California is rich in places visitors can tour and taste their products — wineries, breweries, cheesemakers and chocolate. Now, you can add olive oil to that list.
Many businesses in Northern California (and other parts of the state) make extra virgin olive oil, an industry with roots dating to the late 1700s. Northern California production has seen a resurgence since the early 1990s.
Read my article in The Dallas Morning News published in December 2018. It focused on McEvoy Ranch (in featured photo), tucked into the rolling hills of northwestern Marin County near the Sonoma County border. The 550-acre ranch, which is about 40 miles north of San Francisco and 30 miles west of Napa, has been open to the public since 2015.
Some places have downright odd traditions and rituals.
As I wandered through some outdoor Christmas fairs in Barcelona, Spain, last weekend, I found many stalls specializing in crèches and figures for nativity scenes.
One figurine caught my eye because it seemed so bizarre: El Caganer. In polite translation, it means “the defecator” or one who poops.
He usually wears the traditional Catalonian red cap, a white peasant shirt and squats with his pants pulled down and a pile of excrement on the ground behind him. (See featured photo at top.)
El Caganer can be found in Christmas nativity scenes, but not in the manger. He’s usually tucked away somewhere, presenting his gift to baby Jesus, so to say.
Yes, the Catalonians are somewhat obsessed with crap. They’re not the only ones.
Scatalogical humor is part of our modern global culture, whether you like it or not. Over the last few years, it’s received a bit of a boost with the insane popularity of the poop emoji. Although the poop emoji appeared in 2010, it didn’t become one of the most popular iPhone emojis until 2016. Now, it can be found on earrings, hats, cupcakes, balloons and more.
The origins of El Caganer go much farther back than that of the poop emoji. In his book Barcelona, author Robert Hughes, traced the caganer as a folk-art character to the 16th century. The story goes that he became popular as a nativity figure in the 19th century.
The caganer also has appeared in more modern art, including by Catalonia’s own Joan Miró. He painted a baby squatting near his mother washing clothes at a cistern in “The Farm” in 1921 and the surrealist “Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement” in 1935.
At the Christmas fair (fira de nadal) in front of the Barcelona Cathedral and the one in front of the Sagrada Familia, I saw rows of traditional caganers for sale. (These stalls sell many other figurines to basically create an entire village, complete with miniature animals, pots, jamón and looms.)
At tourist tchotchke shops, I also saw caganer figures in slightly larger versions on celebrities like Elvis to politicians like Russian President Vladimir Putin and even FC Barcelona soccer stars. (See photo at end.)
Why? I’m not exactly sure where this affinity for poop comes from, but it’s real.
Catalonians have “an abiding taste” for scatological humor and place the value a “good crap” on level with that of a “good meal,”Hughes writes. An old Catalonian folk saying goes “Menjar be, cagar fort, I no tingues por de la mort”or “Eat well, shit strongly, and you will have no fear of death.”
If you need an excuse to travel overseas, here it is: the strong U.S. dollar.
Today, for example, you would have received 0.88 Euros for one U.S. dollar. (See Google image below.) That tied the exchange rate in Nov. 13 and Aug. 15. Before those dates, the last time the dollar was that high against the Euro was 0.94 on April 7, 2017.
A strong U.S. dollar means someone can exchange it for more of a foreign currency. (It also means U.S. consumers can buy foreign goods sold here for less, but foreign consumers will pay more for U.S. goods imported to other countries.)
Why is the dollar up? Well, there are several reasons:
2. The currencies of some countries have been hurt by fears that U.S. tariffs will curb economic growth.
3. Some countries’ currencies have fallen for other reasons, such as economic crisis (Venezuela) and high inflation (Turkey) and high foreign-currency debt levels (Indonesia).
This summer, some Wall Street forecasters expected the dollar to fall from its lofty perch. Morgan Stanley, State Street Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. said the dollar’s fast rise (up about 5 percent from mid-April to late July) was nearly over, according to Bloomberg article.
The dollar’s fall hasn’t happened yet. It’s anyone’s guess when it will, but it will. Currencies rise and fall like the stock market.
So, take advantage of the strong dollar combined with the proliferation of low-fare European airlines and plan trip soon.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose …
–Burt Bacharach and Hal David
If you find yourself in fast-paced Silicon Valley over the holidays or for business, the Dolce Hayes Mansion may provide a welcome escape.
