On the First Day of Christmas:
Yes, Santa, I have received several requests for my original Twelve Days of Christmas. This year will be a little different. We are going to take a journey to places that may soon be gone, such as glaciers, trees, islands, forests and reefs. You might already be guessing which ones. Fortunately, I have been able to experience most of them. I strongly encourage you to go now, or to help preserve them in some fashion.
At the end of each of the Twelve Days will be a little champagne oriented gift you can buy for a loved one. So, you will get twelve places to contemplate, and twelve gift ideas.
Day 1 is a place that is near and dear to my heart, Glacier National Park. Needless to say, the glaciers are disappearing faster than ice at a summer tailgate party. Only twenty five active glaciers remain. Some are over 10,000 years old! Just think, you will see something the next generation will only read about or see in travel magazines!
If you happen to go, please stay at the Candlewycke Inn (Megan) in Bigfork, or the Laughing Horse Lodge (Katherine) at Swan Lake. Both owners are friends, and will make your stay memorable!
Start Day 1 with some champagne jelly beans from Jelly Belly. Champagne flavored jelly beans? Can’t be any worse than popcorn flavored!
On the Second Day of Christmas:
Most of you know that Italy is not a place near and dear to me. Why? I was there back in 1971, while on my first extended European vacation, when I found out my Father had passed away, on my birthday, no less. Before I could book a trip back home, I had to wander through some or most of Italy, finally catching a flight home from Rome. Flights were not as plentiful or cheap back then, it was the best I could do under the circumstances. I missed his funeral!
Anyway, Venice in particular stood out as the stinky mess, it always had that reputation! And on a hot summer day, even the smell of durian in southeast Asia is preferable to Venice. But rumors abound that the city is s(t)inking, that is, without the T! It could be under water within a decade.
So, if you must go, I would suggest going now, before your three story flat or hotel is under water. But there is an alternative that is somewhat better. The klongs in Bangkok provide the same cultural experience, without the smell! It has more charm, nicer people, better food, and certainly more to see (and less to smell).
Moving on the my champagne gift, how about a nice champagne ice bucket? My favorite is actually plastic, purchased at a champagne house in Epernay, when I last visited. But any bucket will do. Heck, I even use a trash can when I stay in hotels or take Amtrak! I am certain you can figure it out. But it makes a great gift.
So day two, get over the stink, and get a really good ice bucket for your sparkling or champagne!!!
Thanks again for your nice comments on the Twelve Days, I appreciate it. That is the best gift I could receive!!!
On the Third Day of Christmas:
Moving closer to home, I find it rather difficult to comprehend that the Joshua trees in the Southern California’s Mojave Desert are now endangered. The Joshua is actually Yucca brevifolia, and the largest of the yucca family. They can grow to a height of 15 to 40 feet, and can live for 150 years.
Why are they endangered? The Joshuas rely on the female pronuba moth for pollination. No other animal can do this. Climate change is the culprit, though the current administration refuses to recognize it. So, if you ever wanted to see a Joshua, or to visit Joshua Tree National Park in its unique glory, you had better go now! Great idea: when you head down to the Coachella Music Festival, take a break from the music and booze. Head over to Joshua for a treat and trek that may not last much longer.
For your Day 3 champagne gift, might I recommend stemless champagne glasses. Yes, I have broken more than my share of really expensive champagne glasses over the years. Stemless is the best alternative for both every day drinking, and for parties. I have about a dozen, and last I counted, still have a dozen!!!
On the Fourth Day of Christmas:
One of the most under rated places on the planet is Patagonia (my photo from 2009). You probably heard of Doug Tompkins, founder of both Esprit and North Face? After his divorce from Susie, he became an activist for the environment and land conservation, particularly in Patagonian Chile and Argentina. He and his second wife have bought and conserved more than TWO MILLION ACRES of wilderness in both Argentina and Chile.
Patagonia is one of the most beautiful, and least spoiled places on the planet. While not for everyone, I heartily recommend a visit, particularly to Torres del Paine in the Andes. The Tompkins have focused their efforts on creating parks, recovering wildlife, ecological agriculture, and thoughtful activism. Unfortunately, Doug Tompkins died in 2015 in an accident while kayaking in southern Chile.
If you are a real traveler, Torres, Patagonia, and the glaciers should be on your list. It is not an easy trip, requires planning, lots of driving, and an adventurous spirit. But it will be worth it!
Moving on to my favorite adult beverage, I am the only consumer of alcohol in the household, so I need a good champagne sealer. This is a photo of one of several, but it works the best. It keeps my champagne bubbly for several days, even a week sometimes!!! I bought them in Epernay and Reims, but I am sure you can find them here.
Enjoy your champagne weekend, party hearty!
