TEXAS’S CULTURE CAPITAL


Proud of its world-class arts scene, Houston invites everyone to come check it out

For decades, this sprawling city of 6 million was considered a necessary pit stop for business travelers. Lately, though, thanks to its booming (and global) economy, Houston’s population has become incredibly diverse, drawing new residents from the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and both U.S. coasts. Some 200,000 newcomers have arrived in the past three years alone, among them entrepreneurs, artists, chefs and designers. Most important, the city’s old guard is constantly reinvesting in its beloved community, with the result that institutions such as the Houston Ballet Center for Dance and the Asia Society Texas Center are opening state-of-the-art facilities and bringing in stellar shows and exhibits. Here are some highlights of the Lone Star State’s growing cultural landscape.

Visual Arts

Move over, oil and gas—art is becoming one of Houston’s prime attributes, thanks mostly to private investors and philanthropists (many of whom made their millions in, well, oil and gas). Best of all, a number of the 100-plus museums are free to the public.

The privately owned Menil Collection, housed in the first U.S. building by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, displays pieces ranging from Byzantine antiquities to paintings by Picasso and Warhol. Next door, the Cy Twombly Gallery has more than 50 works by the namesake American artist, known for his large-scale paintings and drawings. (As proof of Twombly’s influence on contemporary art, note that he is the only U.S. artist with a permanent installation—a 3,767- square-foot canvas of planets and orbs—in the Louvre.)

Also on the 30-acre Menil campus is the Mark Rothko Chapel. The octagonal brick building houses 14 of the artist’s abstract works. Just outside, don’t overlook artist Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk sculpture, created in 1963 and dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Located in the city’s Museum District, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is an inviting spot for art novices (depending on the exhibit, you’re even allowed to take pictures). CAMH is celebrating its 65th season with the cutting-edge “Outside the Lines” show, which explores the future of art across different mediums.

The Asia Society Texas recently moved to new digs close by—a striking building by Yoshio Taniguchi. You can tell that the Japanese architect was a perfectionist: Only the finest materials were used throughout the $48.4 million structure—Jura limestone from Germany, American cherry wood, Italian Basaltina stone—and the building runs on underground geothermal power.

After viewing the artworks on display, go into the center’s Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater and settle into one of the 273 plush seats—they’re made by the same guys that outfit Ferraris and Maseratis.

 

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Sin City Sampler


At these top-of-the-line Vegas buffets, everyone’s a winner.

When in Las Vegas, there are good reasons aside from financial ruin to hit a buffet. For about $25 you can eat for hours, like a horse at the longest trough on earth, as long as you stay in the dining room. We tested five of the best, four along the Strip and one slightly off-Strip. The past decade’s star chef invasion has raised the bar on food and service all over Vegas, and the transformation has trickled down even to the buffets. This style of dining is perfect for families and the sleep-deprived, because you don’t have to decide what kind of food to eat till you get there.

WICKED SPOON BUFFET AT THE COSMOPOLITAN

There’s something about Vegas that shows us how fickle we are. Remember when the Bellagio was the pinnacle of luxury on the Strip? Its thousands of handblown glass flowers now seem very ’90s next to new guys like the Cosmopolitan and the Aria, which rely more on digital effects to achieve the Vegas ideal of busy beauty.

The buffet at the Cosmo is positively tasteful, decorated in a hipster, mid-century-modern palette of browns and oranges. Overall, it’s the most appealing buffet on our list, offering small, composed plates of smartly conceived dishes. Most ethnic foods are under-seasoned at Vegas buffets, which is the case with the Korean beef salad here, though it’s still satisfying and dense. One standout: “fries with eyes”—crisp, piping-hot smelt, the size of French fries, served in a long-handled silver fryer lined with paper. You’ll feel as if you’re strolling the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Pad thai and edamame with ginger and chiles both come in small Chinese takeout containers, another whimsical touch. The slow-cooked lamb rib with five-spice powder is excellent. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and braised Brussels sprouts make a brilliant combo.

THE BUFFET AT ARIA

The room has a pleasant, open feel, with subtle gradations in the wood on the tables and in the pastel tones of the expensive glass wall tiles. The fried chicken here is stellar. As at most of the buffets, the eggs Benedict suffers from an underdone muffin (such are the problems of even the most carefully tended buffet). All the fresh fruit is vibrant and bright. The Aria is the only Vegas buffet with a tandoor oven, and its garlic naan is among the best bread in town. You’d be wise to avoid the tilapia. The desserts are nicely cooked and presented—try the oatmeal raisin cookies, the custardy cinnamon bread pudding or the ubiquitous crème brûlée.

