This Week in Travel – Episode 149

A special live episode of This Week in Travel recorded at the MKT Restaurant of the San Francisco Four Seasons.

Regular hosts Jen Leo and Chris Christensen are joined by this week’s guests Jodi Ettenberg, David Lytle, Spud (and Ann) Hilton, Dick Jordan, and Don George.

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Continue reading “This Week in Travel – Episode 149”

Byron Glacier, Alaska – A Family Friendly Hike Between Anchorage and Seward

I’ve now made three trips to Alaska – two with the kids and one alone.  I’ve seen several glaciers from afar.  They are beautiful, blue and mysterious.

Until the most recent trip, I had never been very close to a glacier.  I’d never touched a glacier and had not even seen from closer than about a half mile away.  They are truly massive, and just not that easy to access.  You can get near them on boats, but if they are actively calving it can be dangerous to get too close.

Byron Glacier on Kenai Peninsula

I wanted to take the kids to a close encounter with a glacier.  All the ones in close proximity are just too much of a hike, and we had my friend’s daughter with us as well.  She’s younger than my kids, so she’s even more limited in her ability to walk.  Matanuska is about two and a half hours outside of Anchorage and accessible by car, but almost six hours roundtrip in the car seemed like too much after a week full of activities.

I lucked into finding Byron Glacier, in the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula.  It is not well publicized, but it is right next to the more popular Portage Glacier.

It is an easy hike that is only a little under two miles round-trip, and the path is almost completely even.  There is only about a 100 ft elevation change during the hike. There was some foot traffic, but it wasn’t what I would consider crowded.  Definitely family friendly!

Stream along Byron Glacier Trail in Chugach National Forest on Kenai Peninsula Alaska

The path to the glacier meanders along a stream.  The kids stopped often, taking the time to skip rocks across the stream.  They had so much fun doing that, they probably would have forgotten the glacier if I hadn’t been prodding them to keep going.

When you reach the end of the trail, the stream is on your left and is wider than much of the hike.  A wide snowfield lies ahead of you with a glacial wall leading vertically from the snow.  To get to the snow, you have to walk over a small section of rocks.

We stayed on the snowfield and didn’t venture onto the icy vertical section.  There were families higher than us, but I’m from Texas.  I’ve got zero glacier experience.  I didn’t think it was too prudent for me to go higher.  I’ve been subjected to enough Man vs Wild-type TV shows by my husband to know glaciers aren’t a great idea to run around on all willy-nilly.

Child on Byron Glacier on Kenai Peninsula

I wish we would have allotted more time to play at the glacier.  The kids really enjoyed it, and I did too.  There are few completely free activities in Alaska, and this is a must experience adventure I would have done even if we had to pay to play.  Definitely add it to your list of things to do if you are in either Anchorage or Seward.

Children at Byron Glacier

Getting to Byron Glacier

At mile 79, Seward Highway (49 miles south of Anchorage), turn north onto Portage Valley Road.  Travel 6 miles (past Begich, Boggs Visitor Center) to trailhead parking.  It is just prior to the Portage Glacier boat dock.  Parking was free.  Map and more information at the Chugach National Forest website.

Child Pretending Reindeer at Byron Glacier in Alaska

Quest for the Perfect Bag – Update

My 32
My 32″ Gear Warrior which I use as my primary bag
Last December I wrote about my problems in finding the right bag. When you travel as much as I do, your bag/suitcase/backpack is a vital piece of equipment.

After six years of traveling around the world, I still hadn’t found a bag I was satisfied with. I tried backpacks, duffle bags, rolling duffle bags, suitcases and combinations thereof. I wasn’t happy.

Some bags were too heavy. Some were painful to carry. Some just fell apart because they were designed poorly.

