Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Up, up and away to the top of the world on Palm Springs Tramway

At Palm Springs Tram, the Coachella Valley spreads out in the far distance, looking from the mountain-top vista. Far below is the city of Palm Springs The tram is a great escape when temperatures in
Palm Springs can climb to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  It's 35-40 degrees cooler at this lovely vista. 

Layers are appropriate for Bruce Keller & Christene "Cookie"
Meyers in late spring. By early May, the park is warming
and you won't need more than a sweater. But you will
experience a temperature change of 35-40 degrees from
Palm Springs below the tram at 2,400 feet above
sea level. You'll climb to over 8,000 feet at the top.



HIGH ABOVE the heat of the desert floor,  magical mountains await with cooling breezes. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway whisks viewers on a breathtaking ride to almost 9,000 feet above sea level.  There, a world of hiking trails, wildflowers, birds, squirrels and sometimes snow awaits.
WHEN IT COMES to heights, I'm a scaredy cat.  But I felt comfortable, even with the gentle pre-announced "bumps" as the tram passes various stations.  I truly enjoy the rotating tram with wonderful views for everyone.  No bad seats and we were totally safe. Its workings are carefully inspected 
ABOVE: click on the triangle for our video.
and the operation is closed for several weeks each year for maintenance and thorough inspection.  It purrs like a kitten and is tended with meticulous care.
Snow at the top of the ride near the
boarding area, in late February.
THE TRAM is a major California tourist attraction, drawing many to stay a day or two in Palm Springs. The area attracts golfers, sun seekers, bird watchers, nature lovers and those just wanting to relax or escape colder climes. As the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world, the tram opened with great fanfare in September 1963 whisking folks from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak. Constructing it in rugged Chino Canyon was an engineering marvel, with helicopters bringing in tons of building material and equipment.
Summer offers views of lovely greenery below.
The tram was the dream of a young electrical engineer named Francis Crocker.
IN 1935, while on a trip to Banning, California, with  newspaper publisher Carl Barkow, Crocker was nearly overcome by the heat. Mopping his brow in the sultry desert warmth, he gazed at the still snow-capped peak of Mount San Jacinto -- 10,834 feet elevation. He longed to “go up there where it’s nice and cool.” And so “Crocker’s Folly,” as it was soon dubbed by one newspaper woman, was born – a tramway up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon for stunning views of Mt. San Jacinto.
 WE BOARDED the tram for our first ride many years ago. It's a  thrilling 10-minute transit over 2.5 miles and 6,000 feet in elevation.
With snow still on the mountains, the tram offers a
chance to play in snow at the top.  Palm Springs 
residents take their kids up with sleds and toys.


Climbing several thousand feet to the top are,
from left: Bruce Keller, Sue & John Speight and
Christene "Cookie" Meyers, excited at the view.

AS WE SOARED above the desert wilderness to the breath-taking landscape of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the stunning scenic vista, while families played in the snow. Then we hiked a well constructed trail from the Mountain Station.

The rotating tram was introduced in the late 1990s,
making it the largest one in the world.

As the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cars inch up the mountain, they slowly rotate for guests to take in a full panoramic view of the rugged canyon below. Once to the top, guests can take it all in from observation decks, check out the natural history museum and two historical documentary theaters. Outside, enjoy more than 50 miles of hiking trails for the true outdoor enthusiasts. Docents are on hand both inside and outside to answer questions. There's a pleasant cafe with grab-and-go snacks for a picnic lunch or early supper. Peaks Restaurant is more formal, with lovely views and a pleasant ambiance offering a more relaxing dining experience. We enjoyed the restaurant with our friends from England.

  • If you're planning to hike on your own, there are five trail options to choose from. They range in length and difficulty. For those looking for a  leisurely nature stroll, our amiable docent recommended the “Long Valley Discovery Trail.” It's less than a mile and clearly marked for an easy loop. We saw many birds and found a clean restroom.  For more experienced hikers, the 11-mile  round trip  hike to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto takes braver hikers to the second highest point in the state.  My eagle-eye husband could see all the way to Catalina Island.
  • Because it is such a spectacular feat of engineering, the tram was dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Be sure to spend time in the "photo hall" where you'll see pictures of the difficult construction and helicopters used for much of the building process. The tram had its inaugural ride in 1963 and in the late 1990s a modern face-lift introduced the rotating tram cars.
    Wildlife displays show the creatures in the
    mountains. Two theaters show interesting films.

