to another world. Wake up to bird calls from over 200 species, and experience nature right from your room.

Stay in the presidential suite at the Andaz enveloped in tropical scenes of serene lagoons and lush greenery or behold the Fairmont’s hypnotic waterfront views and superbly cultivated gardens. Lose yourself in the Rosewood’s ultra-comfort service and white sandy beaches, or rent a villa at the Banyan Tree with your own private plunge pool and garden terrace.

Start off the day with a full breakfast buffet at Cocina Milagro at the Andaz, overlooking the pool or enjoy a good book while swinging in the hanging-egg wicker chairs. Set up a tee time at El Camaleón, a world-class golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and home to the PGA Tour OHL Classic. Like a chameleon, the surrounding vistas from the fairways change from mangroves and cenotes to sand dunes and white beaches. Take a ride in a golf cart tram through the winding roads of the exotic forests to El Pueblito, “El Corazón de Mayakoba”- The Heart of Mayakoba. Here, you can shop at boutiques filled with handmade textiles and pottery, take a cooking class at El Pueblito Cooking School or eat lunch at La Fondita. Enjoy a refreshing fruit drink at Bang Teng Thai or coffee at El Cafecito. On Sundays, they hold Mass at Santa Cruz Chapel, followed by the weekly Farmer’s Market.

Mayakoba offers a variety of activities from hiking and biking through meandering nature trails, bird watching for those rare and unique species of birds, honing your archery skills on the four-target range, or taking a guided kayak tour through the Mayakoba waterways. Take a leisurely tour of the entire resort via the Mayakoba Connection ferry service. Stop by each of the hotels to enjoy a meal and live music from myriad restaurant options: tasty tostadas and tequila from Olla Ceviche at Andaz, authentic Thai cuisine from Saffron at the Banyan Tree, sushi from Agave Azul at the Rosewood or enjoy golf club favorites and Latin wines at Koba on El Camaleón.

Get pampered with the 24-hour butler service at the Rosewood, with personalized room service and housekeeping. Use the Rosewood Mayakoba app to request services for those special moments on your honeymoon; from a romantic bubble bath or an intimate dinner to a helicopter ride over the Kulkulcan Pyramid in Chichen Itza.

For rejuvenation and spiritual healing, choose spa treatments rooted in ancient Mayan rituals such as the Mayan Clay Purification treatment at Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont or a fresh honey body scrub and massage at the award-winning Banyan Tree Spa. The spa at the Andaz has six treatment rooms and two hydrotherapy spaces dedicated to your relaxation as well as a full-service salon to keep you looking as great as you feel.

If you’re planning to tie the knot, Mayacoba offers a variety of unique spiritual ceremonies to cater to a couple’s vision for their wedding. Consider the Mayan Ceremony at the Rosewood where couples are blessed by a shaman who invokes happiness and abundance on their union. There is certainly no shortage of striking, one-of-a-kind backdrops and glamorous venues available to grace your ceremony.

Whether it takes place alongside a crystal blue lagoon, barefoot on a pristine beach or in a lush jungle hideaway, your wedding will be one to remember!

Book your paradise wedding or honeymoon at Mayakoba Resort.

For Further Information and Reservations:

www.mayakoba.com

www.mayakobamagazine.com

http://mayakobamfwg.com

VAULT-ZING ACROSS TEXAS

July 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                               3 July 2017                                                VAULT-ZING ACROSS TEXAS

 

THE BANK – To paraphrase Capital One, what’s in your safe deposit box? You probably haven’t dumped everything out and gone through the contents since Y2K. Those Confederate war bonds might not be worth much, but that bundle of Microsoft stock your drunk uncle left you could be worth looking into. I am checking to see if my gold bars are still here. They were liberated by my grandfather, Sgt. “Sticky Fingers” Ashby, from a mine shaft in Germany in 1945. His motto was, “To the victors belong the spoils,” although the U.S. Army didn’t see it that way, and, except for visiting hours, we didn’t see Sticky Fingers for 10 years.

The reason I am counting my bars is that the State of Texas is going to build its own vault to hold its gold – not CDs, bonds, paper currency or IOUs, but real gold bars. There may even be room for private citizens and other states to rent space in the vault, thus turning a buck instead of spending it. Let me back up. The state has between $661 million and $1 billion in gold bars stashed in a vault in New York City, and we pay $600,000 a year to some company to keep it. If we build our own big, fat safe deposit box, we can save that $600,000, which is almost enough to fund another special session of the Legislature.

After two years of intense investigating and negotiating, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar selected Lone Star Tangible Assets to hold the bars, then build and operate the Texas Bullion Depository — the nation’s first and only state-administered gold bullion depository. The company’s current depository will be refitted to hold our gold temporarily, while a new Fort Knox “will be located in the Austin area.” Maybe they don’t want us to know exactly where the vault will be built, which makes sense. The temporary lock box may be ready in January 2018, the permanent facility by December 2018.

This brings us to the Unclaimed Property Program. You see, Texas requires institutions, businesses (mostly banks) and local governments to report to the state any personal property that has been abandoned or unclaimed, usually for up to five years. The Texas Comptroller currently holds, and is trying to get rid of, about $4 billion in unclaimed funds from all sorts of sources: forgotten utility deposits or refunds, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties, dormant bank accounts and abandoned safe deposit box contents. The office used to put the lists in big, fat sections in major newspapers around the state, which cost a bunch. Now the names and businesses are online.

Last fiscal year, there were more than 300,000 claims, and the comptroller returned $270 million in unclaimed property to rightful owners. Each year the amount gets bigger. In 2015 it returned $248 million, at that time a record, easily breaking the $205 million in unclaimed property returns in fiscal 2014. Currently, the largest single unclaimed property is $2.8 million, and it’s located in Houston. So you may own several acres across the street from the Galleria and not know it, but someone owns it. The largest claim approved this year: $772,000. The largest payment ever approved was $12.5 million, mostly in stock. The winner was a nameless Houstonian – unlike Lotto winners, property recipients can remain anonymous.

There are also safe deposit boxes. According to the comptroller’s office, when a customer loses contact with his or her bank and misses payment for a safe deposit box rental, the box is eventually drilled and the contents are stored in a secure location by the bank. Once five years have passed from the first missed payment or last contact with the owner, the contents are reported as unclaimed property and sent to the comptroller’s office. As I wrote long ago, over the years, the staff has recovered lots of interesting things including: a bloody glass eye, dried deer legs, a brick, mercury, ashes, Apollo 15 postal stamp covers, 16th century receipt for wool written by Michelangelo’s namesake great nephew, a 4.22 carat diamond ring and a stock certificate Number 1 from Dr Pepper Co. in Waco signed by the inventor of Dr Pepper.

OK, all this time you have been wondering, greedily, “How do I get my hands on my share of that $4 billion?” Simple. Just go to the comptroller’s unclaimed property website at ClaimItTexas.org or call 1-800-654-FIND (3463). If you go to the website, there is a line reading: Search Unclaimed Property. Click on it and up pops a couple of blanks to fill in: Last name, first name or your business and a vow: “I am not a robot.” Then you are asked a picture question, I guess to prevent computers from combing the site. Hope you can handle the grilling. Amounts $25 or less or not listed, but you can make a claim. True story: A few years ago I followed the above procedure and found a check for $1,200 owed me. It’s a long story, but ransoms pay very well.

