A world view? Don't bank on it

See those two banknotes? The top one is a 10-pound British note, the bottom one a 10-pound Scottish note. They have been legitimate currency around the world since long before the United States was even an idea.

As of the close of business Friday, each of them was worth $19.7920 in U.S. currency. It took me less than 30 seconds to ascertain that rate of exchange. It took me only a little more than that to thoroughly confuse three naive employees of the Pioneer Savings Bank's Brunswick, NY, branch office where I do a lot of business.

Perhaps I should say "did" a lot of business. After the rank ineptitude and dismissive attitude I witnessed, I'm seriously considering taking my business elsewhere.

The situation was simply this. I had five 10-pound notes left over from a recent trip to Scotland. That means I had roughly $100 worth of U.S. money tied up in banknotes I couldn't spend locally. So, I went to a bank to exchange the notes for good ol' Yankee greenbacks.

The first teller literally pulled back her hand when I presented the UK notes, as if I had tossed her a red-hot charcoal briquette.

"I don't know what to do with these," she stammered.

"Simple," I said. "Just look up the current rate of exchange and I'll see if I want to trade the notes today or wait till the rate is a little more in my favor."

Not a bad plan, I thought, since the exchange rate was 2.06 U.S. dollars for each British/Scottish pound last week when I got the notes in the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh -- without the slightest problem, I should add.

"I don't know how," she said, gesturing in a panicky fashion to a young man I took to be an assistant manager of some sort, although throughout my visit he never introduced himself or his title.

"Oh, we can't access that kind of information on these screens," he said, gesturing to the teller's screen and starting to walk away.

"May I suggest you try a computer with Internet access?" I said. "I know you have them here. It only takes a few seconds to get the current exchange rate."

He hemmed and hawed, then pointed in the direction of someone at another window. "She'll have to do this when she's finished with what she's doing," he said rather brusquely, then made a success of retreating to a small office across the lobby. "I have another customer I'm taking care of."

"She" was finished in about three minutes with whatever business she was transacting, then turned to me and asked how she could help.

"I merely want to exchange these five banknotes for U.S. currency. One is a 10-pound British note, and the other four are each 10-pound Scottish notes. But they're all worth the same amount," I explained, wondering why in the world I had to explain something so basic to supposed banking professionals.

She picked up the notes I'd spread on her little teller window ledge and walked to the office where the presumed manager of the moment had scurried. She waited at the doorway for about five minutes till he had completed his business with the other customer. I stood right behind her.

She walked in, put the notes on his desk and said to him, "I don't know what to do with these things. Are they checks, or what?"

"I don't know," he said. "We can't do anything with these anyway."

That was it for me. I walked in the office and, mustering up all the remaining patience I possessed, said, "They're called money. They're not checks, for heaven's sake. Just look at them. All I want is to exchange them back into U.S. currency. And all you have to do is look on the Internet at the currency exchange rate to know how much to give me."

"We can't do that," he said, beginning to sound more miffed than befuddled.

"Why not?" I replied. "This is a bank. You're supposed to, among other things, change money. Any bank in Europe does it for any currency. It's elementary banking."

"Oh, sure," he said with an "Aha!" look. "In Europe. But we're not allowed to do that here. What would we do with the foreign money you gave us?"

"You'd send it to your main office, and they'd exchange it at a favorable rate with a central bank," I said. "You mean to tell me you've never been taught how to make such a basic transaction?"

"Well, we just can't do that," he said, metaphorically -- and perhaps actually, although I couldn't see under his desk -- digging in his heels. "You'll have to go to some other bank."

So, I went home, seething and marveling at just one more example of U.S. insulation from the rest of the real world and wondering if that ever will change.

It's no wonder so many people in other countries think we're such rubes. Many of us are. And Pioneer Savings Bank has a whole cluster of them.
Universal Currency Converter
• Dowd's Guides


Straight up, Pisa's tower stabilized

After a decade of effort, eight centuries of leaning may have been stabilized for the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A team of engineers and workers have been trying to stop the gradually increasing incline since the late 1990s, spending an estimated $40 million in the process.

The lead engineer this week claimed this is the first time in the tower's history that it has stopped moving. It took the excavation of 70 tons of soil from the northern side to get the tower to begin righting itself. In the past seven years, it became 19 inches straighter.

