WELCOME!

Welcome to my blog!

I am a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

My recently published stories include Houston’s diversity trends and another Ireland story, this time on the Wild Atlantic Way. Before that, I posted Savannah (do you believe in ghosts?) and James Joyce’s Dublin.

In a two month period, from late summer into the fall 2022, I took four trips which included Yellowstone National Park, a Windjammer cruise along coastal Maine, California’s Catalina Island and Orange County, and Cartagena and Bogota, Colombia. Happy to be at home for a while! My stories on those locations will be published in the coming weeks and months.

As always, happy travels, stay safe and thanks for following my blog.

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To see even more of my published clips, visit my website at http://www.richardvarr.com

Thanks for your continued interest!!

(Header image is my photo from St. Barth, view from the Colombier Lookout; head shot in Krakow, Poland.)

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My novel of international intrigue, Warming Up to Murder, is available as an ebook, and in Kindle and Nook formats. It’s about a TV reporter who finds himself chasing the “big story” spanning two continents, with the timely crisis of climate change front and center. Click on the links below.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/richard-varr

http://www.amazon.com/Warming-Up-Murder-Richard-Varr/dp/141344976X

 

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The Wild Atlantic Way: Ireland’s cliffs, rugged shoreline, and awe

The Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Richard Varr

Traveling in Ireland last spring, I loved my day tour out to the rugged western coast known as the Wild Atlantic Way. Brisk ocean breezes and dramatic views highlighted the experience. Most impressive were the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most visited natural wonders, stretching five miles into the horizon. Click on the below link to read my story just published in the December 2022 issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine, and take a look at some of my photos below.

Click to access b6679-irelandwildatlanticwayporthole.pdf

The karst landscape of the Burren. Photo by Richard Varr
Cliffs of Moher. Photo by Richard Varr
The Burren’s rugged karst landscape. Photo by Richard Varr
Dunguaire Castle. Photo by Richard Varr
On the Burren!

For more information: https://www.ireland.com/en-us/

What’s the future of diversity in America? Take a look at Houston today

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/detour/article267776522.html#storylink=cpy

View of downtown Houston from the Houston Police Officers Memorial. Photo by Richard Varr

My recently published story in the Miami Herald and other McClatchy newspapers, and Detour | Best Stories in Black Travel, reveals that when it comes to the changing face of America’s diversity, the future is already here – in Houston. In 2050, the rest of America will look pretty much like what Houston’s demographic makeup is today, according to a Rice University think tank.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/detour/article267776522.html#storylink=cpy

James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ Turns 100, and I was in Dublin to Celebrate the Anniversary

NOTE: My story on this great anniversary was recently published in the Toronto Star. Click on the following link to read it. 

https://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2022/08/26/as-ulysses-turns-100-i-follow-in-james-joyces-magical-footsteps-in-dublin.html

James Joyce’s first ever printed version of “Ulysses” on display at the Museum of Literature Ireland. Photo by Richard Varr

During my May visit to Ireland…

I was lucky to have stumbled on the small Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) in Dublin with the first ever printed book of Ulysses, James Joyce’s epic novel, on display under dim lighting. I soon learned this year is the 100th anniversary since the book’s release, making my trip all the more exciting. I visited several of the places where James Joyce frequented — places he included in his novels. Click on the link to read my story in the Toronto Star.

https://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2022/08/26/as-ulysses-turns-100-i-follow-in-james-joyces-magical-footsteps-in-dublin.html

James Joyce (standing second from the left) in the 1902 graduation photo while attending the University College Dublin. Photo courtesy MoLI

MoLI is part of the University College Dublin, with the actual museum housed in buildings where Joyce attended classes when a student there.

Statue of novelist James Joyce on Dublin’s North Earl Street by sculptor Marjorie Fitzgibbon. Courtesy Ireland Tourism

Spooky Savannah: Ghosts are Big Business

Mercer Williams House, seen in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Photo by Richard Varr

Do you believe in ghosts?

It seems most in Savannah do, reporting their own otherworldly encounters. Yet in one of the country’s most haunted cities, ghosts are big business with tours and hotels touting their own resident spirits. More in my story published in Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine.

Click to access Savannah+Ghosts+PORTHOLE+10.2022.pdf

Look at the photo below and see if you can discern ghostly faces peering out of a window in a riverfront building in Savannah’s historic center!