Here’s an interesting point: Among the current would-be and missing recipients are The University of Texas with 44 funds or quarterbacks or whatever waiting to be claimed. Texas A&M has 23 (including $86.87 owed to the Aggies by Panda restaurants). Baylor has 755, which might cover its legal bills. UH has 40. For some unknown reason, Sam Houston has 49. Exxon comes in with 922 and Shell may be the leader with 2,121 unclaimed funds or contents of its safe deposit boxes (which probably hold more gold bars than those of the State of Texas). This raises two questions: Does the comptroller try very hard to find these potential recipients, and why don’t these multi-billion dollar operations hire a few minimum-pay interns to follow up on the awaiting fortunes? Might be worth their effort. Now it’s time for me to get a bigger safe deposit box.

 

Ashby is fortune hunting at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prague

June 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

LISTING TO THE RITES

June 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

By Lynn Ashby                                                                                    26 June 2017

 

THE STORE — I am drawing up my Bucket List — a list of things to do before I die. I had not heard of such a pursuit until the last few years, but now it’s all the rage. For example, travel. I’ve been to a lot of places in this country and around the world, pursuing truth, news scoops and a way to justify my expense account. But I have not been to Marfa. Seems like a nice place to visit when the weather is not too hot or cold or windy or dusty. Maybe I should try Siberia instead. We must suspect a lot of people would put travel on their list. Wonder how many would write down “Texas,” or specifically “Port Arthur, Texas, USA.” Of course, millions would simply put down “USA,” and hope ICE has the day off.

There are some people I would like to meet, but most of them have checked off their own list, like Walt Disney, Sam Houston and Quanah Parker. Am I too late for Elvis and the Andrews Sisters? It would be a treat to meet the person who came up with one of the world’s greatest scientific breakthroughs. No, not the Salk vaccine, Stealth bombers or the periodic table. I mean something that makes our daily life better, like – but not — the toothpick, can opener or TV remote. It’s the automatic garage door opener. You young folks don’t remember the nights your dad drove the family car for 10 hours from Tulsa, up the driveway to the garage, in the rain. Then, while you are dozing in the back seat, poor dad gets out of the car and sloshes his way to the garage door and, with a mighty heave, pulls upward on the handle. And the door doesn’t move. Finally it moves and dad trudges back to the car, soaking wet, faced with unloading everything, include you. Today, you bunch of wussies just push the little button on the dashboard. Don’t believe me about the importance of the garage door opener? Ask your dad. Second place is the refrigerator icemaker. If you don’t remember defrosting a bunch of ice trays, ask your mother.

It would be interesting to meet the Unknown Soldier and his wife. I would like to chat with Donald Trump, the only President who makes George W. Bush look good. Getting through security shouldn’t be too hard. We now have five ex-presidents and their spouses with 24-hour protection, so the Secret Service must be pretty strung out. On the other hand, breaking through to meet the President might well be the last thing I do before I die. Being a fan of instant gratification, I would like to star in a Broadway comedy because, if you write a hilarious book, a year later someone is reading it in an airport terminal and laughs out loud. You never know it. A tree fell in the forest and no one heard it. You star in a wonderfully funny movie and the audience goes wild. But that’s 19 months after you shot the scene and you are in Newark filming the sequel. But on Broadway, you utter the killer line, “The butler did it.” The crowd roars and applauds. Instant gratification.

Conducting the U.S. Marine Corps Band in the Rose Bowl Parade would be a thrill. The band always draws a standing ovation as it marches by. On the other hand, they have to play “The Marine Corps Hymn” (aka “The Halls of Montezuma”) for like 10 miles and three hours, and even they must be sick of the march by the finish line. Perhaps I just should watch the parade on TV. Twice I have tried to read “Ulysses,” touted as one of the great books in the English language. Twice I have stopped reading the unreadable. Should I try a third time before I die, or, reading it, would I die of boredom? Every politician, particularly the Trump defenders, go around saying, “There is no there there.” They are quoting Gertrude Stein in Everybody’s Autobiography (1937), moaning the fact that her childhood home in California no longer existed. It was a cute quote the first 100 times I heard it. I need to know if these pols have any idea as to whom they are quoting – and if they are right.

Do you have a Bucket List? Maybe not an official one, in writing, but everyone has things they would like to do before they take that Big Escalator to the Sky. This includes telling off your boss, turning on your flashing red lights and siren and chasing down the idiot who ran a stop sign and almost T-boned you, and getting a divorce but still keeping your stamp collection. Maybe you want to meet someone new, and you get tired of those same old Sunday afternoon visits at the correctional institute. You watch a lot of late night TV and think it would be neat to have your own show. Not many people can go to work and be greeted by a band playing your theme song and a huge audience standing and applauding. At least, that’s not my usual greeting at the job.

All this time you have been wondering where the term, Bucket List, began. One theory is that it comes from the saying, “Kick the bucket,” like in dying. Another theory is that it was hatched by Rob Reiner, who directed and produced a movie, “The Bucket List,” in 2007 starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. They play two terminally ill men on a road trip with a wish list of things they want to do before they die. It received ho-hum reviews but made a lot of money. Hey, put that on my own list: make a lot of money NOW! Instant gratification.

As for why I am at a store? To buy a bucket, of course. It’s first on my list.

 

Ashby’s wishes at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

Three Days in Budapest

June 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog, Uncategorized

by Dick Dace and Joel Hoopaugh

Day One

We arrived in Budapest at eight in the morning after an extremely bumpy and exhausting overnight train from Prague. We blamed the Soviet-era tracks, the heavy-footed brake man, and the Animal House rejects who partied next door. Our hotel was the sister property to our Vienna accommodation, The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Conveniently located in the city center and surrounded by

other high-end hotels, it is nestled between the Ritz-Carlton Budapest and two metro stops. There is nothing like staying at the Kempinski, where one is rejuvenated just by walking through its revolving door.

First stop of the day was Memento Park. We caught the 11 a.m. Memento Park Bus less than one block from our hotel, for a short 20 minute drive outside the city. Created in 1993, the park includes several of more than 1,000 communist-era statues that were an intricate part of the intimidation and propaganda campaign the Soviets used to control the Hungarian people from 1945 until 1989. In the center of every community was a statue showing a benevolent soviet soldier protecting a Hungarian peasant, or a three-story tall statue of Joseph Stalin looking down like a mythical God.

Other statues feature Lenin, Marx, and Engels. The statues made me depressed, sad, and angry. Apparently, most Hungarians agreed with me. In 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Empire, citizens toppled the soviet era statues all across the country, and many were melted down to create new works of art.

Hungary even used some of the communist statues to remodel the ones at Hősök (Heroes) Square, originally

built in in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. In 1989, the statues of the Holy Roman Emperors were replaced with other important national leaders, and a tomb honoring the Unknown Soldier.

