Hitting the Ground Running in Yangon

My travel destinations are often inspired by literature, with its descriptions of majestic landscapes, fascinating people, and unusual sites. Great stories that make me feel like I was “there” motivate me to visit their locations. Isak Dinesen’s stories about her life in ”Out of Africa”, EM Foster’s tales of Florence in “Room with the View”, and Tama Janowitz’s detailed chronicles of Manhattan’s art scene, each planted in my mind a seed that later grew into a real trip.

In my final year of school, I read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”. Orwell spent five years, from 1922 to 1927, as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma (Myanmar). Burma had become part of the British Empire during the 19th century as an adjunct of British India. The British colonized Burma in stages, finally capturing the royal capital of Mandalay in 1885 so that Burma could be declared part of the British Empire.

Although Burma was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, as a colony under British rule it was viewed as a backwater. Orwell’s Burmese Days is a sad tale of a disillusioned life, lost love and missed chances. Orwell’s description of the daily life in Myanmar stuck with me. Ever since then I have wanted to see how much of Orwell’s experiences would still be visible. I finally got my chance, and not a moment too soon, because at the rate Myanmar is changing it won’t be too long until the architectural traces of its colonial past are gone.

Yangon Overview

Although I travel a lot, jet lag is always a difficult hurdle to get over whenever I arrive at a new place. Knowing this I try to organize an activity for soon after I arrive, that has some built-in guidance. A guided walking, bike or vehicle tour to start a trip gets me out and about while I adjust to a new place and time zone.

Scheduling a tour at the beginning of a trip is also a terrific way to get an overview of the place you will spend the next few days exploring. You can take note of interesting things you come across and return later to explore further. Doing one of these tours early in a trip has always served me well.

Arriving in Yangon, Myanmar, it was jet lag times three! With two flight changes and a seven-hour layover in Hong Kong. Knowing that Day One was going to be a challenge I contacted Backyard Travel in advance and set up a city tour for the morning after we arrived. Bangkok based Backyard Travel specializes in all things Asia with great local experts in all major cities. They offer many kinds of packaged tours, ranging from one-day to multi-day excursions. If you have a particular interest, they will make a custom program just for you! For Yangon, they offer a great one-day outing, called “Eat, Learn, Love”.

The “Eat, Learn, Love” tour is perfect for culture hounds and foodies. It touches on the city’s fascinating traditions by looking at art, crafts, antiques, architecture, religion and local foods. Discover old colonial buildings and visit the country’s most revered sacred sites, popping into Yangon’s foremost antique shops and art galleries along the way. You’ll eat like a local at bustling markets, rub shoulders with Yangon locals and try some of the country’s tastiest specialties.

Indian Market

Our guide was Nge Nge, a local expert, born and raised in Yangon. She greeted us at our hotel first thing in the morning with a big smile and driver in tow. Having a car for the day was a real treat with the beginning of the hot season just getting going — even early in the morning, it was already a whopping 90 degrees!

Our first stop was the Indian Market. Indians immigrated in large numbers to Myanmar during the period of British rule, to fill the empire’s insatiable need for administrators and laborers. After the British moved on the Indians stayed and have built a thriving community in Yangon.

It was Saturday morning, locals were going about their shopping and the market was swarming with people. With so much to see we were quickly overwhelmed but Nge Nge kept us moving, guiding us towards interesting stalls and feeding us street food samples from vendors where she knows the food is safe. As we sampled foods, Nge Nge explained how each dish was made, what local ingredients were used, and how each dish fit into the local food culture. My favorites were the small pancakes made of rice flour … delicious!

For the food alone, having Nge Nge with us was worth it. Without her, we simply could not have partaken (without considerable worry) and would have missed a lot of the experience! Myanmar’s food safety standards are somewhat lacking, so indiscriminate eating can quickly get you into trouble.

We zipped in and out of dark and dusty warehouses, through quiet halls stacked to the rafters with all manner of supplies, only to emerge again onto busy thoroughfares where fisherman, butchers, and farmers were preparing the day’s offering and keeping the flies at bay. After navigating many blocks of what seemed to us like a maze, we emerged at the other end of the market to find our car waiting.

It was time for lunch so Nge Nge instructed our driver to take us to a popular lunch spot on Yangon’s east side. Being Saturday, families were out in full force lining up for their weekly meal out. Nge Nge ordered a lovely cross-section of local dishes for us to try, describing the ingredients and history of each dish, with a liberal sprinkling of humorous anecdotes.

After lunch, we took in some local art galleries and checked out some old fading colonial buildings before heading to our next stop, the reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple.

Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple

The Reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple is an awe-inspiring 217 feet long: one of the largest Buddha likenesses in Burma. This is not the original Buddha at this temple. The original was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899, completed in 1907. But once complete, everyone found the new Buddha unsettling. His proportions were odd, and he had an aggressive facial expression.

So, in the 1950s, the original Buddha image was demolished, and temple trustees began work on replacing him, under the supervision of U Thaung, a well-known master craftsman. From head to toe, the Buddha is an awesome sight to behold. Its huge size may not be fully appreciated until you see one of the monks on dusting duty, scaling the Buddha on ropes, with the monk dwarfed by the Buddha’s immense body parts. The life-like eyes make the Buddha appear more compelling than many other older Buddha’s. Their life-like appearance is due to their being perfectly cast as a single piece of glass, a feat that made local glass factory Naga famous.

Shwedagon Pagoda

With the sun getting low, Nge Nge suggested it was a perfect time to visit the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the crown jewel of cultural sights in Yangon and the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. Legend tells that the Stupa contains important Buddhist relics including eight of Buddha’s own hairs!

Historians maintain that the pagoda was built by the Mon people between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. However, according to legend, the pagoda was constructed much earlier, more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.

We arrive at a busy scene full of tour groups, families, monks and worshipers making their way into the long passage of steps that leads up to the plateau on which the pagoda rests.

Arriving on the plateau, we take our time wandering around the Stupa observing the varied ceremonies going on around us. Between the evening light, rituals, the smell of incense, and the ancient architecture, it was a curiously overwhelming experience. As the sun set, we made our way back down to the bustling city of Yangon.


Over the next few days, while we struck out on our own to further explore the city, we eavesdropped on some other guides and noticed there was a huge difference in quality compared to our wonderful experience with our new friend Nge Nge. Her insight, attention to historical detail and insight into present-day culture were wonderful. She made an enormous difference in our experience exploring the city of Yangon.

In a city like Yangon, where the streets are a bit of a maze, traffic and traffic lights are tricky to negotiate, with no street lights in many areas, and open drains that are hard to see at night, having some guidance can make for a far richer, less stressful, and safer experience.

And one final note about the fragile state of Yangon’s Colonial infrastructure. On arrival, we were amazed at the chaotic traffic throughout the city. We asked Nge Nge about it and she replied that it’s a recent phenomenon. Just a few years ago cars were so expensive in Myanmar that they were a rarity. Most transportation was via horse and cart. I wish I had visited a few years earlier; George Orwell would have felt quite at home. But wait much longer and there may not be much left to see! The time for Myanmar is now.


To book the Eat, Learn, Love tour with Back Yard Travel, go to; www.backyardtravel.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Amber Butchart’s Fashionable Old London

London arrived fashionably late to the world of couture as a place that inspires fresh ideas for designers’ seasonal collections. The capital city has operated mainly as a resource conduit, exporting primary or unfinished products like wool and metal, and procuring luxury items like fur and embroidery for use elsewhere.

Where it has built a great reputation is in the traditional handcrafts of clothiers: tailoring, shirt making, hat making and shoemaking, trades essential to the trappings of proper English gentlemen.

But there are exceptions. The UK is legendary for its eccentric characters and some have used fashion as a means of expression. To mention a few of the most famous: Beau Brummell invented the “Dandy”, Mary Quant invented the miniskirt, Katherine Hammett gave us the political T-Shirt, and Vivienne Westwood, the mother of punk fashion, defined an era of rock and roll. And let’s not forget Thomas Burberry, who, in 1850, experimented with waterproofing a raincoat. It was probably an effort that was more engineering than fashion, but it was bound to happen, considering London’s perpetual mists and rains. It was a true London inspiration.

To dig a bit deeper into London’s relationship with fashion we arranged to meet Amber Butchart, a born-and-raised Londoner, and herself fabulously fashionable. Amber is a rising star on BBC’s presenter roster, a fashion historian, and a wealth of knowledge on textiles and all things related to the art of fashion. She currently shares her insights on BBC4’s, “A Stitch in Time”, a six-part series exploring the lives of historic characters through fashion.

Amber Butchart

With Amber’s unique take on fashion and history, we were curious to know what her London haunts are and where she gets her fashion inspiration locally. Her insider suggestions sent us on a totally new route around London.

Dennis Severs House

The Dennis Severs House, is located on Folgate Street in London’s East End. It was created by Mr Severs who uses his visitors’ imaginations as his canvas to paint an intimate portrait of the lives of a Huguenot silk weaver’s family.

Amber Butchart

Severs lived in the house in much the same way as its original occupants might have done in the early 18th Century, without electricity or running water. This he did for his own personal enjoyment as well as to construct an atmosphere that would create a seamless passageway into the past.

A visit is a fascinating look into London of another age.

Beyond Retro

This vintage clothing retailer with shops in the UK and Sweden is Amber’s original stomping ground and where she long ago trained buyers in all things vintage. One can find items of every era of the 20th century.

All the clothing and accessories found at Beyond Retro started out as donations to charities. The sale of these donations generates revenue for charities all over the world. Beyond Retro buys directly from charities or through recycling companies.

Amber Butchart

Designer Alexa Chung and singer-songwriters Paloma Faith and Kate Nash are just a few of the many regulars that can be found combing the racks at Beyond Retro. Join them to assemble your own look curated from the backs of Briton’s closets and its attics.

Fan Museum

Over to Greenwich, we visit a beautiful Grade II listed building dating back to 1721. It’s now a small museum dedicated to the fading art of fans and the process of making them.

Aside from their obvious artistic merits, in their time fans played a critical role as a means of subtle communication when social norms discouraged banter between the unacquainted.

Amber Butchart

The master craftsman of the fan age was Felix Alexandre. In the late 1800s, having one of his creations was the ultimate luxury. The Queen of the Netherlands, Empress Eugenie, and later Queen Victoria were both customers of his Parisian studio.

If you plan your visit for Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday you can also enjoy afternoon tea in the old town house’s lovely Orangery.

Davenports Magic Shop

Davenports is not just any magic shop, it is the oldest family run magic shop in the world! The business started five generations ago when Queen Victoria was the one living in nearby Buckingham Palace.

Its collection spans back to the enterprise’s beginning and each object tells a story. The business started in the East End in 1898, with later locations on New Oxford Street and across from the British Museum. Now Davenports is tucked away in the tunnels of the Charing Cross tube station near Trafalgar Square.