THE BUFFET AT THE BELLAGIO

This well-run operation is one of the largest on the Strip. You won’t feel rushed by the efficient staff, who serve almost 4,000 people a day. And you won’t be confused at the 12 food stations, since every item is labeled (even “lemons”). The crab legs here are better than anywhere else in town. Come for breakfast: The hollandaise on the eggs Benedict is fresh and very lemony, and there’s excellent congee with shredded pork and green onion (you can choose your toppings). The lovely croissants are much better than the “home-made rolls.”

THE BUFFET AT THE WYNN

With its pale-pink-and-silver-striped wallpaper and twinkly chandeliers, this is one of the prettiest buffet rooms; it looks like a supersized French café. At breakfast, pile some of the creamy smoked salmon rillette on a bagel with capers and spicy cucumber salad. The chilled seafood station, one of the best on the Strip, even has sweet white anchovies. The thin-crust pizza is fresh from the oven, and the Asian station offers delicious shrimp shumai and pork dumplings. End with the crisp-topped crème brûlée rather than the bread pudding (though it’s said to be Steve Wynn’s mother’s recipe). As the tourists have moved south to the Cosmo and the Aria, the Wynn is quieter, which is relaxing—though Steve himself probably wouldn’t agree.

CARNIVAL WORLD BUFFET AT THE RIO

The Rio looks like what it is: a roomy, linoleum-floored cafeteria with lots of choices. At all the buffets, you pay and tip before you eat, and here you can settle up at a convenient machine. The spare ribs are served in a tangy but subtle sauce; they’re chewy in exactly the right way. Fried clams with tartar sauce are delectable, and you can help yourself to plain noodles and add whatever sauce you like; the alfredo is especially good. Don’t miss the tiny squares of layer cakes with special toppings, like an S-shaped cookie made of marshmallow. Any cab driver will confirm that this buffet is the favorite among Las Vegas residents. It’s no surprise: The locals know a good deal when they see one.

PLAYING THE ODDS

• You can’t make reservations at a buffet. To avoid lines, arrive when service starts. Or, if you play poker for an hour at the hotel’s casino, ask the pit boss if you qualify for a buffet pass, which allows you to get in a shorter VIP line.

• While Vegas is all about indulgence, resist the urge to overeat. Scope out the entire spread, then fill a plate with moderate portions. Go back for a fresh plate if you want to try other dishes.

• Eat slowly and save room for dessert.

• Leave at least a 15% tip—the staffs at these places keep your table clean and your drinks coming.

 

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals: Part 3


GALS  

Be One of the Guys

Women who play poker are like women who drink scotch—instantly intriguing. Find out how to be one of them at Mandalay Bay, where poker lessons are free several days a week. Not only will you learn several versions of the game; you’ll also be schooled in terminology and table etiquette. Afterward head over to the Old Homestead, a classic New York steak house with a Vegas outpost in Caesar’s. It serves Pat LaFrieda dry-aged meats and truffled gnocchi to die for; both can be paired with wine flights that may include selections from Opus and Justin.

GUYS  

Revisit Old Vegas

Start by touring the Neon Museum, whose collection of oldie-but-goodie signs will make you nostalgic for the Rat Pack days. Next stop: the new Mob Museum, located in (wink, wink) the old courthouse. It offers a comprehensive journey through the history of organized crime, from the early beginnings to today. The extensive display of mobster memorabilia includes John Gotti’s white suit; interactive exhibits allow visitors to listen to wiretaps.

View two feats of engineering at once when you visit the Hoover Dam with Pink Jeep tours. The dam, revolutionary when it debuted, is now spanned by the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a beautiful 1,900-foot-long concrete arch that opened to the public about three years ago.

GALS  

Bliss Out

The not-very-Zen Strip is home to some of the best spas in the country, and most offer day passes for around $40. At Aria, try the heated Japanese gaban’yoku stone beds, said to increase circulation. It’s worth paying for entry to the Spa at Encore, at the Wynn, if only to see its over-the-top design. The spa also has several “experience” showers: One mimics a waterfall; another shoots water all over your body.

The prize for best Jacuzzi goes to the The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, whose soothing Vitality Pool has unrivaled views of the Strip. The star at Sahra Spa at the Cosmopolitan is the hammam, a $3 million bathhouse that can be experienced only by booking a treatment but is worth every penny.