The tower, on which work began in A.D. 1173, was built as the bell tower of a cathedral. The construction continued, with two lengthy interruptions, for about 200 years. It started to lean during its construction despite various attempts to keep it perpendicular to the ground.
The Official Tower Website
Italy Guides: City of Pisa
Restaurants, Cafes in Pisa
Dowd's Guides

Name that city

This architect's rendering of a skyscraper to be built in a major city is set for:

(a) New York
(b) Dubai
(c) Rio de Janiero
(d) London
(e) Singapore
(f) None of the above

It's Warsaw, so the answer is (f).

The drawing was unveiled this week by architect Zaha Hadid for the Lilium Tower, a planned 790-foot residential skyscraper.

It will face the Stalinist-era Palace of Culture right in the heart of downtown Warsaw. It will join the likes of other modern skyscrapers already in place or in progress -- such as The Metropolitan office tower designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2003, and a large residential tower designed by Daniel Libeskind that is now being built.
Official Website of the City of Warsaw
Dining Out in Warsaw
Welcome to Warsaw
Great Buildings Collection
Dowd's Guides

'Must-see' spots for kids

Looking for the best spots to take kids on vacation? The editors at Hotel Insider have come up with a list of their top 10 suggestions.

Say the editors, "For children, vacations are a source of learning and growing while exploring the world around. These small excursions provide a lot of fun and relaxation to the child and also rejuvenate them to start afresh when the vacations are over. There are lots of places where the sights are breathtaking at any age and there is something extra special about seeing them as a child."

The top spot on the list is the Ellis Island Museum (above) in New York Harbor.

Go here to read the rest of the list.
• Travel With Kids (International)
• Travel with Kids (Domestic)
• Dowd's Guides

2 more reasons to visit Antigua

If your vacation plans call for a stop in the Caribbean islands-nation of Antigua & Barbuda, you may want to pick up a true rum rarity while you're there.

Antigua Distillery plans to send a pair of new bottlings of its English Harbour rum to market. The company has announced the release of a 10-year, slightly spicy reserve at $199, and a dark, smoky 25-year-old at $399, aged in ex-whiskey and ex-bourbon casks. There are only 90 bottles of the older rum available.

The premium product is named after the Antiguan naval port that now is home to numerous yachts and crusie liners as well as tourists looking for a little water action. If you're curious what the real English Harbour looks like, here's a great view of the spot that was the main anchorage for British Admiral Nelson's Caribbean fleet in the 18th Century:

April L. Dowd photo

A lemon frock and a cold Wadadli (Antigua first-hand)
Time and lava wait for no man
Dowd's Guides


Headed south to Mexico -- and Canada

William M. Dowd photos & video

Workers from the El Tesoro tequila plant relax before a weekend fiesta begins in Arandas.

So there I was, wondering how the hell I had gotten stuck, tired and thirsty, at 11 o'clock on a damp Saturday night in a stuffy bus jammed into a narrow four-way intersection in Arandas, a small Mexican city in the highlands of Jalisco state.

Oncoming traffic was beginning to stack up. Temperatures rose and tempers flared as the dazed driver tried to extricate the bus from a self-induced wedgie, stuck nose-first into a narrow, vehicle-blocked street and unable to back up because the other roads to the intersection all were dead ends or one-ways pointing in the wrong direction for him.

The abuelas from the street-level apartment the bus had nearly rammed were sticking their heads out the door, little gray-haired women who probably hadn't had such a lively Saturday night in a very long time. A young couple who had been coiled around each other in the shadows right down the street became so intrigued by our predicament they left off their mutual clutchfest to stroll up the street and join with everyone else in shouting good-natured suggestions at the driver.

Finally, it all came down to one way to widen the street. "Let's pick up that Chevy Blazer and put it on the sidewalk," someone said, half in jest but with enough enthusiasm to have the idea immediately accepted by the bus passengers and gawkers.

Quickly, a group of a half-dozen young men grasped the bumper of the vehicle and, with mighty grunts and tugs, got the wheels far enough off the pavement to move it to the sidewalk. A cheer went up from all involved, the bus driver came back to life, everyone got back on the bus, and away we went, barely grazing the second-floor balcony that jutted out over the street and just ahead of the flashing lights of the local police.

