All posts by Gina Kingsley

A Magic Carpet Ride

       A Magic Carpet Ride is a travel book about family travels and personal journeys.

“It was hard to comprehend how blue the ocean was on these Rodos beaches. We parked our rental car on the side of a village road to take photos. Outside of a restaurant called Panorama Cafe, we stood there in disbelief to absorb the panoramic view. It was at that moment that I first realized that the ocean water in Greece has layers to its hues. Closest to the shore, the water is clear, then green, then Mediterranean blue, then navy blue and then, miraculously, purple. Together they make that Grecian blue but if you look closely, it’s layers of blue except on the island of Lefkada, where it is solidly the most turquoise blue the eye can absorb. It was opaque, thick, sensuous and shockingly turquoise blue.

On the boat cruises through the Ionian islets off Lefkada, all I can remember feeling is ecstasy of physical feelings of happiness and peace. The body was totally consumed with the feeling of happiness, separate and together with the mind and soul. Every fiber of my being was out there in that sea of turquoise, lapping up every breeze, every wave crashing, every beam and ray of sun shining on us.”

Click here to order book on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/069271393X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp 

Click on link to order.  You can read the first chapter as well the back cover. Profits go to various charities.

from internet
Rhodos from internet
from internet

In writing this book, I learned even more historic facts about the various countries we visited. There are recommended hotels, restaurants, excursions and recipes  included as well as cultural nuances and historic factoids.…for those who are interested! There’s also a lesson plan for children illustrating how to implement itinerary building collaborations.

Click here to order the book : https://www.amazon.com/dp/069271393X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

The book is available in the following Tulsa stores:

  • Ribbons
  • Dwelling Spaces
  • Tulsa Artery
  • Decopolis

© Gina Michalopulos Kingsley

follow us on Instagram. gypsyfamilytravel

With every destination on this blog (international or domestic), you can apply this lesson plan to build trip itineraries with your family. The menu tab on the far left “About Gypsy Family Travel” has all the educational blogs and the far right tab “Quizzes” has both quizzes and answer keys.

Travel Lesson Plan: Integrate the Concepts

 

Silversmiths with a Gypsy Spirit

Jewelry never ceases to intrigue me. It’s like a magnet. I am always drawn to it because I feel a certain energy from each piece I wear. Jewelry inspired by travel is even more compelling. Handmade, artisan jewelry is my favorite kind and I met some local jewelry artisans who create some gorgeous pieces which really represent the authenticity and spirit behind them. When I discovered the gypsy connection to the artists, I had to interview them for gypsyfamilytravel! It turns out we had in common a love for world travel and cultures.

from their website

Your website is amazing….what got you started in this craft and industry?

Really, it started when I was living down in Mexico. I went down there to travel, learn Spanish and see the world a little bit. I ended up meeting some artisans who were making jewelry  selling in the open marketplace and started making jewelry with them. For me, at that time, It was more like “how can I fund my travels, stay here longer and do something interesting?” I’d sell in the marketplace, trade for tamales and live very “gypsy.” Then, I fell in love with it. When I came back to the states, my friend had a coffee shop and I asked her if I could sell my jewelry in there. It did really well so I kept adding  to other shops, doing shows, eventually galleries and  it has organically grown. Two years ago, we decided to go all in and make it our full time gig.

I’ve seen your jewelry at Shades of Brown. Is that the coffee shop you’re talking about? 

Yes.

from website; photo credit: Seth Dillon Dazey

So you’re bilingual?

I learned Spanish there, in Mexico.  I went by myself first to a tiny little town called Castro….with dirt streets and noone there who speaks English. I just made myself learn….

from website, photo credit: Seth Dillon Dazey

What inspired your tattoo? (she has a large tattoo on her arm)

I love birds. I thought maybe that I was going to be an ornithologist so I did different internships in Portugal and at the Sutton Avian Research Center and decided I didn’t really want to be a scientist but I still love birds. A quote from their website: “I traveled through Switzerland and Italy on my way to Portugal where I studied migratory birds in the small coastal town of Mexilhoeira Grande with scientists from all over Europe. After returning to Oklahoma, I began working at the Sutton Avian Research Center in Bartlesville. It was a thrill to work hands on with all kinds of birds; ravens, flamingoes and bald eagles, but much like the birds I was caring for, I had a drive to search out new horizons and soon traveled south. In Mexico, I made friends with artisans who sold their beautiful jewelry in the streets and marketplaces. They shared techniques, teaching me skills I would use to create my own jewelry. It was invigorating and inspiring to sit with seasoned artists in the open air markets of Mexico and sell my first pieces of jewelry. I continued my way south to Guatemala to volunteer with an organization called Maya Pedal, where I first learned the art of welding. Visiting the beautiful Lago de Atitlan, I met amazing South American silversmiths selling jewelry. A flame ignited within me and when I eventually returned home to Tulsa, I enrolled in a silversmithing class and I’ve never been without a torch and some metal since. “

from their website; photo credit: Seth Dillon Dazey

Do you ever incorporate them into your jewelry?

I do! I actually have a show at the TAC Gallery and it’s all bird pieces. (Brady Street between Tavern and the Record Shop.)

Are you at all of the First Friday Art Crawls?

Yes.

I’m familiar with what a silversmith is….are you one?

