The Avocado Festival. Peace, Love, and Guacamole!

We love a festival. We really love a festival dedicated to food. So we sniffed around and found the Woodstock of avocados where 3 Days of Peace, Love, and Guacamole took over Carpinteria, California… CONTINUE READING >> 

We love a festival.

We really love a festival dedicated to food.

Through the years we have learned that October is the king of the calendar when it comes to these feasting fiestas. So we sniffed around and found the Woodstock of avocados where 3 Days of Peace, Love, and Guacamole took over Carpinteria, California.

Harvest time has called for a celebration since humans first started planting seeds millennia ago, and while avocados may not have been one of those crops way back when, they certainly are now. This town has taken to seriously celebrating that change.

As the official fruit of the State, the alligator pear, butter fruit, or cheese pear as it is known in various far-flung corners of the globe, takes center stage in the Avocado Exposition tent at the entrance to the grounds, making this the obvious place to begin.

Veronica was feeling the love, so she had a quick kiss for the mascot before we stepped inside to learn almost all anyone could ever want to know about the awesome avocado.

They were introduced to California from Mexico about one hundred and fifty years ago and by the early nineteen hundreds had become hugely popular.

In fact, by 1935 Californians were consuming more than two pounds per person and even though Florida and Hawai’i began growing them earlier, California now produces about 90% of the nation’s crop.

The tent also gave us a chance to get our hands on a giant specimen. Each year the festival hosts the Largest Avocado Contest, and while we didn’t get to hold the four and a half pound winner, that  big boy gets auctioned off at the end of the competition, a three plus pounder weighing in as runner up was impressive enough.

Armed with a new arsenal of avocado information, it was time to hit the midway to taste the star of the show. The headliner appeared in all kinds of interesting culinary inventions.

It’s not every day that we get to see the world’s largest anything, so first stop was the planet’s biggest vat of… holy guacamole that’s one big tub of dip!

Unfortunately, not quite large enough, since by the time we got there it was almost empty.

No problem, we were happy to indulge in something a little more substantial anyway, and the “World Famous Tri-tip & Avocado Sandwiches” certainly looked to fill the bill.

Even though the avocado wasn’t the center piece of the dish, this was one groovy grinder.

Delectable as it was, what is a festival if not a chance to let our hair down and try something we may never see again? So we decided to let our freak flag fly and go for some avocado ice cream.

Pleasantly surprising might be the best way to describe it. The creamy consistency of the avocado worked very much in its favor and the end result was a refreshment that hit the spot on a warm autumn afternoon.

Several other delicacies were on hand, deep fried avocado, avocado brownies, and even an avocado chocolate truffle, but we simply couldn’t try them all.

Our frozen treat had us thinking beach, and Carpinteria has a gorgeous one, so we walked a few blocks from the festival for a look.

On our way back, we stopped off near the shore at the Island Brewing Company. The award-winning craft beer microbrewery caught our attention with a poster proclaiming Avocado Honey Ale.

No way we could pass that up and, like the ice cream, the smooth flavor of the avocado blended splendidly with the bee and brew combination.

In keeping with the festival’s Woodstock-esque theme, music plays a huge part in the festivities.  In fact the fest bill itself as “one of the largest FREE festivals in California with over 75 music acts on FOUR stages. “

As with the food, we couldn’t catch them all but our, and from what we could tell the crowd’s, favorite was the Beatles tribute band Sgt. Pepper.

These mop-top mimics didn’t try to copy the look or imitate the personalities of the fab four, but they were right on with the music.

They had everybody singing along with the classic songs and happily reveling in the rock, or should we say guac-n-roll.

Yes, we should.

Long live Guac-n-Roll!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Beijing – Forbidden No More

For those of us who grew up in the “eat your vegetables, there are starving kids in China” era, visiting Beijing really seemed like a trip into a forbidden city. Back then the city was known… CONTINUE READING >>

To those of us who grew up in the “eat your vegetables, there are starving kids in China” era, visiting Beijing really seemed like a trip into a forbidden city.

Back then the city was known to us a Peking, and pretty much all we knew about it involved ducks.

We never thought of it as a place we might someday see, but after seeing The Great Wall we were willing to believe almost anything was possible.

Forbidden, No More

Beijing is huge, and incredibly crowded, so we opted to join one of the tour groups from our ship, The Volendam. This saved us from wasting any time getting lost, and allowed us to skip the long lines waiting to enter the real Forbidden City.

Walls over twenty-five-feet high surround the so-called city, which was actually an imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty, up until the last emperor abdicated in 1912.

