Sundance-Utah

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One of the loveliest places I have been is actor/activist Robert Redford’s Sundance. Redford bought the place and has since turned it into a premier resort which doesn’t have a resort feeling at all. The only word I can use to describe it is…serene.

The last time we were there we took in lunch at the Foundry Grill. It is a place that is designed to look like a high-end rustic cabin complete with chinking. The atmosphere is slick but elegant and the menu was superb.

We then took the Scenic Lift to the top of Ray’s Summit where we spent several hours hiking through this pristine mountain trail. The vistas are incredible and the fresh air refreshes as you hike through the pines. Mountain biking,fly fishing, skiing, zip lining and spa services are also available. But what I really loved was the Art Studio where I watched the in-residence glass blowers. To be able to take that original blob and bend and shape it into something spectacular just amazes me. Guests can also take workshops in painting, pottery and making jewelry.

While I have never stayed in the rooms or cabins that are available for rent; it is my understanding that they are immaculate and decorated in a style to fit this mountain resort. Be forewarned they are pricey.

Everything about Sundance is what you would expect of something Robert Redford would develop from beautiful architecture, to babbling brooks and impressive artwork. And every time I come back I am amazed at the changes. The first time I visited was around 1980 when it was just a  fairly quiet patch of beautiful ground. Now it is a destination that seeks to preserve the quiet essence of this beautiful area with a dignity not often found in a place that is rated one of the top resorts in the USA.

 

 

 

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Valkenburg Caves-Valkenburg, Netherlands

What brought us to the charming town of Valkenburg was my 13th G-Grandfather, Jan Van Valkenburg (1515-1575). It was his home town and I wanted to see it. And we did. It was fabulous. But what touched us more were the caves (Cauberg Cavern-Gemeentegrot/Fluweelengrot ) radiating out beneath the center of the city and did they ever have a story to tell. So we listened.DSC05816

You can enjoy the caves either by guided walking tour or by “train.” I would advise walking. The walk is easy not steep and you will be given plenty of time to ask any and all questions that your heart desires.

As for the history of the caves, the Romans began excavating them 2,000 years ago for use as building material in and around the area and significant buildings still stand today as a testament of its worth. The caves have also been used for centuries as a sanctuary for refugees during the French Revolution and more recent wars.

Be sure to step up close to the walls and you will see limestone littered with fossils and shells proof of an underwater world that existed here 100 million years ago. It is fascinating to see all the “fossil gold” left behind.

Yet,  the real treasure in the caves is the art work left by miners and residents of the town  since  before the 1700’s. Drawn in charcoal and created by the dim light thrown off by candles and later, lanterns, these works of art depict a living history of what was known or imagined by these dedicated artisans.  In addition to the paintings there are also huge statues carved into the walls throughout the entire labyrinth of corridors that run under the city.

But perhaps the most compelling picture is the Liberation of the City by the Americans in on September 17, 1944. It is a tribute to those brave men who worked to reclaim this city from the Germans and deed her once again to its citizens. And below the painting you will find the signatures of some of the soldiers who participated in the liberation.

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But perhaps even more astonishing is this fact: that during the 10-day battle the towns 10,000 residents all lived in the caves together while fierce fighting raged in the streets. It gives you pause as you wander with your guide thinking about what it must have been like underneath the city not knowing if you might live or die.

At the end of the tour you will be lead to another set of tunnels in which various eras of artwork are projected onto the walls of the cave creating a living-breathing art show that  surrounds you and disorientates you at some level.Very cool!

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While we did not visit during Christmas it is my understanding that a huge Christmas Market is held on weekends during the weeks prior to the holiday. Here you will find crafts and fine works of art offered for sale by local craftsmen.

Entrance fee about 5 Euros

Hint: Wear a jacket as it is chilly deep underground.

Sonora Celtic Festival-Sonora, CA

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The Sonora Celtic Festival is undoubtedly one of the biggest Celtic festivals in the nation and with thirty years experience of throwing a HUGE shindig these people know how to put on a show.

This years bands were once again totally amazing. With Celtica, Wicked Tinkers, Tempest and Golden Bough fronting the stage you couldn’t help but rock and reel. Of course there are many amazing pipe bands who drone you out including the Stag and Thistle Pipe Band out of Fresno, California.

One of the largest living history villages celebrating over 2000 years of Celtic history is set up for the weekend. Here you will find dedicated folk cooking, eating, dressing, and celebrating as they did so long ago. Jousting by the Imperial Knights and The Highland Throwers also give you a thrilling taste of the sport back in the day. And whatever you do stay out of the way of the armored fighters or you might just feel the slick metallic edge of the sword against your neck.

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While there you must stop into the clan booths and find out about “your people” and the history of the clans in Scotland. There are also over 100 Celtic craftsmen, artisans and vendors displaying their wares.

And of course there is the food. Roasted turkey legs, meat pies and haggis are a few of the family favorites which we eat while watching the Irish step and Scottish highland dancers. But the best offering  bar none is the whiskies and ales. You must do a taste test to discover your favorite belly warming drink.

The Sonora Celtic Festival is held every March in Sonora, California. To learn more visit:

http://www.sonoracelticfaire.com/