Jews of the Jungles (and cities) in Brazil

Interior of Grand Temple, Rio de Janeiro

Irene Shaland’s Virtual Lecture

Thursday                     December 16th           2021                              7:00 PM

This virtual presentation is hosted by Adath Shalom Synagogue, Morris Plains, NJ.

Join Irene Shaland, a Jewish historian, internationally-published art and travel writer, and author of five books for a captivating journey through 500 years of Jewish history in Brazil. Encounter little-known stories of Brazil discovery in the 15th century’s context of a twisted world of politics, deceptions, and intrigues. Learn about the key role the  Crypto-Jews played in this country’s exploration and development. Find out why Anna Novinsky, a renowned expert in Jewish history in Sao Paolo, claimed that “Brazil was built by the Jews!”

Journey from the 15th to the 21st century of Brazilian history and visit Salvador Bahia, Manaus, the Amazon, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, and the Iguassu Falls to uncover fascinating Jewish narratives of this unique country and to meet the Brazilian Jews who dwell in its cities and in the jungle.

To attend, click on the “Zoom Link” 10 minutes prior to the event on the Adath Shalom site:

https://www.adathshalom.net/event/jews-of-the-jungle-travels-to-brazil-with-irene-shaland.html

 

Check out our Lecture Schedule.

Dani Rotstein Talks about Jewish Majorca

Logo of Jewish Majorca company

The following text and images were provided by Dani Rotstein, Founder & Owner of a unique cultural tourism company called Jewish Majorca.

“Let me tell you about an exciting educational resource that is innovative and useful for Jewish communities around the globe!

Jewish Majorca is a cultural tourism company that provides educational tours of the island exploring the deep-rooted Jewish history. They’ve pivoted to offer virtual tours and experiences for people of all ages! This video best describes what they do and how they do it. 

Its founder, Dani Rotstein, is originally from New Jersey but fell in love with Spain when he spent his junior year of college studying in Madrid. Upon moving to Mallorca, he learned of the taboo history of the island’s descendants of Jewish Conversos – named “Chuetas.” He has since made it his life’s mission to educate about the topic and bring other diverse Jewish stories from around the world into the homes of interested Jewish community enthusiasts.

Below is an outline of some of the programs they offer:

Live Zoom Walking tours  where Dani actually walks through the streets of Palma with you as if he were giving you an in-person tour of the city and supplemented with some beautiful pre-recorded content of previous tours. It’s a truly unique experience. The live experience is available during daylight in Spain. If you should need a later time, he can also do a version of the tour from his home office. Dani is a fantastically enticing guide and the content is enthralling. These tours are generally broken into four parts. They can be booked as a complete package or in any combination. 

You can find all the many different virtual programs on their website. 

https://www.jewishmajorca.com/live-zoom-tours/

Feel free to contact Dani as well as Mariano Valdes, who’s managing the program booking. If this is something you’d be interested in for your congregants or community members, feel free to work with them directly! 
Thank you! 
Team Jewish Majorca”

Disclaimer: Global Travel Authors and its members are not affiliated with Jewish Majorca and have no financial interest in sharing the above information. We believe that Jewish Majorca could be a valuable resource for in-person and virtual travelers interested in Jewish history. GTA Team.

Irene Shaland’s Upcoming October 2021 Lectures

images of lecture add

 

In October, Irene Shaland will be presenting two lectures for you to choose from or – to attend both!

1st Lecture Date: October 14th

Time: 4:30 EST.

Title: Global Response to the Holocaust: From Europe to Asia—Norway, Sweden, China, India.” This lecture is virtual.

Sponsoring institution: Holocaust Resource Center of New Jersey. Kean University. Union Town.

Targeted audiences are the Holocaust studies teachers. However, the event is free and open to the public; anyone can register and attend.

To register, follow the link below to fill a simple Registration Form:

Link to Registration Form

———————–

2nd Lecture Date: October 21st  

Time: 6:30 PM CST

In person with a virtual option.

Title: “In Search of a Jewish Story in China. This lecture is in-person and virtual. Presented in connection with the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s current exhibit: Shanghai as a Safe Haven during the Holocaust.

Sponsoring institution is Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Chicago.

https://www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/events/in-search-of-a-jewish-story-in-china/

To register, click below and select “Virtual option.”

https://18161.blackbaudhosting.com/18161/tickets?tab=2&txobjid=8d226f05-f43c-4e9f-a903-57da06c242e8

 

The Best Chautauqua Bed and Breakfast – The Great Tree Inn

The Great Tree Inn.