Heroes Square is surrounded by a beautiful park, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Palace of Art, and the Serbian Embassy. During the summer the lake is dotted with watercraft, and ice skates gliding on top in winter. It is also the site of the first underground subway station in all of Europe.

As we walked back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a small Hungarian restaurant, Pater Bonijac Etterem. Once inside, the waitress/owner Monika stopped by to take our order. I ordered a chicken dish. She rolled her eyes and exclaimed, “Why you order that? You don’t want that. I bring you what you want!” and off she went. And she was right. She delivered a large plate of chopped veal and her version of potato dumpling for me, and a Gypsy-style meat stuffed crepes typical to Hungary (Hortobagyi Palacsinta) for Joel. Every bite was better than the last.

We decided to take public transportation, then a local taxi to the world famous Formula One Grand Prix racetrack. While most of the track was closed the day we visited, there was a spirited go-kart race happening on one part of the compound, and in another, Hungary’s largest waterpark.

Back in Budapest, we decided to walk along the Danube River which separates Buda from Pest. While admiring the Buda Castle compound across the river, we came upon an interesting grouping of bronze old-fashion shoes on the waters’ edge. It looked like dozens of folks had slipped off their shoes before going for a swim.

We learned later from a tour guide that the shoes are a memorial commemorating the execution of Hungarian Jews by the fascist Arrow Cross members during World War II. The Fascists took the Jews to the river and ordered them to remove their shoes, so they could be used by others, then shot in such a way that their bodies fell into the river.

Day Two

On our way to Buda Castle, we walked along the river to the very impressive Hungarian Parliament. Directly outside is Kossuth Square, a large square with monuments, classical buildings and an underground memorial to the Revolution of 1956. Across the river are Budapest’s most famous landmarks; Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and Liberty Statue.

Atop the hill is Fisherman’s Bastion, built in 1902 on the foundation of a 13th century church. From one of its seven towers, there is an amazing panoramic view of Buda. For the price of meal, one can sit on the Bastion’s terrace walls and enjoy the view.

At the base is the famous Buda Castle. After being almost completely destroyed by Soviet forces at the end of World War II, the castle was painstakingly rebuilt according to historical photos and paintings. The castle is now a museum, where it is possible to see some of the castles recreated furnishings. A 700-car garage is being constructed underneath the grounds.

Because we wanted to see other sites not accessible by public transportation, we decided to hire a car for our trip to Vienna. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

Day Three

Our driver was Gyuri, a moonlighting professional soccer player who had been a high school exchange student in upstate New York. He spoke excellent English, and drove a late model sedan. First stop: Slavin, Solvakia, which provided us with a birds-eye view of Bratislava, Austria and Hungary.

On our way to Devín Castle in Bratislava, (which was destroyed by Napoleon in 1810) we drove over the famous UFO bridge over the Danube river that was built in the late 1960s and early ’70s during the height of Soviet Communist propaganda building spree. It features a flying saucer-shaped restaurant at the top of the bridges only pylon, the largest such bridge in the world.

Our favorite stop was Carnuntum, a Roman army base established in the first century. Over the years, Carnuntum grew to be an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and was the site where the Emperor emeritus Diocletian and the co-emperors Maximian and Galerius granted freedom of religion for every citizen of the Roman Empire.

It is now an Archaeology Park where they have rebuilt The House of Lucius, complete with period furniture, heated floors, heated baths, and water-flushed latrines. You could say life was good for the generals, and the merchants of Carnuntum. They loved their baths, as do citizens of Budapest, who keep four city bath houses hopping.

Resources:

www.Kempinski.com

Pater Bonijac Etterem Restaurant

Budapest 1068

Dozsa Gyongyut 108

DayTrip.com

JUST BE PATIENT, PATIENT

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

 

THE CLINIC —           This is one of those places where everything is quiet, orderly, efficient. No, it’s not a Republican precinct meeting. It’s a UT health facility: The University of Texas Warts and Confederate Statue Removal Center. I am here because, as a taxpayer, maybe this state institution will treat me right, as a long as I don’t want an abortion. Then the Legislature would have me go someplace else – like Mexico. There is this little bump on my face, and, no, it’s not my nose. Just want a dermatologist to take it off. No big deal. Well, my mistake. This is absolutely true: When I called up to make an appointment, I had to show proof that I would pay: insurance company, policy number, everything but my federal tax returns.

When I cleared that hurdle, a few days later I was e-mailed an 18-page (honest) form to fill out. The usual name, address and so on. Then my medical history. (“Who was the obstetrician who delivered you?”), family medical history. (“Any member of your family ever been scalped? Treated for the Black Plague? Refused to pay a medical bill?”) Questions about diseases I had never heard of, medicines 15-letters long that meant nothing to me, and on. By the time I was through, I felt really sick. The day came for my appointment, which I figured would take 10 minutes. The clinic is in a 12-story building with five parking places. I guess the doctors want to see if the patient is healthy enough to park two blocks away in a 10-story parking garage and walk here.

I come to this really fancy clinic, with a nice lobby, free coffee, beautiful furniture, lots of clerks and nurses in booths and offices, and one patient: me. “Looks like a slow day,” I say to one of the receptionists. “The usual. We don’t get much business here,” she says. Note to Gov. Gregg Abbott: “I have found a way for the state to save money, besides cutting funds for education, roads, women’s health, the environment, millions of dollars for legal fees to oppose redistricting and voter ID laws, and prison conditions which judges liken to the Black Hole of India.” The good news is that, being the only patient, I don’t have to wait while reading one of those dog-eared magazines left in doctors’ offices. Terrible about the Hindenburg.

A staff member escorts me into an office where a person at a computer asks: “Name? Address? Age?” I explain that I have already given all that information over the phone and again on The Form From Hell. Smile, we need a photo. Yes, photo. I might be an imposter sneaking in for a facelift or a tummy tuck. They take my blood pressure (can you fail a blood test?), measure my height, weight (their scales are off by 10 pounds) and I fully expect them to swab my throat for a DNA test. Then I am fitted with a wrist band. OK, if I were getting an appendectomy or a new left kidney, maybe I would need a wrist band asking whoever found me, wandering the hospital halls, to please return me to the ICU. But this is getting ridiculous.

Somewhere along the line I am handed a beautiful folder, full color, “Welcome,” it reads on the cover. No doubt this will tell me about medical science breakthroughs in skin cancer, how UT is the cutting edge, so to speak, in dermatology and how to find a parking space. No. Inside is a pamphlet, “Patient Advocacy,” and another: “Medical Identify Theft Prevention.” Is this a medical clinic or a law office? A staff member takes me to a room and hands me clothing. “Take off your clothes and put this on. It’s open in the back.” Do you ever feel you’ve lost control of the situation? I recall the old saying about asking someone for the time of day and he tells you how to build a watch.

I come here to have a doctor, or maybe even a medic, a semi-sober intern, an EMS driver, snip this bump off my face, or drill it, burn it. I’ve been to dermatologists before and know what they do. My father was a pediatrician, and told me he should have been a dermatologist. “Their patients never die and never get well.” That’s probably an old medical school joke, but I was only a pre-med and was tossed out of biology lab when my fetal pig survived. I look around the room for a small pair of scissors and a bottle of alcohol. One snip and I am outta here. No luck, so I continue to wait, wearing a wrist bracelet and not much else.