Amber Butchart

Offering workshops for aspiring magicians as well as consulting with professional magicians, Davenports is magic’s link to its Victorian heyday.

Come home from your London trip with a new trick up your sleeve.

The Armory Room at the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is a wonderful art museum covering all manner of art and crafts. The collection was amassed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. In 1897, Lady Wallace, Sir Richard’s widow, bequeathed it to the British nation.

Amber Butchart

The collection is immense. One visit is just not enough to cover it. So, Amber’s idea of singling out just the armory collection is brilliant.

The European and Oriental Armory Collections alone contain nearly two-and-a-half thousand objects. The spectacular array of Oriental arms, armor and related works of art, chosen specifically for their fine craftsmanship, Eastern opulence, and exotic beauty, were acquired mainly in Paris in the late 1800s. Collecting objects like these was all the rage for the well-heeled aristocrat of the day.

Amber Butchart

For artisan and fashion enthusiasts, to marvel at the fine craftsmanship and richness in design in this collection is a rare treat.

Cordings of Piccadilly

To my great shame, I’ve walked by Cordings of Piccadilly countless times and never knew that what lay behind these beautiful old wooden doors was a treasure trove of British outfitter history. So,thanks to Amber for encouraging us to look deeper!

Waterproofing was the business of the original Cordings, and John Charles Cording opened his first shop as a waterproofer and gentleman’s outfitter in 1839. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for three years before she paid her first official visit to the City of London in 1839 and on that day her grand procession passed right by Cordings’ first shop.

Amber Butchart

Over the years the Cordings name became synonymous with outdoor living. In 1871 the explorer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, made it his first stop to gear up for his Central African quest to find the long-lost Dr. Livingstone. On finding him and proclaiming, “Dr. Livingstone I presume”, he was likely wearing Cordings boots.

Since 1839, Cordings has seen many ups and downs. In 2003, during a particularly low period, a long-time customer took an interest, financial and otherwise. It was none other than Eric Clapton, who couldn’t bear to see the brand disappear, cutting off his source of much-loved country attire. Soon after, his wife also got involved and brought a full collection of women’s clothing to the brand. It had only taken some 165 years. Better late … I’d say

Amber Butchart

Innovation has been the driving force behind all of Cordings’ product introductions. Its waterproofing business led to the Macintosh. It invented the classic Covert coat, and with the Prince of Wales’ influence, made the Tattersall a pattern that in Britain came to symbolize rural life. The practicality and quality of each invention turned them into British classics.

No need to visit a museum to see the history of British country attire. At Cordings you can still gear up for your own outdoor expedition just like a modern-day Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

Wilton’s Music Hall

Located off Cable Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Wilton’s is the world’s oldest surviving Music Hall and one of those hidden gems that make London such a culturally rich city.

Over a span of 300 years this building evolved from Victorian Sailors’ pub to music hall to Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Eventually falling derelict, it was restored and reopened in 2004 in its pub and music hall incarnation. Restored might not be the correct word though. More accurately, the additions since its music hall and pub days have been peeled back to reveal its exact earlier state. You get to tap the very same floorboards and belly up to the mahogany bar as earlier generations did.

Amber Butchart

The music hall program covers a wide spectrum, including opera, puppetry, classical music, cabaret, dance, and magic. Monday nights at Wilton’s Mahogany bar you can even enjoy a free concert and hang with locals.


There you have it! Amber Butchart’s London destination suggestions all put fashion and history to the fore. Give it a try and you will see London in a whole different light. Many thanks to Amber for sharing her unique perspective and great advice.

By the way, since we were talking to a London fashion expert we couldn’t resist asking Amber’s advice on what to wear in London. “A raincoat and a pair of colored tights” was her answer. With that as your foundation, add to it what suits! Gentlemen, you may substitute socks for tights … if you like. With that, you are sure to blend in nicely with the locals.


To watch Amber Butcharts new series, a “Stitch in Time”, follow the link; www.bbc.co.uk. And to find out more about the fabulous Amber Butchart? go to; www.amberbutchart.com

Dennis Severs House: www.dennissevershouse.co.uk
Beyond Retro: www.beyondretro.com
The Fan Museum: www.thefanmuseum.org.uk
Davenports Magic Shop: www.davenportsmagic.co.uk
The Wallace Collection: www.wallacecollection.org
Cordings of Piccadilly: www.cordings.co.uk
Wiltons Music Hall: www.wiltons.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Palm Springs

Long before movie stars and midcentury design aficionados discovered this bit of scorched desert southeast of Los Angeles the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians made this their home for more than 500 years. To casual visitors, evidence of the first inhabitance of the area is not always obvious. The only encounter most will experience is walking by an obscure statue on Canyon Drive depicting two native women. But just a short trip to the foot of the mountains towering over downtown you will find yourself in another world, one of lush green palms, cool breezes, and bubbling brooks. This is where Palm Springs really began.

Think of Palm Springs today though and it is modern architecture and movie stars that first comes to mind. But why did this piece of remote sun-parched sand turn into a 1920s mecca for movie stars and their architects? Well, it’s really due to a quirk of geography, and the weather surely had something to do with it as well.

Back when actors were under the control of the Hollywood movie studios, their contracts always included the “two-hour” clause. This required them to show up on set within two hours notice no matter what. It just so happens that Palm Springs is as remote a place as you can get from Hollywood and still make it back in time to satisfy the studio bosses. So the stars made this their hideaway and hired a crop of young modernist architects anxious to experiment with their wealthy clients money.

For a time, Palm Springs languished. The stars abandoned their midcentury masterpieces and the place just gathered dust. But now the legacy of those early architects is hot and the sun is shining on Palm Springs again.

“Modernism Week” is when it all happens these days in Palm Springs. It’s a great event for lovers of midcentury design. But as with most popular spots, sometimes a more relaxed time can be had by visiting just a little off the peak. So we showed up just before the banners went up on Canyon Drive announcing the big event. We had the run of the place and here are some of the best things we found.

1 Ernest Coffee


Don’t miss it. Ernest serves ever-popular Stumptown coffee as well as a variety of local patisserie delicacies. A great place to hit when your stomach is rumbling and you need a little get-up-and-go. www.ernestcoffee.com

2 Dish Creative Cuisine


Jane Garcia-Colson is a former lawyer turned chef de cuisine. Hailing from New York, Jane’s fresh modern American menu focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. A real standout on North Palm Canyon Drive. www.dishcreativecuisine.com

3 Mr. Lyons Steakhouse


Evocative of old Hollywood glamor, Mr. Lyons it is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Palm Springs. A staple in Palm Springs for over 70 years, it underwent a total makeover in 2015. Very Hollywood. Ironically it’s brand-new interiors feel more like the Palm Springs of old than they used to. With mirrored ceiling, black and white marble floors, brass fittings, leather and green velvet banquettes, a classic dining environment that harkens back to Palm Springs circa 1940.

The menu features an array of classic steak dishes. And the bar next door is a lovely place to meet with friends and enjoy one of Mr. Lyons signature cocktails. www.mrlyonsps.com

4 Bootlegger Tiki


Coinciding with Palm Spring’s midcentury period of major growth was the 1959 addition of America’s 50th state, Hawaii. With this exotic addition to the other 49, came a national fascination with all things Polynesian. One of the more famous midcentury buildings built in Palm springs which perfectly represents this age was the Hawaiian Estates, a strange mashup of stark midcentury architecture and Polynesian Tiki-laden pastiche by the architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison.

This housing development was the pinnacle of “Tiki” culture writ large. But alongside this were a myriad of other Polynesian expressions, most commonly in the form of bars. I guess the cocktail is the perfect vessel in which to express the Polynesian ethos, at least in the way midcentury Palm Springs understood it.

So we were thrilled to come across Bootlegger Tiki, a dimly-lit little bar that is often referred to as the “Tikeasy”. It’s a favorite with the locals in the know. With a wonderfully kitschy and nostalgic interior, you definitely feel the Tiki influence of old Palm Springs.

Try one of their signature craft cocktails like the Pod Thai or Jaspers Jamaican. www.bootleggertiki.com

5 Moorten Botanical Gardens


This one-acre private botanical garden was established in 1938 by Chester Moorten, a former silent movie star, and his wife Patrica. The couple spent many years collecting plant specimens from Baja to Mexico to Guatemala. Now it’s run by the Moorten’s son who still lives in the Mediterranean style house on the premises. The garden is open to the public.

Be sure to check out the exotic plants for sale. If your climate at home is suitable, What a great souvenir from your Palm Springs sojourn. www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com

6 The Palm Springs Air Museum


This was one of the real standout finds from our visit. Situated right next to the city’s Airport, the museum is divided into three hangars. Two are themed, one focusing on the European theater, the other on the Pacific.

Most of the planes on display are kept flight-ready and the volunteers on hand to answer questions are real veterans so they likely have first-hand stories to share about the aircraft on display. You can climb into many of the planes making it a very hands-on experience. A surprisingly pleasant way to spend a few hours. www.palmspringsairmuseum.org

7 Scoot Palm Springs


One of the frustrations of visiting Palm Springs is you constantly find yourself stuck in a car. For you Angelenos I am sure it is par for the course. But for those of us much more accustomed to legging it, it can lead to some considerable aggravation! So here’s a workaround, get out of your car and rent a scooter.

Proprietors John Allred and David Womack caught the Scooter bug while they still lived in Atlanta and upon moving to Palm Springs decided to assemble a small fleet and treat visitors to a wind-in-your-hair Palm Springs experience. Along with your scooter, John has prepared detailed maps complete with various routes you can explore. It really is the best way to see the city.

Pick up your scooter just outside of the Ace Hotel lobby. If you think you would like to give this a go it’s a good idea to get in touch with John in advance. Especially if you are a California resident. There are some odd regulations that apply depending on where you hail from. www.scootpalmsprings.com

8 Hedge


On the periphery of Palm Springs is a district known as Cathedral City. Now this is not an area you would normally seek out but there is one destination there that’s a must-see for anyone interested in modern art and design. So for those of you like myself who are passionate about art, design and whatever falls in-between, make room in your schedule for a visit to Hedge.

The brainchild of Thomas Sharkey and Charles Pearson, Hedge originally started as a collection of furniture, art, and various objects and then, when just the right thing could not be found, Thomas and Charles started designing them. Their keen eye for curation is unique.

Between them, Thomas and Charles can sort most of your homes’ furniture, art and design needs. Thomas takes care of customers and focuses on the interiors while Charles’ specialty is garden design. An interesting side note, in a previous life Thomas was Shirley McClaine’s personal assistant so you know he comes by his relentlessly positive demeanor honestly. Seriously, from the moment we walked in Thomas made us totally feel at home. It was an absolute delight to spend some time with both him and Charles.