Sometimes, wonderful things in life happen to us when we do not expect them. In June 2021, we decided to visit the Chautauqua Institution to attend several end-of-the-season concerts. At that time, it was almost impossible to find a bed and breakfast (B&B) or any other lodging inside the Institution’s territory. Most establishments were filled long before the season was even announced. The remaining ones often required a commitment to seven nights, but we needed only four.

Almost by chance, I stumbled (virtually) upon the Great Tree Inn. One excellent review after another began appearing on my computer screen, enthusiastically recommending this Inn to anyone attracted to wonderful outdoors offerings of Chautauqua County and environs: from the spectacular hiking in Panama Rocks to horseback riding, to Lake Erie wine tasting, or even snowmobiling.  “Great, but not for us,” I thought. I believed we have already paid our annual dues to Mother Nature after visiting the four national parks in California in May. The purpose of our first visit to Chautauqua was the Institution as a cultural and educational center. But then I talked to Mark and Sheila, the owners, and I knew that their Inn and B&B was the right place for us!

Seven years ago, Mark and Sheila, two medical researchers and world travelers, decided that they wanted a parallel career as hoteliers and bought a 170-year-old farm-turned-B&B. The Great Tree Inn and B&B is not your usual rural lodging. The Inn is named after its guardian, an ancient black locust tree. I was told that this giant is especially impressive in the spring when it produces clusters of fragrant white flowers. For a historian in me, that tree had almost a mythical meaning. I read many years ago about the black locust tree being often called a tree that “built America.” Black locust was considered the strongest timber in North America. In the early seventeenth century it was used in building the Jamestown settlement and in the nineteenth, was selected for strengthening the battleships that helped the United States to win in the War of 1812.

The Inn doubles as a farm, and you live there in a timeless environment surrounded by free-range chickens and ducks. Every morning you hear their “conversations.” The birds are often visited by two beautiful proud-looking goats and sturdy Belgian horses. “With so many chickens and ducks wandering around, aren’t you afraid of them being killed by foxes or coyotes?” we asked. “No,” Mark answered. “They have a guardian.” And he was not joking. The “guardian” happened to be the cutest miniature donkey. He kind of looked like Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh stories. “Do not be fooled by his appearance,” said Mark. “When he feels threatened, and he does when the birds are attacked, he turns into a raging beast.” “Oy,” I thought.” I don’t want to be around when that happens.”  “But I do,” said my husband-photographer Alex.

Goat
Beautiful Mr. Goat observes us, intruders into his world.
Donkey
This cute Eeyore donkey will turn into a scary beast when he feels threatened.

The farm, or rather a romantic-looking 19th-century building, is in the center of a large green lawn surrounded by woods. The entire complex – with its giant tree, talkative chickens and ducks, cappuccino-colored horses, Eeyore turning into a fearsome warrior, sleeping cats, and a curious tiny dog watching us through the glass door – seems like a perfect refuge from the avalanche of our projects and deadlines. This was the world presided over by two marvelous hosts, Mark and Sheila: always attentive, sharp, intelligent, and sincerely interested in what their guests wanted to share whether about themselves or their experiences.

Irene Shaland, Mark, and Sheila
The author (right) with Mark (left) and Sheila (center).

Every day in this world began with an amazing breakfast cooked or rather created by Mark. Locally sourced and made with in-season fresh products, each dish looked like an art piece. We especially liked the typical English Yorkshire pudding (often called in this country a popover) served with a beef sauce. Another favorite was a duck-egg omelet roll with grilled zucchini and homemade crispy bacon inside it. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, or have any other dietary requirements, Mark will accommodate your preferences. Forget about losing weight: Mark always has snacks and homemade pastries around the house.

Breakfast room at the Great Tree Inn.
Breakfast room at the Great Tree Inn.

The Inn offers seven comfortable rooms, tastefully furnished with antiques, each with its own theme. We loved ours: located on the ground floor and very private, it was called the “Seventh Heaven.” And it seemed it was, with red and green colors, a queen-size bed in an alcove, and a beautiful armoire.