Last December I decided that I was going to take a stab at solving this problem once and for all. I’d owned enough failed bags to know what I didn’t want. I just needed to find a bag that avoided all those bad things.
Continue reading “Quest for the Perfect Bag – Update”

UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan
UNESCO World Heritage Site #255: Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

From the World Heritage inscription:

The urban layout and architecture of Tlacotalpan represent a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean traditions of exceptional importance and quality. It is a Spanish colonial river port on the Gulf Coast of Mexico which has preserved its original urban fabric to an exceptional degree. Its outstanding character lies in its townscape of wide streets, modest houses in an exuberant variety of styles and colours, and many mature trees in public and private open spaces.

As an interior riverine port, Tlacotalpan is a rare form of urban settlement in Latin America. It is laid out on a chequerboard pattern, covering some 1,550 m by 520 m, and is divided into two distinct sectors. The larger of these, to the west, is the ‘Spanish’ quarter and the smaller, to the east, is the ‘native’ quarter. At their junction there is an irregularly shaped ‘public’ sector, where public open spaces and official and commercial buildings are located. The plan of the western part is orientated on seven main streets running east-west parallel to the river, and are intersected by narrow lanes.

The ethnic origins of the pre-Hispanic people inhabiting the region to the north and north-east of Tlacotalpan are not fully understood. However, the names of the river Papaloapan (Butterfly River) and other settlements nearby are Nahuatl, which suggests that it was under Aztec domination. The present name of the town is a Spanish version of Tlaxcotaliapan (‘Land between the Waters’), the name of the island where the initial settlement was established; following modification of the north bank of the river, it was joined to the mainland. The mouth of the Papaloapan River was discovered by Juan de Grijalba in 1518. Pedro de Alvarado sailed up it and in 1521 Cortés sent Gonzalo de Sandoval to find gold.

The site of Tlacotalpan formed part of an enormous grant of land made around 1550 by the Spanish King to Gaspar Rivadeneyra, on which he kept livestock. He was unable to prevent the establishment of a village of fishermen on the site of the present-day town, but he obliged them to build a chapel dedicated to La Virgen de la Candelaria.

Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

Tlacotalpan is situated approximately 2 hours south of the city of Veracruz on the cost of the Gulf of Mexico. It is a nice enough town that doesn’t seem to get nearly as much tourism as other world heritage level cities in Mexico. It also seems to lack the gravitas that most world heritage cities have.

The most obvious feature in the town are the colorfully painted houses you will see around town. You can see bright pinks, purples and blues on almost every street.

I’d say this site is only of real interest to those who are very much into Mexican culture or are world heritage hunters like myself.


Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

The Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico. It was inscribed into the UNESCO list in 1998 as a colonial and urban landscape. This historic area represents the townscape that is linked to a Spanish colonial river port. The town is filled with many single-storey buildings that feature Caribbean architectural style – filled with lots of vibrant colors.

The ton of Tlacotalpan is located along the banks of the river. It was established in the mid-16th century. The town follows a checkerboard style and is divided into separate quarters that are designated for the natives and Spaniards.

About the Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

The Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan is an urban landscape known for its grid pattern. This mid-16th century town is composed of wide streets that are lined with colonnaded houses that depict the Caribbean architectural style. The public parks are part of town layout and they are filled with several mature trees. Aside from the parks, there are plenty of private gardens and open spaces all throughout.

The town of Tlacotalpan was first settled by the Spaniards in the 1550s but it reached its peak during the 19th century. The surviving ensemble of the Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan is made up of 153 blocks within a 75-hectare land area. The Spanish Quarter is located on the west and the Native Quarter is located on the east. These two quarters form the distinct sectors of the Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan. Within the intersection of the two quarters, you will find civic buildings that are made with irregular shaped layouts.

In 1821, Tlacotalpan gained economic independence from its colonizers. This was also the same time when the port was opened such that products from Puebla and Oaxaca were brought into the town. From there, the products are shipped to other parts of the world such as Havana, Bordeaux, New Orleans, and Veracruz.

Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan

The colonial feel of the Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan is evident on the streets that are filled with arched porticos. Aside from the arches on the streets, the town also exhibits a high concentration of historic buildings that provide a sense of architectural harmony. The basic vernacular style homes are not uncommon in many towns along the Gulf of Mexico; however, the single-storey houses in Tlacotalpan are what make it unique.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #254: Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison

UNESCO World Heritage Site #254: Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison
UNESCO World Heritage Site #254: Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison

From the World Heritage inscription:

As one of the earliest established towns with a fortified port in the Caribbean network of military and maritime-mercantile outposts of the British Atlantic, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison was the focus of trade-based English expansion in the Americas. By the 17th century, the fortified port town was able to establish its importance in the British Atlantic trade and became an entrepôt for goods, especially sugar, and enslaved persons destined for Barbados and the rest of the Americas.

Historic Bridgetown’s irregular settlement patterns and 17th Century street layout of an English medieval type, in particular the organic serpentine streets, supported the development and transformation of creolized forms of architecture, including Caribbean Georgian.

Historic Bridgetown’s fortified port spaces were linked along the Bay Street corridor from the historic town’s centre to St. Ann’s Garrison. The property’s natural harbour, Carlisle Bay, was the first port of call on the trans-Atlantic crossing and was perfectly positioned as the launching point for the projection of British imperial power, to defend and expand Britain’s trade interests in the region and the Atlantic World. Used as a base for amphibious command and control, the garrison housed the Eastern Caribbean headquarters of the British Army and Navy. Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison participated not only in the international trade of goods and enslaved persons but also in the transmission of ideas and cultures that characterized the developing colonial enterprise in the Atlantic World.

My visit to Barbados was far shorter than I had hoped and my visit to this World Heritage site was also not all it could have been. My time in Barbados happened to overlap the Crop Over festival which is the biggest celebration of the year in the country. Normally, that would be a great thing, except that it screwed up my flights in and out of Barbados. I had a very tight deadline and several islands I had to visit, so my stay in Barbados ended up only being 36 hours.

Most of Bridgetown was shut down so there wasn’t much to see in the city. I ended up visiting the garrison, which is a major part of the site, and wasn’t really that impressed. Today the garrison is horse track and the buildings surrounding it weren’t that impressive.

I think Bridgetown is worthy of a return visit at some point in the future. There is a big chunk of the site that I didn’t get to see because of the circumstances of my visit.


The Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in Barbados. It was inscribed in 2011 as a colonial and urban landscape site. The World Heritage Site is primarily focused on the 17th century British colonial city.

The Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison encompasses the historic old town, along with the port and former garrison. The garrison was once the headquarters of the British Navy in the region. Bridgetown also served as the spot for the exchange of goods and slaves. Hence, it added to the cultural significance of this site.

About Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison

Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison

The Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison is a historical site and landmark. All of the components to this World Heritage Site belong to the city of Bridgetown in Barbados. There are two major components to this site: Bridgetown and “The Garrison”.

The Historic Bridgetown

Bridgetown is the capital and largest city of Barbados. It is commonly referred to as ‘The City’, or simply as ‘Town’. As of 2014, the city has a population count of 110,000.

During the 17th century, the city came under the rule of the British Empire and there an English settlement was developed. During this time, Bridgetown was developed into the same street layout as many of the English medieval market towns. The city is characterized by its alley configuration and narrow serpentine street.

The Bridgetown Port played an important role in the formation of history of this city. This port served as entry for cargo ships and cruises. In fact, it serves as a major hub in the Eastern Caribbean for shipments from all over the world. This port was part of the reason why the Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Garrison Historic Area

The Garrison Historic Area, also known as “The Garrison” forms the other half of the UNESCO site, Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison. This is a small district that encompasses the Garrison Historic Area that is located 2 miles south of Heroes Square. It is located within the city of Bridgetown in Barbados.

The area consists of a historic horse race track within a 30-acre parade ground known as Garrison Savannah. Aside from this historic race track, there are a few other historic buildings within the area including the barracks for military personnel.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Garrison served as the base and headquarters for the British West Indies Regiment. George Washington, who was the future President and leader of the American Revolution, stayed at the Bush Hill section of The Garrison for 6 weeks to be with his sick brother during the mid-18th century. Today, this building is commemorated as the ‘George Washington House’.

