Category Archives: TRAVEL

China Adventure: Part 1 — Beijing

A rickshaw perhaps? No, John and Ellen Chappell describe this as a pedicab service in a Beijing neighborhood known as a ‘hutong.’

A rickshaw perhaps? No, John and Ellen Chappell describe this as a pedicab service in a Beijing neighborhood known as a ‘hutong.’

By John and Ellen Chappell

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series in which John and Ellen – who live in Oriental – describe their experiences from a recent trip to China. “We definitely would recommend the trip to others,” says John.

CHINA — After a 30-hour trip from the United States, we landed in Beijing. I had traveled to China frequently on business but this was the first time for my wife, Ellen. It was also a chance for me to see more of the country than the customer offices, factories, and supplier facilities that were on my usual itinerary. Our plan was to start in the cities of Beijing and Xian, spend six days on a small cruise ship on the Yangtze River, and end the trip in Shanghai.

While were waiting for our luggage at the carousel at 3:00 am, a young Chinese student with whom we had chatted during our layover in Hong Kong approached us. He asked us if we had a ride to our hotel and cautioned us to be careful. He advised if we used a cab we should be sure that driver started the meter as soon as the cab pulled out. We thanked him for his concern and assured him that we had arranged for transportation to our hotel.

We were both amazed that in the most populous country in the world a stranger would be so concerned about the welfare of a couple of American tourists!

It was 4:00 am when we got to the Kerry Hotel. After getting settled in, we were able to get a few hours of sleep and breakfast before boarding a bus at 8:30 for a tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest public square! We were told that its 100 acres can hold one million people. It certainly seemed that they were all there the day of our visit! We viewed the changing of the guard in the square and saw the long line of people waiting two to three hours to view Mao Zedong’s mausoleum.

We didn’t have the time to visit the mausoleum and moved on into the Forbidden City — the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, with almost 1000 buildings and 10,000 rooms. It is the largest palace complex in the world. We hope you are picking up on the theme here! The architecture is very impressive and well preserved. As with Tiananmen, the crowds were huge and you had to be very aggressive to see some of the highlights such as the throne rooms. After a short night and long day, we opted to have a quiet dinner at the hotel and get some much-needed rest.

In the morning we boarded a bus to visit the Great Wall. The section that we visited is one of the closest to Beijing and has been fully restored — which is not the case for much of the wall. On the ride out, we learned a lot about its history. One amazing fact – the wall extends more than 6200 miles across China. We also learned that contrary to popular belief, the wall cannot be seen from outer space!

At 28 feet tall, it is impressive and just like the prior day’s sights, our location was very crowded with Chinese tourists. During our visit, we had some light rain. This dampness — combined with the crowds, uneven paving stones, and steep inclines — made walking on the wall very strenuous. Judy, one of the women in our group, is a tall blond retired Realtor from Naples, Florida. While at the Great Wall, she received a request from Chinese tourists to have their pictures taken with her.

At first, she was taken quite aback but graciously cooperated. This scene was repeated throughout our tour and in some cases she was even handed babies for photo ops!

After lunch we took a walk along the ritual pathway that leads to the tombs of the Ming Emperors. This beautiful tree-lined stone pathway is guarded by 18 pairs of massive sculptures and includes a huge marble gateway that is more than 400 years old. For the first time on our trip, we didn’t have to contend with a lot of other tourists, which really added to the experience.

We started the next day with a pedicab tour through a traditional Beijing neighborhood called a hutong. Here the houses front on narrow alleys. Each house is built around a courtyard and provides for rooms for extended families. Originally none of the houses had running water or sewer and everyone used communal bathrooms and bath houses. Over the years some of the houses have had plumbing added, but many still use the communal facilities.

Our pedicab driver skillfully navigated the alleys dodging bikes, motor scooters, and the occasional car. It is probably a sign of the times, but at one point we were surprised to see that our driver was pedaling and steering with one hand while he texted with his phone! As part of the tour, we visited the home of an elderly woman.