Do you see the ghostly faces peering out of this Savannah riverfront window? Photo by Richard Varr

 

On the Wisconsin Waterfront: Milwaukee’s Riverwalk, Madison’s Twin Lakes, and Door County’s Great Lakes Getaway

NOTE: Below are excepts from my published story in the Good Sam RV Club’s Coast to Coast. The link to the full story follows:

By Richard Varr

“Fonzie.” Photo by Richard Varr

Skyscrapers tower over the gentle currents of the downtown waterway, my view draped by the purple-tinted petals shooting up from a flowerbed and the shimmering reflections of a modern cityscape. From my vantage point, the Milwaukee River looks more like a canal with a few sputtering motorboats and a string of decorative streetlights along the smoothly-paved RiverWalk. Outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants line the walking path, but it’s not until I see a grinning Fonzie – double thumbs up, of course – that I feel the essence of the city.

Actually, it’s a bronze statue of the iconic American greaser, spot-on with his likenesses – leather jacket, blue jeans and slicked-backed hair – looking as he appeared on the Happy Days TV sitcom and the Laverne & Shirley spinoff about two roommates capping beer bottles in a fictitious Milwaukee brewery, the sitcom that helped put the city on the map for many, including me.

Milwaukie Art Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

No doubt Milwaukee has come a long way from that image a half century ago. The view from the Lake Michigan waterfront, for example, reveals a skyline of glass and steel towers. The lakeside Milwaukee Art Museum sports futuristic architecture with its curving façade and enormous Brise Soleil rooftop wing flaps serving as sunscreens to regulate indoor temperature.

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Pabst Mansion. Photo by Richard Varr

Photo by Richard Varr

The city’s most notable brewing legacy can be seen at the Pabst Brewery Complex, once the largest lager beer producer in the world. It’s where 30 or so mid 19th to early 20th-century brick buildings, some with square towers and battlements, remain today, although now housing offices, retail businesses and residential space. Similarly, the “Cream City brick”

Brewhouse Inn and Suites lobby. Photo by Richard Varr

buildings in nearby Schlitz Park, once home to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company where “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous” was made, as the saying goes, also leases office space.

The Brewhouse Inn & Suites occupies the former Pabst brewery building – a spectacular reuse with the tops of original copper brewing tanks spiffed up and shining in the hotel’s second floor atrium. Crushed beer bottles make up a lobby counter, with sharply-cut beer bottle bottoms studding the walls by the reception desk.

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Serial Number One.” Photo by Richard Varr

Milwaukee also boasts its proud heritage founded in the city: Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. At the Harley-Davidson Museum, the first thing I notice are the pristine white tires of “Serial Number One,” circa 1903. Looking more like a belt-driven bicycle, it’s the oldest Harley-Davidson in the world and perhaps the crowning jewel of the museum’s 140 displayed bikes on two floors.

                                      MADISON

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Richard Varr

View from the Monona Terrace. Photo by Richard Varr

There is no shortage of cheeseheads in Madison, the state capital and one of the nation’s most prominent college towns, a straight shot of 80 miles west along I-94 from Milwaukee. Although landlocked, Madison also boasts scenic waterfronts with its downtown stretching along a narrow isthmus separating Lake Mendota to the northwest and Lake Monona to the southeast. 

Farmers’ Market, Madison. Photo by Richard Varr

I arrive on a Saturday morning, just in time for the city’s Dane County Farmers’ Market encircling the white-domed Capitol aglow in late morning sunlight. Wisconsin-grown produce stacks stall after stall – in particular, heaps of seasonal pumpkins and gourds on this warm October day. Reminding me of the U.S. Capitol, the state Capitol has the nation’s only granite dome and stands 284 feet tall up to the fingertips of the 15-foot gilded bronze statue “Wisconsin” atop the dome, her right arm pointing upwards as she holds a sculpted eagle on a small globe with her left hand. Inside, murals, mosaics and Italian marble columns decorate the walls of the chambers and conference rooms.

State Street. Photo by Richard Varr

From the State Capitol, I head down State Street lined with bookstores, pizzerias, restaurants, bars and shops catering to swarms of University of Wisconsin students. The so-called “State Street Mall” leads directly to the grassy campus center bordered by the columned Wisconsin Historical Society building, the red-brick and castle-like “Red Gym” and the Memorial Union.