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals: Part 2


GALS  

Commune with Nature

Even if you think you’ve had your fill of red rocks in Colorado or Sedona, you’ll want to see Red Rock Canyon, a national conservation area about a half-hour from the Strip. Pink Jeep offers a four-hour tour of the 13-mile loop, where you’ll see fossilized sand dunes and Native American pictographs. If you prefer exercise with your nature, take a weekend yoga class in the underwater-viewing area at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. Watch the animals frolic while you’re led through an hour’s worth of poses, and enjoy complimentary use of the spa facilities afterward.

GUYS  

Eat (and Drink) with Gusto 

Ever hear of yellowtail collar (aka hamachi kama)? This Japanese delicacy is a favorite of Anthony Bourdain; at Bar Masa it’s showcased at its fatty best, especially when accompanied by a beer chosen by expert sommelier T.J. Buraszeski, Jr. Speaking of beer, check out Sage, where chef Shawn McClain’s tasting menu—four generous portions including dessert—is available with beer pairings. Beer is also the star at the Venetian’s Public House, a gastropub with more than 200 kinds of suds on tap. Nevada’s first certified beer cicerone will help you choose (but he won’t turn down the music, played at levels that kill the otherwise awesome ambience). The menu here is meat heavy; the marrow dish is a must.

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals


A couples' guide to Sin City

Today’s Vegas can be anything you want it to be: It’s a veritable playground for grownups, from gamblers to gourmets. The challenge is to fit in all you want to do in the (usually) short time you’ve got to do it. That’s why couples often adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy, in which the women and men go their separate ways during the day, then reconvene in the evening for various adventures. Here, the girl’s-versus-guy’s guide to a city that really never sleeps. Keep checking back to the RCI blog for more tips to ensure your Vegas vacation isn't a gamble!

GALS

Channel Your Inner Showgirl

Start with a snakeskin pedicure at Vdara Spa: It’s a gel pedicure in which real (naturally shed) snakeskin is applied to your toes, on top of your choice of color. Then strap on your highest heels and head to X Burlesque University at the Flamingo. During a 75-minute class, you’ll learn the all-important techniques of applying false eyelashes and stage lipstick and working a feather boa, then get schooled in a burlesque routine. After picking up some new skills, have a special cocktail at the Chandelier Bar, set on three floors of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and swagged in crystals. Try the Campfire Delight; it’s like a s’more in a glass, made up of a rum-cream liqueur, two types of chocolate, a graham-cracker-coated rim and toasted marshmallows. Next head to Minus5, a bar carved entirely from ice—the structure, the furniture, even the glasses in which your drinks are served

GUYS 

Be a Kid Again

Around the age of five, boys often develop an obsessive interest in toy cars and heavy construction equipment. In Vegas, an adult male can drive a real Lamborghini and operate a real bulldozer.

At Exotics Racing, you’ll start by getting some driver’s ed on the exotic paddle-shift cars meant for racing. The hardest part will be choosing your ride from a stable that includes a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a Mercedes SLS AMG and an Audi R8.

For those who prefer their machines a little larger, Dig This offers a chance to operate an excavator or bulldozer, just like the ones you see on construction sites, on the company’s “heavy-equipment playground.” Fuel these adrenaline-laced activities at the Burger Bar in Mandalay Place, where you can customize every part of your meaty creation, from protein to bun to garnishes. (The truffled potato chips are a must.) Or, for lunch on the fly, grab a slice at the Pizzeria at the Cosmopolitan.

 

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Brazil


Brazil

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Dining In: Brazilian Beans Hit the Spot


It's easy to make tutu a Mineira in your timeshare kitchen

BY REGINA SCHRAMBLING

The national dish of Brazil, feijoada, involves many hours and many steps as well as black beans, several meats, rice and side dishes. But cook local in the state of Goiás (home to the Brazilian capital, Brasília, and several hot-springs resort towns) and you’ll get that pork-and-black-beans satisfaction much faster. The region’s signature dish, tutu à Mineira, is the ultimate refried beans with bacon. Black beans are thickened with flour made from cassava (aka manioc) and topped with sliced sausage and hard-cooked eggs. You can eat the dish with a grilled pork chop, but it’s always matched up with bitter greens, like collards or kale. 


Tutu sounds like dance wear, but it just means mashed beans (canned are fine) with cassava. Though you can use regular flour, cassava is worth the hunt: It adds a hint of sweetness and makes the texture closer to that of polenta.