Originally her family had owned the whole structure surrounding the courtyard but lost it during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. After the Cultural Revolution, she was able to get a small part of the building back. Apparently the seizing of property by the Red Guards was common at the time. Our tour guide, Arnold, related his own family’s experience with the loss of their traditional home. His parents were both teachers and he grew up in an area close to area we toured. For the first 12 years of his life, he lived with his two parents in a single room of just 90 square feet.

We wrapped up the morning with a visit to Beijing’s bell and drum towers and a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Then, it was on to the airport for an afternoon flight to Xian! We’ll tell you about that excursion next week, in Part 2 of this series.

Got a question? We’re quite sure the Chappells would love to hear from interested readers. E-mail them at: chappell3311@gmail.com

Newspaper vacation means no Oct. 20 issue!

b626e359898249efb3685a0343ceb710

Resorts Casino Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Hang on to your next copy of the County Compass for TWO WEEKS! The ink-stained wretches around here have decided to embark on a brief mini-vacation. It’s off to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the Ms. Senior America pageant at Resorts Casino Hotel. Look for us to resume publication with our Thursday, Oct. 27 issue – just in time for Halloween and the Elections!

Driving 17 miles backwards to beat a rising tide!

Just one of many crazy memories for this gal.     

Heading south on Portsmouth Island.

Heading south on Portsmouth Island.

Editor’s note: Preparations are well underway for the 50th Annual Portsmouth Village Homecoming, set for Saturday, April 30. Reporter Jeanne Robertson wants everyone to attend, and here she looks back on a memory or two, from her
40-year love affair with island.

By Jeanne Robertson
Jeanne Robertson

Jeanne Robertson

CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE – I can remember the first time I ever ventured to the Village of Portsmouth on one of my shelling episodes. The homemade sign hand-written and perched a red bread carton appeared on the beach, pointing the way to the Village. The marked path crossed the dunes, going up and down for about 1/4 of a mile. Then there was an open area, which was called the “flats.”  I can remember Lucille Truitt telling me at the Ole Store in Oriental: “The flats was where the oyster boats from the mainland would load up the cows in the spring and take them to flats of Portsmouth Island. The cows would kneel down on the boats and ride across the sound for their destination of ‘fattening up’ over spring and summer.”

This lush green grass field looked as if it had been groomed and mowed! What a sight to behold!  Going across the flats, was an area of water, and another homemade sign: ‘Drive between the poles.’ For about a quarter of a mile, two poles were strategically placed ever so often to guide the way thru the water. Flying thru the water with swamp grass going everywhere, finally arriving at a dry grassy area with a chain crossing the road.

I stopped and surveyed the vehicle. There was grass and mud everywhere — it looked like I was deer hunting in Pamlico County! My friend with me, was drenched from holding her head out the window to see if there were deep holes in the water.

WE MADE IT — now to walk to the village. The church was leaning to the right, wind blown from the winter storms, a Life Guard Station, the school, store, post office, and several homes. Each had a marker with information explaining its history.

Such a serene place and just how wonderful it was, as I stood doing a 360 degree turn to take it all in. This visit was much too short, as high tide would be coming up on the ocean side soon and we had to go back to Long Point, 17 miles south.

Back thru the water between the posts, thru the grassy pasture and over the dunes, back to sign that pointed the way.

Now, for the drive going south on the beach as the tide would be soon taking our beach.  Off we went to beat the high tide. Driving about 20 miles per hour, I felt what I thought as a thump, did we run over something, nothing in the rear view mirror, keep going and there was that thump again.

I stopped, looked under the truck, nothing.  And then I noticed, a mound of sand at the rear tires. The brakes were intermittently locking up, so from my high school drivers ed class to unlock your brakes — back up while holding the brakes.  OH YEAH? That worked just great while backing up, but going forward now meant totally locked brakes.

Now, I grew up on a farm and drove all kinds of vehicles and backed up trucks with trailers with the best of drivers. The women on this trip were beginning to panic, the tide was rising, the beach was disappearing and the truck had locked brakes going forward. Nothing else to do but to drive 17 miles south going backwards, so that is what happened, about 45 minutes later as the ocean lapped the tires, we arrived at Long Point. All done while driving backwards!