Room #7
Our room was called the “Seventh Heaven.” 
Living room.
The living room also serves as a game room. 
Living room
Another view of the living room.
Reading room
The reading room.
Stairs to the secon floor of the inn.
Inside the Inn. The staircase to the second floor where six out of seven guest rooms are located. The open door on the left leads to our room.

Just five miles outside the Chautauqua Institution, the Great Tree Inn is perfect not only for hikers, swimmers, and snowmobile riders, but also for culture vultures like us!

The Great Tree Inn.
The Great Tree Inn, a historic farmhouse turned B&B. It is the best lodging in Chautauqua County, whether you came to enjoy the beautiful outdoors or to sample cultural programs at the Chautauqua Institution. 
paddle-wheeler steamboat
This paddle-wheeler steamboat replica takes visitors on historic tours of Chautauqua Lake. 
Alex Shaland
Alex: “Do we have time to go on a lake tour?”
Irene Shaland
Irene: “No time for the boat! We have a lecture to catch!”

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Learn more about the author Irene Shaland.

Check out Irene Shaland’s Latest book “Shaland’s Jewish Travel Guide to Malta and Corsica.

Learn more about the photographer Alex Shaland.

Take a look at Alex Shaland’s adventure book “Suburbanites on Safari.

Visiting Chautauqua Institution

Bestor Plaza Fountain

Located by the beautiful Chautauqua Lake, Chautauqua Institution has been on our radar for decades. This 150-year old cultural organization in southwestern New York State is only a little over two hours from our home in Cleveland Ohio. However, for many years we have not managed to find a weekend for a visit. Finally, this year, when the international travel world became too stressful to navigate due to ever-changing Covid-related restrictions, we turned to domestic destinations. Attracted by the Chautauqua Institution’s superb performing arts and educational programming, we bought tickets for the last four concerts of the season.

Irene Shaland in Chautauqua Institution
Walking the red brick road inside the Chautauqua Institution.

Chautauqua Institution was envisioned by its founders Lewis Miller, a harvesting combine inventor, and Methodist Bishop John Vincent, as an educational and religious model of a promised land or a spiritual retreat for the faithful. It was initially called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly. Today, with its resident symphony, opera, and drama theater, the Institution continues to strive toward achieving its initial goal of being a cultural, educational, and spiritual enclave. Inside the Institution, one can find a house of worship for not only every Christian denomination but also several other religions. We came across the Chabad House, and on Friday late afternoon, attended the most delightful Kabbalat Shabbat service of the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua, a reformed congregation formed there over thirty years ago.

Smith Wilkes Hall
Smith Wilkes Hall. The Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua meets here in rainy weather.
Clock Tower on Lake Chautauqua
View of the Lake Chautauqua and the Intuition’s renowned Clock Tower. When the weather is good, the Hebrew Congregation celebrates Shabbat services here, right by the Lake. These services attract hundreds of people, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike.  

While in Chautauqua, one of our favorite pastimes was to meet people and talk to them. I am sure there were plenty of first-timers like us. But it just happened that everyone we met and talked to came to Chautauqua Institution almost every year. These were people who have been coming to Chautauqua during summer seasons for two or even three generations. They were staying there for no less than a week and attended lectures, numerous performing-arts offerings, and various classes (from writing poetry to sailing). Laughing, one young man told us that he did not remember a summer without Chautauqua: his mother was there when she was pregnant with him! We had an impression that most people knew each other and delighted in their world of culture and fellowship of minds.

One of our most favorite places to visit before our concerts was the historic Athenaeum Hotel with its wrap-around verandas and soaring columns. Called the “Grand Dame of the Chautauqua Institution,” the Athenaeum has been operating continuously since it was opened in 1881. This iconic structure was envisioned and financed by the Institution’s two initial founders. One of them, the inventor, Lewis Miller, was Thomas Edison’s father-in-law. Edison did some of the hotel’s early electric wiring and had his regular table at the restaurant, still called “the Edison’s Table.” I read that Edison used a nearby window right by his table to escape the autograph-seeking crowd!

Athenaeum Hotel
The historic Athenaeum Hotel, called the “Grand Dame of the Chautauqua Institution,” has been operating continuously since it was opened in 1881.

We delighted in every minute we spent in this timeless world, where every outsider can become an insider…if he or she paid $25 per person per day to get the gate pass!  And yes, with very few exceptions, no cars are allowed inside. The large parking lot is outside the Institution and costs only $10 per day. Shuttle buses are omnipresent and going continuously throughout the day taking people to various parts of the Institution and outside the main gate to the parking lot.

