Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012
12/11

Category:
Uncategorized

COMMENTS:
Comments Closed

St. Nicholas Sends a Christmas Card from Turkey

St. Nicholas Sends a XMAS Card From Turkey


by Skip Kaltenheuser


It’s been a tough XMAS to top.  Nine years ago, daughter Katie was eight and on her first international trip with Dad.  Christmas!  On the Turquoise Coast.  In search of the origins of St. Nick.  Perfect.  Turkey hosted the Santa Claus Festival, bringing in kids from a slew of nations, Katie Jane representing the US.  She wasn’t a teenager.  Everything was new and wondrous.  Dad could do no wrong.   Christmas!  Katie’s best ever.  With a baker’s dozen of hip-hopping Santa Claus clones, mostly Muslims but every one a dedicated Santa, kindly shepherding children from all over the globe through archeological museums, Roman amphitheaters, gladiators’ warmup chambers, and to the ancient ruins of the church where St. Nicolas presided, and the ceremony within honoring him.  You didn’t know St. Nick first saddled up in Turkey?  St. Nicholas of Myra, inspiration for Sinterklaas, was a 4th century bishop in the Byzantine Anatolia Mediterranean province of Lycia, now Demre in Turkey.

Generous with gifts to the poor, St. Nicholas once tossed a bag of gold coins through the window of an impoverished father with three daughters who had no dowries, saving the girls from becoming prostitutes.  Prostitutes are among the groups claiming St. Nicholas as a patron saint.  Coincidentally, so are sailors.  As well as pawnbrokers and archers.  And children, of course.
As Turkey strains to help those pouring over the border from the tragedy that’s overtaken Syria, perhaps refugees will also lay claim to the spirit of St. Nicholas, I think he’d be pleased.

Best holidays ever,

Jolly Merry from Natural Traveler


2012
12/11

Category:
Uncategorized

COMMENTS:
Comments Closed

Mont Sutton: A Skiing Surprise Just Across the Border

Mont Sutton: A Skiing Surprise Just Across the Border

Main Chalet, Mont Sutton

By Bill Scheller

Photos Courtesy Mont Sutton

 

I was in the woods.

No, I wasn’t tramping around the forest in my hiking boots.  I had boots on, all right, but they were ski boots, and when a skier says he’s been in the woods, he’s talking about glade skiing.  Glades are the places where there’s more trees than trail, and where what trail there is snakes and swoops in tight arcs through the maples and birches.  You ski single-file in the woods, and you are always making a turn.  The trees see to that.

 

I had never skied the woods before, but I was in one of the best places in the Northeast to get the hang of it.  Mont Sutton stands just across the Quebec border from my home state of Vermont, and I had always wondered whether it offered a skiing experience comparable to what I’ve been used to in the northern Green Mountains.  The mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the bucolic, lake-splashed region closest to my corner of New England, rise individually and with less drama than the rugged cordillera of the Greens, and I’d crossed the border to see if they were tame little hills, or if they could really toss me around.  In Sutton’s glades, and on its heroically complex tangle of trails, I was happily tossed into challenges aplenty.

 

Mireille Simard heads into the woods (Bill Scheller photo)

I was skiing with Mireille Simard, Sutton’s communications director, whose Québecoise charm was matched by an expert’s handling of the slopes. I hadn’t given Mireille any idea, before we boarded one of the resort’s nine chairlifts, of just what my level of expertise was; it’s more fun that way, as long as you are a decent enough skier to begin with, since you follow along and learn that you can do things you hadn’t known you could do.  And so, after a couple of warm-up runs, off we went into the woods.

 

The warm-ups alone were an eye-opener.  There are 60 trails at Sutton, but since those trails braid into no fewer than 204 junctions, the combinations are beyond counting and the variety truly remarkable.  Throw in the fact that 75 percent of the terrain is rated blue (difficult), black diamond (very difficult) or double and triple black diamond (extreme), and you have a mountain that’s never going to bore you.  (For less accomplished skiers, there are 15 trails rated green (easy), and a fine learning area called “Petits Wapitis,” or “Little Elks.”  There are also Mountain Guides, who will show you around, at your own skill level, free of charge.)  “Mont Sutton is a very technical mountain,” Mireille told me as we rode the lift that first morning.  “It’s said that if you can ski Sutton, you’re prepared to ski anywhere in the world.”

 

I certainly felt ready for Zermatt, Whistler, and places in between after that first morning’s runs.  After ascending to the 680-meter (2231- ft.) level on the western shoulder of the mountain via Chairlift II – and pausing to look north into a vast swath of rural Quebec that reached from frozen Lac Brome west almost to the suburbs of Montreal – we took a cruiser named Alouette back to the lift base, then doubled back for a shot down Capucine, another cruiser whose only moderately difficult pitch and contours were made more interesting by this strange winter’s tendency to turn nearly all skiable surfaces into hard white leather, with powder at a premium.  Fast skiing was the order of the day, and Sutton’s imaginatively laid-out trails were perfect for making the most of it.  (Note: Since my trip, Sutton has received ample doses of fresh powder.)