What an adventure: The truck, the brakes, the rising tides, yet the memories of Portsmouth Village remain with me to this day, on that one crazy trip to Portsmouth Island

Interstate moves from pipe dream to possibility

Enhanced corridor would offer shot-in-the-arm for northeast corner of state

 I-44, if approved, would provide fast transit from Raleigh to Hampton Roads, Va.

I-44, if approved, would provide fast transit from Raleigh to Hampton Roads, Va.

WILLIAMSTON – A proposed Interstate would follow a path along current US 64, beginning at I-40 in Raleigh, intersecting with I-95 near Rocky Mount and on to Williamston, and then following to US 17 North through Elizabeth City to Norfolk/Hampton Roads, Va.

With the understanding that market accessibility is of primary importance to recruitment and retention of industry and general commerce, a group of partners met Wednesday, April 15, to bring a collective voice to a potential new interstate in eastern North Carolina.

Nearly 60 gathered in Williamston to discuss the project, which has been given the moniker I-44. Attending were representatives from nine counties, municipalities in eastern N.C., and several civic and government organizations.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and Congressman Walter B. Jones each sent emissaries who expressed bipartisan support for the effort.

North Carolina Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Tata, provided an update on the state’s work along the corridor to upgrade the current infrastructure to Interstate standards and next steps for building support for the designation.

“What is the artery that is going to feed all of the business development that we are going to do…that of course is this 64/17 future interstate designation,” said Tata. The Secretary noted that he had been in conversation with Gov. McCrory, stating that “the opening of this artery is a key part of the governor’s 25-year vision.”

Northeastern North Carolina does not currently have an Interstate Highway. The proposed I-44 would serve as an obstruction-free route for the region, providing direct access to the Ports of Virginia located in the Norfolk and Hampton Roads areas.

“The work being conducted to make I-44 a reality is groundbreaking. Collaboration between all the counties from Nash to Currituck; working with Virginia DOT and our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., I believe is a first of its kind in North Carolina. I am excited about the future for Northeastern North Carolina and I am proud to be a part of this initiative,” said Theresa Pinto, President of the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce.

Joe Milazzo II, a professional engineer and Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Alliance business leadership group from Raleigh also attended the meeting.

“A future Interstate designation between Raleigh and Hampton Roads will provide an economic lifeline for northeastern North Carolina by linking urban, suburban, and rural job centers and communities together while providing several counties their first direct access to the Interstate system.”

In addition to a strong delegation of support from eastern NC, southeast Virginia partners are working to help bring the designation to reality.

“The Port of Virginia supports the U.S. Route 17 improvements and I-44 designation. This interstate would provide companies located in North Carolina a direct interstate connection to Hampton Roads and The Port of Virginia. It would also provide the opportunity for future economic development growth along this corridor,” said Laura Godbolt, Economic Development Manager and Foreign Trade Zone Administrator, Virginia Port Authority.

Vann Rogerson, Senior Vice President of the NCEast Alliance, worked with several other individuals to organize the meeting.

“This is a strategic request for support from DOT for a corridor that traverses Tier 1 counties from I-95 all the way to the 37th largest MSA in the USA, Hampton Roads, Virginia,” said Rogerson.

The NCEast Alliance is a regional, public/private, not-for-profit, economic development corporation serving 26 counties with approximately 1.2 million residents within several small metropolitan and micropolitan areas in eastern North Carolina from the fringe of the Research Triangle to the Atlantic Coast.

The Alliance provides community capacity building, marketing/lead generation, and assists companies with site location and expansion evaluations.

Loss of steering disables ferry with passengers on board

Eyewitness account at odds with official version

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

OCRACOKE – A press release issued by the North Carolina Ferry System suggests that a steering problem Saturday afternoon with the vessel Silver Lake was handled smoothly and efficiently.

However, real-time phone calls received by this newspaper from passengers on board the vessel paint a much different story. Here is the ferry system’s verbatim press release, as posted on the Department of Transportation website:

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry M/V Silver Lake returned to Ocracoke Sunday under tow after losing steering power and running soft-aground Saturday night. The incident happened about one mile south of Ocracoke as the Silver Lake was making its last run of the day to Cedar Island. The captain of the Silver Lake contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent a boat from its Hatteras Station to bring the ferry’s 14 passengers back to Ocracoke.