Chautauqua Institution amphitheater
Chautauqua Institution amphitheater

We enjoyed every concert we attended, but our favorites were the first and the last: Brazilian Jazz and legendary Smokey Robinson. Most programs take place in the 5,000 seat amphitheater, so getting the tickets was not a challenge. However, finding a reasonably priced accommodation conveniently located inside the Institution—was. The majority of establishments require a week-long commitment, and most get filled long before the new season is announced and gate passes go on sale.

I was almost desperate: I had our tickets, daily gate passes, and pre-paid parking, but no place to stay! And then, purely by chance, we discovered the Great Tree Inn. Read about that wonderful B&B in our next article.

The Colonnade of Chautauqua Institution
The Colonnade of Chautauqua Institution houses art galleries, boutiques, and cafes.
Moses and the Ten Commandments
Moses and the Ten Commandments as another spiritual symbol for the Institution. 

Learn more about travel writer Irene Shaland.

Check out Irene Shaland’s latest book “Shaland’s Jewish Travel Guide to Malta and Corsica.”

India through the Jewish History Lens

Taj Mahal, India

Free Zoom Presentation:

The Art of Travel:  India through the Jewish History Lens – A Personal Journey

Hosted by: New City Library, NY

Date & Time: Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00 pm EST U.S.

Irene Shaland, a Jewish historian, came to see India as not just another country on her exploration list but as a place in space and time where one comes for self-discovery and personal growth. You have to know deep down why you are coming to India. If you do know why, you are bound to discover the most refined beauty and the deepest spirituality. Travelling through India, you will gradually learn – like peeling the onion, layer after layer – some very important truths about yourself and history, about people and myths they create. Something unexpected and wonderful might happen during this trip.

Hopefully, India, unique among the world civilizations with its seven thousand years of uninterrupted traditions, will forever become an integral part of your mental landscape. For Irene, a passionate Jewish history aficionado, India has changed her own understanding of Jewish identity. And this presentation will illustrate how and why this happened.

Join Irene on a virtual trip through layers of historic periods, artistic and architectural styles, and a multitude of cultural traditions and fascinating Indian Jewish stories of origin. This presentation, enriched by Alex Shaland’s photography, will transport you to Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Udaipur, Aurangabad, Ellora and Ajanta caves, Cochin, and finally – Mumbai.

This event is free, but a reservation is required.  Please follow the link to the library website to register:

https://newcity.librarycalendar.com/events/india-through-jewish-history-lens

Phone: (845)-634-4997 ext. 139

Meet the presenter Irene Shaland.

Take a look at the schedule of our events: Schedule of Events.

Chumash Indians and their Painted Cave

Painting inside Chumash Cave

Seeking the Chumash Story

Learning the history of the land and past and present of the people has always been an important part of all our trips. While in Santa Barbara, we wanted to learn more about the Native American nation of Chumash. That tribe used to inhabit the central and southern coasts of California from Morro Bay in the north to Malibu in the south. Today, this land is part of the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles. The Historical Museum of Santa Barbara could have been a great resource for us, but it was closed due to the pandemic.

Santa Barbara Historical Museum
Santa Barbara Historical Museum.

So, we decided to visit the Old Mission that was specifically established in 1786 to Christianize the Chumash. It was there that the native people used to live, study, pray, work, and die. While exploring the mission, we walked along the paths of the church cemetery admiring the elegant and elaborate mausoleums of important citizens of the town. The indigenous people of the land were buried there as well, but were soon forgotten. It is worth mentioning that some of them were the stonemasons who built the Mission and the artists who painted the church walls.

Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara
Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara.
Interior of the Old Spanish Mission Church in Santa barbara, California
Interior of the Old Spanish Mission Church.
The Old Spanish Mission cemetery.
The Old Spanish Mission cemetery. 

Finding the grave of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

In the corner, near the bell tower, we found one grave that attracted our attention. The plaque said that Juana Maria was buried there in 1853. Here she was: The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island made famous by Scott O’Dell’s popular novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960). San Nicolas Island is one of the eight offshore islands near Ventura called the Channel Islands.

Juana Maria’s grave
Juana Maria’s grave in the corner of the Old Spanish Mission courtyard. 