Yes, I am. That’s the technical term. I also like to say I’m a metalsmith because I do like to work with other metals. (copper, etc)  And I do sculptural pieces as well like yard pieces done in steel or copper. Silver is my main medium but I like bringing other tones into it.

Tulsa has such a great community of local artists! It seems like wherever you go, they support local art, lately. The domino effect of that is so exciting!

Yeah, it really is.

Do you have a long term goal or have you reached it?

I definitely have a long term goal. The goal for me is to be able to travel with my kids and spend a few months outside of Oklahoma but come back here. Ideally, I’d be making custom one of a kind pieces of jewelry for people.

What’s the most rustic trip you ever did…either for jewelry or in general?

We usually try to incorporate a show with some kind of other thing ….so we went out to Flagstaff and did an art show there and did some volunteer work up on the Navajo reservation for a few weeks. Out there, there was no running water, no electricity, and we were helping a Navajo elderly couple who didn’t speak English. (only Navajo) We helped herd their sheep with them, haul water, cook food….they’re in their eighties now.

from internet
from their website

Do you still keep in touch?

Yes, we do! We try to go out there every year.

Do you have to keep in touch by being there since you can’t communicate in the same language?

I send them letters and their grandkids can translate when they visit them on the weekends. We have an awesome relationship with them. It’s very sweet.

Is your studio a store that is open for customers to come to and shop? What is your price range?

For two months, we’ve had open hours. Tues-Friday, 12-4 pm. but I’m here all the time so I tell people to just give me a call.  My price range is $50 to $1,000.

from their website, photo credit: Seth Dillon Dazey

Do you have a favorite city you’ve visited?

There’s a little island in Mexico called Holbox.…it’s not very well known but you can go on boat tours to see whales. It’s very laid back, not touristy. The tourists who go there are Mexican. I loved it there.

How are you tied into Mexico? Do you have a connection?

I just figured they’re our neighbor and I should be friendly with them and learn to speak Spanish because there’s many Hispanics here.

Will your kids learn to speak Spanish?

Yes, we speak to them some in Spanish and it’s our goal to return there with them or a Latin American country.

Was your husband, Seth,  a silversmith when you met?

No. He’s always been an artist making some form of art. I traveled alone in Mexico, so did he and then we traveled there together for awhile. At that time, he was playing music and I was making jewelry. He got little gigs to play music and I’d go sell jewelry. Eventually, when this became more of our staple job, he ended up coming to make jewelry and got really into it. (On their website, it says, “Seth’s art is focused on connecting our designed environment to the inspiration of Nature.”)

from their website

Is it ever hard for you all to “turn off” your craft? Are you able to shut down or are you so engrossed in it?

It’s pretty hard to shut down. Sometimes, it affects me a lot how much I’m thinking about it….how much energy I’m giving it, even just lying in bed at night. With kids, it’s been good to have a separate studio because for a long time, we studioed out of our home. When our kids were younger, it was good because of nursing or them needing me a lot more. But once my daughter was two years old, I needed more of a separation. When you’re making a living from your art, you’re wearing more of an entrepreneurial hat and your creative hat. That’s been a struggle to find that balance.

Do you have an entrepreneurial mentor?

I do have one but I’m looking for someone with different perspective…..

Have you been inspired by any particular artists or mostly the Mexican culture?

Mostly the Mexican culture. I’m definitely inspired by female artists–not necessarily female metalsmiths but any artists out there making their art because they are out there doing what they love.

Click on this video from their website to learn more about their family and business…..

I was able to watch some of her jewelry making process with these authentic silversmithing tools which were fascinating. I was so enriched to discover the inspiration that goes into the artistry, the natural connection and the gypsy spirit which continues to inspire this collection. It makes wearing my pieces from them even more meaningful. The fact that they are so unique and have custom pieces make them perfect for gifts!

https://www.dillonrose.net/gallery-galapagos/

Available at the following Tulsa stores:

  • Dillon Rose studio 1229 Charles Page Blvd.
  • Philbrook Museum Gift Shop 2727 S. Rockford
  • This Land 1208 S. Peoria
  • Spexton Boxyard 502 E. 3rd Street
  • First Friday Art Crawls

 

Our favorite Italian cucinas

Italian food seems to always be our go-to on date night. Well, only because we mostly cook Greek food at home. Especially in our beloved Kansas City, we frequent the delectable options of Italian bistros. We have our favorites for sure but we are always open to suggestions. Just think about all the ways to name an Italian restaurant for a minute—-cafes, osterias, trattorias, ristorante, enotecas, fattorias, cucinas, bistro…

Cucina la Ragazza in Westport of Kansas City

Before you think, “ummm….Italian food is so rich….” just remember that smaller portions of rich foods can be enjoyed, too. If you have ever watched Extra-Virgin or Giada on Food Network, you’ll see that trim Italians have mastered the euphoria of culinary enjoyment with healthy living. They savor the flavors while they create their masterpieces but they don’t have to necessarily over- indulge. I recently learned (by watching Extra Virgin) the origin of bruschetta (pronounced /broosketa/. Gabriele, the chef, explained that in the old days when people were too poor to own plates, they used stale bread as a plate or method of bringing their food up to their mouths with brushcetta! The toppings on the bread made this “meal” complete. Now that I know that, I love bruschetta even more. (Just ask my good friend Diane! She knows all about my love for bruschetta.)