Mechanics and the crew remained on board the Silver Lake to perform repairs and wait for the arrival of the tugboat Royal Engineer. The passengers, crew and ship were never in any danger at any time.

Upon the arrival of the tug, the Silver Lake was towed back to Ocracoke, where the seven vehicles were unloaded and claimed by their owners. On Monday, the Royal Engineer was expected to tow the Silver Lake to the State Shipyard to be repaired and inspected before returning to service.

We have very detailed plans for when incidents like this occur, and they were followed to the letter,” said NCDOT Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “The safety of our passengers and crews are our top priority at all times. We certainly apologize for the inconvenience these passengers had to deal with, but we are grateful that they are all safely back on shore. We want to thank the US Coast Guard for assisting us during this incident.”

While confirming that the passengers and crew were never in any danger, one passenger who called the newspaper – while the boat was drifting – hinted that a belated decision to deploy the anchor was fraught with problems.

It took six people working hard to get that anchor out of its cradle,” said the passenger. “And then they discovered that there was not but about 40 or 50 feet of chain, which was certainly not enough to hold that boat.”

On Monday, the County Compass submitted questions and a Public Records request for more documentation about the incident. The next day, Tim Hass, public information officer for the ferry system, e-mailed his responses:

First of all, what most laypeople don’t understand is that dropping anchor is a last resort in cases like the one Saturday. The captain of the Silver Lake first tried to maintain steerage in deep water with his bow thrusters. Once that was no longer possible, the decision was made to drop anchor. All of which was done per the USCG-approved training our people receive on such procedures.

There was no “incorrect turn” upon leaving Ocracoke. The captain of the Silver Lake had complete control of the vessel until the point at which the steering failed.

As per your requests:

1)  Has the captain filed a written report? If so, I would like to request a copy.

Yes, the Captain has filed a written report with the US Coast Guard per standard operating procedure. We are unable to release that report until the Coast Guard’s incident investigation is complete.

2)  Have any of the passengers filed a complaint, either formally or informally?

No.

3)  Did the state pay for overnight accommodations, meals, etc?  If so, may I have a detailed accounting of those figures –

including name of motel, restaurants, etc. 

The state did pay for overnight accommodations for passengers at the Pony Island Motel in Ocracoke. Those receipts have not been closed out through our accounting process at this time, so I have no dollar figures to give you. The state did not pay for any meals.

4)  May I have a copy of the relevant “detailed plans” cited by  Director Goodwin in the press release?

The “detailed plans” were developed with, and approved by, the United States Coast Guard. They are attached.

5) Will you, or anyone with the Ferry System, prepare a  blow-by-blow account of the incident, including an approximate

Timeline?

This is what I have (times approximate):

  • 1600 Saturday – Vessel Leaves Silver Lake Terminal in Ocracoke.
  • 1630 Saturday – Vessel reports steering failure
  • 1700 Saturday – Vessel runs soft aground, contacts Coast Guard; USCG dispatches boat from Hatteras to respond.
  • 2030 Saturday – USCG boat arrives, removes passengers from ferry; crew and mechanics remain on board to troubleshoot steering failure
  • 2130 Saturday – All passengers safely returned to Ocracoke Silver Lake Ferry Terminal
  • 0200 Sunday – Tug Royal Engineer departs Morehead City to assist refloating of Silver Lake
  • 1300 Sunday – Relief ferry crew arrives to replace Silver Lake crew.
  • 1400 Sunday – Royal Engineer arrives on scene, tows Silver Lake back to Ocracoke where cars are removed and passengers notified.
  • 0700 Monday – Royal Engineer & Silver Lake depart Ocracoke enroute to Manns Harbor
  • 1530 Monday – Silver Lake arrives at State Shipyard in Manns Harbor for repairs and inspection.

6) Number of passengers // number of vehicles on board the Vessel.

14 passengers

7 vehicles

I guess the point I’d like to stress here is that while the Silver Lake did lose steering and ran soft aground, our procedures assured that there were NO injuries to any passengers or crew members, NO damage to vehicles or the ferry, and NO pollution or environmental damage. The boat is now being repaired here in Manns Harbor, and if all goes as scheduled, should be back in service by the end of the week. That pretty much sums it up.

THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENT, SUBMITTED ON OFFICIAL LETTERHEAD OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, OUTLINES THE RELEVANT PROCEDURES FOR THIS TYPE OF INCIDENT:

Procedure for dealing with a grounded vessel

The purpose of this procedure is for operations to have a clear understanding on the protocol for dealing with a grounded vessel. This is to be used as a guide due to the fact the each grounding is unique and presents its own challenges.

The following steps should be followed if a vessel is hard aground:

  1. Have engineer check/or assign a crew member to check the voids to assure that there is no apparent damage to the hull and no flooding in any compartments.

  2. Assure the safety of all passengers on board. Address those passengers needing first aid.

  3. Contact the USCG Sector NC at 910-343-3882 or via VHF. Ask for the prevention duty officer. Please explain the situation and include the location of the grounding and the number of passengers on board.

  4. Have OPS manager contact the Ferry Director and Deputy Director and brief them on the situation.

  5. OPS Manager contact Public Relations Representative for media control.

  6. Attempt to free vessel under its own power. Keep constant communication with the engine room to assure that the engines are not overheating and that there are no other problems. (Recommendation to work backwards in the direction you came from).

  7. Make sure that the passengers are aware of the situation and keep them posted at all times. Communication with the passengers is paramount and needs the highest attention by ALL CREW members. (This goes a long way with the public!). Ask if there are any medical conditions that need immediate attention. If there is a medical concern call the USCG and make sure they are aware so they can assist in removing them from the vessel. If the grounding is such that the boat is not able to be freed immediately talk to the Ferry Director/USCG about removing passengers. Ensure those passengers that disembark the ferry leave their vehicle keys with the Master. If there are passengers that choose to stay onboard while it is aground, relocate passengers to a safe area.

  8. A crew member is to remain with the passengers at all times.

  9. As soon as possible crewmembers are to be drug and alcohol tested according to federal requirements. If necessary a relief crew may be called in to accommodate testing.

  10. Procedures for the safe removal of passengers will greatly depend on the weather and grounding location of vessel but may include the use of another ferry if possible or assistance of other local services. This decision will be a joint decision by the Master, Director, Operation Manager and USCG.

  11. Operations Managers are to make every effort to have food and drink brought to the vessel as needed.

  12. If the boat remains grounded and the tidal change is not helping free the vessel the following actions need to happen next.

  1. NCDOT Ferry Director or other directed person to discuss with CG to have an assist tug help with un-grounding the ferry.

  2. The Operations manager or Deputy Director of Operations will call Call Lance Winslow and check on the tug’s availability.

  3. Future plan is to have the following tugs assigned to the following OPS.

Hatteras: BUCK TAYLOR

Cherry Branch: DARE

The ALBEMARLE can be used depending on location and availability.

  1. If a tug is available and the decision has been made to use it, make sure ALL PASSENGERS are sent to the passenger lounge and are out of the way of the towing operation.

  2. If a tug is not available please contact Ferry Director and Deputy Director for further guidance.

  3. A rapid salvage survey may be filled out and kept on board for future reference and reporting.

Loss of steering disables ferry with 14 passengers on board

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

This file photo shows the state ferry vessel known as the Silver Lake, which experienced a loss of all steering during a late Saturday afternoon trip from Ocracoke to Cedar Island.

(MANNS HARBOR) – The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry M/V Silver Lake returned to Ocracoke Sunday under tow after losing steering power and running soft-aground Saturday night.

The incident happened about one mile south of Ocracoke as the Silver Lake was making its last run of the day to Cedar Island. The captain of the Silver Lake contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent a boat from its Hatteras Station to bring the ferry’s 14 passengers back to Ocracoke. Mechanics and the crew remained on board the Silver Lake to perform repairs and wait for the arrival of the tugboat Royal Engineer.

The passengers, crew and ship were never in any danger at any time.

Upon the arrival of the tug, the Silver Lake was towed back to Ocracoke, where the seven vehicles were unloaded and claimed by their owners. On Monday, the Royal Engineer was expected to tow the Silver Lake to the State Shipyard to be repaired and inspected before returning to service.