On the Fifth Day of Christmas:
Some destinations seem to call out your name. One such place was Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andres, back in 2007. Everyone told me how magical it would be. Nobody told me how crowded my visit would be. I am fully supportive of their recent efforts to limit visitors, and to keep visitors on walking paths. When I visited many years ago, people were running amuck, over and through the sacred shrine.
Peruvians are justly proud of this great monument. Perhaps there is a better way, by preserving it for future generations. I don’t know the answer. But elbowing my way through thousands of people is definitely not the answer. So, when you visit, please be mindful of its fragile nature, and its importance in history. Stay on the walking paths!
The fifth day champagne gift is one that most of us do not have. It is a champagne opener. The champagne cork should be opened slowly, and not “popped” as most people tend to believe. The pop releases too much gas or fizz. A gentle release, by either your trained hand or the champagne opener, is much preferred. But don’t feel badly, most wine stewards and wait staff do not adhere to this standard. You are now one step more enlightened!
On the Sixth Day of Christmas:
I hope you are not tired of traveling around the world to endangered places. This is the half way point of the Twelve Days. There are no partridges or pear trees!
It turns out my cousins and their children are in Cairns, Australia right now. Their son, Jason is on a one year trip around the world! Ah, to be young and carefree again. Wait, I am old and carefree, right? Anyway, I just saw a photo they posted on FB with their daughter, son, and the young man he is traveling with. They were at the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns, of course, and the sister city of Port Douglas, are the jump off points for one of our world’s great treasures, the Great Barrier Reef. Several years ago, we visited not only the reef, but the Daintree Rainforest. Even then, the Reef was endangered, with global warming causing “bleaching” of the reef skeleton.
One simply cannot imagine a more pristine part of the world. The Reef is huge, supposedly visible from space, beautiful, and an exciting place to visit. We spent the day on a huge catamaran out to the outermost reef, Agincourt Reef. The tour companies anchor a huge “day boat” complete with dining room, showers, lounge area, and a bar. The standing rule or law is that EVERYTHING brought to the day boat must be taken back to shore each day. No waste, no food, no trace, supposedly.
But I cannot imagine these dive boat/tours will continue forever. The Reef is too fragile, and the climate is not cooperating. Yes, it is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the world. Should you go? You can decide!
Aside: I had the best salmon sushi ever in Cairns.
Moving on to an after dive treat, how about some champagne truffles for dessert tonight. Too sweet for me, but quite popular in France and England. As my travel buddy Mike says, “it is very civilized” for us country boys!
On the Seventh Day of Christmas:
A place near and dear to me, for many reasons, is the Amazon rainforest. Our visit there was perhaps one of the two best places we have ever visited. Living in a jungle preserve, in a rustic cabin with limited conveniences, we got to see the rainforest in all of its glory. We saw how the animals live together, cooperate and thrive. We got to experience a great light show and storm throughout several nights. We learned about plant life that might provide treatments and cures to many of today’s maladies.
Unfortunately, the rainforest is diminishing, as poachers claim raw forest and clear cut the land. First, the timber sells for a tidy profit. But second, they do not plant crops that maintain or enhance the topsoil, which is soon washed away by heavy rain. Add to that, many prospectors mine the river for gold, creating a downstream mess of muddy water and excess silt. It is not pretty in some places, yet pristine and unspoiled in others.
If you have an opportunity to visit, you will see what we saw. And you will find the entire process sickening, and clearly in need of our help. Please support efforts to maintain the integrity of the “world’s lungs”, the Amazon Rainforest.
Since we would like to stop the clear cutting of the rainforest, why not take our machetes and swords and use them as a sabre to open my champagne? I have only seen this tradition once, in Napa Valley. I asked about it in Champagne, France, but they no longer perform this as part of their regular tours.
If you are looking for a gift for someone who has everything, this just might be the perfect gift. It would certainly start a few rather interesting discussions.
On the Eighth Day of Christmas:
Looking for Eight Maids a Milking? It reminds me of a great story about milk on the way to the Taj Mahal. A fellow traveler was telling us about her trip to see the great Taj. Along the way, her group stopped at an open market, to watch the locals buy their food. They dipped their entire arm and hand into a large vat of milk, to test it for sediment, organisms, or ?? It forever changed her view of drinking milk!
But the Taj Mahal is one the great monuments in the world. Formerly a white marble mausoleum near Agra, India, it is now beset with both water and air pollution, to the point of turning dark yellow, almost brown. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Vehicles are banned from within 500 meters of the Taj. And due to subsidence, much like we have here in the agricultural valley, the Taj is sinking. The foundation is made of wood, and is in serious danger of being polluted by the surrounding water.
Though I have not been there, and have no desire to go, I would urge caution. I still think it is one of the world’s great tributes to man or womankind. And it resides in a country that will soon be the most populated in the world by 2025!!!