When the native people of that island were forced to move from the island to the mainland, an orphan girl was inadvertently left behind. She survived alone for many years until she was “discovered” in 1853 and brought to the Santa Barbara Mission. The young woman was baptized as Juana Maria but died after only a few weeks there, probably from a disease her body had no immunity against.

Enigmatic cave rock art

However, unmarked graves are not the only reminders of the Chumash people once plentiful in this land. They left behind their enigmatic cave rock art. We drove 25 miles from Santa Barbara via a narrow, winding, and vertigo-inducing road to visit one of those caves in Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park. After reaching the State Park sign, we left the car and followed a steep path to a small cave with the entrance barred by a heavy iron grillwork.

The entrance to the Chumash Painted Cave Historic State Park.
The entrance to the Chumash Painted Cave Historic State Park.

We had to stand in front of the grillwork for a while letting our eyes adjust to the dark cave, then peered inside and saw the amazingly bright paintings. Anthropologists believe that the paintings date to the pre-contact period (before the Europeans showed up), somewhere in the 1600s. Some sources also state that the paintings potentially could be as old as thousands of years. So, knowing that, we were astonished to find the colors so bright and vivid.

Painting on the wall of the Chumash Painted Cave
Looking inside the cave through the grillwork of the closed gate.

The bright colors of the mysterious spiritual images

The bright black, white, red, and yellow paints used by the unknown ancient artists were made of charcoal or manganese (black), crumbled sedimentary rock (white), hematite (red), and limonite (yellow).

Painting inside Chumash cave.
Group of paintings on the left.

Alex and I are not complete novices when it comes to the prehistoric/pre-contact shamanistic cultures. For example, we have studied, photographed, published, and lectured on the prehistoric rock art in the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa. But the images inside the Chumash cave did not look like anything we saw before. These images seemed to be involved in some mysterious dance, overlapping each other. Were these paintings multiple, overlapping layers done by different artists at different times? Or were we looking at an intentional mystical configuration? Some of the shapes were circular, some anthropomorphic.

The meaning of images is not known for sure

Strangely, some of these images reminded me of a Maltese cross, others, of a Rota Fortunae (a medieval symbol of the capricious nature of fate). But of course, they were nothing of the sort. Possibly, the paintings could be connected to the Chumash understanding of astrology or cosmology. Or they could have been created to link those in the world of the living with the world of their ancestors, the realm of the spirits. Sadly, the truth is that nothing is known for sure, and the images’ meaning is lost even to the descendants of the Chumash people.

Art should increase the “energy of spirit”

Driving back along the twisting and curving road again, I sat in the back of our rental car.  I could not force myself to look right at the vertical granite wall of the mountain, or to look left down the abyss far below. So, I closed my eyes and thought of what Kenneth Clark, a prominent art historian, said: “Art…should do something more than give a pleasure. It should increase our energy of spirit.” The paintings in that cave were the Chumash’s spiritual practice. And they have become our mystery – to ponder upon and to meditate. In our culture that is worldly and cerebral, we need to see the art that defies our intellectual understanding but offers instead a gateway to new spiritual insights.

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Learn more about the the author, Irene Shaland.

Learn more about the photographer, Alex Shaland.

Enjoy more Alex’s photos from around the world on Instagram.

Wine tasting at Santa Ynez Valley wineries

Irene Shaland drinking wine.

Why travel the wine tasting path when in Santa Barbara?

No visit to California is complete without a wine tasting tour. Everyone knows that the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California are synonymous with internationally famous great wine. But we were sure that the Santa Barbara environs were emerging as a renowned wine region as well. Why?

Because, California used to be a Spanish territory with the Mission system as a foundation of the institutional power. Well, we thought that the pious monks in Santa Barbara could not imagine life without wine. They were Spaniards after all, weren’t they? So, this was the historical root of our decision to explore the local wine making!

Choosing Santa Barbara Adventure Company

I chose Santa Barbara Adventure Company as an organizer of our wine tasting tour. We wanted our experience to be an adventure. And so, we were looking for a journey of discovery: the history, the landscapes, the wineries, and of course the orchestration of wine tasting. It turned out that we made the best choice! I spoke with Will Adams, the Company’s Marketing Manager; Ken McAlpine, their Nature Specialist and Guide for the Channel Island National Park; Kimberly; and other staff members. Then, I knew I chose the best professionals!

