Happy holiday of choice to you and yours from GringoPotpourri creator Scott (below right) and head programmer Molly (below left).
One of my annual, late-year blog traditions finds me posting a bit of fond nostalgia about holiday season travel memories from years past. I am snowed in from work as I write this, but my absence merely kicks off a mid-December “stay-cation” that is long overdue; I shopped for holiday airfares to both New York City and Chicago, and while I ultimately had just enough frequent flier miles for a free round-trip ticket, I passed at the last minute, knowing that I would still spend mad money not only seeing the sights but also buying food and drink for whichever friend/friends would end up putting me up for a few days. Okay, had I been able to score “Hamilton” tickets ahead of time I may have pounced – resulting credit card debt be damned – but as things stand currently, return trips to both the Big Apple and the Second City will have to wait.
As for the annual holiday travel posts, I neglected to make such a post in November or December of last year, which seems odd considering I rang in New Year’s Day of that very year in warm, wonderful Nicaragua! It was my first trip to Latin America since moving back to the States from Mexico with my tail between my legs. Likewise, it was my first trip to Nicaragua, and my first time meeting longtime online friend José, whose family hosted me at their seasonal home in Nicaragua’s former capital, León.
León, Nicaragua (2016-17)
The time has come to say goodbye.
It has been over six years since I started this blog. It has been a fun ride, blogging about Mexico City, Tennessee, travel in general, various top ten lists, and life’s strange journey. Posts have run the gamut, from Kilimanjaro climbing adventures to “Where am I?” guessing games to humorous musings on our last presidential election to emotional tell-alls in the weeks leading up to my mom’s passing in 2016.
But the all-things-Scott experience that is GringoPotpourri has run its course, and it seems that I have no more stories to tell. Okay, so that’s not entirely accurate. I have a million stories to tell, but this blog no longer provides the format that I need to tell my stories the way they need to be told.
For today’s post, the penultimate monthly photo feature, I wanted to “go big or go home,” to use a popular saying. My posts in this four-year series have covered such disparate places as Chicago, Iguassu Falls, Yellowstone, the Okavango Delta, China’s Great Wall, and – twice – my beloved Mexico City.
Some of those places merit a spot on my top ten travel wonders of the world list – a list that I started many years ago, as part of a bigger (top 100? top 1000?) project that I never finished. I wasn’t sure what place to feature that truly measured up. As I perused last month’s photo entry – Trier, Germany – it hit me: India’s most entrancing city, visited on the same round-the-world trip that brought me to Trier. I am talking about the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.
I took the day off from work two weeks ago and drove to Cades Cove, a stunning valley in the northwest corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fairness, the day trip wasn’t to get away from work but to cleanse my mind upon the aftermath of what may have been the meanest mid-term political election in U.S. history. ‘Murica.
But America, despite her flaws, is also home to some of the most natural beauty in the world. The wide-open spaces of the west house such wonders as Monument Valley, Yosemite National Park, and the Grand Canyon. Space comes at more of a premium as you cross over the Mississippi and continue east, but beauty isn’t in short supply out here, either. My current state of Tennessee and my neighboring state of North Carolina share hosting duties for what may be the most jaw-dropping sight in the Eastern Time Zone: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Smokies of the title join the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains as the southern half of the Appalachian chain of mountains. If you’ve seen the movie “A Walk in the Woods,” or better yet if you’ve read the book, you’ll recall that the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail passes through the Smokies on its way from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Many of its thru-hikers cite the Smokies as their favorite section of trail.
There are other trails, too – 900 miles of them, in total. (Yes, you read that mileage figure correctly.) A few of those trails will receive a brief mention in later paragraphs, but my recent visit to the park in general – at a time when the fall foliage was perhaps five days past its peak – reminded me that this park, a gem, is, nonetheless, an imperfect place.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is, according to the park’s own website, the most-visited park in the U.S. park system. Human incursion, and the traffic congestion, air pollution, and commercial over-development that follows, has left its footprint on the land. In November, 2016, arson in the Chimney Tops area of the park led to 14 deaths, and the park will long bear the scars of this devastating act. Mother Nature herself plays Russian roulette sometimes, too; flooding, snowfall, and other acts of weather do their own damage, although, lower carbon footprint notwithstanding, there is less that we can do to appease the spiteful weather gods.