This is not a complaint, because I begin thinking about all the people who don’t have a doctor, can’t afford to go to a clinic like this. Who get sick and die early. We constantly hear in the debate over Obamacare and Trumpcare: “We have the best medical care in the world.” Don’t put a period there, put a comma and finish the sentence: “if you can afford it.” For example, Houston has the largest and best medical center on earth: the Texas Medical Center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. But, like cars and cancer, it depends on what you can afford. The doctor arrives and he’s a she. Great. She proceeds to examine me from head to foot, which actually is kind of fun. “Spread your toes,” she says. Have you ever tried to spread your toes? It’s like trying to arch your pancreas. She leaves, returns with a bottle of dry ice or something similar, sprays the bump and says, “That’s it.” Huh? She could have met me at the elevator and done that. It is now a few days later and I receive an e-mail from the clinic. It’s a follow-up survey: 35 questions. Note to Gov. Abbott….

 

Ashby is recovering at ashby2@comcast.net

 

JUST BE PATIENT, PATIENT

June 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE CLINIC —           This is one of those places where everything is quiet, orderly, efficient. No, it’s not a Republican precinct meeting. It’s a UT health facility: The University of Texas Warts and Confederate Statue Removal Center. I am here because, as a taxpayer, maybe this state institution will treat me right, as a long as I don’t want an abortion. Then the Legislature would have me go someplace else – like Mexico. There is this little bump on my face, and, no, it’s not my nose. Just want a dermatologist to take it off. No big deal. Well, my mistake. This is absolutely true: When I called up to make an appointment, I had to show proof that I would pay: insurance company, policy number, everything but my federal tax returns.

When I cleared that hurdle, a few days later I was e-mailed an 18-page (honest) form to fill out. The usual name, address and so on. Then my medical history. (“Who was the obstetrician who delivered you?”), family medical history. (“Any member of your family ever been scalped? Treated for the Black Plague? Refused to pay a medical bill?”) Questions about diseases I had never heard of, medicines 15-letters long that meant nothing to me, and on. By the time I was through, I felt really sick. The day came for my appointment, which I figured would take 10 minutes. The clinic is in a 12-story building with five parking places. I guess the doctors want to see if the patient is healthy enough to park two blocks away in a 10-story parking garage and walk here.

I come to this really fancy clinic, with a nice lobby, free coffee, beautiful furniture, lots of clerks and nurses in booths and offices, and one patient: me. “Looks like a slow day,” I say to one of the receptionists. “The usual. We don’t get much business here,” she says. Note to Gov. Gregg Abbott: “I have found a way for the state to save money, besides cutting funds for education, roads, women’s health, the environment, millions of dollars for legal fees to oppose redistricting and voter ID laws, and prison conditions which judges liken to the Black Hole of India.” The good news is that, being the only patient, I don’t have to wait while reading one of those dog-eared magazines left in doctors’ offices. Terrible about the Hindenburg.

A staff member escorts me into an office where a person at a computer asks: “Name? Address? Age?” I explain that I have already given all that information over the phone and again on The Form From Hell. Smile, we need a photo. Yes, photo. I might be an imposter sneaking in for a facelift or a tummy tuck. They take my blood pressure (can you fail a blood test?), measure my height, weight (their scales are off by 10 pounds) and I fully expect them to swab my throat for a DNA test. Then I am fitted with a wrist band. OK, if I were getting an appendectomy or a new left kidney, maybe I would need a wrist band asking whoever found me, wandering the hospital halls, to please return me to the ICU. But this is getting ridiculous.

Somewhere along the line I am handed a beautiful folder, full color, “Welcome,” it reads on the cover. No doubt this will tell me about medical science breakthroughs in skin cancer, how UT is the cutting edge, so to speak, in dermatology and how to find a parking space. No. Inside is a pamphlet, “Patient Advocacy,” and another: “Medical Identify Theft Prevention.” Is this a medical clinic or a law office? A staff member takes me to a room and hands me clothing. “Take off your clothes and put this on. It’s open in the back.” Do you ever feel you’ve lost control of the situation? I recall the old saying about asking someone for the time of day and he tells you how to build a watch.

I come here to have a doctor, or maybe even a medic, a semi-sober intern, an EMS driver, snip this bump off my face, or drill it, burn it. I’ve been to dermatologists before and know what they do. My father was a pediatrician, and told me he should have been a dermatologist. “Their patients never die and never get well.” That’s probably an old medical school joke, but I was only a pre-med and was tossed out of biology lab when my fetal pig survived. I look around the room for a small pair of scissors and a bottle of alcohol. One snip and I am outta here. No luck, so I continue to wait, wearing a wrist bracelet and not much else.

This is not a complaint, because I begin thinking about all the people who don’t have a doctor, can’t afford to go to a clinic like this. Who get sick and die early. We constantly hear in the debate over Obamacare and Trumpcare: “We have the best medical care in the world.” Don’t put a period there, put a comma and finish the sentence: “if you can afford it.” For example, Houston has the largest and best medical center on earth: the Texas Medical Center. People come from everywhere to die in Houston. But, like cars and cancer, it depends on what you can afford. The doctor arrives and he’s a she. Great. She proceeds to examine me from head to foot, which actually is kind of fun. “Spread your toes,” she says. Have you ever tried to spread your toes? It’s like trying to arch your pancreas. She leaves, returns with a bottle of dry ice or something similar, sprays the bump and says, “That’s it.” Huh? She could have met me at the elevator and done that. It is now a few days later and I receive an e-mail from the clinic. It’s a follow-up survey: 35 questions. Note to Gov. Abbott….

 

Ashby is recovering at ashby2@comcast.net

 

Foodie Getaway at Rancho Pescadero, July 6-9

June 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Rancho Pescadero in the artsy, laid-back beach town of Todos Santos, Mexico is hosting a fun and food-filled Guest Chef Series over July 6-9 for foodies around the world. Nestled on a pristine beach of the Pacific Ocean an hour north of Cabo San Lucas and a world away from the everyday, Rancho Pescadero’s weekend-long Guest Chef Series culinary event will feature the talented Jason Dady.

The executive chef / owner is behind the restaurant concepts Tre Trattoria, Tre Enoteca, Two Bros. BBQ Market, The DUK Truck, B&D Icehouse, Shuck Shack, and Dady Premier Catering in San Antonio, TX. He was awarded “Star Chef Restaurateur” by Star Chefs and was a semi-finalist nomination by James Beard.

The full weekend starts with a cooking demo and farm-to-table lunch followed by a traditional tequila and mezcal tasting. The next day entails a Baja wine tasting followed by a dinner of the guest chef’s tasting menu in the resort’s signature restaurant, the Garden Restaurant. Rancho Pescadero sources ingredients for these meals from its on-property organic farm and local purveyors in a 20-mile radius, making each meal extremely fresh and full of flavor. The Baja-specific farm-to-table are sure to delight culinary connoisseurs and casual foodies alike.