“We have very detailed plans for when incidents like this occur, and they were followed to the letter,” said NCDOT Ferry Division Director Ed Goodwin. “The safety of our passengers and crews are our top priority at all times. We certainly apologize for the inconvenience these passengers had to deal with, but we are grateful that they are all safely back on shore. We want to thank the US Coast Guard for assisting us during this incident.”

World’s oldest working restaurant promises timeless quality

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer
Photo credit: Simon Lock
The original oven of Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant.

The original oven of Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant.

MADRID – In the heart of Spain’s capital is Sobrino de Botin, the oldest working restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

While my husband and I were on a walking tour of Madrid, the guide took our group into the restaurant. What we saw enticed us to return later that afternoon to learn more about this centuries-old structure and its inspiring story.

Botin was founded by a French chef in 1725, and is now owned by Antonio Gonzalez and his family. They serve their world-famous roast suckling pig and roast lamb to tourists, celebrities, royalty and regulars alike.

This historical building — with dining areas on three levels and original wine cellar — enveloped us with the heavenly aroma of meat roasting in an 18th Century oven. We felt as though we had just stepped into a warm, welcoming home.

Though the restaurant has been sold to different families over the centuries, today’s 21st Century owner is Antonio Gonzalez, who inherited the business from his father.

Though the restaurant has been sold to different families over the centuries, today’s 21st Century owner is Antonio Gonzalez, who inherited the business from his father.

And welcome we were, by Gonzalez himself. He oversees the daily operation of the restaurant with an unwavering dedication to quality, freshness and customer service. He is friendly and gracious, with a keen intelligence and winning smile.

The restaurant’s clientele is approximately 60 per cent Spanish, and 40 per cent foreign. But Gonzalez believes that simply because a restaurant is popular with tourists doesn’t mean that it isn’t good.

“We are proud to have a cosmopolitan restaurant,” he said. “We don’t care if they’re Spanish, American, German or British. We treat everyone in the same way.”

When members of Spain’s Royal Family dine at Botin, it doesn’t shut down. They are seated at a large round table on the top floor, and the royals share the space with other diners.

Loyalty is critical to Botin’s success. The head chef has been working in some capacity for 44 years, since he was 14. Now he is in charge of preparing Botin’s traditional Castilian dishes. Some of the 65 employees started as teens, and continued working.

“It’s very important,” said Gonzalez, “because they feel part of us.”

As seen from the street in the heart of Madrid, Botin features dining on three levels.

As seen from the street in the heart of Madrid, Botin features dining on three levels.

That loyalty also extends to Botin’s diners. Gonzalez has seen three and four generations of families, who first came as children, grew up, brought their children, who in turn bring their children today.

“If we are part of their memories,” he declared, “then we succeed.”

Of course, a key element of Botin’s fame is the food. The restaurant goes through approximately 50 pigs and 20 lambs a day, and serves an average of 500 customers. According to Gonzalez, his suppliers are as loyal as his staff and diners — bringing him only the highest quality meat. Still, stringent filtering by the chef means that 30 to 40 percent doesn’t make the cut, so to speak.

Insisting that we try the Iberian ham, Gonzalez generously allowed us to experience the sheer delight of sampling meat that came from carefully selected black Iberian pigs. Fed a diet of acorns, whose oil ensures juiciness and distinct flavor, these prized pigs yield ham that is cured for three years. The ham bore no resemblance to any I’d ever tasted. Thinly sliced, lean and slightly chewy, it had a mild flavor that seemed to gradually grow in intensity with each delectable bite.

Botin has hosted numerous interesting patrons over the years, including Ernest Hemingway, who proclaimed Botin to be the best restaurant in the world. The upstairs dining area was immortalized in a scene on the second-to-last page of his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”

Gonzalez speaks with reverence of his father, Antonio, who was a child when his parents bought Botin. He credits him with developing the business.

“He was a special person,” recalls Gonzalez, “He was cultured, and spoke five languages. Everything we have here is thanks to Antonio”.

Summing up our entire experience perfectly, Gonzalez concluded that, “Botin is something special. You can feel it when you walk in the door. I think we have something magic here.”

After spending time in this inviting environment, with this kind and classy gentleman, we could only agree.

Sobrino de Botin
Calle de los Cuchilleros 17, Madrid, 28005
Telephone +34 91 366 4217
Web: http://www.botin.es

E-mail Zibula at penny@compassnews360.com, or through her travel blog at www.sixlegswilltravel.com

Wizards, witches and wondrous film-making techniques

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer
Harry Potter & Hogwarts Castle. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

Harry Potter & Hogwarts Castle. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

LEAVESDEN, ENGLAND – For those who still retain a sense of wonder, a day of fantasy, fun and fascinating facts awaits you, approximately 22 miles northwest of central London.

The Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour offers the opportunity to step into the magical world of the eight films based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and to explore the wizardry that made them such a huge success.

When you enter the clean, modern building that houses the films’ two sound stages, J and K, you might wonder if you’re in the right place. But once you find yourself standing in the Great Hall, all your doubts disappear.

The sets, props, costumes, models, structures and techniques that brought Rowling’s story and characters to life seem limitless. Here are a very few highlights to start a “MUST DO” potion brewing in your mind.

  • •Let’s begin with the Great Hall, where pivotal events occurred over pumpkin juice breakfasts and celebratory feasts. Since all the furniture was new, extras who helped populate Hogwarts were encouraged to perpetrate mild forms of vandalism, such as writing their names on the tables, and otherwise leaving their mark in order to create a typical boarding school dining room atmosphere.
The ‘Harry Potter’ movies were filmed at this studio near London.  (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

The ‘Harry Potter’ movies were filmed at this studio near London. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

Remember those beautiful floating candles that hovered above the tables? Well, they were originally real candles suspended by wires. The wires were digitally removed to give the illusion that they were up there on their own. This clever technique only lasted through the first film, because heat from the flames occasionally burned through the wires, causing candles to fall onto tables. As a result, floating candles were created digitally for all subsequent films.

  • •Professor Snape’s potions classroom enlisted the magic of the set designers in order to make it grow larger as filming of the “eight Harry Potter” movies progressed. Expansion of the set was necessary to accommodate hundreds of extras. There were 500 hand-labeled glass bottles filled with all sorts of strange items. There was everything, from hairballs to guts and/or bones from helpful butchers.
  • •Diagon Alley, where Harry began his wizarding adventures in earnest, is a cobblestone street lined with facades; the apothecary, an ice cream shop, the Leaky Cauldron Pub, Ollivander’s, where Harry’s wand chose him, and other familiar venues.

    Ollivander’s contained 17,000 wand boxes, each hand-labeled and decorated. Of those, 3,000 wands were actually used during the filming, and each was designed to match the personality of its bearer.

  • •The game of Quiddich played an important role in the films. Unfortunately, as much as some of us would love to climb onto a broom and take off into the sky in pursuit of the golden snitch, it simply can’t be done. Unless, of course, you are a special effects genius. The Quiddich players mounted their brooms and performed their actions in front of a green screen. In post-production, the visual-effects team would replace the original background with the appropriate digital-backdrop.

There is much more to see and enjoy, but the most breath-taking highlight has been saved for last. In a giant room stands a 30-foot tall detailed model of Hogwarts Castle, which was used for those magnificent sweeping shots. It took 86 artists seven months to construct this magnificent tribute to Rowling’s fertile imagination. The castle’s windows were lit by 399 tiny fiber-optic lights, which were used for night scenes. The castle itself is made of fiberglass and driftwood, but the gravel and plants used for the landscape are real.

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is one of those tourist attractions that draws you in from the start, and doesn’t let go until you stumble, exhausted, but smiling, through the exit. The amount of talent, passion and commitment is visible everywhere you go. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime gift to your children, grandchildren and/or yourself.

For information about the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour, visit 

www.wbstudiotour.co.uk

E-mail Penny Zibula at penny@compassnews360.com, or through her travel blog at

www.sixlegswilltravel.com

Tales from London’s Dark Side

Nocturnal walking tour offers plenty of goose-bumps

By Penny Zibula | Staff Writer
The ancient remains of a Debtors Prison

The ancient remains of a Debtors Prison. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

Editor’s note: County Compass reporter Penny Zibula has extensive travel plans this summer, and recently filed this dispatch from Great Britain.