Foods based in healthy olive oil, veggies and moderation of good cheese topped off with antioxidant rich vino embodies the expression “All Things in Moderation” or as the Greeks say, “Pan Metron Ariston.” It’s like a word-palindrome—all things in moderation; moderation in all things.”

There are various ways that Italian dining establishments are called. For example, …

  • cafe: an informal establishment
  • osteria: a pub where the focus is on wine, pasta, grilled meat or fish
  • trattoria: family owned establishment
  • ristorante: an Italian restaurant
  • enoteca: a casual wine bar
  • fattorias: family owned but produces its own products
  • bistro: a small tavern, bar or restaurant

Let’s talk VINO! You all may know by now that my favorites are Red Zinfandels and Malbecs. Earthquake and Saldo reign supreme for Red Zins and Pascual Toso wins the prize for Malbecs. 

Let’s talk cheese!!! Burrata, specifically. You’ve probably had it but do you know what it is? Burrata is a pouch of mozzarella with a cream inside. It’s not mozzarella itself. Kind of complicated. It’s curd and cream. I’ve bought burrata before at the grocery store and attempted to make a salad with it—much like the one I love at Flemings. It is stringy and loose. It was a complicated mess and much easier to just order at a restaurant. But, it’s good to attempt things at least. Add some arugula, cherry tomatoes and crostinis and you have an authentic Italian ensalada.

Fried artichokes. Let’s celebrate the fried artichokes of Italian cuisine. Eggs, milk, bread crumbs, parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon, mayonnaise or mustard….find a recipe you like. This appetizer will whet your whistle every time. My favorite fried artichokes were at Il Piato in Tulsa. (no longer open)

Grappa and Limoncello. Lastly, let’s talk liquor. Grappa and limoncello. What Ouzo is to the Greeks, Grappa is to the Italians. Limoncello is a homemade lemon liquor. You could say it’s like the Italian’s classy version of moonshine. I’ve enjoyed some grappa at Lidia’s in KC– a rustic farmhouse atmosphere.

Cappucino or Espresso. After all the indulging or moderate-tasting of this sumptuous cuisine, many of us like to finish the meal with the magic beans of the coffee gods….and something sweet. Tiramisu? Italian cream cake? (Right, Diane?) Those are my choices. Look at this cappuccino–why do you think it has a heart in it? Because I’m in love with it, that’s why. We are in a relationship, all of us, with coffee. So, there is a brief lexicon of Italian cuisine 101. The best way to obtain the knowledge about these establishment is to just ask the staff! They usually LOVE to talk about their relationship with cuisine and vino, the origins of the recipes and their favorite wines. This is another reason why Italian bistros, etc are perfect date nite experiences.

Our favorite Italian ristorantes in America are: Cucina Della Ragazza in KC, Lidia’s in KC, Biga in Tulsa and our own kitchen in our house.

The Family Tree…..an evergreen, living document

I recently learned that my cousin created a family tree. He shared it with me as part of a conversation we had regarding our church’s upcoming 100 year anniversary and the various archives related to that. Even if my own family hadn’t been included on this family tree, I still would’ve been fascinated with his project because of what he’s learned in the process and the diligent and meaningful skills it involved. My favorite cousin and I share so much in common…..a love for all things organizational, family history and a passion for spreadsheets, archives and even a ledger that has spanned the generations. Not only did we have a childhood, pretend detective agency together but our famous ledger tradition got passed down to the next generation when our kids took it over to continue the legacy.

I asked Dean to describe the family tree process to me because I know it will be inspirational to others who are contemplating how to start a family tree. People probably attempt this project in various methods and I knew Dean’s would not only be methodical but also meaningful and personal. What a significant and sentimental project to pass down to one’s progeny.

What inspired you to do the family tree?

I didn’t want to lose some of the knowledge of the elderly family members who helped me complete it. I wanted to be able to show my kids where they were from and how far back they could go.

What was the hardest thing about completing this project?

It was getting information beyond just my grandparents and having to reach out to my cousin in Greece, Angeliki, who had to get with her mom to fill in some more of the blanks. Between her side of the family and mine (my dad has already passed away), I needed to consult others with some of the knowledge.

Did you conduct this over Face Time or a phone call?

I emailed her part of the family tree which wasn’t completed to ask her if she could just answer some of the questions and fill in some of the blanks.

What a fun cousin project!—two first cousins doing that; how awesome! What’s hard about Greek family records is that there aren’t any before the year, what approximately?

Mine went back to the year 1865. Maria Hlepos was born in 1865. (mine and Dean’s common great grandmother) On the other side, I don’t know because they didn’t really keep their dates.

They didn’t really keep records that far back, correct?  Maria Hlepos is mine and your common great grandmother and she lived to be 102. And all of her four children lived past the age of 83-96. This was the great grandmother that your mom and my mom sailed to Greece in 1950 to meet for the first time.

…And my mom met my dad there in the 1950’s on another trip.

What did you learn about yourself doing this project?

I wanted to see if anyone was from any other islands (other than Imvros) but we couldn’t go back further from 1860’s. Researching the family tree, I found stories about my grandfathers on both sides and how they were both U.S. citizens. One of them even went back to Greece to live.