This little episode was in marked contrast to a mere two weeks earlier when I was a passenger of a different sort, on a multi-deck yacht crusing between Detroit, MI, and Windsor, Ontario, on the Detroit River just outside where its eastern end joins Lake St. Clair.

Approaching the causeway linking Detroit and Belle Isle. (See video version below.)

There, the yacht skipper knew every inch of his byway, staying toward the American side of the sparkling river as a flotilla of sailboats headed for the lake on the first leg of a weekly competition, then hugging the Canadian side as the racers came back, tacking around a lighthouse point and back into the river on their way to a trophy and hogging the public's attention which several days later would be switched to a NASCAR circuit auto race on nearby Belle Isle.

A gorgeous sight near sunset, accompanied by a pleasant river breeze and an endless supply of cold drinks and canapes and repeated reminders that in this part of the universe, the U.S. is north and Canada is south.

Welcome to both ends of North America, places I keep seeing and re-experiencing along with my own U.S. of A.

While it has long been fashionable in some circles to point to Canada as superior to the U.S and Mexico in terms of medical coverage and public courtesy and Mexico as inferior to both its North American neighbors in virtually every way except the production of tequila, I find that as with so many generalities it's all a matter of informed perspective vs. idle rhetoric.

Canada's lauded national health care is undergoing a series of challenges, battling excruciatingly long waits for hospital care and a severe limit on which doctors you can visit without paying for everything yourself.

Mexico's widespread poverty is more in evidence in the mega-sprawl of Mexico City and its shantytown suburbs as well as in some border communities than in such pleasant states as Jalisco (home to the country's No. 2 city, Guadalajara, as well as Tequila and its producers of the namesake liquor) and Guanajuato (historic center of Mexican independence and a tourist oddity known as the Mummies of Guanajuato.

Courtesywise, it's a tossup between the two countries. What I've come to realize as I travel North America as well as globetrot elsewhere is that despite local customs, styles and languages, truism that it is, people are people. Take them for what you find them to be, not for what someone else thinks they are.

Mexican resort adds new spa
Jalisco becomes a world treasure
Cancun erosion on the move
Cape Breton an island to drive for
Montreal converts wheel place to real place
Dowd's Guides

A taste of the 'New Irish Cuisine'

DUBLIN, Ireland -- One day into a motor tour of Ireland in search of something to overcome the negative stereotypes about Irish food and I was stumped.

I was here in the capital city, sitting with a traveling companion in the bar of the beautifully converted Clontarf Castle, site of one of the epic battles of the ancient Irish warrior king Brian Boru. We were trying to figure out where to find the best place for local food.

The hotel bell captain seemed a logical person to consult.

"Well," he said in all seriousness, "it depends on what sort of local food you're looking for. The best in the city is Italian, Thai or Chinese."

That was several years ago, and it's even truer today unless you're so far off the beaten path you're creating a new one. The difference is that the New Irish Cuisine, as it is capitalized in most Irish publications, also has begun making inroads into popular taste.

Much as I pride myself on my nearly 100 percent Irish heritage, I cringe -- as does my aorta -- when I think of some of the dishes that once were typically representative of Irish cuisine.

Finnan Haddie, a smoked fish and mashed potato dish. Dublin Coddle, featuring flour-coated pork sausage fried in bacon fat then cooked in cider with onions and potatos. Bacon and Egg Pie, which includes a half-dozen eggs and four ounces of lard. Carrageen Pudding, which is primarily dried seaweed and whipped heavy cream. Toad in the Hole, a bacon-wrapped sausage baked in mustard dough and covered in gravy. And endless platters and bowls of potatoes baked, mashed, fried, steamed, boiled, grilled, sauteed and whatever else one could think of to do with them.

But that was then. This is now, and my how things have changed.

Irish restaurants and modern Irish families are relying on such things as chicken, salmon, monkfish, lamb and vegetarian dishes in ever-increasing amounts, although the ubiquitous and versatile potato retains its place of honor in the Irish kitchen.

Dishes tend to be more of the "spa cuisine" variety, with less reliance on heavy creams and fats and more exploitation of the island's abundance of fresh produce. Some of the dishes still look heavy -- like the dishs shown above, cod sorrel (top) and colcannon (bottom) -- but light, alternative ingredients lessen the impact.

