Jedi Knights Arrive in Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Do you watch the end titles of a movie just to see the locations where it was filmed? If so, there’s a news flash: the final three Star Wars films (The Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) treat movie-goers to eye-popping views of a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of southwest Ireland.

Luke Skywalker’s refuge and Rey’s training location in all three movies was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Director JJ Abrams—along with cast and crew—jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. From there, they traveled eight miles by sea to the starkly beautiful Skellig Michael.

To keep the location a secret when The Force Awakens was first shooting in 2014, locals were told a documentary was being filmed in the area, so they were amazed when it was quietly revealed that it was really Star Wars being filmed in their community.

A press release from Tourism Ireland quoted Gerard Kennedy of The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse in Portmagee, as saying: “It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

The monastic Island, Skellig Michael founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Starting in the 7th century, Skellig Michael was a center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks for 600 years. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-meter-high rock, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible, monasteries.    Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan

 

In the Footsteps of the Jedi Knights

Ireland’s County Kerry is one of the island nation’s best-loved destinations—and the first place I ever visited in Ireland. Thirty years ago I was wowed while driving around the Ring of Kerry, a road along the cliff-lined coast with dramatic views over the Atlantic.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars—or of stargazing—this might be just the destination for you. Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the wonders you can see with the naked eye in the region.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even spot Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon as it drops out of hyperspace!

The island of Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it’s inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled there more than a millennium ago. The stacked-stone beehive huts that the monks lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year. (Advance booking required.)

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo by  Valerie O’Sullivan

Traveling with Star Wars

A growing number of travelers choose to visit TV and shooting locations. (See my post about visiting Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. ),

Locations for The Force Awakens include Scotland, Iceland’s volcanoes, the Abu Dhabi desert, England, and New Mexico. Past Star Wars movies have featured Tunisia, Spain, Lake Como (Italy), Guatemala, Norway, and Switzerland.

Watch a video of scenery on Skellig Michael are available at Tourism Ireland.

May the traveling force be with you!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read about my travels in Ireland:

 

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC

On my most recent visit to Washington, D.C., I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in spring. Regal and inspirational, the likeness of this great civil rights leader gazes out over the waters of Tidal Basin. Sculpted by Chinese master artist Lei Yixin, the memorial is particularly gorgeous when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cherry blossoms decorate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who became a notable figure during the U.S. civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

A message of nonviolence

Dr. King is the first African-American honored with a memorial on the National Mall. He played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens, and he influenced the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 because he preached and practiced a nonviolent philosophy striving for freedom, justice, and equality

The granite face of Dr. King is resolute, and his arms are crossed as if to say, “I am here to defend the civil rights of African-Americans and all other disenfranchised folks. I will not yield until all men and women and children have equal rights, regardless of race, gender/gender identity, ethnicity, religious belief, or political affiliation.”

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are quotes by Dr. King carved upon a wall at the back of the monument. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At least that’s what I heard him say as I stood looking up at the towering statue. My visit to the memorial was particularly meaningful because I remember the day Dr. King was assassinated—it was my brother’s birthday—and my family watched the funeral procession on TV a few days later. Also, I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and in the early 1970s there was a lot of racial tension leading up to school busing to desegregate the public schools. I was shocked when I heard that the Klan was staging rallies; naively I had assumed the days of the KKK were long gone.

Words that changed America

On a sunny morning during the Cherry Blossom Festival, the monument was buzzing with people from all over the world, speaking numerous languages. I watched as a young Muslim woman had her photo taken in front of Dr. King’s statue. Drummers from the Boulder Philharmonic—who were in D.C. as honorees of the 2017 SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras—played near the monument, and their African-style drumming resounded across the Tidal Basin.