Through twenty-four emperors over five hundred years, this served as the center of power for the vast empire.

We passed through the wall at the Meridian Gate and entered the The Outer Court.

This was the area used for ceremonial purposes, such as weddings and coronations.

Across a large courtyard, and the small stream of the Golden Water River, another gate awaited us.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony…

…opened into another large open area dominated by The Hall of Supreme Harmony the largest wooden structure still standing in China.

We weren’t allowed inside the hall, things like the imperial throne must be protected from people like us sitting on them, but we did get a good look inside. Looks like it was good to be king.

Moving on, we passed through another gate and entered The Inner Court.

This was the most protected area, home to the emperor and his family.

The Emperor, representing Yang and the Heavens, occupied the Palace of Heavenly Purity.

Meanwhile The Empress, being the Yin and the Earth, would stay in the Palace of Earthly Tranquility.

Between the two, the Hall of Union stands where the Yin and Yang meet and produce harmony.

One way we could tell that we were entering increasingly important parts of The Forbidden City was by counting the small statues along the corners of the building roofs.

The more figures, the higher the status of the building. In the Outer Court they had only three, with more added as we passed through each gate.

Finally, The Hall of Supreme Harmony has ten, the most allowed on any building during the imperial rule.

We left the walls through the Gate of Divine Might and then made our way around to Tiananmen Square.

The square takes its name from no longer existent gate, Tiananmen gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace), but is much better known for playing a big part in more modern Chinese history.

Checking out the Chairman

An interesting tidbit we learned from our guide… there is an artist who’s only job is to make sure that the iconic picture of Chairman Mao is always in perfect condition.

Built in 1651, but it wasn’t until three hundred years later that Mao Zedong’s vision of the world’s largest square began to take shape. He oversaw expansions that made room for half a million people.

After his death a mausoleum was placed near the center and the size expanded yet again so that now 600,000 people can gather.

From all we could see Chairman Mao is still celebrated and revered here, but when us clean plate kids became adults a very different picture of the square was burned into our memories.

The images from June 1989 of protesters in the square, especially one young man standing down a tank, are the first thing to come to mind when we hear Tiananmen Square.

Those events are not officially recognized, but our guide was completely open about them and pointed out the spot where they happened, so they do not seem to have been covered up.

A Heavenly Temple

Not far from the square, we stepped back into more ancient history at The Temple of Heaven.

Beginning six hundred years ago, at the same time that The Forbidden City was built, Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties used this site for annual ceremonies to pray for a good harvest.

We walked through a large park to reach the sacred site, where we were offered any manner of trinkets, souvenirs, and knock off watches by enterprising entrepreneurs.

This was not unique to this spot though, it happened every time we got off the bus. Certainly seems as if capitalism is catching on.

But we found the groups along the walkway playing games much more interesting than a fake Rolex.

Spirited bouts involving grand, energetic placement of cards or pips had drawn large crowds of both players and spectators, and made for an entertaining stroll to the temple.

Perhaps the word temple is misleading, there are actually several buildings making up the complex. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests stands out, and above, the rest as the focal point.

Every bit of the impressive circular building is wood, and it was made without any nails. Unfortunately what we see now is a reconstruction, since the original was struck by lightning and burned in 1889.

See more details photos of the Temple of Heaven

It’s Always Nice to Have a Summer Home!

Our final stop, The Summer Palace, lies on the northwest edge of Beijing by Kunming Lake, in what used to be countryside.

As the name implies, this was the imperial getaway from summer in the city. As with the previous temple, palace only describes a part of this place.

What we found was hardly a summer cottage for the emperor, there are nearly three square miles of gardens, statues, and temples surrounding the lake.

All the culmination of centuries of emperors adding to the splendor since the Jin Dynasty, when emperor Wányán Liàng chose the site back in the middle of the twelfth century.

See more photos and info about The Summer Palace

Perhaps the best known of these leaders was one of the last, the controversial Empress Dowager Cixi.

In 1862 she declared herself empress by command of her six year-old son, the Emperor Tongzhi.

When her son died at only eighteen years-old, she appointed her nephew emperor and “retired” to The Summer Palace.

But she was hardly out of the picture, continuing to rule from behind the scenes. During this “retirement” she spent what would now be hundreds of millions of dollars on refurbishing the palace and grounds, nearly bankrupting the Chinese military.

There is little doubt that this led to defeat in the Sino – Japanese war in 1895. The fall of China‘s dynasty system, along with drastic changes, soon followed. When our guide was telling us this story it was hard to determine whether he felt this was a good thing or a bad thing.