Ireland once had plenty of people and no money. Now, thanks to its leadership among European nations in the technological revolution, it has plenty of money and no people. To attract new ones and hold on to the ones it has, developing a modern, appealing cuisine has become an important task.

The island's two national food trade groups, Bord Bia (Irish Food Board) and Trade International Northern Ireland, are helping market Irish products worldwide and soliciting foreign investment in the industry under the promotional title "Ireland: The Food Island."

Tourists are being directed to culinary destination spots throughout the country, especially to the southern port city of Kinsale, a picturesque spot that has emerged as the country's gastronomic capital.

As Muirish Kennedy, Bord Bia's client services director, told Irish Connections magazine, "Ireland has changed drastically. ... The young sector is very much the driving force. The food companies here were started in the last 15 years. It's a young new generation that is much more aggressive, much more aware."

There is rarely a question about the quality of Irish agricultural and livestock products. Willing consumers abroad buy 90 percent of Ireland's annual output. The knock has been on what Irish cooks have done with those products at home.

Until the recent economic upsurge, dining out regularly was a rarity in most parts of Ireland, with fewer than 25 percent of people doing it compared to about 70 percent in the U.S. That mindset, which tends to discourage culinary experimenta tion, was perpetuated in the lives of Irish expatriates around the world. Thus, to many people the likes of Toad in the Hole still exemplifies Irish cuisine.

Couple the experiences younger, adventuresome Irish have had in traveling abroad with their higher wages and more disposable income and the demand for better food becomes even clearer.

The appetite for things Irish can be seen in a number of areas beyond industry trade shows. At the bookstores, for example, you can find titles that put to rest the foods of the famine and poverty years. Instead, we find "Elegant Irish Cooking: Recipes from the World's Foremost Irish Chefs," compiled by the noted Irish master chef Noel C. Cullen, now professor of culinary arts at Boston University. And, "The New Irish Table," a collection of recipes from restaurant and home cooks edited by Margaret M. Johnson who has written on Irish food for such newspapers as the Los Angeles Times and the Irish Echo.

In U.S. tourism, modern Irish food is on display beyond the stereotypical Irish folk festivals. A perfect example is the recent Kinsale, Ireland Festival of Fine Food in Newport, R.I. For some years now it has drawn large crowds anxious to sample the wares of local and visiting Irish chefs.

And, while they don't have the reputations of such world-renowned culinary schools as the Cordon Bleu in France or the Culinary Institute of America, Irish cooking schools are enjoying a growing reputation.

Noted chef Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School, operated at her Ballymaloe House Hotel in County Cork, is perhaps the brightest example. It has been the catalyst for several well-received cookbooks and the work of hundreds of graduates who took advantage of the organic farm and extensive gardens on the property.

The world of New Irish Cuisine is not limited to the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, where tourism is comparatively strong despite the continued violence in an around Belfast, 70 miles from there in County Fermanagh the Belle Isle School of Cookery is a big draw for residential or one-day classes.

It's situated on a wooded island in Lough Erne, a rural lake that is home to 11 islands owned by the same nobleman, the Duke of Abercorn.

To prove some things about Irish eating and drinking habits never change, the school's brochures brag about its proximity to many attractions -- particularly the Old Bushmills Distillery, at age 400 this year the oldest licensed distillery in the world, where the renowned Bushmills whiskey is produced.
On the Road In Search of My Darby Duck
Dowd's Guides

Ian Fleming, Agent 100

May 28 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond.

What does that mean to a traveler, besides trying to emulate 007's preferences for cocktails and wines?

Glad you asked. A year-long program of events is under way to celebrate his life and the impact his superspy creation has had on popular culture around the world.

Fleming, a onetime journalist, introduced the public to James Bond in the early 1950s, inspired by his experiences and those of his colleagues at the British Admiralty during World War II when he was personal assistant to the director of Naval Intelligence, making him privy to many spycraft secrets.

More than 100 million copies of the 14 Bond titles, ranging from the first ("Casino Royale" in 1953) to the last ("The Living Daylights" in 1966).

A few examples of Fleming/Bond-related activities:

• Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2 will help celebrate the Fleming centenary with several Ian Fleming onboard offerings on the Oct. 10-17 crossing. Departing from Southampton, England, the special voyage will include 007-themed activities, an exhibit and a panel of guest authors, speakers, and experts.