Was your paternal grandfather a mechanic like your dad?

No, he worked as a Merchant Marine on ships. Once he got to America, he was in NYC dredging the harbor at one point and in Pennsylvania in the steel mills.

from internet

Do you know why he returned to Greece?

It has something to do with family life. His wife didn’t come over so he left his family back in Greece and then decided he wanted to go back home. This is similar to my great grandfather Niko Hlepos who came to work on the railroads in American in 1904. He returned to Greece in 1906, put his suit away and put back on his vrakes. (pantaloons of their folk dress)

So, your other grandfather, Jim Kademis, was also a citizen? From what I understand, he and my papou (grandfather) became restauranteurs because they didn’t want to be shoemakers in Paris like the other two brothers. 

Yes, and my yiayia, (grandmother) lived with her brothers in Paris for awhile when times were dangerous  for women from Imvros (her village taken over by the Turkish occupation). She was eighteen years old at the time. She married my grandfather and lived in St. Louis, then Bristow, Oklahoma and eventually Tulsa.

You already have natural organizational skills which helped you do this but was this template provided for you on the internet?

I started writing things down on a spreadsheet but this template was made using  AutoCad, a computer program for engineering projects. I was doing this experiment to get acquainted with how the program works.

This is very inspirational. For someone who doesn’t know how to get started, what is your advice?

My advice would be to find your oldest living relative and start writing in a spiral notebook. You’ll come back to those notes and it helps you to know how to branch out. They’ll give you someone else’s name, etc. and it grows from there.

Are you going to frame this family tree and display it ?

Well, it’s a living document…it’s evergreen. (so, no) For example, my cousin Nicki’s son is a baby so we just added him; so it’s something that will keep growing. My other cousin just got married so we added his spouse. I’m keeping up with who’s getting married to whom…..I update this once a year if there’s any changes and I give a copy to my mom. (He’s even included his dogs’ names on the family tree!)

She must have been so impressed and sentimental!

I’ve given her a copy of a book (binder) I’ve written on our family which is  like a resume with clippings and highlights.

Oh! I hope one of my sons does that for me! Do you have a favorite quote about family?

You can change your friends like you change your clothes but your family is like your blood…..so you don’t ever change that.

 

 

 

The entertainment and vintage cars of Havana

Afro-Latino dance troupes, Cuban salsa, and jazz filled our time in Havana. Ornate costumes, intimate jazz cafes and electrifying salsa ensembles livened up our days and nights. I learned some distinguishing characteristics of these art forms and their origins. Cuban art and entertainment has been described as a “bastion of talent and a stronghold of style.”

I was familiar with salsa being a Puerto Rican sound that was engineered further in the New York music scene of the 1970’s but I was not familiar with Cuban salsa. More specifically, there is a genre called Cuban son. Son appeared around 1917 in Havana. The African percussion and rhythmic instruments came from the African slaves’ journey to Cuba and were later joined by the instruments of marimba, bongos, quijada, timbales criollos and the cowbell.

Son por Quatro (but there are 5 of them!)

The Afro-Latino dance performances we saw were very interpretive with their ornate costumes and trance-like, spiritual dance moves. The cultural blending that went into this music and dance genre is so rich and detailed that I would not do it justice summarizing it here, nor am I an expert. I do recommend reading further about it because it spans so many countries. The dance and music ensemble we watched were reportedly the 1991 Grammy winners of the Tropical Latin performance category.

Jazz also spans so many generations culturally and historically. It is also deeply rooted in African history and made a journey through political times as I recently learned at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. I never knew jazz descended from the African spirituals until recently. The shared humanity of musical expression is such a powerful, beautiful subject and art in our lives.

The Jazz Cafe

We saw other minstrels in the squares of Old Havana and modern dancers in Fabrica de Arte Cubano gallery as the art and music scene of Havana permeated the landscape. Music played in the background of cafes, taverns, seaside promenades and lunch restaurants. The rhythm of Cuba dominated the spirit and soul and continues to play in my home as I consolidate my photojournalistic memories. Viva Cuba!

Our panoramic tour of Havana took us to the Malecon boardwalk, Revolution Square and a rainforest, surprisingly! That’s one of the things I loved about Havana—there was such a range of landscape. At Revolution Square, we were first introduced to the sassy vintage cars which are so iconic of Cuba.

Every vibrant color you can think of seemed like it was represented in that parking lot. A sign in the background “Viva Cuba Libre” caught my attention. “Long live Cuba’s freedom”. How much freer can  you feel than in a topless convertible? After some time exploring the cars, sitting in them, posing for pictures, we ventured on to other landmarks. Although this square’s parking lot had a concentration of vintage cars, we saw them throughout the landscape of Havana during our trip. We also rented one for an hour on our last morning there. The vintage cars are like beautiful jewels decorating the city streets. With possible impending transitions, many people have voiced that they hope this feature always remains part of the Cuban landscape.

photos by Gina Kingsley

photos by GIna Kingsley

 

Vibrant Neighborhoods of Havana & Hemingway’s house

The first day we arrived in Havana, Cuba, we had lunch, dropped our bags off to our casa particular and boarded our tour van for a panoramic tour of Havana and Vedado. The main sights included the Malecon coastal boardwalk and Revolution Square (which will be featured on another blog). Everything was so vibrant. That is the word that everyone seems to use when referring to Havana, especially.Right outside of our casa, a flock of chickens grazed and clucked. Every morning, we were awakened by a very dutiful chicken or rooster…. probably this one!