"Out of the mountain of despair." ©Laurel Kallenbach

“Out of the mountain of despair.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

On the massive stone behind Dr. King is inscribed “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” a line from his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

And behind that is a granite mountain split in half, which some people say represents Stone Mountain in Georgia, the site of a Civil War memorial carved into the side of the mountain. It depicts Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Stone Mountain is also the place where the Ku Klux Klan was re-founded in 1915. In addition, I personally think the bisected mountain represents the monolithic block of racism that the Civil Rights Movement cleft in two.

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King's speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors pored over the quotes from Dr. King’s speeches about freedom. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A wall behind the monument is inscribed with words from Dr. King’s speeches over the years, including a famous line that I find so inspiring: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

I also loved King’s hope-filled statement, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (You can learn more about the quotes at the memorial on the National Park Service website.)

The struggle for civil rights for all people will continue, and thankfully the wisdom and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. will encourage and empower people forever. Having a monument to commemorate one of our most courageous and tireless heroes is a powerful reminder of the conflicts of the past—along with the work that must continue into the future.

Injustice anywhere ©Laurel Kallenbach

In this 1963 quote, King addressed the need to eliminate injustice. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, and it is open free of charge. The memorial is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and West Basin Drive SW in Washington, D.C. Parking is limited near the memorial. The nearest metro stop is Smithsonian.

Originally posted: April 3, 2017

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance editor and writer

 

5 Unforgettable Flavors at Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market in Römer Square ©Laurel Kallenbach

Thousands flock to Frankfurt’s annual Christmas Market, centered in historic Römer Square   ©Laurel Kallenbach

Germany’s Christmas Markets overflow with treasures and gifts of every size and price, and Frankfurt’s massive Christmas market has acres of goods for sale in booths and huts (called stube) located in its historic old town.

In fact, the market spreads over three locations: Römer Square, Paulsplatz, and the Main Quay. The Christmas market was first mentioned in writing in 1393, and was a place to buy foods and other necessities to stock residents through the winter.

Shopping Frankfurt’s festive market requires stamina, and that’s one of the reasons why the foods sold here are so enticing. Cookies, candies, roasted almonds, sausages and currywurst, and spiced wine served hot (called glühwein; pronounced “glue-vine”) beckon browsers to sample along the way—or to take home Christmas delicacies.

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s so much to see at the Frankfurt Christmas Market that the organizers offer one-and-a-half-hour bilingual tours in German/English focusing on “Stories, Sweets, and Savouries” (6€–14€, weekends only. You can buy tickets at the Tourist Information Römer).

I had a delightful time on the tour, which focused on Römer Square, the heart of the market—and the prettiest area (it was reconstructed to its medieval glory after it was almost completely leveled by bombs during WWII). I learned a great deal about Frankfurt’s delectables (details below) and rode on the vintage merry-go-round (somewhat less appealing to me because it played country-western songs).

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The highlight of the tour included climbing to the roof of St. Nicholas Church for a panoramic view of the entire market and the Frankfurt skyline.

Looking down from this bird’s-eye view gave me new perspective. The throngs of people were dwarfed by the half-timbered buildings and City Hall, the wide expanse of cobblestones on Römer Square, and the statue of the goddess Justice. (It was also a chance to take a break from the mad crush of shoppers!)

And to cap off the tour, my mostly German-speaking group warmed up with a hot cup of mulled wine and admired the 100-foot-tall spruce Christmas tree decorated with 5,000 lights and 500 red ribbons.

1. Glühwein

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

A mug of this hot, mulled wine, either white or red, really takes the chill off the evening, and the wooden huts (called stuben) that serve this holiday beverage are the hub of the Christmas market. Around glühwein stands, people stand ten deep around tables, especially after dark when the temperatures get colder.

I loved how the steamy cup of glühwein fogged up my glasses and warmed my hands. In Frankfurt, the glühwein mugs are in the Bembel style, the blue-floral pattern that dates back centuries.

There’s glühwein made of either red or white wine. In Frankfurt, I had a slight preference to the white, but naturally I tried them both. They packed plenty of alcoholic punch, so I never ventured to have one with a shot of liquor in it.