The San Jose, Calif., hotel exudes personality. Like history? It has that, too. And the rumors is it’s haunted.
This stained glass graces the ceiling in the hotel lobby. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
The glorious grounds include palm trees, an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a large outdoor patio. It’s location in the southeast corner of San Jose still offers easy access to freeways, many tech companies and two parks: one with a playground and one with a mixed-use trail.
The mansion was home to the prominent Hayes family. Matriarch Mary Hayes Chynoweth commissioned the 65-room, 41,000-square–foot Spanish Colonial Revival house, but died just before it was completed in late 1905. Her two sons, Everis and Jay, and their families lived there. Everis was a U.S. Congressman and Jay was involved in state politics. In addition, the brothers owned and operated mines, farms and other businesses, including the San Jose Herald, San Jose Mercury and The Evening News. Those newspapers eventually became the San Jose Mercury News. At one time the Hayes family’s estate covered nearly 700 acres.
When you walk through the hotel’s main entrance, take note of two old photographs in the vestibule. The one on the left shows the first Hayes mansion, a Victorian affair that burned down in 1899. The one on the right shows the current mansion in 1953. At check-in, make sure to ask for the self-guided walking tour (a brochure) of the mansion.
All of the wood trim in the lobby is mahogany. Just off the lobby is a beautiful library filled with legal volumes serves as a guest sitting area. From the lobby, a marble hallway takes you to other parts of the mansion, passing two wonderful murals (see photo above). More modern art of California landscapes by San Francisco Bay Area artists are in other parts of the mansion and wings.
This inglenook is below the grand staircase on the south side of the mansion. The mosaic is made of pieces of marble. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
The Hayes family’s former sitting room serves as the Palm Plaza Lounge. Two inglenooks below the stairways in the mansion provide a cozy resting spot. The stairways lead to an historic photo gallery on the second floor.
The City of San Jose bought the mansion in 1985. A division of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts now operates the 214-room hotel, which includes newer wings besides the main house, a conference center, two restaurants and a fitness center.
The hotel rooms seemed a bit dated, with heavy furniture and dark carpeting that should be replaced. (Was my view colored because I stayed there during gray, rainy weather?) Still, my room in a wing was clean and quiet, with a comfortable bed. You can find rooms priced at just over $100, but consider splurging for a large suite in the mansion (see photo below).
As for the hotel being haunted, who knows?
Note: I recently stayed at the Dolce Hayes Mansion on my own dime.
Like a sentry, the stately, Spanish-style tower watches over the city of Boise, Idaho, from its perch atop a hill south of downtown.
Still, I may not have noticed the modest spire if I hadn’t been staying in that part of the city. And that would have been a shame.
The stunning view of the Boise skyline and its foothills from its 90-foot bell tower is not to be missed.
It’s one of the many grand old train stations that have been renovated across the country.
Railroads helped the nation’s westward expansion, creating much of the network of roads and towns we have today. Many depots closed as autos and planes replaced trains for transportation. Some depots — including those in Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; New York City; and St. Paul, Minn. — still are used for Amtrak and/or a local commuter rail system. Others have been renovated for other uses, such as apartments, retail and event space. And some have been demolished or sit vacant and crumbling per a recent New York Times article.
I have visited a dozen renovated train stations across the country, including seven in the Midwest. I’m no train nut by any stretch, but I appreciate architecture and history.
In Boise, New York architects designed the city’s depot for Union Pacific Railroad. Guide John Devries told me construction began in 1920, with the first train rolling through five years later.
At the time, the depot was called “the most beautiful structure of its kind in the West.”
“At the depot’s height, there were six trains coming through daily,” Devries said. “There was Amtrak passenger service until 1997, but now the only passenger rail access is in Sandpoint,” Idaho (420 miles or nearly eight hours to the North).
Construction company Morrison Knudsen Co. (known in these parts as MK) bought the building in 1990 and restored it. The $3.4 million renovation was unveiled in 1993.
The renovation opened the bell tower to the public for the first time as MK installed an elevator and stairway. The tower’s four bells used to play music; today, only one rings on the hour.