I am already six paragraphs in and I can tell you that this will be a long post as I write about the Good, the Bad, and – yes – the Ugly of this beautiful and complicated national park. Spoiler alert: there is much more of the former than of the latter.
It was five years ago when I blogged nostalgic about my hiking memories in the Sycamore Canyon section of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. At the time of that post, the canyon was still smoldering as firefighters got the last sections of the Springs Fire under control.
Five years later and it has happened again.
As I write this, the Woolsey Fire, which began near the Santa Susana Field Lab nuclear research site, is blazing seemingly out of control in and around what I refer to as Greater Malibu Canyon – the Malibu Creek watershed in the area, the only north-south body of water to flow the entire breadth of the mountain range.
Have you ever seen “Tombstone,” that 1993, Kurt Russell-starring depiction of the events that led to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral? The movie, a box office smash, was the first of two films released within six months to introduce us to legendary marshal Wyatt Earp, his loyal brothers, and his sickly, but loyal, pal, Doc Holliday. It wasn’t taken seriously by critics, but I rewatched the western recently, and deem the general critical panning as unfair, especially considering that “Tombstone” is not only less boring but also more historically accurate than the Kevin Costner-starring “Wyatt Earp” that premiered six months later and that offered a different take on the events. And Russell, joined by a strong cast that included Val Kilmer (a scene-stealing Holliday), Sam Elliott, and Bill Paxton, turned out to be a natural for the genre.
After rediscovering “Tombstone” a few weeks ago, I followed up my recent viewing of that with one of “Bone Tomahawk,” a little-seen, 2015 indie that also starred Russell, and that combined the western and horror genres to gruesome and mostly good effect. While neither film was what one would consider high art, I enjoyed both of them more than Russell’s other 2015 western, the Quentin Tarantino-directed “The Hateful Eight.” And while the average film critic might cringe at that statement, I found Tarantino’s overlong oater to have better production values than story values.
As for Tarantino, he fared better in the genre with 2012’s “Django Unchained,” and I can’t help but think what a terrific film that would have been with better discipline and less of the director’s usual tendency for dialogue scenes to overstay their welcome. Do “Tombstone” or “Django Unchained” crack the genre’s top ten list? Not quite, though they might make the top 20. Before I talk about films 11-20, however, I must start with 1-10. Here, then, are my picks for the top ten screen westerns:
Ah, October. Second only to summer in general, October is my favorite month of the year. I am indifferent to pumpkin spice everything, but what I like about October is the fall colors, the end of stink bug season, and the abundance of horror movies and haunted houses. I have posted before about the former but never about the latter.
I suppose this post could have come earlier in the month, as we are just three days away from Halloween-proper as I write this. Still…better late than never.
Below is a selection of three haunted attractions from around the country that I have had the opportunity to visit. Keep reading to learn more…if you dare. Continue reading “Haunted Houses around the U.S.”
Although it has been awhile, I have written before of my love affair with Germany, arguably Europe’s most dynamic country…and certainly the continent’s contemporary economic powerhouse. From the picturesque crags of the Alps in the south to the liberal port cities of Hamburg and Bremen in the north, Deutschland has something on offer for nearly everyone.
The most famous river in Germany, the Rhine, is lined with a series of factory towns that contribute to the country’s robust economy. It is along the southern banks of a different river. the Moselle, that one of my favorite cities resides…just far enough off the beaten touristic path to feel perfectly undiscovered. Trier, the oldest city in Germany, is home to a cluster of Roman ruins, the northernmost collection in mainland Europe.