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Lebkuchen (German “gingerbread”)

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

The saucer- or plate-sized decorated cookies you see dangling from booths are usually made of lebkuchen, although you can also buy small cookies as well. The fact that people liken lebkuchen to gingerbread sets up an expectation that left me disappointed—because there’s no ginger flavor.

However, the Nuremburg-style lebkuchen I sampled—made from a centuries-old recipe—was chewy, dense, and far less sweet than gingerbread. It’s a blend of nutty, spicy, citrusy flavors, and it’s glazed with sugar and has a communion-wafer bottom.

I confess that I sampled my lebkuchen at my hotel and washed it down with some Kessler German sparkling wine. I was more than satisfied.

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Mead (honey wine)

The double-decker Wagner Honey House at the Frankfurt Christmas Market specializes in bee products—from beeswax candles that smell so sweet you almost want to eat them to honey wines and propolis and bitters (a digestif) sweetened with honey.

Upstairs is a tasting room where you can sample the many varieties of mead, made by fermenting honey and various fruits or spices. (Mead is possibly the world’s most ancient alcoholic beverage.)

Because I’d had my fill of glühwein, I opted for the bitters, which have a palate-cleansing effect and a refreshing taste—especially if you’ve had a few too many sugary sweets.

4. Frankfurt Bethmännchen

Tiny cookies, called Bethmännchen, are a Frankfurt specialty. Made of marzipan rolled like a little ball and decorated with three half-almonds, the treats have a poignant story. In 1838, a banker’s family, whose surname was Bethmann, served a new sweet, decorated with four almonds for each of the four sons. When one of the sons died seven years later, the cookies used only three almonds.

Brenten cookies, Kethmännchen, and Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, Frankfurt ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bethmännchen, kethmännchen, and Brenten cookies, Frankfurt.  Photo©Laurel Kallenbach

Since then, Bethmännchen have become a Frankfurt tradition and are widely sold throughout the Christmas Market—along with many other shapes and sizes and flavors of baked goods, including stollen, schaumküsse (chocolate-covered marshmallow concoctions that looked like giant Mallomars), and more.

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

5. Roasted Almonds (Mandeln)

Many stuben in the Frankfurt Christmas Market sell fresh-roasted almonds, but the one that reeled me in with its sweet-savory smells was Eiserloh’s, which sells candied almonds in dozens of flavors.

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth ©Laurel Kallenbach

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth.  Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Choices range from white-chocolate hazelnut, orange ginger, chili pepper, Bailey’s Irish cream, Nutella, pineapple, Red Bull, white-chocolate coconut, Bacardi Gold, eggnog, raspberry balsamico, and more.

The people behind the counter let me taste half a dozen flavors until I settled on my two favorites: chocolate mint and white-chocolate hazelnut. I left with a colorful cone of each, perfect gifts to take back home to the States.

I came away from the Frankfurt Christmas Market footsore—but happy with all the fabulous flavors I enjoyed there.

For more information: Germany, The Travel Destination

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted December 2014

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

A hut selling local sausages Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

A hut sells local sausages. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Have Book, Will Travel

While cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay on a schooner, this girl was immersed in a Harry Potter book. She could have been me at age eight.   ©Laurel Kallenbach

You can tell a lot about a person by their books: at home and on the road.

I have shelves of uncategorized fiction, including books I’ve read and those I haven’t. There’s a small, poetry-sized shelf for volumes of poems. There’s a delicious space for cookbooks in the kitchen. The sustainable living books are on my loftiest shelf.

And—of course!—I have devoted several rambling shelves to travel guides and travel memoirs and travel histories. All the destinations are mixed up: Egypt beside Ireland beside Singapore beside Belize. I’ve remapped the world.

Going Places

Whether or not a book is specifically about travel, it takes me on a journey—figuratively and literally. Many times, when I look at photos from past vacations, I’ve noticed that the book I’m reading made it into a picture or two.