Sunset at The Summer Palace of Beijing, China

See more photos and info about The Summer Palace

One thing we could say for sure though, today’s China is a very different place than we ever dreamed of back when we were sitting at the table trying to hide some broccoli in our napkins.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more of our adventures in China!

Delve deeper into Beijing!

Click here for our full live-blog as we traveled with Holland America aboard the ms Volendam – through Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Japan

Ambling Around St. Ives

We couldn’t very well have a walking tour without walking, so we set out on foot from our base of explorations in Carbis Bay toward the quaint English seaside resort town of St. Ives. CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to Country Walkers for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own. See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.

We couldn’t very well have a walking tour without walking, so we set out on foot from our base of explorations in Carbis Bay toward the quaint English seaside resort town of St. Ives.

The name comes from St Ia’s cove, and the legend that is so intertwined with this region in Cornwall.

Many of the historic fourth and fifth century Cornish saints came from Ireland, and the story is that Ia was planning to join some of them on that voyage across the sea, but was left behind. As she prayed for a way to make the journey, a leaf floating up to shore and as she watched it began to grow bigger and bigger. Finally she climbed aboard the leaf and floated to this cove.

As we approached the city, we certainly saw that she had picked an ideal spot. The village is nestled around the little bay with several golden beaches that have led it to be twice named Best UK Seaside Town by the British Travel Awards.

Entering on the high road, for a better view, we came to the first of many encounters we would have with the works of Barbara Hepworth. Her bronze sculpture, Epidauros II, adorns the Malakoff overlooking the harbor, so we stopped for a look at both the art and the panorama.

Heading down to the waterfront, we made the church dedicated to St. Ia our first stop. The church was built during the reign of King Henry V from 1410 and 1434 as a chapel of ease, so parishioners would not have to travel several miles to Lelant for services.

It’s eighty-foot high tower served as a landmark for our finding our way around, and inside we found another Barbara Hepworth sculpture, her 1954 Madonna and Child, Bianco del Mare. The stark statue was her dedication to her son Paul who was killed while flying with the Royal Air Force in 1953.

Leaving Saint Ia’s we made a loop around the town, beginning and ending at the waterfront. Among the myriad of shops, inns, and restaurants along the water, The Sloop Inn stood out. Dating back to 1312, this classic fisherman’s pub lays claim to being one of the oldest inns in Cornwall.

From there we walked along the coast of what the locals refer to as The Island, but it is really a peninsula. The point is crowned by the St Nicholas Chapel, which is thought to predate St. Ia’s, but no records survive giving the history of the old stone church. What is known is that it was often used to keep watch for smugglers and for storage by the War Office over the.

Our circular route took us onward to Porthmeor Beach along the way to the Tate Gallery. As a hub for artists form more than a century, St Ives seemed the perfect location for second of the Tate’s regional galleries. Opening in 1993, now nearly half a million people visit each year.

For us, the building, built on the site of an old gasworks, was nearly as interesting as the artwork within it. And the view out over the beach back toward the chapel was even better.

A few blocks through the narrow streets we stopped off for one more encounter with Barbara Hepworth’s work at her Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The pioneer in modern sculpture lived and worked here from 1949 until she passed away in 1975 and it was always her wish that it would become a museum.

Barbara Hepworth’s workshop.

The small house and garden is managed by the Tate, but has been left very much as it was during her life. She chose most of the positions for the artwork displays and her workshop remains basically untouched.

By the time we completed our leisurely stroll through the grounds we had put a good ten or twelve miles on our feet for the day, so after an ice cream back at the waterfront we opted to take the train back to Cardis Bay.

Cheating? Maybe, but we easily talked ourselves out of that foolish notion.

We felt like we were simply keeping the self in our self-guided tour.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.

See all of our adventures in England.

Fall Festival Favorites

As the October rolls around it is time to roll out the barrels… of fun! There are few functions we find more fantastic than a fabulous fall festival… CONTINUE READING >> 

The view from the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift.

As the October rolls around it is time to roll out the barrels… of fun! There are few functions we find more fantastic than a fabulous fall festival.

Over the years we have frequently found ourselves in the midst of many of these autumnal classics, usually by accidentally stumbling upon them in our travels. Other times because we did our research and used our points.

However we discovered them, here are five of our favorites, plus a perfect bonus celebration… the Pumpkin Fest!

Oktoberfest

Most likely the first thing that jumps to mind when we mention October and festival is the German tradition of beer-based festivities. The Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York certainly is worthy of the name.