Charles let us peek into his office next door which is a treasure trove of works in progress and objects “not necessarily” for sale. And it is in this room that you get a sense for what a great eye and sense of design Thomas and Charles have. This space is the creative warehouse and you can feel the dynamism of various artworks and objects starting to be drawn together into collections or asserting their individuality. Their not-for-sale status makes these pieces all the more alluring. A quick warning, you are sure to fall in love with something at Hedge so be prepared to spend. www.hedgepalmsprings.com

9 The Fine Art of Design


A project of long time friends Nicholas Delgado and Marielle Luisa Ortega, this vintage clothing boutique in Palm Desert is a rare find.

Palm Springs’ period of glamor coincided with Hollywood’s golden age so closets of the day filled up with the most spectacular formal and leisure wear. And a lot of those closets are still sitting there waiting for their long-forgotten contents to be revealed once more.

Nicholas tells me that many of their consignments are “first hand” as the women who purchased and wore the outfits, for whatever reason, now choose to part with them. Says Nicholas, “They know exactly when and where they bought each of the items. Our pink sofa is often occupied with people sharing stories of the items they bring in.”

A favorite with fashionista far and wide, this not-so-secret Palm Springs gem has quite a following. www.thefineartofdesign.com

10 The Amado


A self-catered boutique hotel with five units and a great pool, it’s the perfect getaway for you, or you and all your friends!

There is a building typology that developed in Palm Springs from the ’50s onward consisting of a group of small apartments all oriented towards a central common pool area. One of the units is usually larger and real-estate sales literature of the time marketed these small multi-family complexes as a way to earning an income by living in the large unit and renting out the others as holiday accommodation.

By about the ‘70s many of these had become cheap rental apartments and had fallen into disrepair. The folks at the Amado recognized the modern potential of this great midcentury typology and picked up one, lovingly restoring it to its former glory. It is truly an authentic ’50s experience. You can live like they did when Palm Springs was in its infancy.

Since the Amado is sort of a cross between a house and a hotel, it is a great place to book for a week or more and work remotely. A working holiday of sorts to give you a fresh perspective on whatever projects you have going on. The perfect antidote to writers block or whatever other professions call a temporary loss of inspiration. It worked for us! www.theamado.com


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Murals of Brotherly Love

I recently took a trip to Philadelphia. It was a bit of a leap of faith because much of what I know about the city does not really merit taking a trip to see, or see again as the case may be. Yes, I know, it’s the birthplace of America and then later … Sylvester Stallone made a movie which caught the world’s attention, and then he made five more. And sometime in between someone chopped up a steak, covered it with Cheese Whiz and onions, put it in a bun and called it a Philly Cheese Steak. All great stuff, but surely there’s more to Philadelphia than these old stereotypes.

At Bearleader, like a bear to honey, we specialize in sniffing out a destination’s hidden delights and revealing them to our readers. So, confident that Philadelphia had secrets to be revealed, we hit the road to discover its little-known treasures.

Mural: Art for the People

Here is a great thing we found that you have to visit Philadelphia to see. Did you know that aside from being the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia is also known as the “world’s largest outdoor art gallery”? It all started back in 1984 when the then Mayor, Wilson Goode, was trying to find a way to combat graffiti, which was blanketing the city. He proposed an anti-graffiti program as a way to channel the energy of young offenders into more productive endeavors.

Mayor Goode enlisted the help of Tim Spencer and artist Jane Golden to create what came to be known as the Murals Art Program, with a modest goal of enticing kids to participate in organized art projects, and away from producing illegal “graffiti”. Giving young graffiti offenders the option of applying their talents to a designated area with the input of the community as opposed to going to jail was an easy choice for the early participants.


Many years later, the Mural Arts Program has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Still under the guidance of Jane Golden, the Mural Arts Program is now the largest employer of artists in the country, with around 300 individuals working on projects throughout the year.

Since 1984, about 3,600 murals have been painted and about 2,000 can be found today in and around Philadelphia, with new ones going up all the time. On our tour we swung by to see one being painted, a large mural on a bare, south-facing wall in the Old City district, and had a chat with the trio of painters.

Taking advantage of one of the last warm autumn days before the season’s end, artist and lead painter Jon Laidackaer was high above the ground marking out a tiny section of the enormous wall he and his fellow artists were slowly working their way across.


Originally from Pittsburgh, Jon moved to Philadelphia ten years ago to participate in the Mural Arts Program. He was also the lead artist on the largest mural produced to date, 85,000 square feet in size and covering a parking garage close to the Philadelphia airport – just for reference, a football field is 57,600 square feet – that’s big!

In many communities the Mural Arts Program murals are treasured and beloved by their residents. This is in large part due to Jane’s early emphasis on engaging with communities to solicit participation in determining the content and, in many cases, actually painting the murals. Community buy-in on projects means that they can easily move forward, having heard and accommodated dissenting voices early in the process.


With a structure of community communication built into the Mural Arts Program’s working process, a side benefit quickly became apparent to Jane’s team. They were on the city’s front lines as de facto government representatives. So when meeting with communities to offer funding for a neighborhood mural, they often would hear about other local issues of concern to the residents. In fact, even within communities there was sometimes little communication, so bringing people together to discuss a mural also became a forum in which to discuss other issues of local concern. In this way the the Mural Arts Program became both a facilitator of change, and a conduit for communication with city government.

With its great success, the Mural Arts Program’s repertoire of production techniques has developed rapidly to accommodate a more inclusive community-based process. Early murals from the ‘80s were produced with conventional acrylic-based paints on surfaces sometimes not conducive to long-term exposure to the elements.


Learning from the past, new murals are produced with much more durability via a variety or innovative techniques. First there is the old-school method of painting directly on a wall, but not with pealing and fade-prone acrylic paint. In its place, a permanent masonry-based paint imported from a Germany is the new standard. This is what Jon and his team were using. Jon says that even the sun-drenched south-facing wall they are currently working on could easily last 30 years without much noticeable fading or damage.

Another technique utilizes a substrate of durable parachute cloth so murals can be produced off site on a horizontal surface and later installed at the designated location. This is great because, as you might imagine, having volunteer artists working high up on scaffolds may not be the best idea. Painting on the ground, everyone can get involved and it can happen year round – another important benefit.

The parachute-cloth technique led to other possibilities. One, the Mural Arts Program program goes into prisons and engages inmates in mural projects. When the murals are later installed around the city they form a point of contact between the incarcerated and their families: a tangible memento of a loved one, inaccessible by any other means.


Which brings me to one of the Mural Arts Program’s most recent projects. The location chosen for this artwork is the Friends Center, headquarters of the Quaker Society in Philadelphia. The Quaker Society has a particular interest in prison reform. Famed artist Shepard Fairey, of Obama-poster fame, was commissioned to do the work. To contextualize his work in the vein of the Quakers’ ethos, Shepard produced a work called “The stamp of incarceration” showing a young woman, Amira Mohamed, who, after being incarcerated for seven years, is now part of a rehabilitation program, and studying to become an architect.

Formally incarcerated individuals often have limited visibility within society so Shepard’s artwork places Amira in the context of a stamp, a representation reserved for those of high achievement in our society. Celebrating individuals like Amira in this format gives voice to their great achievement in turning their lives around, adding weight to the Quakers’ emphasis on restorative justice.


I sometimes think about the 1929 WPA Federal Art Project, which hired hundreds of artists and resulted in over 120,000 paintings, murals and sculptures over its 14 year span. Some of the 20th century’s greatest artists came out of the program and the public benefited greatly from their creative vision. Why, I wonder, couldn’t something like this be done today? Well, in Philadelphia the Murals Art Program is, and to tremendous positive effect. In Jane Golden’s words “Art ignites change”.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To get more information about the work of the Mural Arts program or to make a donation, go to; www.muralarts.org

We recommend you take one of the Mural Arts Program’s tours when you visit Philadelphia. The educators are very knowledgeable and what you pay goes right back into funding more Mural Arts Program Program. Tours run from Aril to late November. www.muralarts.org/tour

In case you want to check out the murals on your own there are a couple of different routes to consider. Check out these walks you can do all year round. www.muralarts.org/mural-mile-walking-tour

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Surprising Nuremberg

How many of you have Nuremberg on your list of must-visit holiday spots? For me it is way up there on my Christmas holiday list with its world renowned Christmas market and great holiday events. Actually, there is probably no better place to be at Christmas. But I must confess that outside of the holiday season it was not in my top 10. So when I got an invitation to visit from the local tourism board, I jumped at the chance to see what’s going on in Nuremberg the rest of the year. And what a surprise!

Two Days in Nuremberg

At Christmas time the market on the main square is such a draw that you really don’t have much time left to look elsewhere. And that’s too bad because, as we discovered, Nuremberg has way more to offer.

I am a studier, so the first thing I do when preparing to visit a place to check out the stats. It is usually not for sharing, just a method to find my way into a place. But Nuremberg has fascinating stats, so it seems worthwhile sharing:

– The city of Nuremberg has just shy of a half million inhabitants, and another 3.5 million in the larger metropolitan area. That’s a good sized city. In addition, the city is large area-wise, and to cover all that ground, Nuremberg has a great transportation system. It is easy and inexpensive to get around.

– Nuremberg is today the biggest exporter of ginger bread, and way back in the 13th century this delicious treat was being baked in the city by specialized guilds. Nuremberg is a crossroads city and trade routes from the east found their first trading opportunity in Europe when they arrived there. So spices were readily available in Nuremberg, but remained rare in most other places.

– In the 15th century Erhard Etzlaub, a compass maker by trade, came up with a great marketing idea. He developed the first “Romweg” or “The Way to Rome” map. This is the first European road map and the thing that eventually led to the Google map you may use to get around today. Etzlaub’s map was used by pilgrims heading to the Christian capital and included information on accommodations and places to eat along the way. He got his data from the traders that traveled to and from Rome regularly. And just like Google, Etzlaub updated his map regularly.


– Around the 17th century the first clarinet was developed in Nuremberg in the small workshop of Christoph Denner. Today Nuremberg has an impressive classical music program which is especially active in the summer months.

– In 1875 Nuremberg was one of the first major European cities to get electrical street lighting. All that trading going on in the city made lots of money which enabled investment in the latest technology.

– The cough drop was invented in Nuremberg, the first one being made in 1923 by Dr. Carl Soldan. The drops were branded as Em-Eukal and are still on sale today. They were likely used by Henry Kissinger who was born in the adjacent town of Fuerth, where he lived until 1938 when he fled the Nazis for American shores.

– In 1924, 16 years after the American company Converse invented the modern sports shoe, two bothers from the adjacent town of Herzogenaurach got on the bandwagon and started their own sports shoe company. It did not go well and the brothers started feuding. The company broke up and each started their own company. The competition that followed between Adidas and Puma has fueled constant innovation ever since.