Everyone I communicated with was very sensitive to our needs, wants, and objectives as travel writers and photographers. In other words, the Adventure Company was ready to organize and assist with everything we wanted to see during our short time in that “American Riviera.” From photographing the foxes of Santa Cruz Island to understanding the wines of Santa Ynez Valley, our hosts accommodated us completely.

Learning from our guide about Santa Ynez wine country

The organization of our day-long wine-tasting tour was perfectly planned and executed. Our guide par-excellence Kyle picked us up in a small minivan for eight passengers. Everyone was required to wear a face mask. We learned from Kyle that most of Santa Ynez’s wineries were established in the 1970s. In 1983, Santa Ynez Valley was recognized as the AVA or American Viticultural Area (wine-growing region).

Kyle also talked about the uniqueness of the Santa Ynez Valley and its excellent climate for wine-producing. The Valley is oriented from east to west. The Santa Ynez Mountains are north of the valley, and the San Rafael Mountains are in the south. Similar to the valley’s orientation, the Santa Ynez River runs east to west to pour its water into the Pacific Ocean. The Ocean creates a cool fog that moves into the valley every night. That fog plays an important role in growing perfect grapes.

One of the brochures mentioned that 65 different varieties of grapes grow on 16,000 acres of vineyards. From these grapes, the winemakers produce Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir, which are already popular both nationally and internationally. In addition, the wineries produce Bordeaux, Rose, and even German, Spanish, and Italian-style wines. All in all, over 120 Santa Ynez Valley wineries produce over a million cases a year. “Can we visit all 120 wineries today?” someone in the van joked. Anyway, we all knew we were up for a wonderful learning and tasting adventure.

Kyle took us to three wineries. All were small, family-owned boutique operations. All three wineries focused on sustainability and preservation of natural resources. Each had a continuously growing, dedicated following of wine connoisseurs. These customers, called the club members, are not just wine aficionados, but aficionados of a specific winery they belong to!

The Roblar – our first winery

The first of these elite boutique wineries we visited was called the Roblar (“oak” in Spanish). In a beautiful garden setting, each couple was led to a separate table six feet away from another. We enjoyed four different wines, two white and two red. Among the whites, our favorite was the 2020 Cuvee Blanc, very dry and full of flavors. It seemed to smell of citrus, peach, and flowers but tasted like a green apple with honeydew melon. But the overall winner for Alex and me was their Pinot Noir!

Roblar winery
Entering the Roblar Winery.
Tour guide at Roblar Winery
Kyle, our guide par-excellence, explains the winemaking process.
Visitors inspecting grapes
The wine tasting group examines the grapes.

The actor and the wine: Fess Parker and his Winery and Vineyard

Our next stop was the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard. All cinephiles will immediately recognize the name of the famous actor Fess Parker. In the 1950s and 1960s, he created the characters of heroically brave frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Fess Parker is still venerated by multi-generational “oldies” aficionados.

We learned from Kyle that in the 1970s, Parker left the movie industry and went first into the real estate business and then, in the 1980s, into wine-making. The famous actor passed away in 2010, but his immediate family still owns and operates the wineries. We were going to visit Parker’s 714-acre ranch where over forty years ago he decided to grow the highest quality grapes and produce the best wines in the country! 

Visiting the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard

The ranch turned out to be a gorgeous park. Each couple or family had a table separate from the other guests and placed in the luxury of elegant comfy alcoves furnished with colorful loveseats. In addition to four types of wine, two whites, two reds, we had a glass of wonderful sparkling Rose called Empathy. I thought this was the best Rose I ever tasted.

Riesling is normally not one of our preferred wines, but the one we tried at the Fess Parker was very dry, not sweet, and we liked it a lot. Alex especially enjoyed their Chardonnay with its delightful taste of lemon, nectarine, almonds, and even white pepper! My favorite was their Pinot Noir, which I thought was rich and velvety, reminding me of cherries and strawberries.

Building at Fess Parker Winery
Entering the Fess Parker Winery.
Irene Shaland holds a glass of wine
Enjoying the Fess Parker wine.

The Brander Vineyard – an international story

The third and last winery on our tour was the Brander Vineyard owned by Fred Brander and his family. Upon arrival, I noticed three flags on the roof of the large stone mansion: Swedish, American, and Argentinean. As we found out, the flags told the family story through three generations.