Hunter is a ski resort, so for a fantastic view of the fall foliage we started the day with a ride on the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift. The top of the mountain can get a little chilly this time of year high in the Catskills, so we were sure glad that we stuffed an extra layer of warm clothes into our trusty backpacks.

But beyond the scenic setting, the authentic food, music, and dancing had us believing we might be in Bavaria while the keg rolling, krug carrying, and the masskrugstemmen, which means beer-stein holding, contests kept us cracking up while we competed.

Bean Fest!

Speaking of competitions, the Annual Arkansas Bean Fest and Great Championship Outhouse Races could be the best of the bunch. You might say it’s a gas!

The festivities, as with every gathering in Mountain View, begin with live bluegrass and folk music.  No wonder Mountain View is known as “The Folk Music Capital of The World.”

Then the events kick off with the Beanie Weenie Dog Show while the cooks set up their giant pots for the main event. Each cauldron is filled with water and fifty pounds of dry pinto beans to soak, then at the crack of dawn Saturday morning fires are lit under the pots and the cooking commences.

After the beans are served it’s off to the races. These aren’t your average outhouses, oh no, these are high performance porta-potties.

Salmon Fest

For a different kettle of fish, we found a fascinating annual phenomenon In the Seattle suburb of Issaquah. Each autumn thousands of salmon fight their way through the town in Issaquah Creek in an unstoppable trek to the hatchery where they were born. This event spawned the beloved Salmon Fest.

For over forty years, hundreds of thousands of people have come to celebrate the return of the salmon.  Five stages scattered throughout downtown feature music, while we humans satisfy our urges through feeding frenzies at the food vendors.

Sheep & Wool

Another event that has been going strong for more than four decades is the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. Each year the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers’ Association throws this baaaa-sh in October.

Folks come from all across the Hudson Valley to witness sheep shearing,  yarn spinning,  and parades of llamas, alpacas, and cashmere goats.

But for us it was the dogs that stole the show. While the canine frisbee demonstrations were impressive, we couldn’t get enough of the border collies doing what they do best, even better than catching plastic discs, herding.  We couldn’t help but think of the movie Babe.

Crab Fest

While crabs might not be the first thing we think of at this time of year, the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival in Port Angeles had us rethinking that.  On the northern coast of Washington, this is definitely the place to be for any decapod chowing seafood lover. 

We tried our hands at crabbing in the Grab-A-Crab Derby, and were rewarded with the steamed outcome of our catch.  For those who don’t want to fish for their supper there is also “The Famous Crab Feed” where a whole Dungeness Crab is served up with corn, coleslaw, music and beer.

Pumpkins!

Lastly, but certainly not least, for the ultimate October celebration we went to the source, North Central Illinois, and the Annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. Eighty percent of those big orange squash come from this area.

We kicked off the merriment down to the courthouse for the Lions Club Giant Pumpkin weigh-in. Here the giants are measured and judged, as are the thousands of Jack-o’-lanterns  that adorn the  lawn.

Later we joined in the Pie Eating Contest and then ghost stories at the cemetery.  The weekend culminates with the big Pumpkin Festival Parade.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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Sleepless in Salisbury

Through our years of traveling we have tried to come up with all sorts of tricks to outsmart jetlag. In general, they don’t work, but we discovered a town well worth exploring… CONTINUE READING >> 

Through our years of traveling we have tried to come up with all sorts of tricks to outsmart jetlag. Drink lots of water (just have to climb out of our seats to pee mid-flight), take sleeping pills (wake up super groggy and nod off in the customs line, or don’t sleep much the night before (see previous problem).

In general, they don’t work, but we have found that when flying overnight from east to west (such as from the US to Europe) it seems to help if we can force ourselves to stay awake for the first day in an effort to get our bodies on to the local time.

With this in mind we decided to hop on a bus, then a train, straight from London’s Heathrow to the highly historic hamlet of Salisbury on our last trip across the pond. Our intention, and the inspiration for our attempt to fight off the forces of exhaustion, was to use the town as a launching pad for a visit to Stonehenge.

That worked fine, but we also discovered a town well worth exploring in its own right.

The village is dominated by the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be impossible for it not to be, since the church tower sports the tallest spire in the UK.

Building began way back in 1220, with the final touches on the tower being added about one hundred years later. We’ve seen a lot of churches in our wanderings and have to say that this is one of the most impressive we ever laid eyes on. It certainly helped us in our effort to keep them open.