– In 1927 all the things that had made Nuremberg such a successful and vibrant city became its downfall. Hitler loved the city and chose it as the centre of his Third German Reich. When Hitler was voted into office in 1933, Nuremberg became the centre of all Aryan ideas and the Nuremberg laws, stripping Jewish citizens of their German citizenship, were initiated. In the end, because all the strife started in Nuremberg, the allied forces chose Nuremberg as the location to put the Nazi leadership on trial. The place of the Third Reich’s origin became the location of its end.

One of the first things that caught my attention when we arrived on the train was a postcard, half in black and white showing a heavily bombed Nuremberg, and on the bottom was the beautiful vibrant Nuremberg you see today. It made me think how far the community has come in order to look beyond that dark period and rebuild with the vibrant open energy you experience today.

We picked a hotel a bit above the main square so we could explore the old town without too much hill climbing. Parts of Nuremberg are pretty steep! We stayed at a lovely, newly-opened boutique hotel called Hotel Elch. The building has been in the lodging business since 1342, so staying at Elch you are walking in the steps of traders and pilgrims from many centuries past. You will not, however, suffer any of the inconveniences they likely faced. The rooms are completely modern and equipped with all the amenities.

1 Kaiser Burg

A short walk up from Hotel Elch is the Kaiser Burg, the imperial castle of Nuremberg. Early records indicate that the first parts of the building were constructed around 1050. Major building works did not start until a century later during the reign of King Conrad III in 1140.

In the 13th century Nuremberg became an Imperial free zone, a major turn of events because free cities at that time enjoyed more autonomy and had only the emperor to report to. That made trading, tax collection and administration a lot easier and more lucrative.


Along with the new freedom came responsibility for the castle’s building works and maintenance. And during this period the castle grew substantially in size with many out-buildings, towers and moats being added. The castle today, quite literally, towers over the city. The large “Luginsland” or the “look into the land” tower was, when built, the largest structure anyone had seen.

During WWII the castle was mostly destroyed leaving only the Roman Chapel and the Sinwell Tower intact. But like much of Nuremberg, the castle was reconstructed to appear as if nothing happened. Without the benefit of the numerous before-after postcards in souvenir shops around town you would never know that it was ever destroyed.


We roamed the castle for several hours navigating the maze of hallways with hordes of happy school children. Clearly this is a popular field trip destination.

Feeling a bit peckish after our castle wanderings we hop on a bus and head to our next destination just a few stops away.

2 Cafe Wohlleben

In Germany there is a kind of cafe known as a Konditorei. Traditionally it was the place you would go to for coffee and cake, or as the locals say “Kaffee und Kuchen”. As convenience and chain stores take over more and more space on city streets, the traditional Konditorei is not as prevalent as it used to be.


Cafe Wohlleben owner Alexander Hilderbrandt is putting a new spin on the tradition, bringing it up to date with an extraordinary emphasis on the “Kuchen” part of the business. His beautiful and delectable creations make an afternoon break a real special event. And heading up the “cafe” part of the experience is barista Sarah Schweizer. Her coffee brews are just as special as the sweets they accompany. And the two together are a dream. Quite an upgrade from the old filter coffee and Bundt cake which is standard Konditorei fare.

With an eclectic mix of antiques and modern elements, Cafe Wohlleben has been assembled with an eye towards the Konditorei tradition. During our visit patrons streamed in: elegant German ladies, young students, a group of office colleagues, a real diverse crowd all joined by their common interest in coffee cake and sweets.

Now well-nourished and with plenty of calories to burn, we hop on a streetcar and head for the centre of town.

3 The Lorenz District

We head through town on the Königstraße, the old road that carves a path from the train station up to the main square. Not far from the station we head off into a small courtyard called “Handwerkerhof“, or the Craftsman centre. Here you can find an array of quaint old shops reminiscent of the medieval village that Nuremberg used to be. Most of the stores specialize in local arts and crafts so it is a great place to find small handmade gifts authentic to Nuremberg.

Along with the local crafts you can also experience the local cuisine here. In the middle of all the shops there’s a “Bratwursthaeusle” or “sausage house” called Bratwurst Gloecklein. It is a lovely old-style setting and often less busy than the other Bratwursthaeusle up next to the main square. It is almost obligatory to try the famous “Sechs auf Kraut” (six Nuernberger Sausages with cabbage salad). Aside from the fact that they do not serve much else other than the six sausage dish, they are really good.


Fun food fact: The “Nuernberger” sausage is a trademarked object for its size, shape and ingredients, and can only be served in even numbers. Those Nuernbergers are very serious about their sausages.

Just beyond the courtyard the scene changes from medieval to futuristic. Nuremberg’s New Museum opened in 2000, designed by Berlin Architect Volker Staab. It is nestled in-between older buildings and its striking modernism makes it eye-catching by contrast. In its 33,000 square feet of space it houses contemporary art, sculpture, video and design.


The side of the museum opens to a courtyard and the vast glass wall reflects the old buildings across the way. This makes it fit right in with the surrounding medieval buildings in an odd-modern-gleaming kind of way.

Now we make our way through the city towards Hauptmarkt, the main square. Crossing the Pegnitz River we avoid the main bridge and take the pedestrian bridges that cross the western tip of Trodelmarkt Island. This is a great place to see the river from a lower vantage point. And as a bonus you walk right by the Henkersturm, “The house of the hangman”. I guess no one wanted to live next to this guy so he was stuck out in the river on an island.

At the Hauptmarkt there is a market every day and of course this is the site of the famous Christmas market. Walking through the square there is an abundance of food carts and we taste our way from one side of the market to the other, trying all sorts of foods from cheeses to crepes to gingerbreads.

If you are lucky to be at Hauptmark at the stroke of noon go over to the main church on the square, the Frauenkirche. There you will witness the famous “Maennleinlauf” or “men running”. When the clock strikes noon, look up at the clock tower to see seven life-sized Archdukes shuttle pass Kaiser Karl.

4 Hausbrauerei

Reinhard Engel is the owner and brewmaster of Hausbrauerei Altstadthof. In 1984 Reinhard decided that he wanted to create a new kind of small-scale brewery using only the purest local ingredients. Nowadays we hear a lot about organic, sustainable micro brewing, but in the 1980s this was nearly unheard of. Reinhard was a pioneer and had his microbrewery running years before it occurred to anyone else that this might be a good idea. Now whenever a microbrewery starts somewhere in the world, it is likely that the brewers call Reinhard first to learn how it’s done.

Reinhard took us down into the heart of the operation. It’s just a few steps from his pub so when you drink at Hausbrauerei it really could not be any fresher. The traditional copper kettles he uses are really old school. From the brewing room he took us down into the tunnels underneath the city where Reinhard stores his barrels taking advantage of the constant temperature.


I would not call myself an expert on beer. It is not really my drink of choice, but when in Rome… Reinhard offered me one of his specialty brews, the Rotbier (red beer). I definitely could taste the difference. It is very smooth with a delicate touch of hops and a dark copper color.

Before our departure Reinhard made a quick detour to give us a peek into his latest venture, a micro whiskey distillery. Apparently it is not a drastically different process to distill whiskey than it is to brew beer, so a few years ago Reinhard decide to give it a try. And now the first barrels are just about ready to go.

There are regular tours of the operation so you learn all about micro brewing. And next door is a great little shop with nice gifts and treats to buy for all your beer loving friends and family members.

5 Docu Centre

The next morning we walk down to the train station, board a street car and journey out of the center to the Southern district of Nuremberg. Today we are visiting the infamous Documentation Centre and Nazi Party Rally Ground. The Museum, or Docu Centre as it is called, is located in the North wing of the former congress hall designed by the National Socialists party to house 50,000 spectators. Its unfinished state gives it an eerie ominous feeling.


Inaugurated in 1994 The Docu Centre was designed by Austrian Architect Guenther Domenig who himself had a family connection with the institution’s subject matter. His father was a judge during the Nazi regime.

At around 45,000 square feet, the permanent exhibition is titled “Fascination and Terror”. The exhibition takes you step by step through the complex social events that led up the creation of the Nazi party, its brutal exploitation of the population, the war, and the final reckoning at the Nuremberg trials.

The presentation is dense with detailed information and illustrated with artifacts and the copious documentation generated by the Nazis themselves. What I found interesting, and at the same time chilling, is that by looking at events that occurred in Nuremberg step-by-step, you can better understand how small actions accumulating over time can easily lead to such a horrific result. Each step in itself can seem relatively benign but they have a momentum that builds up and becomes unstoppable.

I would recommend everyone make to visit the Docu Centre to get perspective on these horrendous events. The retelling of this story is applicable to current events and is worth pondering to better recognize the danger signs when events are carrying us along.

Take advantage of the headsets on offer which will really help to navigate the dense and sometimes difficult subject matter.

Although ending on a somber note, this was a great trip and Nuremberg really surprised us in the variety and breadth of experiences it offered. We did not have time to see all that we wanted but we will certainly be back for another visit soon to take in more.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


We suggest a visit to the tourist office when you arrive in Nuremberg. You can get lots of useful tips and find out about their latest special offers. It is located close to the train station and the staff is very helpful. For more information go to; tourismus.nuernberg.de

Many thanks to the lovely Hotel Elch for hosting our stay. To arrange accommodation at Hotel Elch, go to; hotel-elch.eu

For more information about the Imperial Castle, go to: kaiserburg-nuernberg.de

For more information about Cafe Wohlleben, visit their FaceBook page:

For more information about Neues Museum, go to; nmn.de

For more information about Handwerkerhof Nuremberg, go to; handwerkerhof.de

For more information about Hausbrauerei, go to; hausbrauerei-altstadthof.de

For more information about Bratwurst Glöcknern im Handwerkerhof, go to; die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Tribeca and its 10 Best

Tribeca, one of the original “acronym” neighborhoods, has come a long way since its more generic pre-70s designation of Lower West Side. Although the name “Lower East Side” has been distinct enough to support that neighborhood’s unique character and ever-growing reputation, the designation “Tribeca” apparently came into being quick on the heels of the Soho Artists Association’s successful application to rezone their area. The artists living down below Soho on Lispenard Street were similarly ambitious to rezone their area and started a group under the name “Triangle Below Canal Block Association”. As with Soho before, the name soon was shortened to the much simpler “Tribeca” and the area has been on the rise ever since.

Tribeca has long been one of my favorite areas in New York. The architecture is a bit less amenable to shops and more sympathetic to restaurants. So the shops that do appear tend not to bow to the status quo. And the restaurants? Tribeca has some of the best.

