Travel Club


Meeting Archive


January, 2009:

My Private Italy: Beauty in Hidden Places
Franca Hernandez

Italy is renown for its small villages that dot the pinnacles of imposing hills, clustered along its "spine." My family, like so many Italians, had second homes that gave them a respite from the oppressive heat of the summer months in Rome. I will share with you images of the areas, particularly Montecchio, Orvieto, and Riccio, along the border of Umbria and Tuscany, where my family owned those homes. This will be an intimate picture, not a travelogue of the conventional tourist destinations in Italy. Walk with me to enjoy the beauty of a field; a stand of trees; the facade of a wall; a country road; and peeks at views through the shadowy maze of historic villages.

Franca has made multiple presentations to the MVTC; she travels frequently to visit family in Italy and speaks fluent Italian.


Additional detail provided after the Travel Club meeting by Franca:

Umbria: One of Italy's smallest regions, Umbria, is a landlocked area lying cheek by jowl with its more illustrious neighbor, Tuscany. It’s a beautiful region of rolling hills dotted with castles, fortresses and watchtowers, whose well-preserved hill towns produce world-renowned handmade ceramics, whose many monasteries were founded by a host of local saints, whose valleys are laced with countless gleaming rivers. The Tiber River has its modest and provincial beginnings here. The very identity of its original inhabitants, the Umbrians (Ombrii in Greek), is so clouded that we still have no clear understanding of the meaning of their name. Any traveler who goes from Florence to Rome by land passes through this region also known as the Tiber Valley. Well known cities in Umbria are Assisi, Spoleto and Orvieto.

Orvieto: You can arrive here by traveling one hour from Rome by car and about an hour and a half by train. From the train station, take the funicular up to the city proper.
Orvieto was a major centre of Etruscan civilization. The Archaeological Museum (Museo Claudio Faina e Museo Civico) houses some of the Etruscan artifacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighborhood. Orvieto is also home to Etruscan ruins and the remnants of a wall that enclosed the city more than 2000 years ago. At the foot of the butte, surrounded by peach and apple trees and a vineyard, the Etruscan necropolis of Crocefisso di Tufo counts a hundred or so chamber tombs. Orvieto was annexed by Rome in the third century BCE. The territory of Orvieto was under papal control until 1860 when it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
Orvieto is noted for its 14th C Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo (with Romanesque elements). The church is striped in white travertine and greenish-black basalt in narrow bands. The facade of the church is a magnificent blending of mosaics, statuary, lacy stonework, and the Rose Window. At the base of the four pilasters are delicate marble bas-reliefs of Biblical scenes. Inside Il Duomo you’ll find world-class works of art by such luminaries as Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli.

Acquasparta: Acquasparta is a small hill town located above the Naia Valley and the river of the same name, facing the Martani mountain range. It also sits between two hot springs, the Amerino and the Furipane. It is located about a 100 km from Rome and has its own train station. During the ancient Roman domination the area was a spa retreat whose mineralized hot water baths was a draw for Roman citizens. The thermal baths remain open to the public today. Its historical center at one time was surrounded by medieval walls. It is still a place were people live and work. Inside the old part of town, which is quiet and unprepossessing, the principal building of note is the Renaissance style Palazzo Cesi, started in 1564 and completed in 1579. Galileo Galilei was invited to teach at the Accademia dei Lincei founded by Federico Cesi. Each summer there’s the reenactment of the Gian Giacomo Cesi and Isabella Liviani’s wedding with actors in period custom. People walk in groups and observe the actors preparing the wedding feast and celebrating the wedding ceremony. A local tavern in period décor and servers in period custom will prepare and provide meals typical of the 15th Century.