There are more historic buildings that are part of the protected area Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, such as the main guardhouse, clock tower, Barbados Museum, and the Barbados National Cannon Collection.

Visit my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Barbados.

Visit my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

What is a Sugar Shack? – A Journey into Traditional Quebec Culture

I loved visiting Quebec.  Montreal and Quebec City were lovely cities, and they were full of charm.  But, they were cities.  They had a lot of history evident, but life had moved on.  Most parts of the cities were as modern as any other city, and you had to go into the “Old Town” if you wanted to relive some of the more traditional parts of Quebec life.

It is always a goal of mine to get out of the city.  I like the slower pace, and the smaller number of people.  I guess I’m just a country girl.  So even though I loved my time in Montreal, I was happy to head out for an afternoon at a Sugar Shack.

Sugar Shack in Quebec
Learning how the sap is turned into maple sugar using traditional Quebec methods.

The Sugar Shacks are where the sap of the maple tree is boiled and made into maple syrup.  Most Sugar Shacks in Quebec are only open during the sugaring-off season – which is normally the spring.  Many families traditionally spend their Easter dinner together at a Sugar Shack, eating traditional Quebec food and lots of maple sugar.

A family enjoying a meal at a Sugar Shack.

Since it was the summer when I was visiting Canada, I visited the Sucrerie de la Montagne, which is open year round.  This sugar shack has been designated a “Site du Patrimoine Québécois” or Quebec Heritage Site, and it adheres to the traditional way of gathering the tree sap by hand.   What it should be designated as is “Place I’d Get Fat if I Ate There More Than Once.”

The food.  Oh the food!  The quantity was amazing.  There were things I’d never heard of like Christ’s Ears (Oreilles de crisse) which were some sort of fried pork thing, homemade bread, pea soup, and meat pie.  Flight after flight of traditional Quebec fare, which you then dump ample maple syrup over.  I can see why you would return year after year… but only once a year!

Maple sugar at a sugar shack in quebec
Syrup! Syrup for everyone!

When I was walking around the dimly lit eating area after overindulging in syrup drenched food, I found a yellowed newspaper article from decades earlier with several recipes listed.  Here is one of them, a maple sugar pie recipe.  I had this for dessert (which I obviously needed since I consumed only a year’s worth of sugar during the rest of the meal), and it was great!

Authentic Sugar Shack Recipe – Maple Sugar Pie

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup packed maple sugar (brown sugar can be substituted)
  • 1/2 cup flower
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Put milk in the top of a double boiler and when hot add the beaten yolks to which has been added a little hot milk.

Mix together the maple sugar and flour and whisk gradually into the hot milk.  Remove from heat and add salt and butter.  Cool.  Pour into a baked pie crust and chill.  Serve with whipped cream.

Even if you can’t visit your own sugar shack, you can have a taste of it at home.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Where is the Sucrerie de la Montagne Sugar Shack?

Just to the west of Montreal, the Sucrerie de la Montagne would make a great half-day trip for the whole family.

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I visited the Sucrerie de la Montagne as a guest on a G Adventures trip – The Quebec and Ontario Explorer.

Caribbean Island Hopping – Leeward Islands Recap

I’m approximately half way through my Caribbean island hopping adventure. Since I began in June I’ve gotten through the Leeward Islands and have now begun traveling down the Windward Islands. Here is where I’ve been so far:

  • St. Thomas (USVI)
  • Tortola (BVI)
  • Virgin Gorda (BVI)
  • St. Martin (Dutch)
  • Anguilla
  • St. Martin (French)
  • St. Bart’s
  • Saba
  • St. Eustatius
  • St. Kitts
  • Nevis
  • Antigua
  • Montserrat
  • Guadeloupe

All of my comments and observations in this post will be limited to the above islands.
Continue reading “Caribbean Island Hopping – Leeward Islands Recap”