• On Oct. 18, "Bond Bound: Ian Fleming and the Art of Cover Design" will open at Bonhams in New York. The exhibition will chart the role of artists and designers in creating and defining the Bond look over the past 50 years. It also will cover all Ian
Fleming's other books, including "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Thrilling Cities," and his collected travel journalism.
Ian Fleming Centenary
Imperial War Museum Exhibition
Dowd's Guides

Hotel chain counters American Airlines bag fee

I've had more luggage sent astray and probably had more delays while flying American Airlines than with any other carrier, foreign or domestic. In fact, I've often thought that if I had kept a log of it, it would show that my luggage has racked up more air miles than I have.

As a result, I try to avoid American when at all possible. And its latest announcement, that it would charge $15 for a checked suitcase -- not an extra piece of luggage, mind you, but the first non-carry-on, solidified my antipathy to the airline.

However, thumbs-up to the Loews Hotel chain. Reacting to American's questionable new charge, the hotelier launched a "Baggage Buy Back" incentive that will reimburse guests for their $15 checked baggage fee.

This not only is smart marketing, it is particularly good news since American's new fee no doubt will be copied by at least some competitors who now charge extra only for a second checked bag. Delta, for example, charged me an extra $25 for one on an international U.K.-to-New York flight last week.

How complicated is the program? Says a Loews spokesperson:

"Arriving guests need only present any airline bag fee receipt at the front desk to receive the rebate, which will be issued in the form of a credit to their bill at checkout. The ... rebate is available at Loews' 18 properties in the U.S. and Canada, beginning June 15 through Labor Day.

"Loews Hotels will offer credit for up to two bags for a maximum of $30 per occupied room per stay."
Avoid luggage checking
What you can carry on or check
Dowd's Guides



William M. Dowd video & photos

LOUISVILLE, KY -- Well, at least these kinetic air-blown sculptures (in video above) were doing that to amuse visitors to the 21c Museum Hotel in the heart of downtown.

21c (for 21st Century) combines support for present-day artists with a first-class hotel and dining establishment that is the forerunner of several more to be constructed. It also is a perfect spot for the visitor not up to a lot of walking, whether due to laziness, preference or disability. That's because there is art everywhere in the 91-room hotel.

The hotel's 9,000-square-foot contemporary art museum, funded and managed by the International Contemporary Art Foundation, and its restaurant/bar Proof On Main make it an ideal spot for a leisurely stop in an otherwise bustling neighborhood.

Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, local investors and contemporary art collectors, conceived and bankrolled the property which opened in April 2006, and they're extending the idea to other locations as well, beginning with a project in Austin, TX. When it opens in 2011, it will contain a luxury hotel, high-end condominiums, a contemporary art museum, a restaurant, and artist lofts.

The original is, as I heard one person describe it, "a hoot." From the moment you enter, you're hit with in-your-face art. A sculptured family gathered around a sculpture dinner table, a film of a sleeping -- albeit restless -- couple is shown on the floor, projected from a ceiling device.

And, speaking of ceilings, if you look up you'll see what appears to be a mountain climber on the ceiling of the lobby.

Original art adorns the walls of each of the comfortable rooms, as well as the public spaces and meeting rooms throughout the complex.

(* - Internet shorthand for "rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off.)


Churchill Downs
Dowd's Guides

Haggis address 101

William M. Dowd photos

Chef David Graham and his staff watch piper Duncan MacGillivray deliver the "Address to a Haggis" before dinner

FEARN, BY TAIN, ROSS-SHIRE, Scotland -- Next year will mark a special promotion called "Homecoming Scotland," with government and tourism entities offering all sorts of inducements for tourists to visit Scotland for golf, distillery tours, sightseeing and so on.

One reason for the timing is that '09 will mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the iconic poet Robert Burns. Among the many writings by the author of the poem "Auld Land Syne" (and "Comin Thro the Rye," "My Heart's In the Highlands, "To a Mouse," etc.) is the venerable "Address to a Haggis," delivered before the formal serving of the peculiar Scottish dish that consists of a variety of oatmeals, vegetables and innards cooked into a stewlike mass inside a sheep's stomach.