A well-known resident and fellow admirer of the area is my long time colleague Erik Torkells. Erik’s obsession with keeping abreast of the area’s comings and goings has resulted in a popular blog called Tribeca Citizen that documents the neighborhood’s ever unfolding story.

I have been exploring other parts of the world of late, so on returning to New York recently I asked Erik to give me the skinny on what’s new around the triangle. I followed Erik’s advice and here is what I found.

1 Arcade Bakery

It’s early so breakfast seems like a good place to start. Hidden in the entry arcade of a beautiful Art Deco office building at 220 Church Street you find the aptly named Arcade Bakery, opened one year ago by pastry chef Roger Gural. Roger originally started on a very different career path with a job in television. But luckily for us he discovered a passion for pastry and instead of spending his days in dark video production rooms, he developed his talents in the kitchens of the famed chefs Thomas Keller and David Bouley. In David Bouley’s kitchen he was lucky to fall under the tutelage of a master French baker who apprenticed him in the fine art of Viennoiserie. Now Roger is the master and you can experience the full expression of his baking greatness.

Our breakfast consisted of a slice of poppy seed babka and an almond croissant. Both were excellent, as expected.


As we enjoyed out treats we struck up a conversation with two ladies at a table across the arcade. They were visiting from Palm Springs and had read about the Arcade Bakery in a magazine. Both were self-proclaimed babka experts and verified that Roger’s is the best.

And, for authentic French baguettes and the best croissants in town, this is the place.

2 The Poster Museum

Navigating Tribeca is quite easy, as it covers only about a square mile (two and a half sq. Kilometers) of Manhattan. So it was just a few steps south to reach Erik’s next recommendation. The Poster Museum was established in 1973 by collector Philip Williams. The Tribeca storefront only houses a fraction of the 500,000 artifacts that Philip acquired over the last 40 years. Actually we should say “storefronts” because the Poster Museum spans the whole block between Chambers Street and Warren Street, with entrances on both sides.


The store is a time capsule in that it’s a space unchanged since Tribeca’s origins in the 70s. The old posters harken back to much earlier times, with old memos of events and lifestyles from around the world. I love the classic travel posters from the 50s. If only I had more wall space! I quickly came across several things that would be perfect in my house.

For shopping or just to have a look, this is a great place to see the real Tribeca. For a virtual tour, check out The Poster Museum’s Twitter account. They regularly post interesting pieces from their collection.

3 The Mysterious Bookshop

Tribeca is one of the safest neighborhoods in New York. In fact, the only place you are likely to encounter crime is at our next stop. Right next to The Poster Museum on Warren Street you will find the Mysterious Bookshop. Serving amateur sleuths for the last 36 years, it lays claim to being one of the oldest mystery book stores in the country.


And it’s more than just a place to buy books. Live readings by well-known mystery authors are regularly hosted in the shop so check their schedule online to see if there is something on when you are in the area. Or just come in to find some new whodunit material. The knowledgeable staff will fix you up with just the right literature to keep you guessing.

4 Tribeca Synagogue

Heading a few blocks north now, up to White Street, you will find one of the most distinctive buildings in New York. The Tribeca synagogue was designed by architect William N. Breger. Breger was born and raised in the Bronx and studied at Harvard. Afterwards he became chairman of the architectural and design departments at Pratt University in Brooklyn. In 1967 he won the commission to design the new synagogue with his concept depicting an abstract representation of an eternal flame. As well as being a totally unique take on urban street facades, Breger’s design incorporated great performance space, making it popular place with early artist residents in the area


This is a great place to visit in the evening because the eternal flame analogy is conveyed in more than just the building’s shape. The facade lights up from the inside giving that part of White Street a warm glow.

5 Property

As Soho has been taken over by big brand outlets, some of the more interesting shops have migrated south into Tribeca. Next we are visiting two of those recent migrants that have taken up residence on Walker Street. For many years, Sabrina Schilcher’s store Property has been a mainstay in Manhattan for everything related to modern design. Her nose for great design and well-curated selection of modern classics and experimental designs makes her Tribeca studio a must visit.


She also carries several collections of small design objects that are just the right size to bring home for that friend who had to stay behind. If I were that friend, I would be thrilled to get one of the colorful ceramic coaster sets by designer Jason Paulson. If you are an enthusiast, Property is the place to see the best and latest in design

6 Artist, Robert Janz

Aside from the many places to visit, shop and eat, it’s really the streets that give Tribeca its distinctive character. The combination of architecture, people, and the gradually evolving ephemera never gets old. And speaking of ephemera, there is one resident artist has made the city his canvas. As you walk around, be in the lookout for the work of Robert Janz.


Robert is now in his 80s but still out most days adding his unique touch to the urban landscape. His work is subtle so you have to pay close attention. But once you’ve noticed it, you can’t miss it. His territory ranges from Tribeca to midtown. One of my favorites was a tongue-in-cheek changing of the ubiquitous “post no bills” sign to “post snow balls”. It being a particularly hot day, the art work was all the more poignant. Keep your eyes peeled for Roberts subtle editing of Tribeca’s streetscape.

7 Mmuseumm

Above all, Tribeca is a neighborhood that has developed as a result of its earliest artist residents. Other industries may be slowly encroaching on its territory from further downtown, but the heart and soul of the place is still its creative endeavors. To see some of Tribeca’s creative output on display we are heading west across Broadway to visit Cortland Alley. The architecture of the alley is unique in itself, but there are a couple of installations there that make it definitely worth the trip. Inside some defunct freight elevators opening onto the alley, two small private museums have been installed.


One, a micro modern natural history museum, displays modern artifacts, telling the story of simple modern objects that are obscured from our notice by their ubiquity. My favorite display was the evolution of coffee cup lids. And next door is the museum, Sara Berman’s Closet. Artist Maira Kalman has painstakingly recreated her mother’s closet which, in the artist words, “was both ordinary and extraordinary”. In order to take it all in, two matching blue chairs are provided across the street.

8 Smith & Mills

Continuing on our exploration of the Tribeca streets, we are now wandering over to Staples street to check out some of the original old manufacturing and warehouse buildings with their distinctive shutters. If you meander a bit uptown, at Greenwich and North Moore you will come across our next destination, Smith & Mills. This is a great place to take a break and get some refreshments.


Housed in a converted horse carriage house, this is the kind of establishment you would probably expect to find in Paris or London. Its well-worn interior keeps the spirit of old Tribeca alive. In summer months the charge doors are flung open extending tables out into the open air. If it is not too hot, it’s a great place to while away the afternoon.

9 Grand Banks

For most of Manhattan’s history it has been a place of manufacturing and trade. The infrastructure at the edges of the island were driven by shipping to support the coming and going of goods and people. When all that business disappeared the waterfront fell into disrepair and was ignored for many years. But in recent years that has all changed with Tribeca being one of the beneficiaries of development of the west side waterfront. Now just west of Tribeca a vast park system offers a plethora of activities to New Yorkers and visitors.

Emerging from Tribeca’s western edge, we leave the city behind and head out over the water on the Hudson River Pier. Our destination is the Grand Banks, a 142’ schooner moored at the end of the pier.

Formally a fishing vessel dating back to 1942, for most of her life she worked the waters of the turbulent North Atlantic. That is until lifelong sailors Miles and Alex Pincus in collaboration with Adrian Gallo and Mark Frith decided to refit her to navigate the choppy waters of the New York bar scene. The deck has been outfitted as a beautiful bar that is now open from May to October each year.


It is quite a unique experience leaving solid ground for the gentle rocking of the boat’s deck. And so great that you can spend some time out on a boat without ever heading out to sea. The big advantage: you can board whenever you want and when you are ready to go, it’s up to you. Oh, and no life jackets.

Chef Kerry Heffernan came up from the galley briefly to tell us about his menu and share his fabulous Ceviche, made from sustainable Montauk sea Bream with avocado, habanero, kaffir lime and mint. Chef Heffernan maintains a small herb garden on board which makes his seasonings very local, but also very much in the tradition of ship-bound fresh cuisine which, by necessity, had to be raised or grown onboard.

At Grand Banks’ stern, occupying the wheelhouse, you will find the tiny New York outpost of Mate Gallery, with their characteristically eclectic mix of vintage oil paintings and textiles, nautical objects, out-of-prints books and swimming apparel. Mate Gallery was started by Ron Brand and Matt Albiani in Santa Barbara, California. A great surprise to find out on a boat on the Hudson.

10 Evening Bar

With the sun setting over the Hudson, we disembark from the Grand Banks and head back into Tribeca for our final stop.

At the Smyth hotel, if you go all the way to the back of the lobby area you will find the Evening Bar, a quiet off-the-beaten-track place that is perfect for an evening conversation and drink. The wrap-around mural created by Brooklyn artist Matthew Benedict encompasses the whole room with early quasi 1940s imagery. An impressive back-lit mahogany cocktail bar along with an interesting mix of vintage Scandinavian and American mid-century furniture round out the interior. It’s a great space that reminds me of the classic King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in Mid-town. Sort of a younger, downtown version of that.


The drink menu is divided into four cocktail sections; Sparkling, Shaken, Stirred and Classic. I tried the Second Marriage, a brilliant cocktail particularly memorable for its mesmerizing color, heavy glass and perfectly square ice cube. They get all the details right at the Evening Bar.


Many thanks to Erik Torkells for sharing his Tribeca favorites with the Bearleader. We hope Erik’s tips will make your next Tribeca visit a memorable one.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To keep abreast of what’s happening in Tribeca, goto; tribecacitizen.com

  • Arcade Bakery: www.arcadebakery.com
  • The Poster Museum: www.postermuseum.com
  • The Mysterious Bookshop: www.mysteriousbookshop.com
  • The Tribeca Synagogue: www.tribecasynagogue.org
  • Smith and Mills: www.smithandmills.com
  • Property: www.propertyfurniture.com
  • Mmuseumm: www.mmuseumm.com
  • Grand Banks: www.grandbanks.org
  • Mate Gallery: www.mategallery.com
  • To learn more about Robert Janz, read Erik’s story at Tribeca Citizen
  • Evening Bar: www.eveningbar.com

  • Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Post Socialism in a Blue Skoda

    Having recently ventured as far east as Vienna, it seemed a shame not to take the opportunity to go all the way “east” to Bratislava, and cross the borders that really divided east from west for much of the 20th century in this part of Europe. Time for some good old Soviet nostalgia.

    The last time I was in Bratislava was just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so I expected the city of today would be much changed from the exuberant city I last saw freshly opened up to the west.

    One Day in Bratislava

    From Vienna it’s a surprisingly short trip down the Danube to Bratislava. Near the center of Vienna you can board a catamaran that will ferry you directly to the center of Bratislava in just a little over an hour.

    Planning my itinerary, I wanted to stay away from the fake trolley cars that take hordes of tourists through the old part of town. I was looking for a way to meet locals and find out how their world has changed since the fall of communism.