Tutu à Mineira         
Serves 4
        5 thick strips fatty bacon, diced  
        2 medium onions, diced
        4 cloves garlic, chopped 
        Salt
        6 cups cooked black beans (4 15.5-oz cans)
        ½ cup cassava (tapioca) flour 
        Hot sauce to taste 
        1 cup precooked linguica or chorizo sausage, cut in ½-inch slices
        2 large eggs, hard cooked, shelled and cut in ½-inch slices   
        2 scallions (green onions), green part only, thinly sliced

PLACE bacon in a heavy pot over medium heat and cook, stirring, until fat is rendered and the bits start to crisp. ADD onion and garlic; sprinkle with about 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. DRAIN beans, reserving liquid, and add to the pot. Continue cooking while mashing with a potato masher until beans are fairly smooth. LOWER heat, stir in reserved bean liquid and slowly add cassava flour. Cook, stirring, until beans thicken. Add more salt and hot sauce to taste. Meanwhile, heat chorizo slices in a small skillet over medium heat. Spread beans onto a platter, top with sausage and egg slices, then sprinkle with scallions. SERVE hot with cooked kale, collard greens or broccoli rabe.

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Branson Leaf Peeping


Admiring the distinct color palette of the Ozarks by foot, car and rail.

Fall in the Missouri Ozarks is nothing like the fireworks of a New England autumn. Instead of showy sugar maples exploding in garish reds, you get something that local folklorist Marideth Sisco calls “a glorious tweed.” Hickory, dogwood, oak and walnut trees color the hills in shades of crimson, amber, buttery gold and the muted bronze of old pennies. Another difference? No busloads of leaf peepers. The crowd is in town, distracted by Branson’s popular stage shows. But as the days turn mild and mosquitos start to disappear, fall is the best time to discover this entertainment mecca’s original attraction: the great outdoors.

DRIVE WAYS

The hills around Branson have been densely settled for more than a century, and a dizzying network of back roads connects the far-flung outposts. Warning: In the Ozarks, the term back road doesn’t mean a two-lane blacktop. The Glade Top Trail, one of the area’s loveliest drives, is a 24-mile serpentine stretch of gravel. It’s smooth-ish; don’t expect lane markers, service stations or much of anything besides stellar scenery.

But you needn’t go to such extremes to explore the countryside. Head west from Branson’s Country Mile (Highway 76), descending Route 13 toward Table Rock Lake. After you clear the Kimberling City Bridge, you’ll find a smokehouse heaven called Jill’s Bar-B-Que. As you leave the lake behind, the road gets twistier. Fields are so steep you’ll wonder how they were ever cleared of the dense hardwoods. For a 2-hour trip, drive east on Route 86, a curvy stretch with a sudden blast of lake views as you approach Highway 65, which will take you back to Branson. Just off the highway in Hollister, stop at Vintage Paris for a glass of wine or an espresso.

OUTDOOR EASY

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a manicured 2,200-acre preserve that can be explored on foot, by bike, on an ATV, on horseback or in an open-air tram. The tram ride includes a guided wildlife tour during which you roll through pastures where longhorn cattle, elk and bison graze. A paved 6-mile trail leads deep into the canyon, past scenery where every boulder and tree seems perfectly placed, and every blade of grass perfectly groomed. Halfway down the canyon, stop at Thunder Falls, a thin but mighty waterfall.

LOCO-FOLIAGE

For the lazy leaf peeper, there’s no better option than the Branson Scenic Railway. You can sit back for the 2-hour round-trip through some of the region’s most majestic and rugged terrain. The train itself is an ad hoc collection of semi-refurbished passenger cars, tugged by an Eisenhower-era locomotive. After pulling away from Branson’s historic depot, it chugs over Lake Taneycomo through the town of Hollister.

Gradually the ravines get steeper and begin rushing by, one after the other after the other. The views change swiftly, making it feel as if the train is moving much faster than its top speed of 30 mph. While a guide doles out historical tidbits, the real show rushes by your window—walls of color from the red-leafed dogwoods and purple sweetgums. Close to the end of the tour, the train slows to a stop on a curving trestle above Walnut Creek, allowing an overview of the wild country you’ve just traversed.

THE STRIP RUNS TO IT

One of the best outings is right in town, or almost. The Ruth & Paul Henning Conservation Area sits at the western end of Branson and covers 1,534 forested acres. A half-mile-long paved trail meanders through the russet-colored forest and up to a clearing, or “bald” as it’s called in the Ozarks.