  • When planning your tram trip, we advise checking arrival and departure times carefully.  Many people enjoy an afternoon trip up and the evening trip down, beneath the stars with the lights of the city below.  The more formal restaurant is popular for celebrations and special events. And sunsets are spectacular at the top. Don't miss the last tram down, though.  Tickets range from $18 to $31, but if you plan more than a couple visits, the summer pass and annual pass are a bargain with substantial savings. We met several local hikers who love them and come up weekly during the hottest months.   For tickets or more information:
UP NEXT: "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." I'm listening to Patti LuPone sing that memorable song from the Tony winning Broadway musical, "Evita." 
Next week, we visit a fascinating museum in Buenos Aires dedicated to the life, rise to fame and accomplishments of a young actress from the country who became a famous and beloved first lady. Eva Peron's Buenos Aires museum in her memory is our next feature. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more. Please share the link:

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Buenos Aires opera house has world's greatest acoustics, ornate interior


Above, Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Rolando Ossowski pose in casual afternoon touring clothes. 
If they were at the great theater for a night at the opera, they would be in black tie, befitting a world class opera house.

Teatro Colón: grand reminder of city's stately, opulent past




IT'S HOSTED the greats of the world of opera. Its acoustics are the best on the planet.
The majestic Teatro Colon holds a sentimental place in the hearts of the people of Buenos Aires, and opera buffs around the world.
The Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires has breathtaking design,
box seats, a horseshoe shaped house and special seats.

opera house in Argentina's capital city, is considered by many to be the world's grandest opera house not only for its fabulous acoustics but for the spectacle and grandeur of its interior.
A guide offers visitors a unique small-group
tour of the opera house, with its stunning
works of art, all beautifully preserved.
We toured this wondrous place with our friend, Rolando Ossowski, an opera devotee who grew up in Buenos Aires and attended performances.
He arranged a rewarding visit to magnificent place, adding colorful detail to the guide's commentary as we learned of the theater's interesting and complicated history. It dates back more than a century, to a grander time.
Entering this grandiose space, we were in awe of its European-style décor. Our guide walked us up the Italian-marble staircases, past stunning mosaics, beneath French stained glass and under a gleaming grand chandelier where we posed for photos. The theater's roster of performers features dozens of world-class artists, including Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Plácido Domingo, Enrico Caruso, Claudia Muzio, Maria Callas, Regine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson and the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
THE ORIGINAL Teatro Colón operated from 1857 to1888 before being demolished as the city outgrew it. The new theater was designed by Francesco Tamburini with plans for a gala opening in 1892. But misfortune and controversy plagued the project. Tamburini died.  So did the next architect. Rolando added that tastes changed and money ran out. Eventually, the present theater opened on May 25, 1908, with Giuseppe Verdi's "Aïda." It was closed for restoration in 2006, reopening in 2010 to celebrate its 102nd birthday and Argentina's bicentennial.

Our small tour group was in awe during a
delightful tour of one of the world's most
famous and grandest opera houses. 
Meticulous detail at every turn awaits the tourist.

determined to include the opera house in our Buenos Aires visit, even though there is an enormous amount of other things to do and places to visit.  For us -- lifelong music fans -- our time in Argentina’s capital city wouldn't have been complete without the afternoon we spent with Rolando in this historic building.

Stained glass is 
imported from Europe.

Our opera buff friend Rolando concurred with the guide that the theater does indeed have the world's best acoustics. Pavarotti, a perennial favorite here, joked that "the theatre has the greatest defect: its acoustics are perfect," meaning that any small mistake -- a delayed delivery, faux pas with a lyric or,  heaven forbid, a worse mistake -- would be heard by the audience and likely reported by critics.

group, a professional singer surprised and delighted us all, offering a few measures of a familiar aria. Instant applause and tears. Indeed, grand acoustics. But the building's artistic value is of equal importance.
Guided tours are kept small to give
tourists an opportunity to enjoy, ask
questions and soak up the beauty.
Among details we noted: 
*The central chandelier weighs over 100 kilos. 
*Every piece of material for the theater's construction was imported from Europe.
* The auditorium is horseshoe-shaped, has 2,487 seats (slightly more than the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London). It's shape makes for fabulous sound.
* Ticket prices offer "something for everyone," from standing room admission sold from $6 to $70 and more for better seats.
* The stage is 20 meters wide, 15 meters high and 20 meters deep.
* The combination of its perfectly engineered curves, and specially selected interiors create the remarkable acoustics. 
Magnificently positioned on an entire city block,
Teatro Colon is an imposing city landmark.
Of special note are the horse-hair seat cushions, which are said to enhance sound as well. (Who knew?)
More info: Guided tours in English cost 10,000 Argentine pesos (about $15)  daily at 11 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Colón Theater is open every day of the year, except select holidays. Visit from February through December to catch one of the theater's spectacular ballets or operas.