    I came across a great company called Authentic Slovakia that specializes in off-the-beaten-track tours in and around Bratislava, showing the city’s past and its more recent developments.

    I emailed them and quickly got a message back from Brano, one of the two brothers who own the company, suggesting that we meet him at SNP Square. We would recognize him by the blue vintage Skoda he drives.

    SNP Square is the biggest public space in the city. The plaza was built to commemorate the 1944 Uprising by the people of Slovakia against the Slovak government and its collaboration with Germany in World War II.

    Traditionally, when a large crowd gathers for political rallies or celebrations of local sporting victories, SNP Square is the place. But the last sporting victory was the ice hockey championship in 2002 so these days it is usually pretty low key.


    While we waited, we wandered around the grouping of looming-dark statues at the center of the square which symbolize the people of the uprising. But soon we caught sight of the bright blue Skoda with Brano behind the wheel.

    Brano greeted us in perfect English. In fact most of the young people we met spoke perfect English and usually several other languages, too. Brano gave us a bit of an introduction for what to expect during our four hour “Post Socialism” tour, and we were off!

    Brano’s Skoda is completely authentic with all its original details. The perfect vehicle to set the scene for the tour. The sound and smell of the car immediately takes you back, the characteristic put-put-put-put sound is classic. The car belonged to Brano’s grandfather who took great care of it, as having a car during communism was a real luxury.


    We quickly zig-zagged up through hilly neighborhoods rising above downtown and into the more posh areas. Here modern architecture is mixed in with wonderful turn of the century and Art Deco villas.

    Brano pulled over in front of an ‘80s era apartment building with a large fancy sign over the entrance saying “Bonaparte”. He began to explain that a lot of politicians live around here … and then all of a sudden we hear a “tap-tap-tap” on the window. An imposing plainclothes security guy wants to know what we’re doing here.

    Unaccustomed to being questioned on public streets I first thought “this must be part of the tour” to demonstrate the way the state made its presence felt in everyday life. Then I thought, “No, this is too real. Are we going to end up in some secret security office never to be seen again?” I think I have read one too many John Le Carre spy novels. In truth, we really had attracted the attention of some local security personnel and it felt very “Soviet”, adding a nice ominous tone to Brano’s descriptions of Bratislava’s past.


    With a bit of back and forth Brano seemed to put the guard at ease, he retreated and we were on our way again. Brano joked, “We are famous. We were on TV the other day and he remembers us”. Thank goodness for the power of TV.

    Next we arrived at Slavin, a large memorial and military cemetery overlooking the city. The site is awkwardly located atop an area of expensive real estate, adjacent to several international embassies including the American one. It’s the burial ground for over 6,000 Russian Soldiers that fell during World War II. Built in the late ‘50s by the Russians in a classic Stalinist style, it is monumental, complete with looming statues posted around the square. Quite chilling even on a sunny afternoon.

    It was deserted except for some kids playing in the far corner. But a great place to survey the city. Brano pointed out how the city has changed over the last 60 years and had with him historic photos taken from the same spot to illustrate.


    Back in the car we sped off to our next stop, Gottka Square, named after the first communist president of Czechoslovakia, Clement Gottwald. It was officially renamed Namestie Slobody (Freedom Square) in 1989, but the new name never caught on. Everyone still calls it “Gottka”.

    The 200 by 200 meter square has at its center a huge defunct fountain, a 9 meter tall representation of a linden flower. Slightly unkempt and overgrown with weeds and grass, people were still enjoying the sunny fall day occupying some of the old benches, obviously original to the square’s rigid design. We hopped back into the little Skoda and Brano headed off to our next destination.

    Just over the Danube is an area called Petržalka. Also known as the Bronx of Bratislava, is famous as the largest public housing project of its time, the location of the oldest theatre in the country, and has a notoriously high crime rate and the highest suicide rate in Slovakia. Sounds depressing but to drive through it is amazingly monumental in its monotony.


    Construction began in the ’70s and for a long time it was its own town. Eventually it merged with the city of Bratislava and is now connected by five bridges. Over 100,000 people live in the development and in the last few years things have greatly improved, with the crime rate now about on par with rest of the country.

    Built in a classic Eastern Bloc style of pre-cast concrete panels, different buildings have been color coded so people can better find their way around the endless procession of virtually identical buildings. The place felt like a set for a ’70s Sci-fi movie. “Surreal” is how I would describe the feeling you get while you drive through the area.

    Then abruptly, it all ends and you are at the edge of no-man’s land at the border with Austria. We stopped next to an old guard bunker just as a group of Austrian senior citizens zoomed across the border on their bicycles.


    The juxtaposition really brought home what a different world it is now. We drove along the country roads that used to be lined with fences, barbed wire and guard towers, and soldiers on both sides with guns pointing east and west. Now it’s all gone or in ruins. The only thing left are two small stones set in the ground marking where Slovakia ends and Austria begins. All those years of intrigue and misery reduced to two stones in the ground.

    On our way back across the Danube to the old part of town, the sun was setting. Brano dropped us off with a parting gift of some authentic ’70s Slovakian waffle candies called “Horalky”. A great end to our drive through the recent history of Bratislava.


    We only had a day in Bratislava and saw a lot, but there is much more there to discover. We will definitely be back. Maybe next time to try one of Authentic Slovakia’s popular Wine and Hiking tours.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    To book a tour with Authentic Slovakia, go to; www.authenticslovakia.com. In the summer months they are very busy so make sure you book well ahead of time. If you have a larger group, they can drive you in the Skoda van. We didn’t get to try out the van but it looked like a fun ride.

    If you have some time left after your tour, swing by the Bratislava Transport Museum. It is housed in an old train station and you can see tons of Skoda motorcycles and cars. The staff is a bit off-putting and not a lot of people are around, but that just adds to the obscure feel of the place. www.slovakia.travel

    If you are traveling from Vienna, we recommend taking the Twin City Liner. It leaves Vienna from the dock near Schwedenplatz. book ahead of time as tickets are cheaper purchased in advance. We were graciously invited by the Twin City Liner for our cruse down the Danube to Bratislava. Book your tickets here; www.twincityliner.com

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Amsterdam Recommended

    We are off to see what’s new in Amsterdam. I love this city, the people are open and friendly, the food is great, it has some of the best art in the world, everyone rides a bike … I could go on and on. So when the City of Amsterdam invited Bearleader to come up and see what’s currently going on, we jumped at the chance.

    We firmly believe that the character of a place is mostly down to its people, so what better way to convey what’s going on than to talk to locals. With a bit of research and some recommendations from our friends, we arranged a few meet-ups with some movers and shakers to talk to them about what makes Amsterdam special.

    Tijdmakers &
    Eau d’Amsterdam

    Business partners Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands are the creative force behind the design agency Tijdmakers (Time makers). They are kind of a local think tank that explores creative ways to influence the public’s experience of the environment through art and installation.

    We arranged to meet at de Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat, a great little place where locals hang out, meet friends and colleagues and sip coffee while tapping away on their computers. The pastries on offer are lovely and they serve a great cup of coffee. At the time we arranged to meet it was raining, and in true Amsterdamer rain-or-shine fashion, Saskia and Martijn arrived on their bikes.

    Many of their projects are internally generated so Saskia and Martijn have become quite adept at not only coming up with great ideas, but also the more daunting job of organizing the logistics that make their projects come to life. Dreaming is one thing, but what is great about Tijdmakers is that they know how to make their dreams come to fruition. And being somewhat of a creative instigator myself, I admire Saskia and Martijn for their ability to drive their dreams into reality.

    One of their latest ideas was to create the first ever municipal scent. Thus was born “Eau d’Amsterdam” the official perfume of Amsterdam. And what is the smell of Amsterdam? Ask any Amsterdamer and you will likely get a blank stare. But there is a familiar scent in the air and it took Tijdmakers to track it down.


    As it turns out, it’s the trees, or the Elm trees to be exact. Lots of cities have a particular tree that has been chosen to adorn the streets for practical and aesthetic reasons. There is the “Berlin unter den Linden”, Paris has its “Plane” tree and Amsterdam has the Elm. In fact the old trees of Amsterdam are designated a Unesco World Heritage.

    Amsterdam has about 75,000 Elms, some of them as old as 100 years. The first Elms were planted around 1662 and they were held in high regard from the start. The punishment for damaging them could be your right hand.

    Saskia tells us the perfume was created by famed Amsterdam “nose” Tanja Deurloo from Annindriya, in cooperation with IFF. They carefully studied the wood, leaves and blossoms to create an interpretation of the city’s Elm-derived essence. The moment Eau Amsterdam hits your nose there’s an “Ah-ha! That IS the smell of the Elms!” Strong and earthy with a flowery feel, the scent ages well on your skin.

    The original idea behind the project was to raise awareness of the city’s trees and their importance to Amsterdam life. It also supports another of Sakia and Martijn’s projects, the Amsterdam Spring Snow Festival started three years ago.

    The Spring Snow Festival takes place when the 75,000 Elms are in bloom, April 21 – May 21. The blossoms are so prevalent that they blanket Amsterdam’s streets. If it weren’t so warm you would definitely think it was snowing.

    The perfume comes in a wonderful dark green glass bottle with an antique style bulb atomizer. I was especially intrigued by the packaging. Saskia tells me the image on the box is a painting by 18th century Haarlem painter Hendrik Keun, and shows a large elm tree on Keizersgracht at Molenpad. The painting was produced around 1775.

    To see some of the oldest Elm trees in Amsterdam like the ones in Hendrik Keun’s painting, make your way to Oude Schans, across from houses 72, 58 and 29.

    Until meeting Saskia and Martijn I must confess I had not really paid much attention to the trees lining the canals. But for the rest of our trip I could not stop thinking about them. Well done Tijdmakers! Mission accomplished.

    Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen & Cottoncake

    The De Oude Pijp (The Pipe) district of Amsterdam, sometimes referred to as Amsterdam’s “Quartier Latin”, was the traditional home of poor artists and students. Now it’s a popular area to live, full of interesting restaurants and concept stores alongside a great market and “moeder & pop” shops that continue to do a good trade. This is also the neighborhood of Israeli-born artist Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen, and her studio called Happy Red Fish.

    After walking the local De Oude Pijp street market on Albert Cuypstraatwe, we headed over to the concept store Cottoncake Cafe on van der Helststraat where Hagar recommended we meet. This white-box concept store is an eclectic mix of clothing, cake, jewelry and coffee. An odd mix that has attracted a loyal following of locals and it’s one of Hagar’s favorite places hang out.

    After marrying a Dutchman, Hagar and her husband moved to Amsterdam, which she now calls home. The medium for her creative work is common sewing thread, but her work is anything but common. She transforms existing photographs using layer after layer of colored thread adding depth and texture and expanding the context of the original image.