The tour around Havana and Vedado exposed us to color, activity, workers, government-run hotels, and the local casas particulares. By staying in casas with the locals, we were directly supporting the Cuban people on this People to People educational trip. I liked this concept. 

Friendly Cubans walked over to greet me while I took photos. They asked where I was from (In Spanish) and luckily, I was able to answer basic questions. I found the people very accommodating about having their photo taken and I either tipped them or let them see the photo on the camera but they never pressured me for a tip. I found the latter detail interesting.

These grand homes painted in beautiful muted pastels have such great bones! The lush, tropical plants in front of them frame them perfectly. It was very rustic to see chickens fluttering by outside the entrances.

After seeing pedestrians and workers, we started to see the sassy vintage cars adorning the streets. Everyone associates Cuba with these vintage cars which decorate the cityscape. As people think of Cuba as “stuck in time”, the cars definitely take you back to that vintage era.

our breakfast cook at the casa

Now that we got acquainted with the area of Vedado where we were staying, our next stop would include a rainforest, Malecon boardwalk,  Revolution Square with the sassy vintage cars and Hemingway’s house!

Hemingway’s house was a lovely drive into a lush valley town of San Francisco de Paula, outside of Havana. We viewed the rooms of his house through big, open windows.

After climbing the stairs to his writing studio tower, we enjoyed the grounds. It is said that Ava Gardner swam nude in his pool. We also viewed his boat, the Pilar. 

Pilar

Leaving the grounds, we drove to the seaside town of Cojimar where we had lunch at Bodega Las Brisas and met a fishermen who showed us photos of himself with the famous author. Hemingway’s experience in Cojimar is said to have been the inspiration for his novel, The Old Man and the Sea.photos by Gina Kingsley

Among the itinerary highlights of Havana and surrounding cities, a panoramic tour by car was definitely one of my favorite activities on our trip. You can absorb so much visually and up close. It was never a dull moment watching the street life and walking through a neighborhood or village.

photos by GIna Kingsley

Other blogs about Havana…..

A Santeria ritual in a Havana Rainforest

Planning a trip to Cuba

Architecture and Faces of Old Havana

Thanksgiving at Big Cedar Lodge

What are the highlights of a Thanksgiving vacation at Big Cedar Lodge? They are PERFECTION! The unique combo of holidays during the gorgeous Fall season makes it a double whammy at BCL—Thanksgiving and Christmas all in one!

I personally like this particular time at Big Cedar because the weather can be as warm as 60 degrees and as brisk as 29 degrees. You can enjoy all the outdoor activities while still enjoying the fireplace in your lodging and at restaurants.  We have stayed in each type of lodge there except for the Spring View lodge. The lodges we’ve stayed in include:

  • private log cabin
  • Wilderness log cabin
  • Falls Lodge
  • Valley View Lodge
  • Knotty Pine Cottage
  • Fishing cabin
  • Wilderness Club condo

I love  the Wilderness Club cabins and condos area and it has a great proximity to the wilderness walk trails which end up at the main “village”, marina, etc. The private log cabins are quite a bit farther away from everything but quite stunning. Both Big Cedar and Wilderness Club have courtesy shuttles to transport you around but the walk is very accessible and short. The extra walking is worth it so you can indulge in the delicious food on site. Wilderness Club, with its Brushey Creek Clubhouse nearby, has another new feature !!- FUN MOUNTAIN! (with Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill) 

Fun Mountain is located where the old horse stables and hiking trails were. You might be asking yourself,  “Why would they add this to a wilderness resort where kids and families should concentrate on outdoorsy activities? fresh mountain air? valley views, etc.??”  Once I checked it out with my teenage son and saw families interacting there, I understood! Fun Mountain is a great added feature for family reunions, destination wedding trips, etc….I realized that it gives families another option of indoor activities once they’ve no doubt enjoyed all the outdoor adventures. Personally, I’d just focus on the outdoor activities but this feature can certainly extend your stay here. Also, during the colder months, this feature gives an indoor option. When our other two college sons arrived, we showed them Fun Mountain and it seemed like nirvana to them after being immersed in a college class presentation and lab report that were due that very same day that they drove out to Big Cedar Lodge from University of Kansas. You definitely burn off steam when you can drive bumper cars that flip AND spin when they bump!

The activities at Fun Mountain include:

  • bowling
  • billiards
  • restaurant and bar
  • laser tag
  • golf simulator
  • flip and spin bumper cars
  • regular bumper cars
  • climbing wall
  • big screen tvs
  • Nature Discovery Center for kids
  • 30 foot slide
  • playground
  • archery (coming)
  • go carts (coming soon)and much, much more!