The grandfather of the current owner Fred emigrated from Sweden to Argentina. Fred’s father Eric was born in Argentina, married a girl from the United States, and brought her to Argentina to start a family there. Finally, the family now consisting of Fred, his wife, and children came to the U.S. In 1962, they settled in Santa Barbara, California.

When the Branders founded their winery in 1975, they became one of the pioneers in the wine-making industry in Santa Barbara county. Then, the family decided to focus on what they called the “classically styled” or “Bordeaux-influenced” wines, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Brander Winery building
Entrance to the Brander Vineyard: Three Flags Tell the Family Story.
Irene Shaland drinks wine
In vino veritas!
Guide Kyle points at the map of Santa Ynez Valley
Kyle explains to the author the Santa Ynez Valley wine-growing  geography.
Brander's vineyard
The Brander’s vineyard.

Biodynamic farming principles

Our host at the winery explained to us that the family is proud of their utilization of biodynamic farming principles. We learned that the term bio dynamics means creating a self-sustaining environment while respecting the natural aspects of the land. That involves planting drought-tolerant shrubs and trees native to the area and attracting insects (such as ladybugs) beneficial to the vineyard.

The wines we tasted were very impressive. The 2018 Cuvee Natalie was a proprietary blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. I usually do not like Merlot, but there it was wonderful: light in color and with an aroma of blackberries.

Gratitude to organizers

Thank you, Kyle and the Santa Barbara Adventure Company for the wonderful adventure! Just like in wine making, you created a perfect blend of storytelling and scenery, history, and wine-tasting!

Read Part 1 of three-article series titled What to do in Santa Barbara California

Find out more about the author and the photographer.

Enjoy photos from our other trips on Instagram.

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Things to Do in Santa Barbara California

Santa Barbara, California

“Whenever you are in Santa Barbara and whoever you are with, you will be thinking one thing over and over again: Life is good!”

I do not recall who said or wrote the phrase above or how I came across it, but it stuck in my mind. When our travel plans to foreign countries had to be canceled one after another during the pandemic, that same sentence kept reappearing in my thoughts. And so it happened that we went “domestic” in our travel plans, and in May of 2021, we arrived in Santa Barbara, California.

Monochromatic gate Santa Barbara
Monochromatic Gate to California Riviera.

This pleasant little town is snuggled comfortably between the imposing Santa Ynez Mountains and the glittering Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara is simultaneously artsy, chic, and casual, and is widely known as the “American Riviera.” And indeed, that coastal town’s red-tiled roofs, white stucco buildings, its omnipresent Spanish colonial heritage—all channel the Mediterranean atmosphere and European-like civility that immediately took us, in our imagination, across the Atlantic. Haven’t we decided to go “domestic” or what?

Walking, hiking, or bicycling along the East Beach boardwalk

We stayed at the Hilton Beachfront Resort located on one of the best California beaches, the East Beach. And there we discovered that just walking or bicycling along that beach made us feel, if not exactly Santa Barbara’s natives, but almost an integral part of their community. That boardwalk stretches for miles along the coast. And, just like we saw in Copacabana in Rio, the beach is treated by the locals as their living room, exercise studio, soccer field, in other words, a natural extension of their homes and a fundamental part of their lifestyles. People practice yoga and martial arts, roller-blade and skateboard, drive a strange hybrid of a bike and cabana, and eat and drink wine with their friends. In short, they live in their home away from home, the East Beach. A large number of homeless people seemed disturbing at first, but they too looked perfectly at ease laying on the beach’s grass or sand.

East Beach Santa Barbara
One of the best beaches in California: East Beach in Santa Barbara.
East Beach Art Fair
Art Fair on the East Beach.

Enjoying State Street

We loved to stroll down the city’s main street. Called State Street, it seemed to be designed down to the smallest details—from exotic potted plants to thorny and flowery ornamental vines covering walls and facades. Twinkling lights surround fun bars and fantastic places to eat, enticing boutiques and attention-grabbing art galleries.  Even at the time of pandemic restrictions, this grand dame of Santa Barbara streets, buzzing with people and activities, looked elegant and charming.

E. Cabrillo Blvd
Enjoying the Mediterranean Vibe of E. Cabrillo Boulevard.
State Street, Santa Barbara
Walking along the State Street.
Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara
Historic Granada Theater on the State Street.
La Arcada, State Street, Santa Barbara, CA
La Arcada on the State Street: Shopping and dining in a quaint, art-lined square built in 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival style.