For more information, visit http://ranchopescadero.com/special-offers/guest-chef-series.

Three Days in Vienna

June 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

by Dick Dace – Photos by Joel Hoopaugh

Day One

After Joel and I check into the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel, we met our tour guide, Ilse Heigerth, for a walking tour of the city center. With seven hundred years of history, 27 palaces, 150 churches, and more Hapsburg royals, princesses and Emperors than I can count, Ilse proved invaluable with interesting stories and tales about this remarkable city and its people. We walked around the first of 23 districts on the ring road, created when the Emperor tore down the medieval wall, creating a green space with a walking path, bike path and roadway, in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, romantic princes and bloodthirsty assassins.

The Hapsburgs ruled Vienna from 1273 until 1918, and were a dynastic powerhouse that was created by marrying off their fifteen year-old daughters and sons to other royal houses in political alliances. “They weren’t very good at winning wars,” Ilse shared. “So inheritances allowed them to expand their empire, and stuff their treasury.” At one point, their empire included everything from Spain in the west, to the Baltic States (including Hungary and the Czech Republic) to the east, and north to Denmark and south to Rome, Italy.

During the eighteenth century, Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children. Among the ten that survived to adulthood, would emerge a Queen of France, the Queen of Naples and Sicily, the Duchess of Parma, and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II.

One of Maria Theresa’s children was Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. She was Maria Theresa’s fifteenth and second youngest child, and was just fourteen years-old when she married the fifteen year-old future King of France, Louis XVI.

Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were the last Habsburg emperor and empress of Austria. Sisi, as Elizabeth became known to the world, was one of nineteenth-century Europe’s most famously beautiful women. She was known as the world’s unhappiest royal, though not an actual princess (think Princess Diana). She bristled at the traditions and demands of court life, writing in her diary, Marriage is an absurd arrangement. One is sold as a fifteen year-old child, and makes a vow one does not understand, and then regrets for the next thirty years. Love her.

Two of the Hapsburgs most romantic royals were Duke Albert and Duchess Marie Christine, briefly ruling Brussels until French revolutionary troops forced them back to Vienna. Marie Christine was the only child of Marie Teresa’s who was allowed to marry for love. When she died by drinking tainted water, Duke Albert underwrote the cost of building two pipelines from the Swiss Alps to bring spring water to the citizens of Vienna, which Viennese still drink from to this day. He also commissioned a moving memorial in St. Augustin, the parish church of the imperial court of the Habsburgs.

The Hapsburg royals believed in elaborate funerals. They had their hearts buried in the Herzgruft (Hearts Crypt) inside St. Augustin Church, their entrails entombed in the Ducal Crypt below St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and their bodies buried at the Capuchin Church and Monastery. Famished, we were about to be funeral-ready ourselves.

So Ilse invited us to a traditional Viennese dinner in the hills surrounding Vienna. We took their safe, clean underground subway, a tram then a bus, all of which have efficient, intuitive signage event directionally challenged like myself can figure it out. We dined at Mayer am Pfarrplatz in hills above the city, feasting on Wiener schnitzel (think chicken fried steak) roasted pork and potatoes, all washed down by local wine.

The wine tavern’s most famous guest was Ludwig van Beethoven, who in 1817 came seeking a cure to his hearing difficulties, and it is where he completed his Symphony No. 3, “Eroica.”

Day Two

The next day we visited both the Upper and Lower Belvedere Palaces and gardens, which houses an art collection worthy of Emperors. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss is here. The rooms, with their Rococo ceilings and walls, are the perfect backdrop for the art. The Belevdere’s beautiful gardens inspired us to lunch at Palmenhause in the Burggarten Park. It was our first opportunity to enjoy a slice of Sachertorte, one of desserts for which the Viennese are most famous.

A visit to Vienna isn’t complete without an outing at its famous amusement park Prater, and a ride on one of Vienna’s landmarks, the Giant Ferris Wheel, which Alfred Hitchcock made famous in his movie, The Third Man.

The Ferris wheel cars remind me of 18th century a train cars, same red color, made of wood. The view revealed our first sight of the modern skyline across the Danube. The park had a retro feel, with old-time amusements, and tree-shaded beer gardens, which the locals really seemed to enjoy. On the way out of the park, we stopped for dinner.

Vienna is famous for its street food, especially its sausages, so we stopped at Bitzinger near the entrance. We shared a bratwurst stuffed with cheese and pomme frites, washed down with local draft. Our meal was so delicious, we doubled our order.

Day Three

On our last day in Vienna, we visited the former summer residence of the imperial family, Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. Its last residents, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi), are very present in portraitures, and extravagant displays of their personal items in the very same rooms in which they and their children lived.

We discovered Vienna’s love for coffee in our hotel lobby, where from morning to late at night, Viennese gathered and mingled with hotel guests over a cup of Joe. The worldwide coffee culture began in Vienna during the Thirty Years war. People could not afford to heat their homes, but could afford a coffee in the local cafes. The Viennese still expect to enjoy a cup of coffee, a fresh glass of water every thirty minutes, and to read all the local newspapers and discuss the news of the day with anyone who will listen. No surprise the Age of the Intellectuals began here.

Our last meal in Vienna was at Edvard inside the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel, where Executive Chef Anton Pozeg had just won his first Michelin Star, the third star in three years for the restaurant. Chef Anton served us his seven-course tasting menu—adding four other courses that we just had to have. These featured local seasonal produce (he works with a local farmer who brings him this entire crop of fruits and vegetables). Chef Anton’s inspired use of wood ash, for that hint of smoke, and dust he created out of different herbs, layered flavors and textures that left you wanting more.

I can’t say I know where Joel will wind up. But I can tell you that Mr. Dace is not going to heaven when he dies.

You’ll find me at the Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel.

Resources:

www.ViennaPass.com

Private Tour Guide

Ilse Heigerth

heigerthi@gmail.com

Wine Tavern

Mayer am Pfarrplatz

Pfarrplatz 2, 19th district,

www.pfarrplatz.at/en/startseite.html

Edvard at Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel

https://www.kempinski.com/en/vienna/palais-hansen/dining/restaurants/edvard/

Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna Hotel

www.Kempinski.com

NEWS YOU CAN LOSE

June 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AUSTIN – “City Council voted today to increase fees for bigamists…” “TxDOT is limiting the number of mules on I-thirty five….” “The weekly Festival of Love, Drugs and Flowers will be held….” The local TV news here in Austin deals with matters viewers care about, and more importantly, effects them. To be fair, this is, indeed, our state capital (aka, the People’s Republic of Austin, a worn-out phrase as is Keep Austin Weird), but the news is still relevant. The local TV reporters are inside a state building or courtroom or maybe on the UT campus, reporting on something or interviewing someone on events that matter – like a new football coach.