Examples of cottages and cabins:

Wilderness Club log cabin
Cottages
private log cabin

With the week off of school this year, my teenager and I came up on Monday, the rest of our family met us on Tuesday and Wednesday due to work and college classes. Staggering our arrival came in handy in various ways. My teenager and I got some one on one time on the road trip up. Also, since he didn’t have his brothers to interact with, he and I spent time at an old favorite—the Lincoln Log table! (We’re never too old for Lincoln Logs–a beloved BCL tradition). He ventured from there over to the 500 piece puzzle; something he had never really done. When you have a break from school, extra-curricular activities and jobs, time for a 500 piece puzzle suddenly becomes available and enticing.

We followed a chipmunk to its habitat, walked across the Devil’s Pool swinging bridge and enjoyed the touches of Americana decor.

Walking the trails and paths of the resort, I heard pealing laughter of children ice skating on the rink, kids playing shuffleboard and others playing football.

All the Fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas decor and activities led us up to the Thanksgiving Buffet at Top of the Rock.

Traditionally, we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving and splitting a cabin or condo with our cousins at Big Cedar. This particular year they couldn’t attend but we ran into several other families we knew from back home. We hope to resume our tradition again next year!This year, the boys rode the golf carts again on the Lost Canyon Trail and did the Natural History Museum on the same day as our Thanksgiving Buffet. That’s what I LOVE!! Everything is still open to enjoy on Thanksgiving Day so we purposely scheduled our feast for dinner time so we could enjoy the BCL mini golf and Top of the Rock activities. A little shopping at the General Store, a little happy hour on the balcony of Arnie’s Barn while the boys were off enjoying the nature…..

Lost Canyon Trail golf cart

On the last day, we checked out and visited our beloved Dogwood Canyon a half hour drive away. Our sons look forward to their bike race through the canyon. This year, all of us enjoyed the wildlife tram ride together.

After several days of “pre-Hygge” cocooning together at Big Cedar Lodge as a family in this idyllic Ozark valley, an afternoon at Silver Dollar City and a day at Dogwood Canyon, I feel a little prepared to hunker down for winter hibernation now. I first have to get this “wilderness” pilgrimage out of my system. In the last 16 years, I’ve watched these boys go from infants and little boys catching their first fish to grown, young adult men driving their own golf carts and knowing the geology terms on the wildlife tram tour. We hope to keep returning and eventually going with our future grandkids to enjoy the journey all over again…. from playgrounds, canoe rides, kiddie park at Silver Dollar City, first roller coasters, and much more!

Big Cedar Lodge

Lost Canyon Trail at Top of the Rock

all photos by GIna Kingsley

Architecture and Faces of Old Havana

A city with the largest Spanish fort built around it is sure to have remarkable architecture and colonial charm. Settled in 1519, Havana is full of Neoclassical and Baroque splendor. Romantic and magical, Old Havana is the priceless gem in the center of Havana’s tiara. Four squares, cathedrals, canons, cannonballs and details galore make up the charm of this architectural wonder.

With narrow alleyways between buildings purposely built close together for shade, Old Havana’s buildings “spoke” to each other with all the flair and personality each one displayed. Columns, scrolled metal, balconies, grand windows, shutters and a range of pastels and vibrant colors decorated the ornate buildings. Pilasters, balustrades, cornices, intricate moldings, columns, wrought-iron work and Spanish tile are just some of the architectural details of the buildings and homes. The muted color hues of the buildings, once vibrant with lustre, had romantic, faded tones and peeling plaster. 

Looking up so as not to miss any detail from any angle, the frames and arches of the windows varied in details. What was most alluring was to see how the people used their balconies. The balconies came to life with activity. As  the balconies were the prettiest rooms of the houses, possibly, the people not only went out there for space but to be part of the action on the streets below. Cathedral-sized doors were also imposing and stately details we noticed on our walks.

We learned about the symbolism of the placement of cannons and cannon balls on the various squares. The position of cannons and cannon balls within the concrete represents peace or war time. Pirates and buccaneers attacked Havana for its trading port, regularly, which makes the endurance of the architecture even more impressive. The spirt of Havana is unfading.

Leaving Old Havana to go back to our casa in Vedado, we passed the seawall and gorgeous landscape. At night, the seawall was packed with people socializing and enjoying the night. While we were at jazz cafes and art galleries, there were still crowds of people enjoying the nightlife in the streets.

As much as I was enriched by the entertainment, art, and people of Havana, the architecture definitely ranked high as one of the most powerful images of our trip. Its endurance through economic and political conditions is impressive. I was impressed that people lived in the upper quarters while markets and cafes took up the lower quarters. Compared to other capital cities, it was refreshing to see that these buildings were not destroyed. Scaffolding and murals might be holding up the facades of many buildings, but we did see alot of restoration, too. In the new few  years, it will be interesting to see how things will develop. Nevertheless, I am grateful to have seen Cuba in July 2017 between two major travel restrictions decisions. Our trip program format was perfect for our needs and definitely embodied the statement, “timing is everything!’

Venture off to Old Havana, and you’ll think you are going to experience the architecture, history and traditions of this capital city founded in 1519. What I didn’t expect was to peer mostly into the faces of the charming people walking among the cobbled streets of Old Havana.

Whether they were working, relaxing, observing, etc…..the alluring faces showed the Cuban spirit. I asked permission to take their photos and the reactions ranged from enthusiasm, engaging behaviors or quiet acquiescence.

The friendliness of the waiter enticing us to eat at his restaurant, the artists explaining their art and the musicians serenading us was part of the immense charm of Old Havana.