You descend quickly from the parking lot next to Roark Creek, and after a half-mile the land seems to swallow you up. Once on the valley floor, you hike a half-mile stretch along the Roark, one of hundreds of headwater Ozark streams. You’ll soon feel far removed from the manmade entertainment of Branson, mesmerized instead by the song and dance of Mother Nature.

 

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Branson


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Acapulco


Acapulco

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Acapulco's Second Act


Mexico's original beach town has reclaimed its old-school allure.

Long before Cancún or Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya were even specks on the tourist map, Acapulco reigned as Mexico’s coastal queen. Acapulqueños have recently worked hard to restore Old Acapulco and the Costera, and posh resorts and malls have risen in the newest neighborhood, Acapulco Diamante. The result is a thoroughly modern vacation destination rich in culture and history. Now is the time to visit—or revisit—the place where Mexico’s tourism fame was born.

OLD ACAPULCO

In the early Hollywood days, Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, on the western shores of Acapulco Bay, saw the most action. Today, the ’50s have returned with the restoration of the beachfront Hotel Boca Chica. The designers faithfully retained the mid-century architecture and the tiny Coco Wash disco, which has become the hippest hangout in town. Chef Keisuke Harada creates platters of sushi and Kobe burgers for happy hordes at the hotel’s restaurants; on weekends, locals pull their yachts up to the dock and linger for hours over mescal martinis.

With Boca Chica grabbing attention, travelers are also being lured to the palapa-shaded fish shacks on Playa Caletilla. Here families gather beneath blue umbrellas, and water taxis take swimmers to the clear waters off Isla Roqueta, just 10 minutes away. At the nearby Plaza Alvarez (also called the zócalo), elderly gents study their newspapers at sidewalk cafés as kids scamper around the filigreed bandstand. Across the street, fishermen lay out their nets beside docks where party boats collect passengers for sunset sailings.

In the winding streets high above Old Acapulco, sightseers gather at La Quebrada to witness the famed clavadistas, or cliff divers. During the show, a lone diver poses atop a jagged, precipitous cliff. Below, waves crash against rocks before settling into a small swirling pool. In the blink of an eye, the diver swoops toward the sea. Onlookers applaud as he emerges from the water, and another duplicates his feat.

THE COSTERA

Most visitors to the Costera devote the sunlight hours to lounging poolside, browsing in arcades and malls and playing in the bay. Pint-sized fun-seekers enjoy the rides at Papagayo Park and the waterslides at CICI waterpark.

As evening sets in, families head to the Hard Rock Cafe for burgers and ribs. Partygoers seek out tables at Paradise or Beto’s, among the best of the clubs on the sand, or retire to high-end restaurants and discos in the hills. Horse-drawn calesas (carriages) clomp along the Costera, delivering dancers to Baby ’O, one of the best-known discos. And fireworks and laser beams shoot over the bay from the hilltop clubs until dawn.

ACAPULCO DIAMANTE

Perhaps the best evidence of Acapulco’s resurgence lies in the burgeoning Diamante neighborhood. Stretching from the Costera up the steep, winding Scenic Highway, Diamante has legendary discos, championship golf courses, lavish resorts, a concert hall and a shiny new mall.

Several large timeshare resorts are also found on the beaches of Acapulco Diamante, close to attractions like the La Isla shopping center at Punta Diamante, which has lured some of the Costera’s well-known establishments (including the family-friendly yet rowdy Carlos’n Charlie’s). Kids can head to the mall’s Aqua Planet, with bumper boats and mini-golf, as well as displays that teach about water conservation. And at Mundo Imperial, an enormous development with a convention center and hotel, the stars of today appear at the Forum, a state-of-the-art concert hall. With the three sides of Acapulco all in a state of transformation, Mexico’s coastal queen is once again the biggest star on the map.

 

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Vancouver


Vancouver

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Landmarks: Canada's Natural Wonders


Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta
If you use an Android* smartphone, you’re probably already familiar with Moraine Lake, in Banff National Park: It’s one of the operating system’s main background images. Of all the scenic lakes on Earth, there’s no question why Google chose this one. Set at 6,100 feet in the Canadian Rockies, it has brilliant blue water and the stunning Valley of the Ten Peaks for a backdrop. Visitors tempted to try a refreshing swim should dip a finger in first. The lake’s almost tropical hue comes from sediment carried in glacial runoff. Even on the warmest summer day, it’s frigid!  pc.gc.ca