 

Looking north across the Eastern Townships, from the summit of Mont Sutton

Given all those junctions, it’s easy at Sutton to hop from one trail over to another in order to wind up at a lift that can take you to a different part of the mountain.  We rode Lift II back up, then skied over to IV via the Youppe-Youpppe (where do ski areas get those trail names?) and the nest of black diamonds that descend from the mountain’s topmost, 840-meter (2756-ft.) point.  (Actually, Mont Sutton does rise a bit higher, but the very summit is given over to wilderness, part of a respect for the natural environment that extends even to the preservation of as many trees as possible within the skiing terrain.)  Here’s where I first met up with the woods, on a glade trail called Iroqouis.

 

I wouldn’t have expected it, but I was glad to get in amongst the trees after an initial descent down the steep, wind-scoured Miracle trail, the first few feet of which reminded me that I should have had my edges sharpened.  In the glades, the snow was protected and more forgiving, and I soon figured out that skiing the woods is simply a matter of pulling in and out of the only turns you can make, if you don’t want to get personal with a tree.  I watched Mireille, who was skiing ahead of me, and simply did what she did, although with a little less grace.  The trees stayed where they belonged.

 

We finished the morning on a couple of steeps way over on the highest, easternmost portion of the mountain. where the sun was just beginning to warm and soften the surface.  One of these trails, Intrépide, was the first double black diamond I’d skied – in glades and double blacks, I guess I’m now baptized as a Québecois – and it did make me wonder what I’d been nervous about all these years.  (Okay, I’m still nervous about triples.)  Those runs also set us up for lunch, which we enjoyed at the chalet just above the Chairlift IV summit, one of four restaurants at the resort.  The specials of the day were broccoli cheddar soup and meat loaf, made right up there on the mountaintop.  A hearty dinner any other time, after the morning’s exertions it was just a little light lunch, enjoyed near a crackling wood fire and in full view of the surrounding panorama of the Eastern Townships.

Eastern Townships Views from atop Mont Sutton

 

During lunch, Mireille told me the history of the area. Locals had long skied the backcountry on and around the mountain, but it wasn’t until 1960 that a local creamery owner named Harold Boulanger, looking for a way to keep his employees busy in the slow winter months, built the first lifts and established Mont Sutton as a resort.  “Mr. Boulanger was very methodical,” Mireille said.  “He visited ski areas throughout New England, seeing for himself what was most appealing, and put what he learned into practice here at Sutton.”  The result was this challenging yet family-friendly resort that remains to this day in the Boulanger family.  Following a gala 50th anniversary celebration during the 2010-2011 season, Mont Sutton heads into its second half-century with a few new trail additions each year, all of them done in the eco-friendly manner that has always characterized  development on the mountain.

 

We spent the rest of the day on the far western trails that regulars call “the other Sutton,” reaching this secluded terrain via the  longest run, Alleghanys, which slabs along the broad mountain’s gently sloping shoulder and leads to a lovely tangle of trails, two of them – Ricochet and Paisible – looping through glades where we saw not a soul on this sunny weekday afternoon.  “It’s like having our own private mountain,” Mireille remarked as we paused on Paisible, and indeed it was as close as I’ve ever come to that greedy but entirely forgivable sensation.  It was the perfect place for skiing late on a sparkling winter day, as the shadows lengthened among the trees.

 

There’s no kind of tired like the blissfully, comfortably tired you feel a the end of a day of skiing, especially if you’ve pushed yourself a little harder than usual.  After getting out of our boots, we found seats by the fire at Tucker Bar, in Sutton’s base lodge, where I let Mireille select a couple of Eastern Townships wines to wind down with.  The Townships seem to sprout new vineyards every time I visit, and the local reds – made from grape varieties specially bred for cold climates – are now among some of the best in northeastern North America.  Had it been a Friday evening, we could have enjoyed our wine while listening to a local jazz band – Friday is Jazz Night at the Tucker throughout the ski season.

Big Powder in the Glades

 

Mont Sutton is less than a ten-minute drive from the town of Sutton, a Townships gem whose main street bustles with shops, restaurants, a cozy bistro called Le Cafetier serving immense bowls of café au lait, and a fromage-et-charcuterie emporium, Le Rumeur Affamé, where I found a spectacular runny cheese, Epoisse Berthaut, beneath whose orange rind lies something that brie might become if it were to grow up and take on a worldlier attitude.  There’s even a choclatier whose premises include a “museum of chocolate.”  I stayed at Le Pleasant, a downtown B&B housed in a big Victorian mansion.  The decor here tends towards a sleek, un-Victorian minimalism, but there was nothing minimalist about a superb breakfast of eggs Benedict, freshly-made fruit salad, and a feathery croissant.  In the evening, I dined at Auberge des Appalaches, where chef-owner John Kostiuk’s table-d’hote included a lightly grilled slab of house-cured gravlax, squash-filled ravioli in a balsamic reduction, and a maple creme brulée.