Cortona: The prevailing character of Cortona’s architecture is medieval with steep narrow streets situated on a hillside, embracing a view of the whole of the Valdichiana. From the Piazza Garibaldi (still referred to by the local population by its older name, Piazza Carbonaia, coal) has a great view of Lago Trasimeno, scene of Hannibal’s ambush of the Roman army in 217 BCE. Parts of the Etruscan city wall can still be seen today as the basis of the present wall.
The Museo dell'Accademia Etrusca displays items from Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations, as well as art and artifacts from the Medieval and Renaissance eras. The ambitious walker, not deterred by the very steep streets, will be rewarded with views of the valley peeking through buildings bordering the meandering streets. The best view, however, is from the ramparts of the Fortezza del Girifalco di Cortona at the top of the hill upon which Cortona clings. Although prevalently of medieval restoration, its use as a defense lookout probably goes back to pre Etruscan times.

Valdichiana: The Valdichiana was extensively settled by the Etuscans and Romans. Deforestation resulted in silt accumulation and the valley slowly became an extensive marshy area and the inhabitants victims of malaria. The present-day appearance of the Valdichiana is the result of marsh drainage and reclamation work that was started by the Romans and carried on right through to the 20th C. Leonardo da Vinci drew a map of the area at the beginning of the 16th C that shows the valley occupied by a large lake running north-south. Today this very rich soil has created the heartland of the production of Chianti wine and olive oil.


February, 2009:

Traveling Independently and Cheaply in Southern India*
Ron and Kathy Kelemen

Most self-described Indophiles will probably tell you that southern India is the very best part of India. It’s delightfully different in many ways, yet still inescapably India. Compared to the beaten paths most tourists take in the north, southern India is cleaner, less crowded, friendlier, more relaxed and tropical. And it’s just downright beautiful! There is little Mogul influence, compared to the north. The Hindu temples are much older than the Moslem mosques, and better preserved.

Ron and Kathy Kelemen will show us what it’s like to travel independently overland in the south of India for three weeks, starting and ending in Bangalore. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, and they did it in relative style at a very reasonable price. Yes, you’ll see photos of magnificent temples, but you’ll also see a different way to experience a unique part of the world.

Ron and Kathy have been to India together three times, and Ron traveled there alone in 1972 on $2 per day. They spent their honeymoon in 1977 trekking in Nepal and traveling 3rd class through northern India. They passed through the northern and central parts again in 1980 on their way home from the Peace Corps in Malaysia. For their 30th wedding anniversary in November 2007 they celebrated by traveling independently through much of southern India. It turned out to be one of their very best trips ever.

*For Ron and Kathy's travel journal, please click here.


March, 2009:

A Scenic Cycling Circuit of Holland, Luxembourg and Germany
Beth Dayton

A set of maps, a guide book or two, and the occasional help of a friendly native are all that are necessary for the adventurous, and even the novice, independent traveler to have a wonderful journey through this part of Western Europe. Beth Dayton narrates a trip taken by bicycle and train in 2003 with her husband and two sons, ages 8 and 13. The trip was planned to link several major points of interest: the fascinating walkable and bikeable city of Amsterdam; Luxembourg City, the 1000 year old capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; the ancient Roman city of Trier; and the serpentine Mosel River in Germany. Along the way they found history so tangible that even a child could be enthralled, and the adults could hardly tear themselves away from one site to move on to another.

Beth writes: "Major emphases of this talk are the logistics and benefits of self-guided travel by bike and train. Although we found many opportunities to take “scenic detours” (never say 'lost'), these episodes led to some of our most satisfying encounters with locals and other travelers. The Dutch long-distance bike routes are meticulously marked with signage on the ground, and documented by detailed maps; nevertheless, one missed turn can send you off the route through a maze of bike paths, dirt canal paths and rural farm roads. Invariably when we stopped to huddle around our map, a local biker, perhaps on the way to work or bringing groceries back from the market, would stop to chat and often volunteer to lead us on for a way.