Other  people approached us with their questions. “Do you have lotion? soaps? etc…” We offered pens, candy, and other items that we knew were desired. Out of the blue, performance artists entertained us with their talent. We were drawn into the joy and rhythm of Cuba! We participated when we could which is always more fun that just being a spectator.

The faces of Havana were as vibrant and lovely as the architecture and the people had a contagious spirit that they exuded. We chatted while we strolled. We asked to pose for photos. We questioned the artists about their inspirations, their process, their hopes. My friends and I analyzed with each other what we thought was a good summary of our Cuba experience and our interpretation of the island. We came up with this; “brilliance was contained within scaffolding.” No matter what the conditions were of the buildings the art galleries or markets were in, the brilliance shined, endured and was on display within the crumble. The joy was shared and expressed in their dance and the vibrance was expressed in their art. The spirt and soul was expressed in their jazz and Cuban salsa beats and rhythms.

Cuba was an enigma. By the end of our trip, we still could not describe it or identify it. When I returned home, I saw a program on a travel channel about Cuba. They stated the same enigmatic perspective—you cannot define Cuba and you’ll go crazy trying. There was one word every tourist commonly used to describe the country, however. VIBRANT.

all photos by Gina Kingsley

For those interested in other trip formats  to Cuba through a travel agent, (cruises, etc) click on the following link:

http://www.spearstravel.com/agent-details.aspx?AgentID=86351

Planning a trip to Cuba

When travel to Cuba opened up a few years ago, my curiosity was aroused. The trip planning was very challenging, however. At the particular time, it was not a slam-dunk, travel agency type of trip. Among many other obstacles and requirements, there was also the tentative situation circling around what our new POTUS would decide about travel guidelines to Cuba. One requirement among travel programs was that you have to do four days in Havana as part of the educational trip theme. That was not a problem for me as Havana is the city I was most curious to see. Later, I discovered that the latter detail was a guideline (not a requirement) that some travelers get around.

When I found a trip program that seemed seamless in regards to getting our visas online and not chancing it at the airport, etc. and other lodging, transportation and excursions details all included, I paid a deposit and waited for the program to fill up before we could get our airplane ticket. Things seemed ready to go and then……news came that the POTUS might close travel to Cuba. Ugh. This was frustrating because I didn’t want the trip to be canceled but there were so many other concerns and details, too.  My travel companions and I also had to find dates that worked for our schedules. How ironic it would be now if interference with the trip was because of new travel restrictions. Luckily, the news was good…..travel to Cuba was ok if you had flights and cruises planned before a certain July date but after that it would only be allowed for group travel. Big exhale. I did meet plane passengers who were traveling alone but I also noticed that they didn’t know what excursions to do once they arrived. They also weren’t going to have drivers or bilingual guides.

I also observed at the Atlanta airport that many passengers were completing their Cuba visas there at the gate. That seemed stressful to me and I was grateful that ours were expedited ahead of time because we walked right into the gate and passed the others who were in line completing their visas.

A short cultural immersion trip program was ideal for me because without internet or phone plan, I didn’t want to be without communication too long from my teenager or octogenarian father. The Discover Corp program had impeccable customer service. I also liked the sustainable values the program offered.

To quote one of our travel guides, this is how she summarized the mission of Discover Corps : “Discover Corps is a certified B corporation that works across Asia, Africa, Latin America & Australia to offer vacations with purpose. Founded by Andrew Motiwalla, who served in the Peace Corps for two years in Honduras, Discover Corps started as a partnership with the National Peace Corps Association. Inspired by his time in the Peace Corps, Discover Corps takes travelers deep into local communities and exposes them to a side of the country most people never experience while giving back to local projects and organizations. Today, the Discover Corps team comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they all share a passion for world cultures — and a belief that responsible, sustainable travel can make the world a better place.”

Initially, I applied under a journalist application category for a Cuban visa but then my travel buddy and I applied under a People to People category once we decided to use this particular trip program. The application and the visa process were expeditious and seamless. (This was more of a cultural immersion trip so we chose a program accordingly.)

Most of all, I liked that the People to People category directly supports the people of Cuba. By staying in casa particulares and dining at paladars, we were supporting the people and not the government. It also enhanced our cultural immersion to travel this way instead of staying at resorts.

So, there’s a little introduction to trip planning for Cuba. The next few blogs will highlight excursions and details of beautiful Havana and the surrounding areas. Ready for Havana!

Day one in Havana! We arrived, found our tour guide immediately, changed our euros into CUCS–Cuban pesos and put our carryon bags into our tour van. We traveled light to Cuba which made everything faster and easier. Driving the streets of Havana to our casa particular, we were welcomed by the intensely orange Flamboyan trees. Vintage cars and horse carriages drove by us as we gazed upon the colorful buildings. My friend took a photo of me taking a photo of the scenery and we laughed at the outcome. We were already having fun in Havana. The flight was not long and our connections were good. Leaving Tulsa at 6:00 a.m. and connecting to Atlanta, we gained an hour. We quickly walked to our next gate and boarded. There was a long line of people completing visas but we breezed past them to board the plane since our visas were completed online.

