Mid-Valley
Travel Club

 

Meeting Archive
2008

 

January, 2008:

Rambling Through Romania (Transylvania)
by
Donna Loveland & Richard Grossnicklaus

Donna and Richard will illustrate their four visits to Transylvania, traveling in both spring and fall, and note the many changes they observed from 2001 to 2007. Their visits included the attractive city of Cibiu, one of the two European Cultural Capitals of 2007, and various UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Historic Centre of Sighisoara; the Wooden Churches of Maramures; and some of the Transylvanian Saxon villages with fortified churches. One of these villages, Viscri, even enjoys the patronage of Britain's Prince Charles! They will illustrate gorgeous pastoral scenes and the charm and friendliness of individual villagers. While life in the villages resembles rural America of 100 years ago, the cities bustle with many of the trappings of 21st century western world.

Transylvania occupies a high plateau in Central Romania, ringed by the Carpathian Mountains, with attractive countryside, similar to western Oregon. Independent at last, Romania has suffered through almost continuous occupation by Romans, Goths, Mongols, Hungarians, Turks and others, before becoming a satellite of the Soviet Union in 1944. Since the 1989 fall of Ceauçescu, one of the cruelest of communist dictators, Romania has, in fits and starts, moved towards a market economy, reducing its massive inflation rate and slowly overcoming corruption, egregious human rights violations, and crumbling infrastructure, before finally gaining admission to the EU in early 2007.

 

February, 2008:

Rome: Five Visits to the Truly Eternal City
by
Bill & Kay Parsons

Bill and Kay met up for a couple of days in Rome in Spring 2001, went back during their honeymoon in the Fall of 2002, and have been going back ever since with trips in '03, '04, and '06. With so much to see and do in Italy (and Europe in general), why do they keep going back to Rome?

Automobiles, dirt, and noise aside, Rome is one of the world's most beautiful cities. It has been inhabited continuously for over 25 centuries, and the unharmonious evidence is piled up everywhere. In what other city can you stand in front of two temples from the Roman Republic, look up at a Baroque fountain from the 16th century, and then cross the street to a 12th century church, a Renaissance palace, and an arch from the Roman Empire, all the while dodging Fiats and Vespas?

No other city offers the perceptive tourist so much to see and experience in the space of a morning stroll. Or, if you're an underachiever, few cities provide the kinds of rewards Rome does to aimless wandering. Bill and Kay's presentation will highlight their favorite sights in Rome, from the Roman Forum through Medieval Rome to the art and architecture of the Baroque Era.

 

March, 2008:

Namibian Nomads: Deserts, Safaris and Tranquility
by
Alan Mudge

In the Nama language, “Namib” means “great open” or “deserted place.” “Namibia” therefore is the land of “great open” or “deserted places.” The Namib is also the name of the oldest desert in the world in western Namibia and southwestern Angola. “..…we stared down uneasily into a confusion of wild grey crags, rocky summits, black shadows and a labyrinth of gorges. Beyond them dazzling stretches of chalk spread out again, and still further away was the blue shimmer of jagged mountains, whilst on the horizon we could see the red sand of the dunes. It was an impressive and intimidating sight, a landscape inconceivable under a more temperate sky and in milder latitudes. We were astonished that anything at all could grow in this hot, dry wilderness of rock and stone.”1 Such is how Henno Martin described it when he and Hermann Korn, two German geologists, disappeared into the Namib desert for two and a half years to avoid internment during World War II.

The Namibian landscape is as fantastic today as it was then, in this least populated, and one of the driest countries on earth. Perhaps overshadowed by South Africa and Botswana, its better-known neighbors, Nambia is often overlooked as an eco-travel destination. It shouldn’t be. About twice the size of California, Namibia has fantastic wildlife, fantastically diverse landscapes, fantastic wilderness lodges, and enough safari options to fit any budget. Oh…did I mention it’s fantastic?