"To keep to our planned route in the available time, we took a short train hop across the eastern tip of Belgium and into northern Luxembourg. All through this part of Europe, train, bike and pedestrian travel mesh seamlessly, and the system is faultlessly clean and punctual. For local trains there is no need to plan far ahead; just show up at the ticket office with a destination in mind and the multi-lingual agent will fix you up. Many stations have helpful agents wandering along the platforms as well, and they would quickly identify our merry band as needing help to find the right train, load bikes on the proper car, and be sure all members were aboard in the scant seconds that the train was actually stationary.

"The oft-forgotten Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a gem of rolling green hills and rich farmland, very reminiscent of the Willamette Valley—that is, until you stumble across a half-decayed medieval castle, a World War II memorial, or an inn-keeper who speaks four languages, none of them English. This is a country to be savored slowly, and there may be no better way than the network of national bike routes. A single map covers the whole country, and leads the rider down a mixture of car-free paved paths, and onto tiny rural roads and dirt trails that look so unpromising you would expect them to dead-end in a barnyard, if it weren’t for the official route marker sign. Luxembourg City, easily walkable because of its small size, is absolutely packed with sites of historical interest, including the tunnels of its once mighty fortress, the old city in the Grund, numerous museums and churches, outdoor statuary, farmers’ markets, and parks.

"The bike route from Luxembourg City to Trier is probably one of my favorite single days in all of Europe for its scenic charm and varied countryside. The Black Gate (Porta Nigra) in Trier provides a dramatic end to a stunning day of riding. Trier was the only stop where we had some difficulty finding satisfactory lodging, as it is heavily touristed by Europeans and easily accessible by train, car, bike and river traffic along the Mosel. As always, our first stop was the Tourist Information Center, where we were able to locate a small hotel near the train station and pick up pamphlets and maps for the next day’s walking tour. Trier has an unbelievable smorgasbord of ancient historic sites, with new discoveries literally every time the earth is opened up to build a new foundation or road. A serious history buff could easily spend a week, but we cherry-picked a few choice sites and then countered the afternoon heat with both a drenching in a public splash fountain and ice cream on the main square.

"The biking portion of our trip concluded with 3 days of cycling the flat, sweeping turns of the Mosel River, framed by near-vertical vineyards, and dotted with castles and fairy-tale cute villages of half timbered houses. This is one of Germany’s most popular routes for traveling by bike, barge or a combination of the two. Amazingly, even in late June we had no trouble finding lodging in delightful B&B’s and tiny inns; on the well-marked bike route, we were never far from biergartens, shady picnic tables and outdoor cafes and bakeries. Groups of cyclists were everywhere, many grey-haired and riding matching European 'comfort bikes' on guided tours. For the pampered cyclist, surely heaven must look like the Mosel River Radweg!"


April, 2009:

Xi'an and Northwest China: The Silk Road
Anne Nelson

Anne began her journey along the Northern Silk Road at its traditional origin in Xi'an, home of the life-size, terra-cotta warriors guarding the tomb of the first Chinese emperor, Shi Huang Di. The Silk Road crosses deserts and mountains towards the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, principal home of the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in Northwest China, trying to preserve its culture amidst an inflow of Han Chinese. Ann visited Kashgar and Urumqi, the largest cities, as well as small villages, often with very primitive homes. The friendly Uighurs are renowned as weavers of silk and other beautiful fabrics and rugs; potters; metal workers; and other crafts.


May, 2009:

BC's Fraser River Canyon and the
Back Roads to the Yukon

Chris & Louise Brantley

Ever wonder what it would be like to go RVing but haven't been willing to cough up the capital to own a recreational vehicle? Camper rookies Chris and Louise Brantley learned about life on the road and a beautiful section of the world, when they rented a motor home and followed their RV literate friends up the back roads of British Columbia.

In this presentation the Brantleys will share their adventures on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway of northwestern British Columbia. They'll describe the natural beauty of the landscape, show amazing pictures of wildlife, recount exciting canoe and kayak paddles, and tell what it's like to travel in a 26-foot motor home with a convoy of friends. Highlights include the Fraser River Canyon, Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, Hyder AK, Watson Lake BC (famous for its travel signs), a brief stop in the Yukon, and a return trip down the old Al-Can Highway.