 

 

And the next day?  Well, the next day, we did it over again, private mountain and all.

 

 

New for 2012-2013:

 

On Monday, December 17, Mont Sutton celebrates its anniversary with the throwback rate of $5 CDN for an all day ticket.

 

Beginning this season, holders of a 5- or 7-day pass at Mont Sutton can enjoy discounts at a wide selection of area restaurants, boutiques, shops selling local specialty foods and wines, spas, and even the Sherbrooke Nature and Science Museum.

 

From January 23 to 27, skiers over 55 can ski all day at the special rate of $25 (ID with birth date required). “Seniors Week” activities will also include breakfast featuring crossword puzzle competitions (with, of course, a Mont Sutton theme) and, on the 26th and 27th, après-ski jazz and traditional songs at Bar Tucker.

 

Also for seniors: The Sutton Snow School is offering a 50% discount on private lessons for skiers 55 and older.  Check the website below for information and reservations.

 

 

IF YOU GO:

 

Mont Sutton: Find information on ticket prices, trail conditions, special events and activities, and local lodgings at http://www.montsutton.com.  The “Plan Your Stay” page is especially helpful – it allows you to custom-tailor a visit to Sutton according to skiing skill level, and family requirements.

 

Town of Sutton: For dining, lodging, shopping, activities, and general information, visit http://www.infosutton.com

 

Eastern Townships Learn all about this beautiful corner of Québec at http://www.easterntownships.org

Currency note:  As of this writing, the US and Canadian dollars are virtually at par.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012
12/11

Category:
Uncategorized

COMMENTS:
Comments Closed

Franklin County’s Forgotten Florida

 Franklin County’s Forgotten Florida Is A Land That Time Forgot, Then Remembered

Solitary fisherman on St. George Island

 

By Steve Bergsman

Photographs by the author

 

Here’s something you probably didn’t know.

 

 

There’s a county in Florida with no strip malls, grandiose hotels or busted condominium conversions.  In fact, there’s only one fast food restaurant in the whole county, a Burger King, and no one can remember where it’s located. Someone told me there was also a Subway, but I never saw it, nor did a friend of mine, although she did spot two black bears during the 24 hours she was in the county.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — I wandered into Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  But you’d be wrong. The most magical place in Florida is remotely located Franklin County, where the panhandle of the state turns west out of the great peninsula. I use the term remote, because you actually have to get off the interstate to get there. Try the coastal road SR98.   It’ll put you into the heart of Franklin County’s one stretch of civilization, where the Apalachicola River empties into Gulf of Mexico.

About 86% of Franklin County is state or national forest, wildlife refuge or state park. That leaves just 14% of the county in development, and most of that is along the waterfronts, most famously on St. George Island, a 22-mile-long barrier island, often recognized as having the one of the best beaches in America. Even with about 1,500 residences, mostly stilt-built second homes, the fine, white sand beach of St. George Island is never crowded.

Franklin County’s first heyday was in the early 1800s, when the city of Apalachicola was one of three busiest American ports on the Gulf, with cotton coming south from Georgia and shipped to places far and wide. The coming of the railroads sent the port into decline until the post-Civil-War decades brought a booming timber business to the town. That, too, played out.

The path to St. George Island beach

Apalachicola’s last glory days ended with the canned seafood bust in the first part of the 1900s. Then development pretty much came to halt and Apalachicola lived and slowly died with what it had in place: fine Victorian homes, usually boarded up; a turn-of-the-last-century theatre, also boarded up; and an imposing hotel, boarded up as well.

 

Starting about 1980, outsiders wandered into Forgotten Florida, or as it also known, Old Florida, looked at the fine, old structures, realized there was some amazing architecture underneath the dust and neglect, and began to restore them into inns, bed & breakfasts, museums, craft stores, and back again into hotels and theatres.

 

Today, Apalachicola boasts no fast food restaurants, but terrific seafood eateries; no Marriotts, Hiltons or Holiday Inns but wonderful restored places to rest a tired head such as the  Gibson Inn and  Coombs Inn; no CVS or Walgreens, but a funky soda shop with comfy counter service where you can order a tasty chocolate malt; no Regal and Cinemarks, but the restored Dixie Theater that still brings in the crowds with live performances.

 

Apalachicola, population about 2,900, boasts 900 historic buildings, more than you can see in one day, so you might want to stay longer.