University of Wisconsin Campus, “Red Gym.” Photo by Richard Varr

The Union Terrace’s multi-level patio decked with tables and chairs overlooks an often boat-filled Lake Mendota – a must stop on a nice afternoon or festive night with live entertainment.

Union Terrace. Photo by Richard Varr

                                   DOOR COUNTY

Looking out at Green Bay at sunset. Photo by Richard Varr

Wisconsin’s summer getaway – reminding me of New England’s Cape Cod towns or the New Jersey Shore minus the boardwalks – is Door County, a peninsula jutting out 70 miles into Lake Michigan, and just over two hours up the coast from Milwaukee on I-43.

Green Bay. Photo by Richard Varr

Park benches offer splendid views over the sailboat-filled marina of Egg Harbor, a town named shortly after – as one tale tells it – dueling boat crews hurled their cargoes of eggs to settle a dispute in 1825.

Goats on the roof at Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant. Photo by Richard Varr

And I would go out of my way to see the goats grazing on the sod roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, a tradition started with a prank. The cherry-topped pancakes with Swedish meatballs are worth the stop as well. 

Fish Boil. Photo by Richard Varr

No visitor should miss a traditional Door County fish boil established years ago as an economical way to feed hungry fishermen and lumberjacks. The recipe includes adding potatoes to a boiling cauldron over a wood fire, and when cooked, adding chunks of locally caught whitefish. At nightfall, we stop by Fish Creek’s White Gull Inn to watch the preparation resulting in a dramatic fire flash when kerosene is poured onto the fire to burn off fish oils surfacing to the top.

Looking out from Eagle Tower. Photo by Richard Varr

Cana Island Lighthouse. Photo by Richard Varr

For great waterside views, I walk the winding ramp up Eagle Tower at Peninsula State Park overlooking Green Bay with Horseshoe Island and distant Chambers Island. For Lake Michigan views, the Cana Island Lighthouse can be reached with a tractor-pulled pedestrian wagon over an often flooded gravel causeway. Farther south, Whitefish Dunes State Park has the state’s largest sand dunes and Native American village ruins.

Cheese samples, with string cheese. Photo by Richard Varr

It’s in Door County where I finally become a true Wisconsin cheesehead. At Renard’s Artisan Cheese store in Sturgeon Bay, I sample fun string cheese and squeaky – yes, it squeaks – yellow cheese curds. “The fresher it is, the squeakier it is,” explains Renard’s Director of Sales Franca Bueno. “The proteins are tightly bound on the cheese curds so when you chew them, they rub against your teeth.”

“I like to say it talks back,” she adds, “and it talks backs really loud.”

For More Information:
https://www.visitmilwaukee.org
https://www.visitmadison.com
https://www.doorcounty.com

Morgan Library and Museum: Not on your New York City itinerary? It should be!

NOTE: This story was published twice, in GoNomad.com and in Houston Woman Magazine.  Click on links below to see the published versions.

https://www.gonomad.com/200428-morgan-library-in-nyc

https://varrtravel.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/272b1-hwmsummer2022morganlibrary.pdf

Morgan Library East Room. Photo by Richard Varr

By Richard Varr

Images of Socrates and Galileo, and Michelangelo and Christopher Columbus peer out from the frescoed ceiling over the palace-sized room, its walls lined with bookshelves three stories high. Above the fireplace hangs the Triumph of Avarice, a 500-year old tapestry depicting the consequences of greed, once owned by King Henry VIII. And protected by a glass display case, one of the original Gutenberg Bibles sits open for me to study one of the first pages printed in Europe with movable metal type.

Gutenberg Bible in the East Room. Photo by Richard Varr

It’s my first visit to the vast East Room of Midtown Manhattan’s Morgan Library & Museum, once the personal library of late 19th and early 20th century financier, investment banker and cultural benefactor John Pierpont Morgan, a fervent collector of early printed books, music scores, manuscripts, prints and paintings from some of history’s most noted artists, writers, composers and heroes.

Although located in heart of New York City, “the Morgan” as it’s often called is not at the top of the sightseeing lists of most visitors, or on the lists at all. As for museums, I would call it one of the city’s best kept secrets.

East Room. Photo by Richard Varr

“You have this incredibly dramatic space where you walk in and it has echoes of the great European libraries with just endless rows of books, with a jewel-tone ceiling and the soft glow of the natural light from the one window,” says Jennifer Tonkovich, the museum’s Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator for Drawings and Prints. “It really has the feeling of someone who’s passionate about books.”