Antigua’s Carlisle Bay beach was lovely, but my mind was in 17th-century Holland: I was reading Tracy Chevalier’s “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.” ©Laurel Kallenbach

In fact, I often remember the books I read during specific trips, either because they helped pass long hours on the airplane or because I was so mesmerized by the book that it distracted me from the actual destination.

For instance, I read The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan in Fiji. I had plenty of time toward the end of the trip for reading because a hurricane was moving through that part of the Pacific. Although the hurricane remained 500 miles from the Fijian islands, the water got so murky that snorkeling was bad. By afternoon on the remote island of Kadavu, it started to rain buckets. We were staying in a solar-lit, thatched bure; when ours got damp and dark, we huddled in the dining building, which had a metal roof and hurricane lamps. I was happy to disappear into Tan’s magical mother-daughter saga. The next day, we flew back to the main island and stayed at a hotel near the airport. There, Ken and I sat on the bed and gazed out at horizontal rain and wind as they denuded the palm trees. Escaping again into the book, I could almost forget the howling outside.

“The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred Ireland” by Cary Meehan took me to amazing standing stones, like Kilclooney Dolmen in County Donegal. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I read Jurassic Park during my honeymoon on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Ken read it on the flight east—and during our unexpected sleepover in Atlanta due to cancelled flights. Then I read it on the beach and during the flight home. (To help us travel light, we pack books that both of us are interested in. That way we swap books halfway through the trip.)

In Scotland, I read a second-hand Amelia Peabody mystery—one of a series of charming archaeological whodunits set in Egypt during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I was finished, I donated this one to a retreat-center library on the island of Cumbrae. (That’s another secret to traveling light: leave it behind for someone else to read.)

In England, I read Pride and Prejudice for two reasons: a) because I never had, and b) because it felt right to be reading Jane Austen while visiting the very manor houses, villages and gardens where the P&P movies were filmed.

Dove è la Toilette? (Where’s the bathroom?)

Where would we be without guidebooks and phrasebooks? Lost, I imagine. In the days before e-readers, I photocopied the pertinent pages before I traveled and then discarded the pages as I moved from place to place.

True confession: I still do this because a) I prefer not to lug expensive electronics around the globe, and b) batteries choose to die and wireless tends to disappear the instant I arrive in way-off-the-beaten-path places.

The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead estate in England, was the setting of a love scene in the 2005 movie “Pride and Prejudice.” I read the book while I was in the region. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Rick Steves’ Italy was my lifeline 15 years ago when I traveled alone for a month in the Lake District and Tuscany. I carried photocopied pages (a Rick Steves–sanctioned method), and everywhere I went—restaurants, cafés, museums, hill towns, lakes—Americans pored over the same book. The Rick Steves guide was an excellent ice-breaker: after all, you know the reader speaks (or at least can read) English. Many times I’d lean over to the adjacent table at a trattoria and start a Rick-related conversation:

“I see you’re traveling with the Rick Steves guide. Are you staying in Varenna or Menaggio here on Lake Como?”

“We got into that cute little mom-and-pop hotel in Varenna. You?”

“Varenna. That hotel was booked, so I’m staying at a nice place on the outskirts. A little pricier, but there’s a lovely garden and a fresco in the breakfast room! How are Rick’s suggestions for restaurants here in town?”

“Outstanding! We’ve been to all of them. ‘Stick with Rick’ is our motto.”

Stick with Rick became my mantra for that trip—half of it anyway. I mostly agreed with his recommendations for pretty medieval villages to visit, and I appreciated his historical background. In May, when tourism was light, seeing others with Rick Steves’ Italy was a novelty. By June, as crowds increased, the thrill had worn off and I had to get off the Rick grid for a little solitude.

For better or worse, at home or abroad, books unite us.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted July 2013

What books have transported you most? Does a certain type of book work for you when you travel? And how do you read: eBook or paper? Leave a reply below, if you like…

I used the titles of books to create a little “book haiku” about traveling. ©Laurel Kallenbach