Moving on from this depressing subject, let’s lighten the mood with some strawberries and champagne! One of the best and prettiest I ever had was at Wimbledon. For some reason, it just tasted better there than anywhere else. Some of the foreigners had no idea that the two go together quite well. Though it is not strawberry season now, just thinking of it makes me smile!
On the Ninth Day of Christmas:
Now, if I can find nine ladies dancing, that would be a Christmas miracle. But can you find more than nine ladies dancing (or stealing souvenir pieces) on the Great Wall of China?? Though I have no desire to see it, or walk on it, many people do, locals and tourists alike. And like many of the endangered places on my list, it is falling apart, faster than it can be repaired.
Credit Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, in the 220-206 BC for joining together selective stretches of the wall. Very little remains of Qin’s wall, leaving todays’ better known section built by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). So, much of it is older than our country. Maybe it is time to protect it? Who knows how things work in China, given their troubles in Hong Kong and Taiwan. My preference is to just stay away.
One of the handiest things I own is a carrying case for my wine and champagne. I bought a cheap one at Crate and Barrell a number of years ago. It is somewhat padded and insulated, but works perfectly. I always take it to dinner, parties, and car trips. And I have never lost a single drop!!! Ask Santa to bring one to you. I think I am going to buy a better one.
On the Tenth Day of Christmas:
Picture ten lords a leaping. What comes to mind? A ballet, or a championship football team, playing with only ten? And how would you feed the ten lords? It just sounds like too much trouble.
But the ten leaping lords and others are trampling the Galapagos Islands, to the point of endangering both the land, sea and life. Many of you have gone, including my own family. I could never quite bring myself to go. I was in the vicinity on several occasions. I passed! Looking at photos and You Tube have convinced me the islands are short lived.
Might I suggest a better place, a champagne hotel in the Champagne region of France, Epernay or Reims? Though I was there by myself, I had a memorable and tasty experience. I even had a few private tours!! My classic hotel in Epernay was walking distance to the famous champagne houses and restaurants. It was an experience of a lifetime, and a dream come true! I may even make a return visit to cycle through the region.
So, next time you choose between an endangered location, and a champagne hotel, you know which one I would choose.
On the Eleventh Day of Christmas:
I have never seen eleven pipers piping. I have never seen eleven plumbers piping. How strange is the eleventh day?
Speaking of strange, a visit to the Florida Everglades would seem strange, a part of the US much different than what we know out west. The Everglades are known as the great filtering system and drainage basin. This ecosystem cannot be found anywhere else on earth!
Along with the unique geography, the plant and animal life in the Everglades makes for an interesting visit. I have not seen that many alligators since the Jungle Boat Ride at Disneyland. And big obstacles in the road turn out to be giant turtles, crossing the road. Why did the turtle cross the road? I have no idea!
But climate experts say it may be headed for a monumental disaster. Restoration of the Everglades began in 2009, with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Will it be enough?
Moving on to my champagne gift, why not sip your champagne in a beautiful glass? I prefer a regular flute. I hate it when restaurants serve my sparkling in a regular wine glass! The nerve.
My suggestion is to have an “everyday” set, and a special occasion set. Or in my case, several sets! It makes a great champagne or sparkling even better.
On the Twelfth Day of Christmas:
We have covered so many places on our wonderful earth that are in danger, near extinction, or badly in need of better stewardship. I am afraid my generation have not been good stewards of the earth. I hope all of my younger readers will be more active in preserving and maintaining our great treasures.
I have not mentioned these other endangered places: Outer Banks, Seychelles/Maldives, Dead Sea, the Roman Coliseum, Great Pyramids, and our fabulous National Parks. There are many others. The point through the previous eleven days, was to make you aware of the endangered places we want to experience. I would rarely tell you not to go. The experiences are rich and rewarding. I just want you to realize that it comes at a cost, other than our cost of getting there.
I am encouraging you to donate to your favorite “renewal” or preservation project. Mine are Angkor Wat, and the Amazon Rainforest, my two favorite places I have visited! And I always donate to our National Parks!
Then on Day 12, to toast the holidays, and the completion of the Twelve Days, I raise a glass of your or my favorite sparkling wine or champagne. This year, my favorite has been the “alternative” sparklers. What are they?
Instead of expensive champagne, or sparkling, why not go with a Spanish Cava, or the Italian Proseccos and Franciacortas, or the French Cremants (my personal favorites). What do they have in common? Most are affordable (around $10) and ALL have BUBBLES!!!
May your Christmas be grand and bubbly, and your New Year healthy and happy.
And, just so you know, I appreciate the feedback from all of you. Many of you have said how much you enjoy the Twelve Days. I even have some new readers. So, thanks to all of you!!! Suggestions for next year are always welcome.