Standing at the site where Scottish hero, William Wallace was executed is enough to give you a chill in and of itself, but when Robert, your well-informed and articulate City Wonders tour guide, describes in vivid detail the brutality with which this great man was dispatched, you find yourself immersed in feelings of both deep pity and overpowering revulsion.

Welcome to one of London’s most unique and emotionally challenging walking tours.

Early on, Robert leads you into the smallest constabulary in London. This is a working police station, as well as the home of a tiny, but attention-grabbing museum, where you can see artifacts spanning over two centuries of crime and investigation.

Glass cases contain such items as a 1913 “Suffragette bomb,” made from a mustard can, which was designed not to harm, but to bring attention to the cause. Among this and other glimpses into the past, is a series of crude forensic drawings of Jack the Ripper’s handiwork. Repelling, yet at the same time riveting, these depict the brutality with which this man – or as some believe, woman – murdered five women during a six-week period in the summer of 1888 that held the Whitechapel neighborhood in a grip of terror.

A Memorial to Heroes in Postman’s Park. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

A Memorial to Heroes in Postman’s Park. (Photo credit: Simon Lock)

Although it is believed the women died quickly from a first cut to the throat, they were immediately relieved of some or all of their internal organs. The Ripper even made a gift of one victim’s kidney to the London Police.

Particularly disturbing was a drawing showing the remains of Jack the Ripper’s last victim, Mary Kelly. Because hers was the only murder committed in a house, the killer likely had more time to remove all of her organs, including her womb.

Another stop is the site of England’s most notorious prison. Originally built into the Roman walls that surrounded the City of London in 1188, it was demolished in 1902. Newgate Prison, was the starting point of many a hanging parade. According to the tradition of the day, the condemned man was put in a wagon, perched on his own coffin and driven, through streets lined with jeering on-lookers, to Marble Arch, site of the old gallows. The British government encouraged these shenanigans until gentrification of the area put a stop to the practice in 1783.

Postman’s Park brings some short-lived relief from all the murder and mayhem. Opened in 1880, it is the home of George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a long wall of 200 ceramic tiles commemorating heroic acts of ordinary people who died while saving others.

Following this brief reflection on the brave and generous spirit of mankind, you are jolted back to seamy reality by a visit to Smithfield, the execution site where Bloody Mary — King Henry VIII’s eldest daughter — sat in a tower window, enjoying roast chicken and red wine, while she watched heretics burn. Believing she was doing them a favor, she ordered that white pine be used for the pyres, so as to make the flames as hot as possible.

Robert takes you to the last remaining watch tower, where men were hired to guard gravesites to keep them from being raided by “The Resurrection Men,” nighttime roamers who dug up bodies for quick sale to medical researchers.

The last stop on the tour is the cellar of the crowded and noisy Viaduct Tavern, which hides a 18th century debtors prison. After descending a set of narrow steps, you pass through the pub’s storage area and come face-to-face with many-a-man’s nightmare. The tiny cells each contain about 12 small metal cubicles where prisoners slept, along with their few possessions.

And so ends your two-hour visit into London’s darkest memories. Rest assured that it will haunt you for years to come.

For more information about the Criminal London Night Walking Tour, visit www.citywonders.com Readers may contact Ms. Zibula through her travel blog at www.sixlegswilltravel.com

‘ We held, fed babies ’

By Melanie Campen and Hattie Harrell | Special to the County Compass
Campen and Harrell briefly visit the Sugar Cane Museum, during a break from their week-long mission work in Haiti.

Campen and Harrell briefly visit the Sugar Cane Museum, during a break from their week-long mission work in Haiti.

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI – We recently returned from a week-long mission to Haiti, where we traveled with a group of about a dozen North Carolinians. The people of Haiti are proud. Everywhere we looked, the people were well dressed, with clothes pressed and clean, and in good spirits. It is an extremely poor country with most of Port au Prince living meal-to-meal. Fortunately, we did not see much conflict (not what you would expect).

Haiti trip told thru photos

Click on photo to enlarge