Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Argentina: Mendoza for Malbec

From top: Jane Bailey with Manuel Ferrer of Achaval Ferrer, maker of some of the most highly regarded wines ever produced in the Western Hemisphere.

Club Tapiz vineyard inn outside Mendoza.

Inside the very up-to-date Terraza de los Andes winery.

The cover story in the Nov. 21 New York Times Travel section is on Mendoza, the celebrated wine region in western Argentina. It was written by Alexi Barrionuevo and it reminded me just how much I enjoyed a visit there a few years ago. The column on the right side of this blog also has an item on Mendoza.
Mendoza is the name of the province and the province's main city. The malbec grape, which is also the grape in Cahors wine from France, thrives in Mendoza's desert climate. Water for irrigation comes from snow melt in the Andes, which often look close enough to touch in photos of Mendoza's vineyards.
If you're planning a visit, be sure to include Vines of Mendoza (in the city of Mendoza) on your itinerary. It was the first collective wine shop in Mendoza. It holds wine tastings, classes, seminars, events and special vintner gatherings. It offers several flights of the region's wines. It also offers a tour service, setting up a unique wine itinerary based on your interests. With a day's notice, appointments can be set up for you at each winery you want to visit and a car and driver can be found for you. There's no fee for Vines of Mendoza to plan the trip and make the appointments, and a car with a driver for a day will cost you about 200 Argentine pesos (about $50). Most wineries offer free tours and often free tastings, but appointments are required. You can also rent cars in Mendoza, but an amazing lack of road signs makes it a confusing place to drive.

When my wife and I visited Mendoza in 2007, we stayed at Club Tapiz, a delightful vineyard inn outside town. It has a nice pool, a really good restaurant and spa services. We had hired a driver for our entire stay in Mendoza, so the inn's rather isolated location wasn't a problem. If you'll be without a car, you might want to stay in the city, perhaps at a place like the elegant Mendoza Park Hyatt. A much, much less expensive choice would be hostels. If your budget is somewhere between the Park Hyatt and a hostel, try Tripadvisor for a number of moderately priced places.

Wherever you stay, you should plan to have dinner one night at Francis Mallmann's 1884 restaurant in the Bodega Escorihuela winery. It often appears on lists of the best restaurants in the world. Salted chicken prepared on an outdoor wood-burning stove, baby goat (cheivito) and young pork (lechón) are among the most recommended dishes. Whatever your main dish, order a bottle of malbec.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Maryland: Chesapeake Bay Fishing

Willie Roe, top photo, a Tilghman Island waterman and charter captain.
Left, happy charter customers.
Right, rockfish.

On Oct. 30, 2010, my wife and I and another couple boarded the Big Will at Dogwood Harbor, Tilghman Island, Md., at 6:45 a.m. We watched the sun rise over the Choptank River as Captain Willie Roe took us out for rockfish, known elsewhere as striped bass. The four of us had bought this fishing trip at a fundraising auction, so we paid a little more than the $400 that Willie and his co-captain, Charlie Schneider, usually charge. (Big Will Charters can be reached at 410-886-2302, 443-786-4324 and,)

Willie, 74, was born on Tilghman Island and has worked on the water since he was 10. At 15, he says, he quit school and started commercial fishing with his father. He got married in January of 1955 and two weeks later, he says, he made $4,500 in one day and bought his first home. Charlie is a former insurance man and a near-obsessive fisherman from New Jersey. Willie and Charlie spend their days fishing. If they don't have charter customers, Charlie said, they often just round up some friends.

The fish were hard to find the day we went out, but Willie, who's locally famous for not going back in until he's caught the limit, finally found the fish. The limit is two rockfish per charter customer, and by 3 or 3:30 we had our limit and were headed back to Dogwood.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dominica: Caribbean Dreamin'

The Nov. 7, 2010, Travel section of The New York Times is all about the Caribbean. I was happy to see one of our favorite islands, Dominica, mentioned. (That's my photo, above, of tourists at the Emerald Pool on Dominica.) In the Times, Allison Busacca discusses rapelling into canyons on Dominica in an article about adventure vacations from Bermuda (not in the Caribbean at all) to Trinidad. Dominica, an island nation just north of Martinique, should not be confused with the Dominican Republic. (The column on the right side of this blog has an item about Dominica.)
Among the other Caribbean articles is Seth Kugel's guide to low-cost island vacations. Oddly, he starts with the Bahamas, again, not in the Caribbean, but he goes on to write about the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados, Aruba, Bonaire and Saba.
And here's a tip from me about Caribbean vacations: The less-visited islands that do not have direct flights from the U.S. mainland or from Europe are often less expensive once you get there, but your journey will be longer, probably less comfortable and sometimes difficult to arrange.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pennsylvania: Two Houses by Frank Lloyd Wright

About an hour and a half southeast of Pittsburgh are two Frank Lloyd Wright houses. One, of course, is the iconic Fallingwater, Wright's 1930s masterpiece. It's open to the public. Unfortunately, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy forbids Internet posting of photos, though visitors are allowed to take exterior photos for their own non-published use. Fortunately, there are zillions of photos of this amazing house, including many on the organization's Fallingwater web site. Click here for that site.
The other Wright house, Kentuck Knob, is just a few minutes away.
The top photo is of an art installation, celebrating the fall of the Iron Curtain, that is found in an art-filled meadow on the grounds. The other photo shows one end of the house, with a cantilevered roof sheltering a terrace. The holes allow wind to pass through the roof without ripping it off.
One of the last houses Wright designed, Kentuck Knob was built for I.N. and Bernardine Hagen, Pennsylvania ice cream makers, who lived there from 1956 to 1986. The second owners, Peter and Hayat Polumbo of Britain, have opened the house to the public. More information is at
The two houses can be visited in a day trip out of Pittsburgh. If you're looking for lunch or perhaps an overnight stay in the Allegheny Mountains, consider the Summit Inn Resort, a rambling old structure with loads of atmosphere, an indoor pool, a huge outdoor pool , a nine-hole golf course and 50-mile views.