    Clearing away our coffee and cake we made room for Hagar’s books which she uses to protect the work. I could not help thinking of how I used to press flowers in books and the excitement I had each time I would check back to see how the flattened botanicals were developing. Hagar’s works have a kind of flattened dimensionality that seems at home pressed into large tomes repurposed for the storage of art.

    After a few more coffees and a good chat, Hagar had to get back to work. We kept talking as she walked us to the tram where we set off to meet our next “insider”.

    Michelle van der Vliet &
    De Plantage

    Amsterdam is a relatively small city. You can get most places on a bicycle in less than an hour. So you might imagine that the food scene, while interesting, is relatively tame and slow moving. How many new restaurants and food related happenings could possibly be happening in this compact city? Well, my assumptions here were completely wrong. It is unbelievable how much is going on with food in this city. So much so that someone needed to take on the job of keeping track of all the epicurean comings and goings to keep the rest of us up to date.

    In 2012 Amsterdam native Michelle van der Vliet took up the challenge and started blogging about everything food-related in the City. Since then she has gathered a dedicated following of like-minded locals, and occasional visitors like us, who like to keep track of interesting things happening in our favorite cities. Michelle really knows the food scene and if you want to eat well in Amsterdam you should definitely follow her at story154.com.

    We met Michelle on the bridge at the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, a super picturesque spot which is worth a visit, if just for the photo opportunity. This is close to the Noordermarkt where the food scene is quite dynamic. We took a walk with Michelle to one of her favorite coffee roasters nearby, Headfirst. True to form, Michelle’s recommendation was spot on. The best coffee we had on our trip was here.


    As we left Michelle we asked for a great lunch spot that’s not in the guide books, to feature on Bearleader. Without hesitation Michelle said “I have just such a place”.

    Overlooking the city’s Artis Zoo in the beautifully restored Artis building is the restaurant De Plantage occupying the space of the building’s 19th century orangery. It, along with the Artis Zoo, are important fixtures in Amsterdam life today. Michelle is the expert so I will let her fill you in on the restaurant’s particulars. Here is her review.

    After a quick lunch we dropped in at the Micropsia Museum, also in the Artis building, and one of the newest museums in Amsterdam. It is the world’s first museum dedicated entirely to the smallest forms of life: microbes. Very interesting exhibit and definitely something you won’t see anywhere else.

    Nicemakers, SLA & Noordermarkt

    Next we are visiting design studio Nicemakers to talk with designers Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll about their work, and get their Amsterdam-insiders’ tips. We had only been in Amsterdam for a few days and Nicemakers had come up in conversation several times, so we were sure Joyce and Dax would have some great ideas about what to do around town.

    Unbeknownst to us, we had already visited some of the local restaurants designed by Nicemakers and seen some of their impressive work. But we did not realize any of this until we sat down in their studio for a chat.

    Long before there was a Nicemakers, there was just Joyce and Dax and even early in their relationship the seeds of Nicemakers were already growing. Dax regaled us with stories of weekends he and Joyce spent stalking antique markets for anything that caught their fancy: early modern furniture, mid-century lamps and peculiar objects and ephemera. They knew all the good spots to find the best stuff.


    Buying on desire rather than need was not unusual so a collection naturally began to develop. Over time, some of their objects found their way into design projects they were working on, and by anchoring their modern design work with objects curated from their eclectic collections a modus-operandi developed. Now they have honed their process into a fine art which has proven phenomenally successful in their rapidly growing practice.

    Walking around Nicemakers’ small, sleek studio you can see the continuity in their creative partnership. The clean lines of the fresh white space are offset by their carefully curated collections and meticulously arranged material samples that Joyce and Dax are mulling over for current and future projects. I comment on the great variety of ceramic tile samples carefully arranged in groupings of color and texture. Joyce laughs and says, “we love tiles”.

    And now I recall one of Nicemakers’ recent projects for a new local healthy fast food company, SLA. Food blogger Michelle van der Vliet had pointed out the new interior to us on our walk a few days ago. And indeed, SLA’s interior is a symphony of tiles, so I see where Joyce is coming from.

    It’s time to go, but as we leave I ask Joyce and Dax the all-important question: What should we visit in Amsterdam? True to form, Joyce gives us a great tip on a local market, “Saturday mornings on the Noordermarkt are a definite must”.

    The following morning we check it out. At Noordermarkt the stalls offer everything from fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese to antique collectibles, locally woven linens and a variety of prepared foods. And, being full of locals, it’s a very authentic Amsterdam experience. With lunch just around the corner at SLA we had a full-on Nicemakers experience.

    Good tips Joyce and Dax, thanks!

    Bearleader & Vivian Hann

    Even though this story is about local recommendations, while wandering around on my own I found something great to share.

    A short walk down Haarlemmerdijk, just west of Central Station, I did a double-take walking by the display window of a small ceramic and cutlery shop called Vivian Hann. Brilliantly colored objects, simple shapes, wonderful hand-crafted textures, I went in for a look. At the counter I introduced myself. And, as it turned out, it was Vivian Hann on duty in the shop that day!

    Vivian originally hails from California but Amsterdam has been her home for many years now. Back in 1998 when she opened the store, Haarlemmerdijk was nowhere near the bustling picturesque street you see today. It was gritty, and walk-in customers were far less frequent. But Vivian persevered and now her shop is in a great location, convenient for locals and in just the right spot for the considerable tourist traffic flowing daily from the nearby train station.

    Passionate about design, Vivian has put together an irresistible collection of everyday objects that is sure to strike a chord with visitors. Her enthusiasm for form, function and craftsmanship is on display with a great collection of ceramics, glassware and cutlery. In fact, Vivian’s is one of the few shops in Amsterdam that specializes in functional homeware with an emphasis on the work of Northern European designers.


    With pride of place, and well protected under glass, Vivian has on display her collection of Hugo Pott cutlery. Cutlery is really Vivian’s main interest and Hugo Pott’s designs have all the attributes of simplicity, beauty and functionality that Vivian admires.

    I have similar interests to Vivian so I recognized some of the pieces in her cutlery collections, but I did not know much about Hugo Pott. And Vivian was all too happy to bring me up to speed on his life and work. And this is what makes Vivian’s tiny shop such a great place to visit. More than what’s on display, it’s Vivian’s encyclopedic knowledge of design and function that make a visit so interesting. Whether you are looking for a small souvenir or need to find flatware for a crowd, Vivian can lead you to just the right solution and fill you in on the story behind your newly acquired objects.

    I say skip the run-of-the-mill souvenir shops and go straight to Vivian Hann for a great memento of your Amsterdam trip. Rather than buying something that will quickly end up disused in the attic, you will have something destined to become your next family heirloom, used and talked about for years to come. A forever reminder of you fantastic trip to the charming city of Amsterdam.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    To get around Amsterdam, I am/sterdam city card offers a wonderful all-included ticket for public transport, a canal tour and entry to all museums (15% off the Rijksmuseum). It’s the one essential ticket for a great Amsterdam visit. www.iamsterdam.com

    To purchase Eau d’Amsterdam go to; www.eaudamsterdam.com. And check out de Koffie Salon Where we met Saskia and Martijn, at; www.dekoffiesalon.nl

    If you’re planning a trip in spring, try to schedule it so you can take in the Spring Snow Festival when 75,000 Elm trees come into bloom and the city is covered in white blossoms. It happens between April 21st and May 21st. You will find more information here; www.springsnow.nl

    To find out more about Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen’s studio Happy Red Fish go to; www.happy-red-fish.com, and here’s a link to Cottoncake; www.cottoncake.nl

    For great new places to eat in Amsterdam visit Michelle van der Vliet’s blog at; www.story154.com

    For one of the best coffees in Amsterdam try Head First Coffee Roasters at; www.headfirstcoffeeroasters.com

    And for a visit La Plantage you can book online at; www.caferestaurantdeplantage.nl. Don’t forget to check out the Micropia Museum next door: www.micropia.nl

    To see more of Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll’s work at Nicemakers, go to; www.nicemakers.com. Or to visit one of their project in person, have lunch at one of the SLA locations. www.ilovesla.com

    To meet Vivian at her store Vivian Hann, go to; www.vivianhann.com Keep in mind that she is closed Sundays and Mondays.

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    A Train to Haarlem

    Haarlem, in the Netherlands, has long been on my must-visit list. I am particularly fond of the full-of-life paintings by Haarlem native Frans Hals. Unlike his contemporaries, such as Rembrandt, Hals did not travel to paint his subjects. He preferred to stay at home in Haarlem, requiring his sitters to come to him. Consequently the majority of his best know work has not strayed from Haarlem. So if you want to see it you also have to go to Haarlem.

    Fortunately we were already in Amsterdam, and Haarlem is not much further from the center of Amsterdam as Harlem is from downtown Manhattan. So we hopped on the local commuter train for the short trip.

    Arriving at Haarlem’s central station you are already in one of the city’s historic landmarks. The train line from Haarlem to Amsterdam was the first in Holland, and special attention was given to the stations along this historic route. Haarlem’s station today is virtually the same as the day it opened in 1908. A fitting introduction to the history of a city that saw tremendous growth in the late 19th century.


    If, when you arrive for the first time, the station feels familiar, it may be because it was used as a substitute for Amsterdam’s station in the film “Oceans Twelve”.

    The town is a smaller, more compact version of Amsterdam, today with slightly less of an emphasis on canals as a means of transportation. It used to be much more of a canal city but many years ago, on the occasion of a cholera outbreak, the city fathers deduced that the polluted canals were the cause, and those that were stinking, black and stagnant were filled in and made into avenues.

    Prior to our arrival we booked a canal tour on Captain Peter Blankendaal’s 1930’s era wooden canal boat. Peter moors his boat next to the old De Adriaan windmill, not too far from the train station. Seeing the city by canal gives you a different perspective on the city, and it’s a great way to orient yourself for walking later on.


    We were also joined on our boat excursion by local historian and guide, Walter Schelfhout, who filled us in on the rich history of Haarlem as seen from the water. A light mist settled over the canals as we made our way slowly through the city’s waterways. The soft Dutch light, filtered through the chilly morning mist, cast the city in an atmosphere reminiscent of an Old Masters painting.

    Beer production figures prominently in Haarlem’s history and the architecture is reflective of this industry, long since passed. Walter, with his encyclopedic knowledge of the area, is able to tell us the story of each building we pass, most of them being at one time connected to the brewing industry. With a basic sense of the city’s layout, and with Walter’s brief historical overview, we are ready to launch out on our own. Captain Blankendaal drops us off on the Raamvest Canal just next to the Frans Hals Museum for our next stop.