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
Wherever there’s a museum dinosaur exhibit, chances are good that it contains some of the extraordinary fossils found in central Alberta’s wildly eroded badlands. Today the region’s arid landscape is speckled with cottonwoods and sagebrush, but 75 million years ago it was a subtropical jungle teeming with an exceptional diversity of dinosaur life. More than 35 species have been discovered in the park, and hundreds of specimens unearthed here are on display at major museums around the world. Visitors can even participate in a paleontological dig. albertaparks.ca

Prince Edward Island National Park
Streams run red when it rains in Prince Edward Island, and the fragile crimson cliffs crumble slowly into the North Atlantic. After an especially heavy downpour, the island can appear to be bleeding its iron-rich sandstone away. That steady erosion gives visitors broad pink sand beaches and undulating dunes to explore. The waters off this island province are known to be relatively warm for swimming, but the sand is the real charm of PEI National Park. Take a stroll on one of its beaches at twilight and watch the setting sun paint sky, soil and sand in innumerable hues of red.  pc.gc.ca

The Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba
They may look adorable, but polar bears are fierce predators, and safely getting near them in the wild is almost impossible. But tiny Churchill, Manitoba, which is close to one of the world’s largest polar bear populations, offers a unique opportunity to see the charismatic critters in their natural environment. To do that, it uses a little local ingenuity. Back in the late 1970s, Len Smith cobbled together a prototype of the first tundra buggy (there are now 16) in a Churchill workshop. Part jacked-up lunar rover, part customized school bus, this Churchill original has been bringing people and polar bears together ever since. tundrabuggy.com

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Dining In: What Tortilla Means in Spain


It’s a tasty egg-and-potato cake—and so easy to make

BY REGINA SCHRAMBLING

The tortilla is ubiquitous on Spain’s Costa del Sol—you can’t have a glass of Solera at a tapas bar without being offered a slice of this omelet-like dish. It’s also good for lunch or dinner, at sherry hour, or as the filling in a bocadillo, the Spanish translation of sandwich.


The classic tortilla comprises potatoes and eggs, but the concept is adaptable—and the dish is fairly easy to prepare. You can add thinly sliced chorizo, or green olives, or strips of piquillo pepper, and even shave in some Manchego cheese. 

Traditionally, a tortilla is flipped partway through cooking. Our recipe requires less dexterity: Just slide the skillet into the oven for the final half. Invert the tortilla onto a plate to serve it the way they do in tapas bars, with the lightly browned side on top. (This recipe is adapted from one by the late, great chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.)

Spanish Tortilla
½    cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Arbequina
3    lb russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
1    Tbsp coarse sea salt
1    large onion, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
2    cloves garlic, minced
4    oz very thinly sliced Spanish chorizo (optional)
8    large eggs

Heat ½ cup oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add potatoes, stir to coat with oil, then cover the pan and cook, turning often with a spatula, until they are half done (10 to 15 min.). Add salt, onion, garlic and chorizo; continue cooking and turning until potatoes are tender but not falling apart, 10 to 15 min. longer. Remove from heat; scrape mixture into a large bowl.

Beat eggs in a second bowl and fold into the potato mixture.

Heat a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium flame, add remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil, and heat until pan is almost smoking. Swirl pan to coat bottom and sides with oil. Pour in egg-potato mixture and cook about 1 min. Lower heat to very low and cook 15 min.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Slide pan into oven and cook until eggs are completely set (15 to 20 min.). Serve warm or at room temperature, cut in wedges for a meal or in cubes for tapas (shown).

Serves at least 8.

STAY
RCI affiliated resorts on the Costa del Sol include:


Crown Resorts at Club Calahonda 1878 
A lovely resort in a quiet community near the sea. Urbanización Sitio de Calahonda, Pueblo Jarales, Mijas-Costa

Crown Resorts at Club Caronte 2965
Situated on a large property with lush gardens.
Urbanización Riviera del Sol, Calle Libra, Mijas-Costa

Crown Resorts at Club Marbella 2404
In the heart of the Costa del Sol. Urbanización Sitio de Calahonda, Calle Monte Paraíso, Mijas-Costa

Heritage Resorts at Matchroom 1867
Adjacent to the beautiful Mijas golf courses.
Urbanización Mijas Golf, Mijas-Costa

For member reviews and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

Non-RCI affiliated resorts:

Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro 
Camino de Gibralfaro, Málaga; 34-952-221-902; parador.es; doubles from $200* per night

Vincci Selección Posada del Patio 5 
7 Pasillo Santa Isabel, Málaga; 34-951-001-020; vinccihoteles.com; doubles from $138 per night

Room Mate Larios 
2 Calle de Marqués de Larios, Málaga; 34-952-222-200; room-matehotels.com; doubles from $131 per night

*Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.