After our arrival in the capital, Windhoek, in the central highlands, we’ll visit some of Namibia’s diverse habitats in search of its spectacular flora, fauna (both big and small), and landscapes. We’ll venture into the savanna/woodland and abundant wildlife of Etosha National Park, marvel at the lunar landscapes of Namib Naukluft Park – the second largest park in Africa, have some apple pie with Moose in the aptly named town of Solitaire, climb some of the world’s tallest sand dunes at Sossusvlei, and experience a surreal, Salvador Dali-esque landscape at Dead Vlei. Along the way we’ll stay in luxury at Okonjima lodge, visit the AfriCat Foundation, and camp at Spitzkoppe, a granite inselberg known as the “Matterhorn” of Namibia, home to Bushman’s Paradise, and one of several community-based wildlife conservancies in Namibia. We’ll also be on the lookout for some of Namibia’s smaller fauna including Onymacris, a fog-basking, desert tenebrionid beetle, and a new group of insects called Mantophasmatodea (also known as Gladiators), discovered recently in Namibia, the first whole new order of insects to be to described since 1914. You’ll see that Namibia, this great deserted place, is indeed great, but not so deserted after all.

1 Excerpted from: The Sheltering Desert, Henno Martin, 1957

 

April, 2008:

Moscow, St. Petersburg, and an Idyllic River Cruise Between
by
Derek & Anita Stables

Derek described their three-week combination of group and independent travel, including challenges of the latter, to Russia in 2006. They began with four partially jet-lagged days in Moscow, including Red Square, the Kremlin, and other traditional sights, many illustrated from very different perspectives along the Moscow River. There followed a six-night cruise along the Volga-Baltic Waterway to St. Petersburg, with enchanting vistas of the changing Russian scenery and stops at villages, small towns, and islands that would be difficult to visit independently. The Grand Finale was ten glorious days during "White Nights" in St . Petersburg, one of the most beautiful, large, but thoroughly walkable cities in Europe, with breathtakingly opulent palaces; stunning churches and monuments; and magnificent museums, including the incomparable Hermitage.

Derek is a founding member and MVTC Program Chairman; this is his 8th presentation (after Florence, Bali, Sicily, Sri Lanka, India, Jordan, and Morocco), with 2 supporting roles (Italian Lakes, S. Africa).

 

May, 2008:

Southern Mexico: Yucatán and Chiapas, ¡Olé!
by
Janet Neuberg and Charles Hannigan

This presentation is a compilation of 2 trips to Yucatán and a trip-and-a-half to Chiapas.

Yucatán can refer either to the state of Yucatán or to the entire peninsula in southern Mexico in which the state is located. Our travels were to the state. Our first destination was Merida, the capital of Yucatán. It is a clean, noisy, colonial city, now quite large. Most accommodations and points of interest are within walking distance of the zocalo, the central plaza. Every night there are free outdoor performances of regional music and dance. Merida's restaurants offer regional dishes and beverages. So do street-corner vendors and stalls in the public market. Everywhere you see beautiful regional dress; the women in their embroidered huipils and the men in their short-sleeved pleated shirts.

From Merida it is easy to get to major Yucatán archeologic sites by bus. Chich'en Itzá is the largest. A short tax-ride away is Balankache, an underground site used for hundreds of years, that was discovered only recently.

Uxmal is another archeologic site accessible from Merida.

There are several interesting colonial towns east of Merida. In one, pedicabs are used instead of taxis. In another, Izamal, horses and carriages are the first choice. Vallalodid has a beautiful cenote (sinkhole) which you can walk down into and even swim in. Many of these towns have beautiful colonial churches which are being used today.

West of Merida, on the coast, is Celestún, famous for its ecologic site. There you see flocks of flamingoes in their habitat.

Our primary destinations in Chiapas were San Cristóbal de las Casas, the old colonial capital, and the ruins at Palanque. San Cristóbal is in the highlands, and at over 6,000 feet, is very cold in winter, and cold even in March. The city has lots of topography, and is a great place for long walks. There is a huge central open-air market. Along the major tourist routes, there are vendors of regional clothing. The people wear a huge variety of regional dress styles, each of which is associated with an individual village.

Chiapa de Corzo, near the current capital of Tuxtla, is in the lowlands on the Grijalva River. There you can go on boat trips, or relax in one of the outdoor cafes along the banks of the river. A multi-generational family has a wonderful tour of their factory, where they make marimbas, the official musical instrument of the state of Chiapas. You can see how the instrument is made, learn about its history, and finish by hearing family members performing in a marimba orchestra.

Not knowing of our eventual trip to Chiapas, we traveled to Palenque as a (very long) side trip from Merida. The site is in the jungle, and is a long way from anywhere. It is a huge site, so one should plan on 2-3 days. There are some wonderful places to stay in the jungle adjacent to the archeologic zone.