The magnificent cathedral was built to replace the church at Old Sarum, the site of the original settlement and castle that we stopped at on our way back to town from Stonehenge. This hilltop fortress has mostly disintegrated now, but served as a stronghold since 400 BC.

Each new group that came to power used it, as Romans, Saxons, and Normans all took control over the course of some fifteen centuries. Very little is left today, but we could clearly see the foundation of the old church just beyond the moat that protected the castle.

When it was decided to move the city, legend has it that the bishop fired an arrow to mark a spot for the new church. Trouble is he hit a deer.

The wounded animal ran several miles before ultimately dropping on the site of the current cathedral.

It is also possible that the bishop already owned the land and simply donated it, but that’s not nearly as good of a story.

By the time we got back to Salisbury to check out the church it was closed, so we made plans to come back for a look at the inside in the morning.

Still, we had some time to kill if we were going to live up to our jetlag reduction method, so we set out to explore the rest of town as the sun was beginning to fade.

Leaving the cathedral, we passed under the High Street Gate into the center of the old city.

The passage was built early in the fourteenth century with stones taken from Old Sarum.

It is the only remaining of the four that once allowed access within the protective wall that had been constructed around the Cathedral precinct.

Beyond the gate we came to a market cross. These elaborate markers indicate a market square that was authorized by royalty or the bishop to sell certain items.

This one was for poultry, but other crosses once stood in Salisbury that marked spots for buying cheese, livestock, and wool.

Just down the quickly darkening street the tower from St Thomas’ Church caught our sleepy eyes.

This stately church, named for St Thomas Becket, was built for the workers constructing the cathedral back in 1219 and is best known for its intriguing medieval mural depicting heaven and hell on Judgment Day.

By the time we made it to the old clock tower on Fisherton Street signs of daylight were nearly gone, and so was our ability to stay awake.

The tower had once served as a jail, and in our current condition we would have been OK with those accommodations, but luckily our inn, The King’s Head, was right across the bridge.

After some fish and chips washed down with a couple of pints, we were out like lights.

Bright and early the next morning we felt as though our jetlag eradication mission had been accomplished. Our body clocks seemed reasonably synchronized to the time zone we were occupying.

We revisited the sights from the night before with brighter eyes and then noticed something we had missed, quirky pub names. The King’s Head struck us as a little off the wall, but right across the street we saw The Slug & Lettuce, and a bit later the Wig & Quill. Got to love it!

Upon returning to the cathedral we found the inside to be just as impressive as the exterior.

We also discovered an unexpected surprise. The church was hosting a dramatic display of life-sized sculptures called Shadows of the Wanderer.

Created by Ana Maria Pacheco, each darkly engaging form is carved from a single lime tree, giving them a sturdy and solid presence that was mesmerizing for us. As a group they look haunted while striving to rescue a fellow wanderer.

We circled the platform that they were standing on several times trying to take it all in. It is a powerful piece and we were extremely glad that we were lucky enough to see it before the showing ended in July of 2017.

As we explored the rest of the church we noticed that several other works by Ms. Pacheco were also on display. The head of John the Baptist on a platter was by far the most jarring, with the realism being somewhat disturbing.

The cathedral also houses two incredible historic items. We encountered the first almost by accident since it is presented with very little fanfare. Perhaps less than it deserves as the world’s oldest working clock.

Dating back to 1386, it was originally located in a bell tower and has no face since the hours were rung out on the bells.

The tower was demolished in 1792 and the clock moved to another until 1884 when it was stored away. The ancient timepiece was rediscovered in 1929, then restored in 1956, and has taken a licking but keeps on ticking today.

The other, even more impressive historic artifact has a special room to house it just off of the main church. The former chapter house, or meeting room, now holds one of the last four remaining originals of the Magna Carta.

This is considered to be the best-preserved surviving hand written copy of the document that arguably set the standard for all civil liberties to come.

In 1215 the Magna Carta Libertatum, which is Latin for the Great Charter of the Liberties, laid out rules restricting monarchs from abusing their power and granting rights to subjects, including rules on taxation, freedom of the church, and trail by a jury of one’s peers.

The document is so fragile, and valuable, that it can only be seen inside a special protective tent and no photographs are allowed, but we promise, we actually did get to see it, even if we don’t have a selfie to prove it.

On our way out of town we happened to notice a display in a candy shop window that brought us full circle to the giant stone circle that had lured us here.

The confectioner had created a scale model of Stonehenge out of fudge and proudly presented Fudgehenge.

Now that we could take a picture of… and were glad we stayed awake to see!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com