The colorful buildings were so vibrant and vivid. To be honest, I didn’t notice the crumbling that people talk about. I noticed the stately Neoclassical and Baroque architecture, the colonial influence of Columbus’s arrival, and a type of pride that was somehow conveyed in the cityscape. (Those architecture photos are in the Architecture and Faces of Old Havana blog and other blogs coming up.) Reportedly, a house a day crumbles in Cuba but I didn’t notice this compared to the architectural beauty and spectrum of colors which outweighed the “crumble.”  Another factoid reports that there are 60,000 vintage cars in Cuba and 80% of them are in Havana.

We were immediately taken to lunch which is always a smart move of tour guides for weary travelers who have been up since 3:50 a.m. and only had snacks on board the plane. Light thunder rolled in the background as we listened to joyful, sultry, live Cuban salsa music inside.

A Cuban flag blew in the breeze. The rain ceased quickly and we bonded with our tour guide, (a bilingual professor) while trying traditional Cuban chicken, mojitos and sangria. I observed that the Cubans put a sprig or stalk of mint in each mojito, not muddled slivers like we are used to back home. I like the ease of this. Also, it’s powerfully pungent. As we boarded our van to depart to our casa particular in the neighborhood of Vedado, we noticed locals carrying umbrellas for both the heat and possible rain. 

Next stop, our panoramic tour of Havana and Vedado. So much was already learned and we barely arrived. We knew our itinerary would be intense, packing in so much in four days but this was perfect for us. We were there to culturally immerse in a doable time frame with limited internet and phone service. We would rest when we got home! Upcoming blogs will cover our Panoramic Tour of Havana, Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Santeria rituals and so much more!

photos by GIna Kingsley

 

For other blogs on Cuba….search Architecture and Faces of Old Havana and  A Santeria Ritual in a Havana Rainforest in the search bar of this blog site.

 

 

 

 

Fabrica de Arte Cubano- a Havana Gallery and Jose Fuster’s Neighborhood

On the top of our list of our Havana itinerary, was the spellbinding FAC: Fabrica de Arte Cubano. The once-derelict factory is now the famous, cosmopolitan art gallery. Having been on several satisfying art crawls in the states, I have never quite experienced an art gallery like this one. Art has the power to transform and this is definitely happening in Cuban art. FAC housed so many superior art forms within its rustic architecture. Tierra, a restaurant within a shipping container, was in one area of the building. Outside of Tierra, a movie screen played a movie while people gathered in small groups enjoying beverages. Art displayed outside was framed by a magical and celestial rainbow. The colors of the sky were saturated at this dusk time after an earlier light rainfall.

Looking into the enormous doorway of FAC, there was a darkly lit dance floor where modern dancers were stretching, turning and flipping. One minute, we were watching dancers strut across a dance floor/stage and another minute we were gazing at the massive and colorfully lit bar where a famous artist was identified.

Carlos Alonzo, artist

There were deejays, a bar with alcohol bottles overhead on a conveyor belt suspended from the ceiling, and floors of provocative art; celebrating nudity and diversity.The line to get into FAC was extremely long but we were able to bypass the line since we had pre-purchased tickets. My friends and I observed some of the art together and then we separated to enjoy it, individually. It was a very cosmopolitan evening of culture, diversity, art and relaxed glamour. It surpassed what I expected and what I had seen on TV about this Havana treasure. Historically, the art scene in Cuba has been inspiring for a long time. It is said that Cuba has been a playground for the inspired eccentricities of various artists and authors, whether it’s Hemingway, Jose Marti, Jose Fuster, etc. I also admire the artwork of Salvador Gonzales Escalona with his surrealism, Afro-Cuban style, cubism and abstract art.

Throughout our trip, we continued to interpret the art that provoked us and inspired us. The use of mediums (like photography and painting fused onto the same canvas) were powerful. The social messages were intense and the blending of contemporary art within an old, rustic building was ironic and delicate.

http://www.fac.cu

In Havana’s outskirts, in the Jaimanitas  fishing town, we visited a  neighborhood transformed by Jose Fuster’s artwork.

When we entered the neighborhood, we noticed the entrance sign in Spanish saying that it was in Homage to Gaudi. Reportedly, Fuster designed one house in the mosaic-encrusted tiling and others became so interested in having their homes decorated the same way. Eventually, eighty homes were decorated in the same vibrant, eclectic and whimsical way. This public artwork of ornate murals  took over ten years. It is said to have been done to suit the personality of Fuster’s neighbors.

The home with an entrance titled “Princesa Diana” intrigued me. Just as we tried to absorb the details and whimsy, we were distracted by all the other intricate details and compliments to the neighborhood…..like the florals, trees and horse-drawn carriages prancing by.

Jose Fuster’s artwork has been compared to that of Barcelona’s Gaudi. This connection to Cuba’s Spanish heritage is one of the features that makes Cuba so fascinating to visit. Cuba’s Afro-Latino backgrounds break down more specifically into Spaniard and Nigerian influences due to the colonists who settled the area and the Africans they brought over.

I’ve never observed a neighborhood as an actual piece of art quite like this one. While all architecture “tells a story” in some way, this whimsical display conveyed layers of stories to me. I found Havana’s art  to be a vehicle for the people’s  self-expression. Art is an outlet which is therapeutic and in this case (with the neighborhood), it served a constructive purpose.

photos by Gina Kingsley