Books in the East Room. Photo by Richard Varr

And there are plenty of them – 11,000 or so on the East Room’s shelves at one time, and maybe ten times that many locked in the Morgan’s overflow vaults amounting to a collection of over 100,000 rare books and a total of about three million objects. “You always see visitors walking up and looking at everything on the shelves,” says Tonkovich, noting shelf security panels are locked but books and manuscripts can be requested with appointments through the museum’s research reading room. The Morgan’s website notes scholars researching Charles Dickens, for example, can access his hand-written letters, early printed novels and such items like his ink pot and cigar case.

The East Room rotates items from its collection for display, from Mozart’s scores to well-preserved medieval and Renaissance images from bibles and books. Noted American history holdings include letters from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, journals from Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and manuscripts by Edgar Allan Poe and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name just a few. Always on display is an original Gutenberg Bible from 1455, as the Morgan is the only institution in the world to own three. “Morgan was interested in the technological innovation of Gutenberg, and our collection is really strong in early examples of printing and some of the great printers from the 15th century,” notes Tonkovich.

West Room, Morgan’s private study. Photo by Richard Varr

The luxurious West Room, or Morgan’s study, is where the financier spent most of the last five or six years of his life when he wasn’t traveling. Its deep red color scheme is accented by the silk-covered subtly-patterned walls, upholstered sofa and arm chairs, and Persian-like carpet all under a dark brown carved wooden ceiling with crossbeams. Renaissance paintings dot the walls, including the likes of a 15th century rounded framed Madonna by contemporaries of Sandro Botticelli, and Hans Memling’s dual panels of praying patron saints and portrait of an Italian merchant in Bruges. However, it’s the canvas of Morgan at 52 above the massive stone fireplace that caught my eye when entering the room, its darkened backdrop reminding me of Rembrant’s portraiture.

Art on display in West Room. Photo by Richard Varr

“His study was a haven,” explains Tonkovich. “He would walk in there and be surrounded by these beautiful objects that made history tangible. It must have been hugely satisfying to have the kind of peace in this environment he created to have everything to his taste.” Also along the walls, walnut bookcases filled with Morgan’s collection of early English printed books. Another gem is a 1530 gilded copper Verrazano Globe, depicting the world according to the journeys by the Italian explorer just six years earlier.

West Room. Photo by Richard Varr

The museum’s Rotunda has the feeling of being just that – an atrium of sorts with curved walls and mosaic panels, and Corinthian capitals topping marble columns and pillars. Half moon-shaped murals or lunettes stand atop each of the Rotunda’s three entrances depicting characters from Homer’s Iliad and Dante’s Divine Comedy, among other works represented. The frescoed ceiling includes four rounded paintings representing art, science, philosophy and religion, and features what looks like goddesses with doting cherubs. Stucco reliefs of classical and mythological figures adorn the apse. 

George Washington life mask, 1785. Photo by Richard Varr

On display in the Rotunda sits an extraordinary artifact of American history. I found myself – so to speak – face to face with George Washington, looking upon his 1785 life mask revealing his rounded cheeks and gentle gaze. The French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon cast the mask of then General Washington at Mount Vernon.

“Imagine having this Frenchman grease up your face, puts straws up your nostrils for you to breath, and then lay wet strips of linen soaked in plaster across your face,” says Tonkovich.  “You really are that close to seeing the scale and dimensionality of his face.” Houdon later used the life mask to sculpt the statue of the first president placed in the Virginia Capitol in 1796. It remains there to this day and is considered one of the most accurate depictions of the founding father.

Belle da Costa Greene bust. Photo by Richard Varr

The museum’s smaller North Room displays works from Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquity, some dating back to several millennia. It previously served as the office of Belle da Costa Greene, hired by Pierpont Morgan to manage the collection a year before the Library officially opened in 1906. Greene later became the museum’s first director during her 43 year tenure.

“She’s sort of inseparable from how our institution was shaped and her openness to scholarship and curiosity and her passion for exhibitions. All of that is reflected in the shape the institution now takes,” says Tonkovich. “She’s so groundbreaking as a librarian and as an African American woman who was really operating at the absolute pinnacle of her field.” The Morgan is working on a 2024 exhibition to highlight her career. A small terra-cotta bust depicting Greene is on display in the East Room.