The world's largest rotating tram gives tourists and locals alike a bird's eye
  view of the spectacular wilderness of Chino Canyon and below, Palm Springs
UP NEXT: As summer comes to the Coachella Valley, savvy tourists and locals alike take a trip up the mountain to the Palm Springs Aerial  Tramway. It is the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world and a huge tourist attraction in California. The tram and its construction in rugged terrain are an engineering marvel.  It opened in September 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak and was constructed in the Chino Canyon wilderness, a refuge for birds and wildlife and popular with naturalists. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, performance, family and more. Please share the link:  

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Mate magic: Uruguay's national drink infuses energy, ritual, tradition

Our lovely Uruguayan guide, Paulo, takes a mate break at one of our stops.




The popularity of mate is evident on the streets and
in shop windows, where mugs are sold as souvenirs.

YOU SEE the tell tale thermos everywhere.  In the bus, the taxi, the train, the airplane. Next to it, the mate cup, sometimes with a strainer, often with a straw for communal consumption.

Yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) is the national drink of Uruguay and a popular beverage in other parts of South America.  Most agree that Uruguay has the corner on "mate madness." For in Uruguay, it is as important as water or mother's milk. Mate is deeply engrained in the culture.

This gives a close-up view of the mate leaves
and the cup into which the hot water is poured.
The straw is shared by the drinkers.

YERBE MATE, also known as mate, is an herbal tea, a traditional drink in Latin and South America. It's made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in hot water. While most consumers prefer it hot, Yerba mate can also be served cold with ice and lemon, sometimes honey.
Mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní who live in what is now Paraguay, southeastern Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay.  It was also enjoyed by the Tupí people who lived in neighboring areas.
We found mate mugs and thermoses  
everywhere in Uruguayan shops.
SO FASCINATED were we by the phenomenon of mate that we interviewed tour guides, shop owners and other locals to gain a better understanding of the country's intense love affair with this seemingly addictive drink.
The comments included the following:
"It's part of our heritage. We do it as a social thing, when we meet and old friend or family member."
"It's how we start the day.  We drink it all day, until late afternoon.  Then we taper off because it can keep a person awake."
"It's better than food for me.  I fill my thermos in the morning and drink mate all day while directing tours on the bus. I don't need to eat until evening."
"I need mate to keep me going.  I keep the cup by my bed
A Shutterstock photo of a couple drinking mate.
The ritual can replace cocktail hour in Uruguay.


so all I have to do in the morning is go to the stove and heat the kettle."
Mate by the sea, anyone?
This mate mug and a thermos of hot
water were our tour bus guide's.
IT SEEMED to us that the people we watched over a period of hours were getting a bit "high" on the stuff.  Not slurring their words or acting silly, as people sometimes do under the influence of alcohol.  No, this "buzz" was similar to the coffee buzz I get from too much java.
(My husband says, "You don't need coffee.  You ARE coffee." Perhaps he's right.)
WHATEVER THE reason, mate has a huge following, mostly in Uruguay, but also in more rural parts of Argentina, where it is equally revered and widely used and enjoyed. Statistics show that mate users drink as much as three liters a day -- an amazing amount. 
And while Uruguayans consume more mate per person than in any other country, Argentina is the largest producer of mate.  Uruguayans insist their mate is more pure, and claim they make it into a finer powder, free of stems. 
The competition over mate may be somewhat like the friendly tango war over which country invented it.
A young man fills his mate
cup from the ever present
thermos, at a picnic area.

On a healthy note:  the antioxidants in yerba mate protect against heart disease. Remember that green tea, which is rich in antioxidants, can't even do this, and coffee is often linked to heart disease. This benefit of heart health is unique to yerba mate, fans claim.
Depending on how much you consume, our guide said, "It can feel very trippy. The caffeine in it can really give you a buzz....."

Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and
host Orlando Ossowski in the grand Teatro Colon.
It is a Buenos Aires treasure, considered the
finest in the world for its fabulous acoustics.