Yes, Austin TV news programs do have the occasional shooting, apartment fire or car wreck, but not the daily dose we get in Houston, where each program begins with: “Breaking News!!!” Summer will arrive at …. A lost dog has been found and someone got shot. Then we hear: “But first…” then “Prior to that, we have this report on…” Sometimes there are so many stories preceding the Breaking News! they never get around to it. Each local news program probably contains at least: (1) A shooting that requires flashing red police lights, a body covered with a sheet surrounded by yellow police tape. (2) An apartment or house fire preferably with a firefighter emerging from the blaze holding a frightened puppy. And (3) a high-speed police chase with breathless pictures from a helicopter. Here’s one from yesterday, honest. “Naked man found nearly decapitated.” The newsroom axiom is: If it bleeds, it leads. So what we are given each evening is not so much important developments as the police blotter.

When was the last time you saw a report from the City Council, Commissioners Court or HISD School Board? The Texas Legislature just met in its regular session for 140 days, and only at the very end was it mentioned on our TV news. Not so long ago, local stations sent a reporter and photographer to Austin to cover the entire session, because our legislators do important work affecting us. But covering all of that costs money, and our local TV news departments don’t have much. It’s a lot cheaper to pay some free-lance photographer, who prowls the city with his or her police, fire and EMS radio bands turned on, and then races to the crime and sells video tape of it to the station. Sometimes, I swear, if the stations can’t find a good apartment fire or high-speed chase in Houston, they show us one from Dallas or Denver or wherever. I really don’t care.

This brings us to money, which is the core of our problems. No network affiliate TV station in Houston is owned by Houstonians, or even Texans. They are owned by faceless corporations on the Coasts which care not a fig about quality TV news in Houston. We are a red pin in a large map in the corporate board room. We must feel sorry for our TV anchors and reporters, many of who are top-notch journalists, hamstrung by bean-counters in far-off glass towers empowered to maximize profits while cutting costs to the least. Also, it’s much cheaper to follow than lead: Years ago, I visited KPRC-TV studios for something, I forget what, and there was the news director, Ray Miller, an icon of the business, carefully cutting out articles from that morning’s Houston Post and handing them to reporters to follow up. That is still done. Just like national TV news directors pour through The New York Times and the Washington Post for stories, local TV news shows would have trouble with anything beyond the yellow police tape if it weren’t for the Houston Chronicle. (Incidentally, same for conservative radio talk-show hosts, who constantly bite the hand that feeds their feedstock. They wouldn’t have a show if it weren’t for the pile of newspaper clippings on their desk.)

There are a few simple changes for the better. Don’t have a reporter standing in a vacant parking lot across the street from the hospital or court house telling us what happened inside hours ago. Teach the meteorologists the difference in further and farther. And while not all has to be gloom and doom, would Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow giggle and guffaw through “happy talk”?

If you would only get your news about what’s going on in Houston from our TV news programs, you would think this place is Baghdad-on-the-Bayou. Indeed, some years ago the Fox affiliate nightly ran a series, “City Under Siege.” It was a recitation of that day’s crimes, no matter how minor. Imagine a crack CEO and her spouse, a world-famed medical researcher, flying into Houston from Chicago for job interviews. They check into a five-star hotel suite and turn on the TV. “Breaking news!!! A shoot-out at a pool hall has resulted in two deaths and 18 police cars surging to the scene! But first a follow-up on our lost rabid dog story, but we begin with our Strangle in Tanglewood series.” The CEO turns to her Nobel Laurate husband, and says, “Don’t bother to unpack, Chou Ming. We’re going back to the south side of Chicago where it’s safer.”

Back to the local news on Austin TV, which is being told to us by a beautiful young lady with long blonde hair, a product of the Roger Ailes Cookie Cutter Academy: “The fire department is holding classes on the need for a boat when water skiing.” “A scientist at UT has discovered a cure for kale.” “The circus won’t be coming to town. Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey will…” Huh? I swear she said Bros. which rhymes with hose or froze. What’s up, Bros.? The teleprompter gave that twinkie – as the old pros call the good-looking airheads — the word Bros. and she hadn’t a clue it should be pronounced Brothers. Where’s the yellow police tape?

 

Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

Healdsburg

June 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Head to Healdsburg for a day of wine tasting

Healdsburg, California, is a picturesque escape for newlyweds. This authentic farming town— with its winding roads and rolling vineyards— is located north of San Francisco, a little over an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge. Healdsburg features top of the line wine tasting rooms, authentic cuisines, and exciting outdoor activities.

Located one block from Healdsburg’s Historic Town Square, is Hotel Le Mars. Dedicated to the tradition of old-world luxury and European service, the hotel offers complimentary French breakfast every morning as well as wine and cheese tastings in the evenings. Each guest room is beautifully fitted with antique furnishings, which includes a hand-carved four-poster bead, and a fireplace.

 

This charming hotel is a luxurious and traditional getaway for couples seeking a scenic escape or a romantic honeymoon. Whatever you might be looking for, the hotel promises a stay that you’ll never forget and never want to leave.

 

If you’re looking to take in some of Sonoma’s breathtaking scenery, a trip down the Russian River might be for you. Russian River Adventures offers full-day or half-day rafting trips down the river. What could be better than paddling down the Russian River through Sonoma’s vineyards and redwoods? Bring a cooler along and stop for a picnic on the banks of the river.

 

If pedaling through Sonoma’s rolling hills and quiet country roads sounds more like your pace, take a trip around town with Wine Country Bikes to taste the great wine that Healdsburg has to offer. This 17 mile trek includes pit stops at four different local vineyards and wineries. The one-day tour includes a tour guide and a fresh made, locally grown lunch.

 

Or take a hike with Jordan Winery as you learn the history of Sonoma’s wine culture, which boasts the freshest wine closest only to that of Tuscany. Sonoma County has over four-hundred vineyards, so try some for yourself and you can be the judge. We recommend Roth, located in the Chalk Hill region. They, along with their sister company Lancaster, pride themselves on crafting full-flavored wine and superb wine-pairings.

 

If craft beer is more your style, visit one of Healdsburg’s own beer companies: Bear Republic. Located in the heart of Healdsburg’s wine country, Bear Republic is one of the top craft brewing companies in the nation.They feature a wide variety of beers (over 90 in total) ranging from their “Big Bear Black Stout” to their “Hop Rod Rye.” They also offer tours of the brewery, which will give you a glimpse of how their delicious beer is produced. Bear Republic’s goal is to bring you fresh, never-filtered, hand-crafted beer.

 

After all of that wine and beer, be sure to stop at one of Healdsburg’s staples, Mateos Cocina Latina. They specialize in Yucatan food, from chilaquiles to huevos rancheros (rancher’s egg). And with namesake chef Mateo Granados at the helm, you know you’re in for a delicious meal. He has created a signature menu that showcases the local Sonoma ingredients combined with the flavors of his culture. Locals recommend the margaritas. I had a salad tossed in eel sauce alongside a strawberry margarita.

 

However, if you are looking for something fun and unique to do with your bridal party, then Relish Culinary Adventures might be up your alley. Learn how to prepare and create one-of-a-kind authentic food while pairing it with more wine and homemade peach drinks. Most classes don’t require any prior cooking knowledge, but they do offer classes for those with more advanced culinary skills. Learn to make chicken breast with quinoa, for instance, and top it off with some grilled peaches and ricotta cheese for dessert. Relish is sure to be a perfect compliment to your wine country experience.