Published: Fall 2013 

 

                                   

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Canary Islands


Canary Islands

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Berkshires Whiteout


Making the most of winter in Western Massachusetts

The swath of the Appalachian Mountains that runs north to south in western Massachusetts has served as an idyllic playground for weekenders from Boston and New York City for more than a century. The Berkshire Hills, as they’re called here, roll lazily southward from Mount Greylock, at the northern end, down through the towns of Pittsfield, Lenox and Great Barrington. It’s no wonder the business tycoons of the Gilded Age chose this area, with its hilltop views, to build grand summer cottages. But while those houses and the region’s many other weekend residences are geared toward summer use, visitors have started to take advantage of all that the area has to offer in winter, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to skating on frozen ponds.

BY SKI OR SHOE

The region’s gentle slopes might not provide the face-numbing downhill thrills found in nearby Vermont or New Hampshire, but there’s a surprising number of places to lay tracks on fresh powder. The most notable downhill skiing is at Jiminy Peak, in Hancock, where 9 lifts and 45 trails (including a handful of glade and mogul runs) cover a rather large chunk of mountain. After a morning on the slopes, take a ride on the Mountain Coaster, a 3,600-foot-long raised track through the snowy woods. Strapped into a seated, single-person sled, you can control your own speed, topping out around 25 mph. Finish the day with twilight skiing or wind down with a beer and burger at John Harvard’s Restaurant & Brewery.

Families will find easier runs—and an expansive kid’s program and ski school—at Butternut Basin, just east of Great Barrington. Gradual inclines and plenty of cruising trails provide soft cushioning for beginners; sign the kids up for a half- or full-day group lesson before taking off on your own leisurely run.

KID-APPROVED ADVENTURE

Across the heart of this bumpy range, high-elevation forests flatten into long meandering stretches where you’ll find family-run outdoor activity centers, including Canterbury Farm, which offers an alternative to the nearby corporate resorts. Up a gravelly road in Becket, Canterbury sprawls across 176 acres, with 12 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. Owners Linda and Dave Bacon run the wooded trails (hiking is popular in warmer months) as well as a B&B in a 220-year-old farmhouse. Their trail fee is $15 per day; for an additional $15, you can take a moonlight snowshoe tour. A pond at the foot of a hill behind the house serves as an ice skating rink, where they also offer lessons.

Several miles west of Lenox, right on the New York border, Hilltop Orchards is open during the growing season for tours of its winery and cider orchard. In winter, visitors come to glide along the cross-country ski trails or take guided moonlight snowshoe tours, heading out just after dusk for an exhilarating two-hour trek. Snowshoers return to the warmth of the winery for cider and tunes played by a duo of acoustic guitarists by the fireplace. (The tours take place only when the moon is full, so call ahead for details.)

If the winds are howling, you can still connect with nature in the small, state-of-the-art Hopkins Observatory at Williams College, in Williamstown. The country’s oldest observatory, it presents nighttime shows all winter. Get there earlier in the afternoon to visit the neighboring Williams College Museum of Art, where you’ll find rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, before the Observatory’s evening show.

 

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Drive 4


Distance 50 miles

Lenox — Lee — Otis — Great Barrington — Stockbridge

This drive has a good mix of towns with historic houses, steepled churches and village greens. But a favorite section in the fall is Route 183 beside the Housatonic River, where the water reflects the leaves.

On 183, visit the Berkshire Mountain Bakery. It supplies loaves to gourmet restaurants throughout western Massachusetts and Connecticut. Farther along, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum, whose collection includes the artist’s famous Saturday Evening Post covers.

Work off breakfast with a climb at Monument Mountain (zip down Route 7, between Stockbridge and Great Barrington). When Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne did this 3-mile hike in 1850, they had time to hash out some plot points of what would become Moby-Dick. The views, as Melville discovered, are that inspiring.

Route: From Lenox town center, Rte. 183 N to Rte. 7 S.; mi. to Rte. 20 E; 11 mi. to Rte. 8 S; 5.5 mi. to Rte. 23 W; 16 mi. to Rte. 7 N; 1 mi. to Rte. 183 N; 14 mi. to Lenox.

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Photo Tips: Catching the Moment


Great photos don’t just happen, they’re planned. A pro tells you how

WRITTEN BY BOB KRIST

What is it that keeps the still photograph vital in the age of YouTube? Critic Susan Sontag speculated that “photographs may be more memorable than moving images because they are a neat slice of time, not a flow.” The trick for us photographers is to capture a slice of time that’s compelling enough to stand out from the flow of the everyday. 