Unlike many other museums, the Morgan has multiple exhibitions that change every three and a half months, according to Tonkovich. She categorizes it as midsized, allowing visitors more time to engage in each exhibit and read all labels. “New York is such a cultural Mecca and there are so many options for great music, literature and great art. We’ve built a great community that we’re always eager to expand. I love when people discover us.”

And she pays tribute to Pierpont Morgan’s inspiration as a collector. “He truly had a passion for the history of the printed book,” she says. “In lots of ways, it’s like having your own bit of history you can hold in your hands.”

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY  10016
Tel: (212) 685-0008
Fax: (315) 533-4771
Website: https://www.themorgan.org/

Southern West Virginia: An Outdoors Adventures Playground

The New River Gorge Bridge. Photo by Richard Varr

It was the first time I spent significant time in West Virginia other than driving through, and I must admit it’s one of the most beautiful and lush states I have visited – and I’ve been to 48 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. The URL below links to my recently published story about my visit in the spring of 2021, where I learned to zipline for the first time. That took place at the outdoor resort and tour operator, Adventures on the Gorge, on the outskirts of the country’s newest national park, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve near Fayetteville.

Sandstone Falls. Photo by Richard Varr

The park and preserve’s total area stretches 53 miles along the New River (despite the name, one of the world’s oldest rivers) while encompassing more than 70,000 acres of forested canopy within its dramatically sloping river valley. With tranquil lakes, challenging whitewater rapids and crisscrossing trails leading to commanding views, the park has become one of the state’s premier recreational spots for hiking, fishing, rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding and yes, ziplining.

The New River Gorge Bridge. Photo by Richard Varr

Yet one activity unique to this park is the walk underneath the spectacular New River Gorge Bridge, one of the highest and longest single-span arch bridges in the world. Completed in 1977, the bridge stretches 3,030 feet, extending U.S. Route 19 over the New River. The Bridge Walk is a mile-and-a-quarter trek including trails to reach the bridge and a more than half-mile jaunt on a two-foot-wide catwalk just below the roadway. Linked to a safety cable, walkers have a breathtaking view of the river more than 870 feet below.

Hikes within the New River Gorge National Park lead to stunning views. Photo by Richard Varr

To read more, click on the below link to read my published story in the Good Sam RV club magazine, Coast to Coast.

Story Published: Finnish Design – Simple, Practical, Timeless

Fiskars scissors with orange plastic, ergonomically-shaped handles line a wall at Helsinki’s Design Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

The pandemic has surely delayed assignments and published stories. Here’s a story from my 2019 trip to Helsinki, just published in Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. From furniture and tableware to everyday items, Finnish Design still impresses visitors with a perfect marriage between form and function.

Read the story: https://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?m=27506&i=733302&view=articleBrowser&article_id=4186675&ver=html5

Simple Finnish Design furniture at the Artek store in central Helsinki. Photo by Richard Varr

Cruising Portugal’s Douro River with Scenic Luxury Cruises – Stories published!

Scenic Azure, Douro Valley, Portugal. Photo courtesy: Scenic Luxury Cruises

Porto’s Dom Luis I bridge. Photo by Richard Varr

From Porto’s hillside cityscape of spiking church towers and pastel-hued homes to dramatic inland vistas of vineyards twirling around mountaintops, a slow cruise along the Douro River Valley is like a lesson in Portuguese history, tradition and cuisine. Two stories were published in TravelWeekly.com this fall from my August cruise onboard the Scenic Azure along Portugal’s Douro River.

Douro River at Pinhao. Photo by Richard Varr

Scenic Azure chefs during a pastry cooking demonstration. Photo by Richard Varr

One story focused on the overall cruise and excursions, while the other highlighted Scenic Luxury Cruises’ excellent onboard culinary offerings – in particular, pairing Douro River Valley wines with fine food choices.

https://www.travelweekly.com/River-Cruising/Best-of-Portugal-in-slow-motion-on-Scenic-Azure

https://www.travelweekly.com/Cruise-Travel/Focus-on-Culinary-Travel-2021-Scenic-Azure-pairs-perfectly-with-Douro-Valley

Vineyards near Pinhao. Photo by Richard Varr

Wine grapes before harvest near Pinhao. Photo by Richard Varr