Three Days in Leipzig

May 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Photos by Hansjoerg Niethammer

Day 1

The City

Leipzig is known as the city of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation, Johann Sebastian Bach, the St. Thomas Boys Choir, and of the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, which brought down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Empire. Leipzig is today as it was a thousand years ago, the market place of Europe and the economic capital of the region. To navigate this fascinating city, we turned to Tour Guide Sylvia Rebbelmund.

 

From Sylvia, we learned that the city was founded at the intersections of two main medieval trade routes and was established by business owners from many different cultures. With her binder of photos, which shows the city in all its glory, past, present and future, we discovered that in the 1920’s one-third of the world’s fur trade was conducted in Leipzig. Most of the downtown buildings were built to be trade fairs and sample rooms, which are connected by thirty (somewhat) secret passageways and courtyards. It was these free trade fairs that drove innovations and the exchange of ideas. It was the merchants, not the nobility, who opened schools and music academies, established choirs, and supported the arts. Even during its time as part of the Soviet Empire as the German Democratic Republic (GDR), it stayed true to its friends and its beliefs. Today, with the youngest and most educated citizens in the nation, industry is thriving, high tech companies are moving in, and its unemployment is the lowest per capita in the country. It is also home to the oldest business school in Germany where all the classes are taught in English, the language of business. It is also a very green city with one-third of the city covered in green belts, with a multitude of parks and lakes. It is also extremely multi-cultural and LGBT-friendly.

 

The day before we arrived, 300 anti-immigration protesters marched only to have their speakers muffled by more than 3,000 counter marchers who chanted, “All are welcomed!” and “We are the people.” It was very reminiscent of what happen in 1989.

 

The Peaceful Revolution

No visit to Leipzig would be complete without a visit to the Stasi Museum in the Round Corner, where we met Mrs. Irmtraut Hollitzer, the former member of the the Citizens’ Committee on the Dissolution of State Security. Her personal story of perseverance, struggle, and desire for a life of freedom for herself and her four children is worthy of a Hollywood thriller. She had the foresight, with her son, Tobias Hollitzer, to join a group of fellow citizens in seizing of control of the Stasi Headquarters to prevent its agents from destroying their files so that the world would never forget the crimes of the German Democratic Republic. As she walked around the museum with us, she told us her story.

 

When the Allies carved up Germany at the end of the war, in which 62 million people were killed, Leipzig was included in the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany. The Soviets brought their secret police with them, the KGB, which they called the Stasi, and began surveillance of its own citizens, creating distrust among family and friends in a campaign of sociological and psychological terror and intimidation.

 

The Hollitzer family, like so many others, were frustrated with the lack of opportunity, liberty, jobs, and the ability to travel (East Germans were the only citizens in the Soviet Empire which were specifically forbidden to travel to the West). They joined their neighbors and friends at Saint Nicholas Church on Mondays to pray for peace. Over the years, the police and the Stasi gathered names and addresses of those who attended and threatened them with violence. Young Tobias was soon on the Stasi radar because he organized groups to help clean up the river Pleisse, as well as musical performances in the city’s squares.

 

In preparation for their march, they used the mimeograph machine from Saint Nicholas church to spread the word and to invite other congregations to join them. As their numbers grew they took their protest to the streets. They marched for human rights and a free press. They practiced non-violence techniques; they did not throw rocks, and not a single window as ever broken. They lit candles, marched arm-in-arm, and shouted “We are the people!” and “We want to leave!” and “No violence!” They were beaten. Young men were snatched up and taken way for “temporary detention” or were “disappeared,” a euphemism which meant they were murdered.

On October 9th, 1989, just two days after the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR, more than 70,000 people from all over the region gathered at St. Nicholas Church and marched on the ring road past the train station, churches, and to the Stasi Headquarters where they placed lighted candles. They knew Mikhail Gorbachev was in Berlin that night, so they also shouted, “Gorby, Gorby, Gorby!”

In the back of her mind, Irmtraut Hollitzer remembered the last time East Germanys protested. It was June 17, 1953, and police and soldiers opened fire on those protesters, killing 55 and injuring 25. She left the march to go home to her daughter, just in case the same thing would happen that night, only to discover all four of her children were at the protest which proved that the power of one voice, joined by thousands, can transformed lives and the whole world.

 

As feared by the protesters, the police chief and his 8,000 armed officers had been prepared to shoot them as they protested. The hospital had been banking blood. Arrangements had been made to detain 1,300 people in solitary confinement. Overwhelmed by the more than 70,000 protesters, the police chief called his superiors in Berlin for instructions. Time after time no one answered the phone, and he refused to give the order to shoot.

 

Eventually the crowds dissipated and the people went home. Four weeks later, the Berlin Wall fell. This protest became known as the Peaceful Revolution and inspired other East Germans to protest as well.

 

When the Hollitzers and the “Leipziger Bürgerkomitee” took over the Stasi Headquarters, they found 1.5 million bullets, 7,000 hand grenades, machine guns, and even 31kg plastic explosives that the Stasi were ready to use on its own people.  They also found evidence that the Stasi stole $32 million in German marks by opening its citizens’ mail during just a single Christmas holiday season.

 

 

 

St. Thomas Church

 

Day 2

A Houston Connection

 

While visiting Saint Thomas Church, we ran into Houston’s own, the Reverend Doctor Robert G. Moore, formerly the senior pastor at Rice Village’s Christ the King Lutheran Church. Moore, along with his wife Kathy, is spending the next three years as a guest pastor at the historic St. Thomas Church and as the Reformation Ambassador for the City of Leipzig and the Director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Wittenberg Center, all the while hoping to perfect his German language skills. Moore is thrilled that his former congregation’s Bach Society is one of the mote than 130 groups who will be performing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach which was inspired in great part by Martin Luther’s biblical translations. Christ the King Church has a long standing relationship with St. Thomas Church. The congregation has served for decades as one of the centers for the work of the Houston-Leipzig Sister City Association which donated a new stain glass window honoring the 20th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution.

The Peace Window at St. Thomas Church

 

 

 

Theologians like Moore are using this anniversary to reexamine what we know about Martin Luther, reading such major works as The Freedom of the Christian. Musing as to whether he really nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517, Moore is skeptical.

“As a very pious man, Luther would not have desecrated the church door,” stated Moore. “Anyway, during that time, notices were posted on the church door with a bit of wax, not nailed to the door.”

Day 3

From Thread to Art

 

Leipzig still has many industrial building in the suburbs, including the largest cotton mill in continental Europe. The complex now known as The Spinnerei was the largest importer of cotton from the southern states of the USA, before and after the Civil War. It was built to last, with three-foot-thick brick walls and a steel-tiled floor, this massive complex of factory, living quarters, and gardens was home to more than a thousand workers. The building is believed to have survived the unrelenting bombing of the city because they had planted chives on the roof as a cooling agent. Many speculate that at 10,000 feet, the chive covered roofs looked like fields, and thus was not bombed.

