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.”

Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling

Irene Shaland and Alex Shaland in Africa

Come to a Free In-Person Presentation “Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling”

Date and Time: June 24, 2021 at 7-8 PM EST

Presenters: Irene and Alex Shaland

Organized by: Cleveland Photo Fest

Where: 2731 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115, in the Bostwick Design Art Initiative Building

About the presentation:

Meet Irene and Alex Shaland, world travelers, book authors, travel writers, and camera swingers.  Alex swings the camera, Irene simply looks glamorous. Hear their stories of globe-trotting adventures-on-steroids researching, photographing, and writing about the countries and places they visit, people they meet, and nature and wildlife they deeply care about.

Why was this program titled “Crazy Travel Photography and Story-Telling”? As an example, who else but crazy Shalands would have crisscrossed the entire Indian subcontinent in 12 days pushing the shutter button and scribbling notes as fast as they could. After returning home, they produced two magazine articles, a chapter for Irene’s book, and several lectures. And they have been performing this stunt (research-travel-meet people and become friends-photograph and take notes-write, publish, present–repeat) for over 30 years. Almost 80 countries and counting.

Knowing Shalands’ “mode of operation” event sponsors asked Irene and Alex to share some unusual or “crazy” moments and images from some of their trips. This program will take you from the jaw-dropping architectural marvels of Singapore to insanely-creative street art of Melbourne, Australia; from African safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania to the pyramids of Egypt; and from the streets and fields of Nepal to national parks in the USA.

About the presenters:

Irene Shaland’s art and travel articles, accompanied by Alex’s photographs, have appeared in over 20 publications and online sources including Holiday Magazine (France/U.K.), The Boston Forward, Tikkun, ZEEK, Diarna Digital Heritage Mapping, Hackwriters (U.K.), IMAGE Magazine, ROMAR Travel, and other journals printed in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Korea, and Kenya. Irene’s third book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” narrates little-known tales of Jewish communities in 10 countries over two millennia.

Suburbanites on Safari” is Alex’s first work devoted exclusively to Africa and African wildlife that, in addition to being informative and entertaining, aspires to support the effort to preserve and protect the animals with whom we humans share this planet.

Learn more about Alex Shaland.

Learn more about Irene Shaland.

Irene Shaland’s Cuba article published by Mosaic magazine

Irene Shaland’s Cuba article  The Island within an Island: The Cuban Jewish Story of Survival was published on August 22nd by the Sephardi Ideas Monthly, a magazine of the American Sephardic Federation and Center for Jewish History Research of New York. On August 23rd, the essay was also published by the Mosaic, a magazine dedicated to advancing philosophical discussions related to Jewish history and Judaism. See the excerpts below:

http://bit.ly/2wKtbzx

Read more Jewish history stories in Irene Shaland’s latest book:

http://amzn.to/1PM8I1x

Celebrating a Milestone Anniversary inside the Enchanted Fig Tree of Australia

Irene and Alex Shaland at Fig Tree Restaurant, Kangaroo Island, Australia

Alex and I have traveled to nearly 70 countries. We celebrated our birthdays and anniversaries in places like a street corner café on Easter Island, tiny seafood restaurant in Cochi, Kerala,  a second century BC villa –turned Renaissance palace-turned art studio in Rome; opera singers’ favorite tavern in Palermo near the famed Teatro Massimo, just to name a few. But we had the most unique experience this year on March 5th, when our new friend Steve Lane, Kangaroo Island’s Sea Dragon Lodge owner and our exceptional guide, took us to the remote Snellings Beach on the north coast. As a present on our milestone wedding anniversary, Steve invited us for a luncheon inside a… tree.

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Where to Stay on Kangaroo Island, Australia: the Sea Dragon Lodge is an Excellent Choice

Koala looking at visitors

Since childhood, I always wanted to live among the animals of Australia – even if for a few days only. And this was how the Kangaroo Island, a small dot in the Indian Ocean, materialized first in my imagination, and then – in our itinerary for the Spring 2016 trip. Overlooked by most popular guidebooks, this third largest Australian island (after Tasmania and Melville) remains the largest secret of that country for many globe trotters. There are precious few corners left in our 21st century urbanized world where Australian animals could be observed in the wild, and Kangaroo Island is exactly that place.

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Chasing the Elusive Northern Lights in Iceland

northern lights appear over the ocean

All visitors to Iceland fall into two distinctive categories: those who saw the northern lights and those who did not. When Irene set her trip target on Iceland, she was determined to place herself, our daughter, and I squarely in the first category. The problem was that unlike the predictable crowds at JFK on the way to Iceland, the famous northern lights of Iceland are highly unpredictable. However, the best time to see them is from November through December.  So mid-November looked pretty good. Oh, and  it also happens to be one of the coldest months of the year.

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How to Avoid Credit Card Foreign Transaction Fees – Part Two

Inside a restaurant

In one of our earlier blog posts, we recommended a few credit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees when you use the card outside of the US.  If you travel abroad and don’t have one of those credit cards, your “conventional” credit card might be charging in the area of 2% for foreign transaction fees every time you swipe your Visa or MasterCard at a restaurant, hotel, or car rental office.

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African Safari Tips: The Importance of Good Company

group going on African safari

Text and photos by Alex Shaland

Going on an African safari by yourself or in a small group is not advisable. Suppose, you are standing in front of a lion or a rhinoceros and trying to calculate your chances of getting out of this situation in one piece and hopefully not perforated in too many places. You are staring at the whatever it is that is going to do a very bad thing to you and all that is going through your mind is “o sh….t”. But look at the situation from the lion’s point of view. It has to charge you, yes you. Who else is there to eat? You are the protein!

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Overlooked by visitors, Catania is a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque

Duomo cathedral, Catania

The third largest city of Sicily, a UNESCO-listed Catania lies in close proximity to the majestic mountain Etna. The city was always subject to the brooding moods of that volcano.  In the late 1600s, Mt. Etna struck twice: first drowning Catania and over 12,000 of its inhabitants in boiling lava, and then, in less than 25 years, leveling the city again by a murderous earthquake. Only 2,000 people survived. However, like phoenix out of ashes, Catania, rebuilt by architects from Rome, was reborn as one of the greatest baroque cities of the Mediterranean.

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