I was part of a group of visiting journalists treated at The Glenmorangie House (shown below) to the dish, as well as the fun and ceremony surrounding its serving, sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and the Scottish Whisky Association.

Here's the Burns epic, in modern English. For a look at it in the original Scottish dialect, go here.

Fair is your honest happy face
Great chieftain of the pudding race
Above them all you take your place
Stomach, tripe or guts
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm

The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill
Your skewer would help to repair a mill
In time of need
While through your pores the juices emerge
Like amber beads

His knife having seen hard labour wipes
And cuts you up with great skill
Digging into your gushing insides bright
Like any ditch
And then oh what a glorious sight
Warm steaming, rich

Then spoon for spoon
They stretch and strive
Devil take the last man, on they drive
Until all their well swollen bellies
Are bent like drums
Then, the old gent most likely to rift (burp)
Be thanked, mumbles

Is there that over his French Ragout
Or olio that would sicken a pig
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust
Looks down with a sneering scornful opinion
On such a dinner

Poor devil, see him over his trash
As week as a withered rush (reed)
His spindle-shank a good whiplash
His clenched fist.the size of a nut.
Through a bloody flood and battle field to dash
Oh how unfit

But take note of the strong haggis fed Scot
The trembling earth resounds his tread
Clasped in his large fist a blade
He'll make it whistle
And legs and arms and heads he will cut off
Like the tops of thistles

You powers who make mankind your care
And dish them out their meals
Old Scotland wants no watery food
That splashes in dishes
But if you wish her grateful prayer
Give her a haggis!


Glenmorangie House
Burns Country
Scottish recipes
Dowd's Guides

Champlain: It really is a great lake

Pedestrian-friendly Burlington.

BURLINGTON, VT -- There was a brief moment there when a move was afoot to add Lake Champlain to the assemblage known as the Great Lakes.

Technically, Champlain came under the descriptive umbrella of "Great Lakes'' for some federal technical water management programs in 1998. However, try to convince anyone who learned the mnemonic device H•O•M•E•S for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior that they have to work a "C" into it.

And never mind that the watery gem shared mostly by New York and Vermont is a mere drop in the bucket sizewise when its 435 square miles - sixth largest in the U.S. - are compared to the largest of the original Great Lakes (Superior at 31,700). Or even the smallest (Ontario at 7,340).

While it may not be a true Great lake, it is a great lake, smack in the middle of a great place for a getaway. The best approach from the New York side is from the Albany/Saratoga Springs area known as the Capital Region, an excellent daytrip that can be extended into a leisurely overnighter runs up the I-87 Northway to the lake, east across by one of three ferries to Vermont, a visit to the Burlington area, then back down toward Bennington and back home. From Boston, it's pretty much just a reverse route

That doesn't cover all of Lake Champlain. After all, it is 121 miles long and extends several miles north into Canada. It does, however, cover the most heavily populated portion and the most spectacular views of the Adirondacks on the west side and the Green Mountains on the east.

It even has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster folk fable. This one is known as "Champ," and it has its own cult following as well as some scientific interest. here is just one "fan site" devoted to the legend.


Outdoors activities -- As might be expected, they are myriad on both sides of the lake, from hiking to boating to camping to biking to climbing and anything else one might think of. One of the most comprehensive Web sites for the New York side is from the state Department of Environmental Conservation For the Vermont side, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce site has a section with helpful links.

• Ferry service -- (802) 864-9804: The rides themselves are attractions. They go between Essex, NY and Charlotte, VT, (20 minute ride), the run closest to the Capital Region; Port Kent, NY, and Burlington, VT (60-minute ride), and Plattsburgh and Grand Isle, VT. (12-minute ride). The season begins about a week before Memorial Day.

• Fort Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga Village, 585-2821 -- The 1775 stone fort was built by the French, then taken over by the British. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys from Vermont captured it during the Revolution. The complex of 40 restored buildings shows rural life in the 1790-1840 era. Open from May 10 through mid-October.

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT, (802) 863-1648 -- This brick-paved area made for strolling and people-watching is the activity heart of the state's largest city (but at a population of 39,000 still quite small), with the Burlington Town Center mall, home to more than 75 specialty shops and 15 national retailers. It also is the site of festivals and street entertainment year-round and such summer events as the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (May 30-June 8), the annual Marketplace Sidewalk Sale in July and the Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Latino Festival and Burlington Craft Fair in August.