Whatever you call this—the “decisive moment” or “privileged moment”—many of the best photographs have it. (Think of Joe Rosenthal’s shot of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.) But decisive moments aren’t only big historic events. They can be the small, funny, subtle or outrageous slices of life that we observe in our travels. With practice, you can train yourself to recognize these moments and to capture them with your camera. 

Projecting the present 
To capture a moment, you have to see it coming. One way to recognize situations that may develop into moments is through some serious people watching. See the mother cooing to her baby in the carriage? At one point, she’ll pick up the kid for a hug and snap, you’ve got your moment. That dog chasing the Frisbee®? Eventually, it’ll sail into the air for a dramatic catch, and if you’ve been following the action through your viewfinder, bingo, you’ve got it. Occasionally you might wait for something that never happens, but you’ll soon get better at spotting situations with “moment” potential. 

Choose a backdrop 
Anticipating a moment can start with a picturesque background: a mural, a row of trees in fall colors, a curve in a mountain trail. By themselves, such scenes may not make great pictures, but once a game of pickup basketball starts in front of the mural, or two joggers run down the line of trees, or a hiker appears on the trail—suddenly, you’ve got a moment. In cases like these, persistence pays off; you might have to return a few times to catch your perfect photo. 

So fair a foul day 
Don’t put away the camera when the weather turns ugly. Whenever the rain starts pelting down, I’m out with my camera—I know that these conditions can transform the mundane into the magical. A rainbow soaring, a shaft of sunlight penetrating the clouds, or a bolt of lightning streaking across the frame can make my day. 

I am a camera 
Portraits and people pictures can also have a sense of moment—usually thanks to a gesture. By “gesture” I don’t necessarily mean a hand movement, but an action—a facial expression, a certain posture—that gives insight into the subject’s mood or character. Try interacting with your subjects so they have something to react to, such as posing instructions or a wisecrack. As you do it, keep your camera up to your eye to capture their unguarded response. (You’ll need a good working knowledge of your camera, so you don’t lose that fleeting expression by having to fiddle with the controls.) Talking with a camera glued to your eye may seem awkward, but you and your subject will soon get used to it. 

Frames per moment 
Once you start capturing moments with the camera, you’ll find yourself taking tons of pictures—and probably getting more misses than hits. But you won’t regret shooting a few more frames when you see the results.

 

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Drive 3


Distance 47 miles

North Adams — Mohawk Trail — Savoy

The Mohawk Trail is one of the busiest Berkshires routes, but the autumn panoramas, especially from the West Summit, make it worth the traffic. And here’s a secret: The loop back, beginning with Route 8A, is equally pretty and little visited. Begin and end in North Adams, a left-for-dead factory town that is reviving itself through such efforts as the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. MASS MoCA’s 120,000 square feet of gallery space, in an old factory building, is almost as interesting as the art.

Near the end of the loop, stop in Adams for a walk on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, an old rail bed that’s now a paved pedestrian and bike way. The trail starts at the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, on Hoosac Street. For a taste of the old North Adams, grab a dog at Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, a family-owned hole-in-the-wall that goes back to 1917.

Route: From North Adams, Rte. 2 (the Mohawk Trail) E 18 mi.; Rte. 8A S 10 mi.; Rte. 116 W 12 mi.; Rte. 8 N 7 mi. to North Adams.

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Drive 2


Distance 40 miles

Williamstown — North Adams — Mount Greylock

Begin and end in Williamstown, home of Williams College, one of the nation’s best undergraduate schools and certainly one of the prettiest on a fall day. Round out your cultural quotient at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute (“The Clark”), known for its outstanding collection of French impressionists, Old Masters and American artists. The Chef’s Hat restaurant, also in Williamstown, serves lunch, but it’s better for breakfast if you’re craving turnip muffins.

The highlight of this route is the Mount Greylock Scenic Byway, whose hairpin turns will bring you to the highest point in Massachusetts, from which you can see five states and every gradation of fall color. Each Columbus Day, hundreds of hikers do the Mount Greylock Ramble, a tough climb to the 3,491-foot summitwhich is why most people drive it.

Route: From Williamstown, Rte. 2 E 5 mi. At Rte. 8 S, turn right almost immediately onto Mt. Greylock Scenic Byway: follow it 18 mi. Rte. 7 N 17 mi. to Williamstown. Alternatively, Rte. 7 S 11 mi. to Lenox.

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