Inside, a large 1945 train schedule graces part of a wall. The old retail counter houses Boise Depot and Union Pacific memorabilia, such as matches, pins, sugar packets and train time tables. (See photos taken by me below.)
The Boise Depot’s retail counter houses Union Pacific and depot memorabilia, such as matches, old clocks, sugar packets and train time tables. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
In 1996, the city of Boise bought the depot, which is operated by the Boise Parks and Recreation Department.
The Boise Depot is open to the public for free from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Sundays. Otherwise, you can rent it for an event.
The Thanksgiving travel season promises to be one of the busiest ever for fliers, and I’m not talking about turkeys.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects more than 25 million people to travel through airports across the country this Thanksgiving season (Nov. 16 through Nov. 26). That’s nearly a 7 percent increase from 2017, making the holiday season one of TSA’s busiest on record.
Last year, the TSA noticed a shift in Thanksgiving air travel patterns it expects to continue this year: The big travel crush starts the Friday before Thanksgiving, instead of one day before the holiday.
Still, the busiest travel days are expected be the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday afterward when people are returning home.
If this Thanksgiving might log record travel numbers, should we expect Christmas travel to do the same?
Most outlooks for the December holidays aren’t out yet, but it’s a good bet. In its 2018 Holiday Outlook report, PricewaterhouseCoopers expects more than a third (35 percent) of consumers to travel for the winter holidays. That figure is even higher for younger people: 52 percent for older millennials (age 32-36), 46 percent for young millennials (age 23-26) and 40 percent for Generation Z (people age 17-22).
Overall, travel volume to and within the United States has been growing each year for nearly 10 straight years, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
And the winter holidays always have been busy times of year for travel as children come home on college break and other family members gather from afar.
Here are some quick holiday air travel tips:
Plan to arrive at the airport early. That means two hours before the departure of a flight within the United States and three hours before an international flight. Allow extra time for traffic congestion, parking, returning a rental car or checking luggage.
Check this list from the TSA of items you can and cannot carry through an airport or onto an airplane.
Be prepared to move quickly through airport security. Have your identification and boarding pass ready. Remember to remove from your carry-on bag any electronic devices larger than a cell phone and the quart-size plastic bag containing liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce containers or smaller (unless you have TSA PreCheck).
Travel light. The less luggage you have, the easier it will be to move around. It could cost you less since many airlines have raised their checked baggage fee.
Dress light. You must remove shoes, coats or sweaters and empty your pockets at airport security checkpoints. You also may need to remove watches and jewelry, if you’re wearing any.
US 95 goes from the United States’ border with Canada south to Mexico. Within Idaho, it stretches vertically for more than 538 miles along the state’s western edge. The most stunning sections — traversing rivers, lakes, farm land and meadows — lie within the 304 miles between Sandpoint in the Panhandle south to New Meadows near Boise.
You’ll pass through two time zones without ever leaving Idaho. This description of US 95 is driving north to south:
As you leave the laid-back city of Sandpoint, you must drive over the Long Bridge, which stretches for nearly 2 miles across large Lake Pend Oreille. The bridge offers stunning views of the sapphire-blue lake and surrounding peaks, which can be dusted with snow from October through May.
South of Sandpoint, you’ll pass through farmland and meadows and the city of Coeur D’Alene. You’ll note a large lake here, one of several waterways along US 95.
Around Moscow and south to Lewiston, you’ll drive through the beautiful Palouse region of rolling hills (blond in fall/winter and green in spring). The area is a major producer of wheat and lentils as well as other crops. One theory is that the name Palouse comes from French-Canadian fur traders changed the name of the local Palus American Indian tribe to the French word pelouse, meaning “land with short and thick grass.” (See my featured photo at top.)
The city of Moscow, home to the University of Idaho is worth a stop for good cafes, art, vintage stores and a campus walk.
Heading into the city of Lewiston, stop at the overlook for panoramic views of the intersection of the Clearwater and Snake rivers and surrounding hills. Opt to drive Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, if you can stomach a drop of 2,000 feet in 10 miles and 64 curves.
After Lewiston, US 95 follows the stunning Salmon River from south of White Bird to Riggins, with many places to stop to camp, fish or just take in the view along the way. Just before Riggins, you’ll leave the Pacific Time Zone and enter Mountain Time Zone as the road crosses the Salmon River.