College Cluster, Burlington, VT -- Burlington is home to the University of Vermont, Champlain College, Burlington College and the Community College of Vermont, plus St. Michael's is in nearby Colchester. That means lots of small cafes, bookstores and on-campus events.

Champlain Valley Exposition, 105 Pearl St., Essex Junction, VT, (802) 878-5545 -- The state's largest fair is held over 10 days in late August, but there also are events year-round.

Middlebury, VT -- Vermont still has numerous downtown-centric communities that have avoided the widespread move to suburban malls. This is one such, with a classic New England Main Street with numerous well-maintained late-18th and early-19th-century buildings. It also has the Vermont Folklife Center (88 Main St., 802-388-4964 or http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org) Line is overdrawn with has numerous exhibits and research programs aimed at protecting the state's cultural traditions, and the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History (1 Park St., 802-388-2117), the oldest chartered community history museum in the nation.


• Upper Deck Restaurant, Willsboro Bay Marina, 20 Klein Drive, Willsboro, NY, (518) 962-8271 -- This seasonal spot offers an international menu and a great waterview of the bay that juts off Lake Champlain.

Ri-Ra The Irish Pub, 123 Church St., Burlington, VT, (802) 860-9401 -- An upscale spot with both inspiration and decorating materials brought from Dublin. Traditional Irish and modern American cuisine, weekend entertainment.

• Vermont Pub & Brewery, 144 College St., Burlington, VT, (802) 865-0500 -- A brewpub in a Vermont college town. Talk about quintessential. A menu of handcrafted beers and ciders, plus all the usual pub food.

Dobra Tea House, 80 Church St., Burlington, VT, (802) 951-2424 -- The first Dobra opened in Prague in 1993. Ten years later, this Bohemian-style tea room followed. It offers imported teas from around the world, plus light fare.

• Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT, (800) 622-4000 -- This resort complex, part of the Historic Hotels of America, has a range of dining options: from upscale in the main dining room to lunch in the casual Red Mill -- a renovated sawmill, al fresco on the Homestead lawn, or on the North Dock.


A looong list of possibilities, mostly on the Vermont side. Get the most up-to-date data online at Where to Stay for Vermont and for New York.


Heading north: 137 miles from downtown Albany to Willsboro to get the Essex ferry to Vermont. Heading south: 130.5 miles from Burlington to Bennington. Drive time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, to Willsboro; 2 hours, 56 minutes, from Burlington to Bennington, 40 minutes from Bennington to Albany.
Dowd's Guides


'Liquid deli' products a Scottish hit

William M. Dowd photos

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- If you're ever in Edinburgh or Glasgow and looking for something truly different, may I suggest Demijohn or, at least, its products.

Demijohn is billed as the first "liquid deli" in the country, having opened the original here in 2004, and subsequently expanding to Glasgow. The place is inspired by Italian cantinas and Euro-style markets and offers a lengthy array of liqueurs, spirits, oils, vinegars and whisky either on-premises, by mail order or online.

I ran into their products during a visit to Iglu, a nearby Edinburgh spot that bills itself as an "ethical eatery." It is essentially a gastropub that pays attention to sustainable and local food and drink. It's doing so well after less than two years in existence that it won the "Scottish Gastropub of the Year" for 2006-07.

Among the Demijohn-supplied liquers available at Iglu from special glass wall containers (see above) are:

• Damson Gin 22%, made from Scottish Damson plums, to be ingested with a bit of ice as an aperitif or an after-dinner drink.

• Solas Blaeberry Liqueur 19%, and, no, that is not a typographical error. It is made with aged malt whisky, honey and real fruit.

• Lyme Bay Chocolate Orange Cream Liqueur 17% , made from a subtle blend of dark chocolate, real Devonshire cream, apple brandy and orange zest.

Demijohn recently came out with a pair of seasonal liqueurs to add to its longer list, including organic rhubarb and organic cucumber liqueurs.


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Low tide in the Highlands

Top photo by William M. Dowd

ABERDEENSHIRE, Scotland -- Here I am, traveling in the Highlands of Scotland, where life seems to move at a snail’s pace, history is apparent all around you, and the place looks rock solid.