The Architecture

We fell in love with Santa Barbara’s historic architecture. To us, it seemed both Mediterranean and Spanish: its deep-red colors contrasted with the white walls and polished wood textures. Santa Barbara’s iconic architecture and its visual identity were largely derived from the rebuilding and reconstructions following the devastating earthquake of 1925 when the entire town was reborn in Spanish Revival style. The spirit of Spain is felt everywhere, pervasive and persuasive.

The Old Mission Santa Barbara founded in 1786 (the current exterior from the 1920s) is called “the Queen of California Missions.” The amazing Santa Barbara Courthouse (1929) is known as “the most beautiful government building in the United States.” Both places seem to us belonging to Spain rather than to the twenty-first century the United States. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 safety rules, visitors were not allowed inside the working courthouse. So we could not see the elaborate murals and ornate chandeliers and were not able to climb up the El Mirador, the famous clock tower for the panoramic view of Santa Barbara and environs.  Oh well… But we did go to its sunken garden and spent some enjoyable time there.

Santa Barbara City Hall
Santa Barbara Historic City Hall, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005 for its architecture.
Santa Barbara Historic District
In the Old Spanish District of Santa Barbara.
Irene Shaland in Spanish Courtyard
The Author inside a typical Spanish Style Courtyard in Historic Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara Courthouse
Historic Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Sunken Garden in Santa Barbara Courthouse
Sunken Garden of the Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Santa Barbara Old Spanish Mission.
Old Spanish Mission, Santa Barbara.

The Art Museum Santa Barbara Opens! Hooray!

Well, only two rooms were open on our last day in town to showcase the highlights of the Museum’s impressive collections. But that was enough for us to feel that “normalcy”– identified by us as packed theaters and crowded museums – that normal state of things is just around the corner.  Our optimism was rewarded by two surprises: an amazing Marc Chagall “Jeune fille en marche” or “Young Girl Running” from 1927 and a beautiful “Portrait of Nadya” from 1890 by Ilja Repin who is largely unknown outside Russia.

Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Painting by Marc Chagall titled Young Girl Running,
Marc Chagall. “Jeune fille en marche” or “Young Girl Running,” 1927. Museum of Art, Santa Barbara.
“Portrait of Nadya" by Ilja Repin.
Ilja Repin. “Portrait of Nadya,”1890. Museum of Art, Santa Barbara.

Not being impressed by the Funk Zone

We heard and read a lot about the city’s widely popular area called the Funk Zone. This former industrial district is located between the ocean and Highway 101. You will find it right next to the Amtrak station. The Funk Zone is a complex of wine tasting rooms, cafes, art galleries, and funky street art. But for some reason, our hearts belong to State Street!

The Foodie Capital of California

Mexican food
Who is able to stay away from Mexican food when in California? At Flor De Maiz on Cabrillo Boulevard we most possibly ate the best Mexican food ever!

I do not think that Alex and I are fully qualified as typical “Food and Wine” travelers. We are too art and history-centered and too agenda-driven to be completely and professionally immersed in the food-n-wine scene. But we always see food and wine produced by the region and served at its restaurants as an integral element of the local history and culture.

  And so it happened that in our four-and-a-half days and five nights in Santa Barbara we were doing our best to eat and drink in as many places as it was humanly possible to appreciate the freshness and carefully-crafted quality of what we were served. Among all the fine dining places that we greatly enjoyed, our favorite place was …a seafood shack at the very end of the historic Stearns Wharf. We ate twice there, and we never do that during short trips when we usually strive to try as many establishments as possible!

Historic Stearns Wharf.
Historic Stearns Wharf.

This famous wharf is located at the southern end of State Street. Built in 1872, it is the oldest continuously operated wharf on the West Coast. But most people come to this long rough wooden pier not for its history but the great views and the great food. Our favorite establishment was the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.
Irene Shaland eating oysters
Enjoying the fresh oysters at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company.

This company was born as a seafood takeout counter. For over forty years, it has been owned and operated by the same family. Today, the company is located on its original spot at the very end of the wharf. The first time we ate there, we had to shoo away the aggressive seagulls who wanted to steal our dinner. We had terrific lobster bisque, amazing cioppino, aromatic garlic-baked clams, and the rock crab, my personal favorite! And we came back once again—for more of the same!

Irene Shaland with a glass of vine
Life is good!

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