Two alternative roads off US 95 in Idaho also are worth a drive for their spectacular scenery.
State Highway 97 near Coeur D’Alene: Starting near Wolf Lodge on U.S. Highway 90, the road meanders along Harrison Slough and some small lakes. Continue to Plummer or loop back on State Highway 3.
State Highway 55 at New Meadows: This road shadows the Payette River, with especially pretty sections at Cascade, Smiths Ferry and Banks.
Airline food –at least ay American Airlines — just got a little better thanks to a collaboration with Zoës Kitchen on a new inflight menu.
Starting Dec. 1, main cabin passengers on most U.S. flights longer than three hours will be able to buy these new healthy food items.
If you’re not familiar with Zoës, the fast casual restaurant chain offers healthy Mediterranean fare inspired by family recipes and made from scratch. Getting into the whole Mediterranean, Blue Zone lifestyle, Zoës even has a “life blog,” with posts about healthy eating and fitness.
A Greek-American friend of mine swears by Zoës’ seasoning, “Spice of Life.”
Founded in 1995 and based in Plano, Texas, Zoës operates over 260 restaurants in 20 states. (Cava Group Inc. is buying Zoës.) So, Fort Worth, Texas-based American basically teamed up with a neighbor.
Janelle Anderson, vice president of global marketing for American Airlines, said customers have asked for “lighter, tasty food.”
American and Zoës head chef Antonio Iocchi designed the new menu with some items American Zoës head chef Antonio Iocchi designed a menu with some items exclusive to the airline and some signature dishes from Zoës restaurants, such as just for the airline and some signature dishes from Zoës restaurants, such as:
* Breakfast sandwich: Turkey bacon, egg slices, tomato and Calabrian pepper aioli topped with baby arugula on a waffle brioche bun
* Continental breakfast box: Belgian waffle with hazelnut spread and fresh berries
* Hummus duo: Two types of hummus — traditional and basil pesto flavor — topped with Kalamata olives, carrot, cucumber and pita bread
* The Grüben sandwich: Sliced turkey, Manchego cheese, Mediterranean slaw and feta spread layered on marble wheat bread and served with a chocolate chip cookie
* Chicken wrap: Grilled chicken with mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, arugula and artichokes and served a chocolate chip cookie
Throughout 2019, American and Zoës plan to introduce more food items in the domestic main and first class cabins. American said it still will continue to offer its breakfast platter and fruit-and-cheese plate.
U.S. travel increased this summer, but growth is slowing even as a global travel boom continues.
That’s according to the latest data from the U.S. Travel Association (USTA).
Travel to and within the United States grew 3 percent in July from a year earlier, according to the USTA’s Travel Trends Index. And travel for the first seven months of this year has grown faster than the same period in 2017, said David Huether, vice president for research for the USTA.
Growth is credited mainly to increased domestic travel on the heels of higher consumer confidence. Business travel, in particular, is having its best year since 2010, Huether said.
However, domestic and international travel growth decelerated from June to July, a trend the USTA expects to continue over the next six months, though growth will remain positive. The association predicts domestic travel will grow an average of 2.4 percent through January.
Adam Sacks, president of the tourism economics group at research firm Oxford Economics, said “cooling consumer indicators and the potential for slower business investment growth” through the rest of this year could hurt domestic travel. Oxford prepares the Travel Trends Index for the USTA.
For example, new orders for durable goods, which can reflect future consumer and business demand, declined 1.7 percent in July, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, steep U.S. tariffs on many foreign products have risen fears about the long-term effect of the escalating trade wars on U.S. consumers and businesses.
As global economic growth moderates, the USTA predicts international travel will grow at an average rate of 1.6 percent through January. A longer-term concern, said USTA CEO Roger Dow, is that inbound international travel is not accelerating fast enough to boost the U.S. share of the global travel market, which peaked at 13.6 percent in 2015.
Case in point: In 2017, nearly 77 million people from other countries visited the United States, which was basically flat (+0.7 percent) from 2016, according to recent data from the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office. More visitors came from South Korea (+18 percent), Brazil (+11 percent), Argentina (+10 percent) and Ireland (+9 percent).