Opera at its finest is heard on many of the world's great stages. Opera aficionados insist, however, that one opera house in the world soars above all others for its acoustic excellence. It is Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a national treasure. Remember to explore, learn and live and check out our weekly adventures at

Thursday, April 4, 2024

On the passionate tango trail with magnificent dancers, musicians


Tango began in brothels and tawdry dance halls to become a much admired and very popular
dance form, known for its fabulous dancers and always a core of first-rate musicians accompanying.



These dancers headlined a show at
El Milongon in Montevideo.


Tango excellence depends on quick, precise moves, as at
Michelangelo Legend in Buenos Aires, known for its
fabulous dancers and the city's best musicians.

THIS WEEK, we offer a photo essay on the artful dance of tango.  We took several hundred tango photos during seven recent performances in Argentina, Uruguay and on our ship, Celebrity Solstice. With so many good ones,  we decided "more is more." We hope you'll enjoy.
TANGO IS one of the most influential and famous dances of modern history, originating from the brothels and streets of 18th century Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay. Both countries claim to have invented this favorite dance of European immigrants. Historians believe that tango evolved in the late 19th Century -- around 1880 -- in African-Argentine dance venues,

This tango show was part of an evening celebrating tango's
Golden Age, in Buenos Aires at Tango Porteno. 

expanding to other venues where dancing also took place: bars, eateries and dance halls.
 In Buenos Aires, tango shows the influence of Spain's national dance, flamenco.  In Uruguay it blends African and Cuban influences, is less formal and invites audience participation at show's end. We saw the sensual, speedy milonga and habanera merging with tango in Uruguay. Some considered it a disreputable dance but it survives and is well loved today.
TANGO EVOLVED. By the early 1900s it was socially acceptable.
Tango's moves are fluid and
graceful, a kind of ballet. 
The first documented tango music was published in 1910; by 1915, tango was the craze in fashionable European circles.
Street dancers perform lovely tango for tips in Punta Tombo,
on Argentina's central coast. It's serious business here.

Its popularity was evolving from the working classes to a dance form celebrated throughout the world, known both for its fine dancers and expert musicians. It has influenced the creation 
of many modern styles.
Tango shows often
feature other dances,
evolved from Africa.


Early tango was spirited and lively, but by 1920 the music and lyrics had become intensely melancholy.
Tango steps evolved from early exuberance to smoother but still energetic ballroom steps and tempos.
MANY RECOGNIZE "Le Grand Tango," a spirited piece for cello and piano by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. The work expresses the vibrancy of nuevo tango --new tango -- a melding of modern tango trends with a nod to 18th
Strings, including cello, are
also integral to tango music.
century tango in Buenos Aires and 
The mellow squeeze box, called
the bandoneon, is essential to tango.

Tango has evolved from the favorite dance of  European immigrants, former slaves, working and lower classes of people to an art form beloved by all classes. Its quick rise in popularity enabled this famous dance to expand out of South America, to Europe, North America and the rest of the world. 
Fast, sexy footwork and quick, precise movements
 are tango hallmarks, here at Michelangelo.
One is reminded of Barcelona's flamenco,
because tango is influenced by that dance.
With its rich history, variety of styles, and undisputed appeal, tango remains one of the most popular dances in the world.
Keller and Cookie pose
beside a tango tableau at
 a Montevideo tango show.

So who "invented" tango? The "credit war" continues in good natured fashion. Carlos Gardel (French born in 1890 as Charles Romuald Gardès) lived in both Argentina and Uruguay.  Both countries claim this influential interpreter of their favorite dance form. 

Our tour guide had an authentic pumpkin gourd cup for her mate, and
a thermos of very hot water to refill the cup as she and the driver sipped.
It's okay to share a straw, she said, and they did as we toured.
: Another tradition  -- mostly in  Uruguay -- is the constant consumption of a bitter tea, Yerba mate, also known as mate. The herbal drink is served in a mug, with hot water from an accompanying thermos. While it's a traditional drink in Latin and South America, it is most popular in Uruguay, where it is carried around by nearly everyone in two containers -- the cup with a bag of  the herbal tea ready to mix, and a thermos of hot water to keep the buzz going. The mate is made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in the hot water.  It is left to steep and can be served cold or hot. We were fascinated by the proliferation of the mate cup and thermos on tours, in parks, on streets and in  airports and ferry stations. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, culture, performance, nature, family and more.