Off the coast of Franklin County, an old fishing boat at its final mooring

There is still some industry in Apalachicola –  still seafood, in particular, the oyster trade. Purists will tell you the best eating oysters in America come from the Apalachicola estuary and I certainly would back that up, having eaten my fill at places up and down the coast from Poseys in Crawfordville to fine oyster-celebrant eateries, Up The Creek and Boss Oyster in Apalachicola.

Don’t worry — these aren’t imported oysters. All you have to do is peer out across Apalachicola Bay to see the oysterman at the task, working 12-foot or 16-foot tongs to pull out the finest bivalve mollusks from the beds below.

Although I might be focusing on the mighty oyster, I wouldn’t want to slight any of their tasty neighbors in the bay, the shrimp, crab, sea trout, grouper and a myriad other fish too numerous to mention. In fact, one of the great things visitors do when they come to Franklin County is fish. Even I tried my hand at it. One bright Saturday morning I went out with “Captain” Paul on his fine little boat with five other friends.

We started out from St. George Island, cruised underneath the five-mile causeway attaching the island to the mainland, and then headed east almost as far as Dog Island. Although Apalachicola Bay is vast, the waters are haphazardly shallow and you simply have to know where you’re headed. Captain Paul was looking for the edge of a channel near a sand bar that was peeking above the surface of the water.

Oystermen off the Franklin County coast

We started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff. No, wait that’s Bob Dylan. In Captain Paul’s world we started out on live bait but soon hit the harder shrimp. There were some experienced fisher-folk on the boat that morning, me not being one of them. But, it seemed to be my time. I cast away, felt the tug and was soon pulling in a fish. Everyone else seemed snakebit.

I pulled in about a half dozen variety of bay life, from sea trout and sea bass to tiny grunts and pinfish. That worried Captain Paul. You could take all my fish and string them together – if I hadn’t thrown them back into the water – and you were lucky to tally three feet in length. I was catching small.

“It was a full moon last night,” Captain Paul tells me. “I think the big fish fed during the night.”

The biggest creature pulled up was by a petite young women from Mississippi who had snagged a reef shark and was able to reel it in.

Not all the Apalachicola estuary creatures are under water. One afternoon, I went out with a group of kayakers guided by a young Aussie named Dale. Our objective was a leisurely journey (which was the name of her company, Journeys of St. George Island) around a group of small islands on the bay side of St. George.

 

Inland waterway, Franklin County

This was an easy pull as the bay’s waters were fairly quiescent, a slight chop at the most. About the only danger was water shallow enough to hang up a kayak. The islands were small and uninviting with little beach and rough, native vegetation that stuck and pulled at your bare skin and a few tall trees, which in turn was the habitat of some handsome birds — egrets, blue herons and eagles. It’s always exciting to see eagles and on this simple kayak excursion we counted three.

The biggest barrier island is St.Vincent Island, which is now a wildlife refuge with no human inhabitants, although for thousands of years, the triangular-shaped land had been home to Native American groups. Over the millennia, the tribes had been so long on the island and so plentiful, it’s almost hard to cover 10 yards of beach without stepping on a pottery shard, which by the way you can not take. This is federal and protected land. You can look at the shards, and touch them, but you have to leave them.

Fishing in the waters of Apalachicola Bay

Today, St. Vincent is home to numerous species of animals including a herd of Sambar deer that had been brought to the island from Asia, and red wolves re-introduced to the land.

Back on the mainland, where the Apalachicola River flows into the bay from the north, is all native land once you get past the town of Apalachicola. This is gator territory — and you know that too is a delicacy.

During my evening at the Up The Creek restaurant, chef Brett Gormley offered up a small bowl of gator soup for me to taste. I liked it so much, Chef Gormley smiled and said, “why don’t you come back tomorrow for a gator burger.”

I didn’t make it back, but I will next time I’m in town.

Pelicans at the ready

 

IF YOU GO:

Getting There: The closest major airports are in Tallahassee and Panama City, but you’ll still need to get a car and drive old state road 98.

 

Where to Stay: Great historic inns such as Coombs House Inn (www.coombshouseinn.com) and Gibson Inn (www.gibsoninn.com) in Apalachicola. I stayed in a condominium on St. George Island. To arrange a house or condo rental on the island turn to Collins Vacation Rentals Inc. (www.collinsvacationrentals.com)  and Resort Vacation Properties (www.resortvacationproperties.com).

 

Kayakers at rest on a small island in Apalachicola Bay

Activities: For on the water activities, such as fishing or kayaking, I used Journeys of St. George Island (www.sgislandjourneys.com).

 

 

Editor’s Note:  Steve Bergsman’s new book, The Death of Johnny Ace, has recently been published and is available in print and e-book editions.

Unpopulated St. Vincent Island

Kayaking in Apalachicola Bay