 

After the war, the factory went through several owners and different uses before being decommissioned in 1992. It was saved from vandals by artists looking for cheap spaces to work and live. Now known as Spinnerei, it is home to galleries, exhibition halls, a movie theatre, and about 100 artist studios, many of which we visited. The Spinnerei is also home to the so-called “New Leipzig School,” with renowned artist Neo Rauch as its most famous member. With eleven galleries, an art supply store, and a chic café, a visit to Spinnerei is the perfect way for art lovers to spend the day.

 

If you go

WHERE TO STAY

InterCityHotel Leipzig

Trondlinring 2

Intercityhotel.com/Leipzig

Located conveniently near the main train station, Opera House and the historic and downtown district.

 

TOUR GUIDE

Sylvia Rebbelmund

SylviaRebbelmund@web.de

via Leipzig Erleben
info@leipzig-erleben.com

 

WHERE TO EAT

Auerbachs Keller is one of the most famous restaurants in the world, having been immortalized in Johann Wolfgang Goethe drama, Faust. Enjoy traditional Saxon/German Cuisine.

Madler Passage, Grimmaische Strasse 2-4

 

WHERE TO DRINK COFFEE

Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum. Coffee has been a favorite beverage in Leipzig since it was introduced in 1711. Grab a coffee from the bar on the ground floor, or enjoy lunch or dessert at Café Francais or the Vienna Café on the second floor.

 

FOR GREAT VIEWS OF THE CITY

Panorama Tower, Augustusplatz 9. Amazing 360-degree view of the entire city, perfect for skyline photos at sunset. Panorama-leipzig.de

 

The Monument to the Battle of the Nations, Str. des 18. Oktober 100, stadtgeschichtliches-museum-leipzig.de/site_deutsch/voelkerschlachtdenkmal/ Set in a beautiful park with a reflection pond, the views from the top illustrate why Leipzig is known as a green city.

 

HISTORY OF LEIPZIG

Stasi Museum in the Round Corner

www.runde-ecke-leipzig.de

Goerdelerring 20

 

Forum of Contemporary History also known as the Tearful Palace

Explore the history of World War II in Germany and Europe through artifacts and videos. Tissues are available.

www.hdg.de/zeitgeschichtliches-forum

Grimmaische Strasse 6

 

INFORMATION

Leipzig.travel; Hidden-Leipzig.com

 

Mr. Dace and Mr. Niethammer were the guests of the City of Leipzig.

Leipzig.de

EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

May 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                      22 May 2017

As our Texas legislators wrestled with their latest budget gap of billions of dollars, having been bogged down all session with which students go to which bathrooms, (the Senate did, however, vote to ban wearing blue jeans in the chamber), they agreed we’ve got financial problems. At such times lawmakers might be sighing, “Sully, come back!” You see, once Texas had such a huge surplus of funds that Gov. Sul Ross had to call a special session of the Legislature to determine what to do.

Therein lies a tale worth re-telling in light of today’s squeeze. First, let’s take a look at Sul Ross, the only university president (Texas A&M) I know of who had another university named for him: Sul Ross University, obviously. He was born Lawrence Sullivan Ross near Waco. His great grandfather had been captured by Indians as a six-year-old child, and lived with them until he was rescued at 23. Ross’s father was an Indian agent, so Sul grew up with a greater understanding of the Indians than most Texans. He loved the good ones; he killed the bad ones.

During a summer vacation home from his college in Alabama, Sully led a company of Indians from his father’s reservation against the dreaded Comanche. The next fall back at college Ross may have taken part in the dorm bull sessions. “Hey, Sully, what did you do this summer?’

“Well, we were in the middle of a battle with the Comanche when four of us spotted a little white girl who was a captive. As we were getting her, we were jumped by 25 braves. Two of us were killed immediately. My gun misfired. I got an arrow in my shoulder and was then shot point-blank by a brave. It was Mohee, a Comanche I’d known since we were children together. As I was lying on the ground, Mohee whipped out his scalping knife and was about to scalp me when his chief called him away to kill someone else. My Indian friends rescued me and nursed me back to health. What’d you do this summer?”

“Forget it.”

After college Ross joined the Texas Rangers and at age 21 was made captain of a Ranger company. In yet another battle against the Indians, he caught up with Nacona, a Comanche chief who was responsible for much of the carnage along the Texas frontier. Ross shot Nacona and rescued a white woman who turned out to be Cynthia Ann Parker. When the Civil War broke out, he entered the Confederate Army as a private and wound up a general. Ross participated in 135 engagements, including 112 days of fighting around Atlanta. After the war he took up farming, then got into politics and became sheriff of McLennan County (Waco) and a state senator. Eventually he ran for governor.

In January 1887, Ross was inaugurated governor. He was the first to use the new capitol. That is when he had to tackle the problem of too much money. Part of the trouble was that most of the taxes came in during December and January. The money sat around until it was spent during the rest of the year. Then, all of a sudden, the U.S. government, acting on advice from the Army, paid Texas $927,177 as restitution for Indian depredations and expenses incurred by the state.

The expenses were run up in the 20 years after the Civil War because the Texas Rangers – not the U.S. Army – did much of the fighting against both Mexican bandits and hostile Indians. In addition, Texas patrolled its own border with Mexico, the only state or territory to do so. Washington reimbursed Texas for the cost and made good such losses as cattle rustled by the bandits and the Indians. The sum came to a tidy amount, particularly in those days.

A reporter from the Galveston Daily News went to the state vault, which held $2 million in cash alone, 20 percent of all the money in the state rendered for taxation. He saw not only a huge vault but within it, a safe. He wrote: “The vault contained a large burglar-and fire-proof safe, in which $1,250,000 in paper money was neatly arranged in packages, forming a compact square mass, ten by twenty-four inches, and eighteen inches high. In the same money chest about $25,000 in gold bars was resting secure from moth and rust. Outside the safe a pyramid of silver in bars was built from the floor nearly to the ceiling, resting against the west wall of the vault.

“Another safe was covered nearly to the ceiling with boxes of silver. Several tons of the precious metals were in view. In the corner was a pile of money bags containing silver quarters, halves and nickels. In the safe first mentioned, in addition to the cash, were shown in packages some $7,000,000 in bonds, viz, $2,991,000 of state bonds and $2,276,000 of county bonds, $1,753,817 of railroad bonds, besides $79,400 of public debt certificates.”

Gov. Ross could handle attacking Indians, bandits and Yankees, but he did not know how to handle that huge surplus. On March 27, 1888, he complained to a press conference that he couldn’t sleep the night before, worrying about what to do. “I don’t feel authorized to keep so much money locked up full a year if deferred until the regular session.” So he called a special session to deal with too much money – the only Texas guv to do so — and suggested that some funds should be set aside to pay the state’s bills for the rest of the year, some should go to raises for school teachers, and the state should repay $96,000 borrowed from the university fund. Then the new capitol had to be furnished, the state needed new asylums, and so on. What was left, Ross, said, would still be considerable, and that money should be returned to the taxpayers.

Yes, indeed. Sully, come back!

 

Ashby is taxed at ashby2@comcast.net

 

 

 

 

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