You'll learn what the Brantley's learned about traveling in an RV and ways to travel this remote region without an RV. An exciting extra for this presentation will be a collection of gourmet recipes prepared over a fire or in a very small kitchen and enjoyed by the travelers along the way. You'll be inspired to find your own "inner camper" after hearing the story of this unique mode of travel through the Canadian wilderness.


June, 2009:

Adventures in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Zanzibar
Hudson Henry & Libby Bailey

In January 2008, Libby Bailey and Hudson Henry (Portland-based, Salem- raised conservation photographers) climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. They descended with well worn boots, guidebooks, and cameras, but no fixed itinerary beyond their next night's hotel in Dar es Salaam. Join Libby and Hudson for a slide show of their African Adventure, chronicling their journey from Mt Kilimanjaro's summit to the spice island of Zanzibar; from the jungle-covered volcanoes and resident mountain gorillas of Rwanda to the vast migratory plains of the Serengeti. Their images highlight not only these magical African landscapes, but also the culture and wildlife endemic to this vibrant part of the world.


September, 2009:

Boon-docking on the Beaches and Back-roads of Baja California
Kris and Carolyn Gorsuch

Come experience a "Border to Cape" boon-docking trip down the back roads and beaches of Baja California, by way of 4WD truck camper, kayaks, boots, bikes, dive mask, and Mexican whale-watching boat. If your vision of Baja is Tijuana or Los Cabos, you are in for a surprise. Through the lens of an experienced outdoor photographer, you will see the faces, places, flora and fauna that make Baja the Magic Peninsula. Kris and Carolyn Gorsuch are "Baja Rats" who have traveled its 1000 miles 4 times over the past 20 years. This presentation chronicles their 2 1/2 month adventure which began the morning after Kris retired in December 2008.


October, 2009:

Antarctica, via the Falkland Islands & South Georgia Island
Gene Davis

Gene will illustrate his two trips to the Antarctic Peninsula, the one area of this vast continent most readily accessible to tourists. The pristine, natural beauty of mountains, icebergs, glaciers, and snowfields creates a unique panorama, complemented by diverse animal life, amongst which the millions of three species of penguins form only part of the show.

On his second visit, Gene stopped at the Falkland Islands, a remote outpost of stubbornly British culture in the S. Atlantic, replete with pubs, sheep farmers, relics of the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, and a rich variety of animals. To the SE lies the very different terrain of South Georgia Island, where a few research scientists share the mountainous landscape with the world's largest population of fur seals, together with different species of penguins.


November, 2009:

Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon
Irving & Beth Dayton

Bhutan is a small, medieval kingdom, hidden in the eastern Himalayas. In addition to its breathtaking, natural beauty of sacred mountains, holy lakes, isolated valleys, and lush forests, the country is permeated with Buddhist culture. Bhutan has become open to tourism only in relatively recent times, and then only under controlled conditions. Irving and his daughter Beth visited Bhutan last year in this season; they returned with stunning pictures and interesting stories of this remote, but enticing country.


December, 2009:

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great
Doug & Susan Carney

Doug and Susan retraced the first heady years of Alexander the Great’s momentous journey of conquest, as he left Macedonia in 335 B.C. to march along the eastern Mediterranean as far as Egypt, before reversing course to vanquish the rest of the mighty Persian Empire. Beginning at Pella, Alexander’s birthplace, they visited the exquisitely frescoed tomb of Alexander’s father, Phillip II, at nearby Vergina in Macedonia, and more familiar sites at Troy; Ephesus; Knidos; Perge; Aspendos; Side; Antioch; Alexandria; and the beautiful, remote, Egyptian oasis at Siwa.

Images and stories of these stunning and well-preserved sites give us a chance to step back 2300 years, when a young ruler changed the world.


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Peter Ronai
Mid-Valley Travel Club