Literally, since nearly every structure is made of granite blocks or stone and their longevity morphs from one century to the next with little apparent difference.

Yet all the newspapers are dwelling heavily on only three topics:

1. How silly British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is being made to look because of a tell-all book from ex-PM Tony Blair’s outspoken wife, Cherie, who (shock and awe!) doesn't care for Gordon.

2. How rocky the financial situation is “north of the border,” which means Scotland itself where housing prices are skyrocketing, inflation is rising at a faster rate (3.5%) than anywhere else in the United Kingdom (which includes England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and unemployment is on the rise.

3. How bad the alcohol abuse is getting, a particular problem in a country where more than 40,000 people out of a total population of barely 5 million rely on the whisky industry for jobs — and that is not including people in the retail business of selling the stuff. (This problem really interested me, since I am here as a guest of both the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., or DISCUS, and the Scotch Whisky Association, both of which take great pains to push a "drink responsibly" campaign.)

Some of the solutions that are being suggested from various corners are as hysterical as the incessant reporting on them, except for the Gordon Brown thing which is great theater for the masses who love seeing the balloons of the high and mighty pricked sharply.

For the alcohol problem, the suggestions range from raising the drinking age beyond 21 to raising prices (even though Scotch whisky costs much more in Scotland than it does abroad, due to the regressive taxing policies) or even making public intoxication a higher crime.

As to the financial situation, the ideas range from strict price controls to more restrictive bank loan policies (they have the same problem with sub-prime mortgages we in the U.S. have), although no one wants to officially put forth a comprehensive plan for fear of commiting political suicide.

Oh, there has been one other item in the news. The idea of Scottish independence.

Of course, that one has been rattling around since the 18th Century, when the anti-English rebellion in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie fizzled out after a hideous defeat at Culloden on April 16, 1746. A battle that lasted less than an hour killed 1,500 Highlanders vs. a mere 50 or so English regulars. It effectively broke the back of the Jacobite movement, leading to the banning of such ethnic staples as the playing of the bagpipes and the wearing of the kilts and tartans.

Now there are calls from Sean Connery from the comfort of his homes abroad and other nationalists still residing in Scotland to push forward with a vote on splitting off from the U.K.

As an outsider, I have perhaps a more measured reaction to the idea than someone who is emotionally invested. I think it’s ridiculous. Given all the hoo-haw of financial woes and a bleak outlook for years to come, the last thing that would be needed is trying to establish a truly independent country.

Evidence? Take Scotland’s currency. The Scottish pound is issued by the government, but it also is issued by two different banks. Money from all three sources can be spent anywhere in Scotland, but only money issued by the government is worth anything outside the country's borders.

If they can’t get their act together on a simplified, unified currency recognized worldwide, imagine the problems of being a soveriegn nation with financial woes trying to be trusted financially in a global economy.

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Caymans debuts an 'underwater' rum

Most people think "Caribbean" when they think of rum. But the Cayman Islands never could lay claim to its own such spirit.

That has changed with the debut of Seven Fathoms Premium Rum, the first commercially–made distilled rum made entirely in the Caymans.

Walker Romanica, a co-founder of Cayman Islands Distilleries with Nelson Dilbert, said the rum is made using an underwater aging process thought to be the first ever used with a spirit. After distillation, the rum is put into oak barrels, taken out to sea and dropped to a depth of 42 feet, or seven fathoms.

“By aging our spirits underwater, we are able to take advantage of the kinetic properties of the ocean tides and currents to create a very unique flavour profile and a remarkably smooth rum,” Romanica said at a press conference.

Dilbert brushed off any suggestion the aging process is a gimmick.

"It works very well with marketing, but there is actually science to it,” he told the Cay Compass newspaper. “The product is always moving and is also subjected to sound waves, which is excellent for the aging process. There is a Japanese company doing it with sake and the French are doing it with wine.”

As a result of the unique kinetic maturation process, he said, Seven Fathoms rum takes on characteristics of rums aged much longer using traditional methods. He added that the idea that motion could help in the aging process of rum goes back centuries. The rum produced in the Caribbean in earlier days was found to be quite harsh but mellowed while being transported across the Atlantic to England.

The 80-proof small-batch rum will be made in limited supply with limited distribution, mostly in the Caymans.

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