 

June, 2008:

Rio de Janeiro: Corcovado, Copacabana, Cariocas & Contradictions
by
Dick and Jane Groff

Known as "Cidade Maravilhosa", the "Marvellous City," Rio is famous for its most spectacular natural setting, its Carnival celebrations, the pulse of samba, and miles and miles of some of the world's finest beaches. How can it be, at the same time, one of the most violent cities in the world, with whole sections of the city controlled not by civil authorities, but by gangs and drug lords?

This is a city of vast contradictions, of vast wealth adjacent to squalid poverty, with fun-loving people of unexpected warmth and friendliness, but thieves and scam artists on every corner, of stunning artistic and natural beauties, a vibrant street economy, a rich Portuguese colonial heritage, and a diverse and surprisingly harmonious racial and cultural mix.

Come and explore these contradictions with Dick and Jane Groff and gain insights into what makes Rio work. Climb Corcovado Mountain to Cristo Redentor, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Discover fabled Guanabara Bay, ride the twin cable cars to Sugarloaf Mountain, see one of the world's largest parade venues (the Sambadrome) and travel one of its longest bridges. Explore stunning colonial churches, a characteristic tropical produce market in Copacabana, and the world's largest urban tropical rainforest. Then top it all off with a vibrant evening of Samba, a warm-up for the world's most extravagant Carnival. Rio has it all.

 

September, 2008:

Slovenia by Way of the Danube Trail
by
Tom Kruse

Slovenia is a small country, often overlooked by travelers. Remarkably diverse for its size, Slovenia provides a quick side trip from Venice, Munich or Vienna. The capital, Ljubljana, is one of the most pleasant cities of Europe. Other highlights of Slovenia include splendid alpine scenery, WWI historical sites, and unique architecture.

With the remaining time, Tom will illustrate his experiences in cycling from Passau, Germany to Budapest along the Danube bike trail. This is the easiest and most popular bicycle path in all of Europe,with multiple touring options for all ages and fitness levels. Highlights include gorgeous scenery, wineries, castles, monasteries, large cities and small villages. However, you don't have to be a cyclist; a similar route is accessible by river cruise, train, or car.

 

October, 2008:

The North of England:
Mountains, Moors and Monarchs

by
Chuck & Cherie Bennett

This area, home to 4 of England's national parks (Lake District, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland) includes the counties of Cumbria, Northumberland, Yorkshire, and Durham. It is characterized by wildness and remoteness, so much so that the powerful medieval barons—called "Kings of the North"—were safely detached from royal meddling by London. The region is lightly populated, yet home to critical history. The first history of England was written here by the Venerable Bede, a 7th century monk; other literary connections include Wordsworth and the Romantic movement, Bram Stoker, and both Potters (Beatrix and Harry). Roman history is still visible in Hadrian's Wall, and there is widespread rock art, along with prehistoric remains on the Cheviot Hills. The walled medieval city of York will be featured, as well as fine castles, the marvelous Norman cathedral at Durham, and the upsurging modernity of Newcastle-Gatehead.

 

November, 2008:

Intriguing Israel:
6000 BC and 1999 AD

by
Arlan & Dorothy Blodgett

Arlan made two trips to Israel for a total of 5 weeks in 1997 and 1999. He lived part of the time at Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan, which is just a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan Valley. He was there to help discover more information about the Yarmukian Neolithic culture (5600–5000 BC). He will also illustrate other major sights in Israel, including the Belvoir Crusader Fortress, the Dead Sea, Old Jericho, the Golan Heights and a trip around the Sea of Galilee, plus many days in Jerusalem.

 

December, 2008:

Traveling the Ring Road in Iceland:
Land of Fire and Ice

by
Don Gallagher and Sharon Wright

Don and Sharon made a trip to Iceland in July 2007 with a group of hikers from the Willamette Valley to observe the forces of nature that are evident in this hot travel destination. There are few if any other places on earth where glaciers, hot springs, geysers, volcanic craters, icecaps, tundra, snow-capped peaks, vast lava deserts, waterfalls, glacier lagoons and active volcanoes can be seen in such a compact region."


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This Web site created by:
Peter Ronai
President
Mid-Valley Travel Club