    Back in the day, Monet, Courbet and Manet reportedly made pilgrimages to Haarlem just to visit the Frans Hals Museum. I am sure their journey was much more treacherous than our relatively easy trip into town. Their dedication to come and experience Hals first-hand is testament to how ahead of his time Hals was.


    If he were alive today, we would likely call him a “Lifestyle” painter. In contrast to his contemporary, Rembrandt, who ingeniously devised ways to illuminate his subjects with candlelight, Hals preferred to place his subjects in daylight settings. And recognizing that beauty cannot exist without imperfection, Hals showed his characters, flaws and all. You can see this even in the surface texture of his paintings. The fashion was for glossy smooth paintings, but Hals’ paintings leap out at you with all their bumps, lumps and swirls. It all results in a feeling of immediacy, a moment caught in time. Looking at it today it feels quite photographic. You can almost hear the laughter and the cries echoing down the 400 year old corridors of Hals’ subjects.

    It was January and the off season, but the museum was still buzzing with lots of local families (and a few of us tourists): great to see so many Dutch visitors enjoying their own heritage. There is a lot to take in here and we spent some hours gazing in Hals’ work, and learning all about his place in art history via the museum’s handy audio guide, free with admission.

    Leaving the museum, just across the street you will come upon the Historic Museum Haarlem. Housed in a former hospital, this quirky museum has a general overview of the city’s history, with an interesting emphasis on the last 50 years. Lots of obscure artifacts and interesting knickknacks that still seem pretty familiar. After a quick look around we took advantage of the nice cafe on the ground floor for a quick hot drink served by the museum’s great crew of volunteers.


    Continuing on into the center of town, we made our way to another of Haarlem’s highlights, Teylers Museum. This is the oldest museum in Holland. Built in 1784, it remains almost untouched to this day. So your experience will not be that much different from that of an eighteenth century visitor. Passing through the heavy monumental entry doors, a magical world of the past awaits you.

    Peter Teyler was a rich banker and merchant with a passion for what was new and rare in the world. Being a man of the enlightenment, he collected books, fossils, ephemera, and scientific instruments, and commissioned various experimental devices to help him understand the workings of the world. The museum was built on his legacy, to share with the public the world of emerging science and invention. The museum’s collection has continued along these lines.

    My favorite object was “The Highest Point of Mont Blanc”: literally the highest point of the mountain chipped off and pocketed in 1787 by one of the museum’s collectors. There is something hilariously inappropriate about this. But there it is, now seen by millions of people, where before it was only accessible by a handful.


    The craftsmanship of the rooms, the display cases, and the objects themselves, are absolutely fascinating. If you saw the movie Night at the Museum, you can just imagine what happens in this museum after hours.

    Leaving Teylers, we head to the town square for some much needed sustenance and stop in at the Grand Cafe Brinkmann. Established in 1879, its lofty ceilings and Art Nouveau interior is a great place for some food, drink and people watching.

    Following the back streets towards our hotel, we happen across Friethoes (Fries—made by owner Joost—Hoes), near the train station. No visit to Haarlem is complete without the consummate pommes frites indulgence. And no better place for that than Friethoes, run by a young friendly team, they use all organic potatoes, oil and even home-made-organic mayonnaise. Each batch is made freshly to order. There are three sizes on offer and several topping options. Of course, When in Haarlem … we opted for the Dutch way and went with the Mayonnaise. Delicious!


    As the winter sun set and the streetlights began reflecting in the canals, we arrived at our hotel, the Golden Tulip Lion D’Or, ready to call it a day.

    Next morning we headed back towards the Frans Hals museum area to check out the modern side of Haarlem. We stopped in at Portrait, a new concept store created by young locals, Karen, Daisy and Rogier. Part boutique, part coffee shop, part live/workspace, their mantra, “call this home and you don’t have to do the dishes”, strikes quite an appealing note. Housed in a former stable, Portrait offers a great curated selection of clothes, postcards, books and design objects. Another friend bakes daily-fresh-sweet treats, which I can personally attest, are very good, as is the coffee by owner/barista Rogier. So make sure you stop in, there is something there for everyone.

    With bags packed we are ready to head once more to the lovely train station to depart. On the way I notice a sign on one of the old station waiting rooms advertising Salsa classes starting in February. I imagine the sounds of Salsa drifting across the platforms. Such an interesting, diverse place.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    The cities of Amsterdam and Haarlem have a great way for you to access public transport, gain entries to most museums, take in a canal tour and many more great offers. It is called the City Card, and comes in 24, 48 and 72 hour sizes. A great value to get you around Amsterdam and Haarlem. For more information about the City Card, go to; http://www.iamsterdam.com

    For more information about Canal Tours with Captain Peter Blankendaal, go to; www.dewaterkoets.nl

    For more information about a local guided tour email Walter Schelfhout.

    For more information about the Frans Hals Museum, go to; www.franshalsmuseum.nl

    For more information about the Historic Museum Haarlem and their lovely Cafe, go to; www.historischmuseumhaarlem.nl

    For more information about the Teylers Museum, go to; www.teylersmuseum.nl

    For perfect French Fries from Friethoes, go to; www.friethoes.nl

    For more information about Grand Cafe Brinkmann, go to; www.grandcafebrinkmann.nl

    If you are a beer aficionado try Haarlem’s local beer, brewed to the authentic historical Haarlem recipe. For more information, go to; www.jopenbier.nl

    Thanks to the Golden Tulip for hosting us during our stay in Haarlem. For more information about staying at the Golden Tulip, A great centrally located modern hotel with friendly staff, go to; www.goldentulip.com

    For direct access to and from Haarlem from Schipol Airport, we found the best way is to take the number 300 Bus. Pick it up right outside the airport, and in Haarlem, right outside the train station. It costs about four Euro and only takes 45 minutes. For those who take a dim view on busses, this is more of a train on rubber wheels. Quite an easy and pleasant trip.

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Planning to make a visit to Vienna for some new shoes? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

    partly cloudy
    68% humidity
    wind: 18mph E
    H 38 • L 29
    Weather from Yahoo!

    Paris on Four Wheels

    In the best of times, the streets of Montmartre are thronged with tourists trying to absorb some of the village’s former country charm. Walking the narrow streets one inevitably ponders how pleasant it must have been when this place, much removed from bustling Paris, would have been the kind of quiet, inexpensive place where artists flourish. While the streets and buildings are much the same as they were, the streets now regularly fill to capacity, making it difficult to imagine how the formerly quiet village must have been.

    But today we are not walking. Rather, we are bundled into a tiny classic red Citroën 2CV. As we slowly inch our way down the street, a river of tourists happily parts before us. From our comfortable seats, and without the need to concentrate on negotiating our way through the crowd, we have the opportunity to fully engage our imaginations in the experience at hand.

    But I have jumped into the middle of the story. Let’s get back to the beginning.

    A friend recently contacted me with a very specific travel question. Her mom, an avid traveler since youth, recently had undergone some medical treatments and was still recuperating. How could her mom continue to engage in her passion for travel? We put our thinking caps on to come up with some things to do that would enable her to continue to have the kind of travel experiences she treasures, without the exertion that is usually required.

    No.35 | Paris on Four Wheels with 4 rous sous 1 parapluie

    After some searching, I came across a great company, 4 rous sous 1 parapluie. “4 wheels under 1 umbrella” is a Parisian company specializing in tours conducted exclusively in the much beloved Citroën 2CV, or as the French call it the “Deudeuche”.

    Back in 2003, entrepreneur Florent Dargnies was looking for a way to give visitors a true Parisian experience in an original way. Combining great guides with classic 2CVs in the city of love turned out to be a winning combination, and 4 rous sous 1 parapluie has since developed their service to include a variety of specialized routes for first-time visitors and regular patrons alike. The fleet of 2CVs has now grown to over 20 cars, all kept in top shape by an on-site repairman, a real master at keeping all those French treasures running smoothly for their daily excursions.

    No.35 | Paris on Four Wheels with 4 rous sous 1 parapluie

    The Citroën 2CV has grown into a French icon, making it the obvious choice for 4 rous sous 1 parapluie to place at the center of their vision. Designed by engineer Pierre Jules Boulanger, he set out to create a “car for people”, a simple automobile: light on comfort, good for transporting people and goods, can handle any kind of terrain, and is not expensive to maintain. It took a while to catch on because of its odd looks, but in combination with its practicality, its looks soon helped it to become a French classic. But you need not take my word for it. As you drive around town you will immediately notice that everywhere you go people are looking at you, waving and taking pictures. Driving around Paris in a 2CV you become the tourist attraction.

    “4 rous sous 1 parapluie” translated curiously means “4 wheels under one umbrella”

    We booked our 2CV tour for May 8th. Coincidentally this is a national holiday in Paris. May 8th is “Fete de la Victoire” marking the end of hostilities in Europe in World War II. In retrospect, it was a perfect coincidence because we encountered very little traffic and all public buildings were officially adorned with the French flag. It made for a Paris even more picturesque than usual.

    No.35 | Paris on Four Wheels with 4 rous sous 1 parapluie

    Vincent, our guide and driver for the day, picked us up at our hotel at Places des Vosges. He arrived decked out in a signature St. James blue and white striped T-shirt, the uniform of all 4 rous sous 1 parapluie drivers. After giving us a brief rundown on what was in store, he opened the roof and settled us into our seats, all outfitted with blankets in case of a spring chill. We opted for the three hour “Magic Tour”. I figured it would be a good way to get an overview of the city, and a feel for its rich history.

    Off we went passing the Opera and Bastille, making our way past Ile de Cite, all the while zipping up and down tiny side streets as Vincent pointed out obscure landmarks and told us about their part in the history of Paris.

    No.35 | Paris on Four Wheels with 4 rous sous 1 parapluie

    Of course we love taking pictures, and Vincent was happy to oblige whenever we spotted a “scenic spot”. Each time, he quickly found a safe spot off the rue to park, and let us out to do our snapping.

    We drove around the Pantheon and through Saint Germaine where Vincent stopped to show us where, in 1799, Mhe metric system was introduced. To educate the pulic, it was important for the government to communicate this new system of measurement. Physical meter markers were installed at strategic locations around the city and two of them are still in place today.

    No.35 | Paris on Four Wheels with 4 rous sous 1 parapluie

    Continuing on, we passed Musee de Orsay, the Louvre and some more obscure stops along the way. Then we began the steep climb up the hill to Montmartre. It is generally not possible to drive up to Montmartre, but who can resist a red 2CV. With a smile the policeman waved us through and voila, we were in the heart of Montmartre slowly making our way through the crowded cobblestone streets.

    After an amazing three hours, Vincent dropped us back at Place des Vosges and we said our goodbyes. What a wonderful time we had. Most importantly, my friend and her mother duplicated our experience just a few weeks later, also to great acclaim.


    For booking details and more information about all the available tours from 4 rous sous 1 parapluie go to;

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger