Travel Writings


Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1993|

Land Of Green Gables

Prince Edward Island Makes Much Of Its Anne

By Arlen Grossman, Special to the Tribune

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND, Canada — “Peace! You never know what peace is until you walk on the shores, or in the fields or along the winding red roads of Abegweit on a summer twilight when the dew is falling and the old, old stars are peeping out and the sea keeps its nightly tryst with the little land it loves. You find you soul then.” writer Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Indians called it Abegweit, “Land Cradled on the Waves,” but today we know it as Prince Edward Island. By either name it holds a place in the hearts of its residents and millions of others who have lived vicariously in the Canadian province through the writings of Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Long stretches of white beaches, rolling hills, red soil, fishing villages and seemingly endless green pastures are reason enough to enjoy the island, even if you’re not familiar with the author’s classic tale, “Anne of Green Gables.”

But your visit will be enriched if you’ve read Montgomery’s books or seen the movies about a spirited pigtailed orphan girl and her adventures a century ago on Prince Edward Island.

You will be pleasantly surprised to find the island remarkably unchanged from Montgomery’s descriptions, still a charming pastoral setting blessed with unspoiled beauty and serenity.

“Anne of Green Gables,” published in 1908 and followed by six sequels, is one of the world’s most popular children’s stories, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. There’s a good chance you will be drawn to the landmarks and locales associated with the prolific author and her engaging, freckle-faced creation.

A small part of Canada

The smallest of Canada’s 10 provinces, Prince Edward Island is set off the Atlantic coast in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The island is 140 miles long, measures 4 to 40 miles wide, and is home to 130,000 residents, most of whom earn their livings from their well-groomed farms.

Most visitors base their stay in Charlottetown, the island’s only city. But if “Anne of Green Gables” intrigues you, you’ll have to venture out a bit from the capital.

Three well-plotted scenic drives make the island easy to explore. Points of interest are comprehensively covered in brochures available at numerous tourist information centers throughout the province. Highway markers help you decide where to stop and look around.

From Charlottetown, take Blue Heron Drive, which will bring you to the north coast town of Cavendish, the “Avonlea” of the novels and the heart of Green Gables territory.

If you happen to be in Cavendish during the weekend of Aug. 19-22, you can join in celebrating the first Lucy Maud Montgomery Festival. Music, theater, barn dances, period games, corn boils, clam bakes, ice-cream socials, photo contests and a memorial service will be among the numerous Montgomery/”Anne”-related activities.

Coordinator Paul Blacquiere says he hopes the festival will become an annual event. “We have designed it for the family,” he says, “with emphasis on the life and times of the author.”

But whenever you’re there you can take a pleasant walking tour of Montgomery’s Cavendish, beginning at the site of her grandparents’ farmhouse, where the author grew up and wrote the first “Anne” book.

Only a stone cellar remains, surrounded by quiet gardens. Raised plaques are scattered about, containing quotes from Montgomery’s writing about her beloved home.

The walking tour passes through a large grove of spruce trees, which Montgomery named the Haunted Wood, and leads to the Green Gables House. This modest white farmhouse was the home of the author’s cousins and was the setting for the original book.

Montgomery spent many a happy hour in the house and the surrounding countryside. Nearby Lovers Lane was a favorite of the author and familiar to readers of her novels.

The tour continues through Cavendish Cemetery, where Montgomery (1874-1942)and her husband are buried and which, in her words, “overlooks the spots I always loved, the pond, the shore, the sand dunes, the harbor.”

Where it all started

Not far from Cavendish is New London, where visitors can tour the Montgomery’s birthplace. The tiny white cottage looks much as it did then and contains many of her personal effects, including her wedding dress and scrapbooks.

More of the author’s life is displayed at the Anne of Green Gables Museum at Silver Bush, in Park Corner. The house belonged to her uncle and is still owned by descendents. Montgomery spent summer holidays at her uncle’s and was married there in 1911. Rare first editions of her books can be viewed in the drawing-room. You’ll see Anne’s “Lake of Shining Waters” just across the road.

Blue Heron Drive covers the center of the island and is named for the stately water bird that migrates here each spring. This area is known for its community lobster suppers that are well worth a stop.

Besides Blue Heron Drive, two other scenic drives, the Lady Slipper and King’s Byway, afford splendid overviews of Prince Edward Island.

Lady Slipper Drive is named for the provincial flower, a delicate pink orchid. The route circles the western end of the island, around the deeply indented coastline, passing white sand dunes on the north shore and stark sandstone cliffs in the south, with lush potato fields in between.

This region retains considerable heritage from the French-speaking Acadian settlers who preceded the British in this area centuries ago. You can’t go wrong interrupting your journey to feast on some of Malpeque Bay’s famous oysters.

Also in this region is Summerside, the island’s second-largest town and site of the annual Summerside Lobster Carnival and Livestock Exhibition. Harness racing, parades, livestock judging, beauty contests, and plenty of dancing, music and good eating highlight the weeklong festival, scheduled for July 17-24 this year.

From forest to beach

King’s Byway Drive is the longest of the scenic drives, and circles the eastern shoreline of the island, winding through wide expanses of forest, splendid white beaches and fishing villages.

The drive will pass several wooden lighthouses that make for wonderful photo stops. You also can experience the “singing sands” of the beaches around Basin Head, which protest (with loud squeaks) your footsteps due to the high silica content.

The island’s agricultural heritage is highlighted at the Orwell Corner Historic Village, a living farm museum with restored 19th Century buildings.

Fishing enthusiasts will want to check out North Lake, which claims to be the “Tuna Capital of the World.” The average bluefin tuna weighs in at about 600 pounds, with some tipping the scale at close to 1,200 pounds.

Be sure to take at least a couple of days to explore Charlottetown. There is historic importance to this quaint, elegant capital city of 18,000. It was the site of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, which led to the confederation of Canada three years later.

Charlottetown hosts a wide array of annual events during the bustling mid-May to mid-October tourist season. The highlight is the Charlottetown Festival, Friday through Sept. 25, which presents home-grown professional theater productions. The most prominent of these is Canada’s longest-running musical, “Anne of Green Gables,” now in its 29th year.

A walk through downtown Charlottetown will take you along tree-lined streets, past Victorian homes and historic red-brick buildings. The city’s restored waterfront recaptures the feel of earlier eras.

The modern Confederation Center of the Arts houses an art gallery, museum, library, memorial hall, restaurant and two theaters, one of which features the “Anne” musical, which runs from Friday through Sept. 4 this year.

(Another version of this article appeared in the Toledo Blade, May 9, 1993.)

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Chicago Sun-Times, March 22, 1992

Kidding around in Las Vegas

by Arlen Grossman

LAS VEGAS– The problem: You’re planning a trip to Las Vegas and you don’t know whether to leave the kids with Grandma, Aunt Phyllis or the neighbors. The solution: None of the above. Bring the children to Nevada with you and let them in on the fun.

Most visitors to Las Vegas don’t realize that this neon city of 24-hour gambling and nightlife also offers a wide array of activities designed to keep youngsters busy and happy. Las Vegas figured out long ago that families need to be accommodated to fill all those hotel rooms, and it continues to expand and improve on that concept.

Most hotels and motels will provide babysitting arrangements or referrals for parents who want to get off by themselves, and almost every major casino hotel has a video-game arcade. But there is much more for families in Las Vegas.

Start with some of those casino hotels. For many years Circus Circus was the place to stay with the kids. But two newer theme hotels have joined the act: the Mirage, completed in 1989, and the Excalibur, which opened in 1990.

Circus Circus remains a big hit for the under-21 set. Unsuspecting visitors do a double-take when they look up and find trapeze artists flying high above the gaming tables. Stunt cyclists, acrobats, boxing kangeroos and other free circus acts perform continuously from 11 a.m. to midnight every day. Carnival games, clown makeup artists and other midway attractions keep the kids occupied for hours while mom and dad gamble away the vacation money. Look for the pink and white “Big Top” on the Strip at 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; for information, call (800) 634-3450.

The 4,032-room Excalibur is a Las Vegas version of England during the reign of King Arthur. The Medi ieval Village, above the ground-floor casino, boasts seven themed restaurants and shops, along with strolling singers, jugglers and musicians.

Youngsters will also be drawn to the Fantasy Faire, the hotel’s fourth level, which features craft booths, gypsy carts and medieval games. Aboard the two 48-seat Magic Motion Machines, hydraulically activated seats are synchronized to on-screen action rides, including runaway trains and whitewater rafting.

Two nightly dinner shows in Excalibur’s 1,019-seat King Arthur’s Arena feature jousts by costumed Knights of the Round Table. The romance and battles of the Middle Ages are set amid high-tech displays of lasers, fireworks and magic.

Excalibur is on the Strip, at 3580 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; call (800) 937-7777.

The Mirage is hard to miss. It’s the hotel with the regularly erupting volcano and five-story waterfall out front. Inside, visitors can marvel at the antics of five rare white tigers, who are on public display in a glass-enclosed habitat when not doing their evening show with Siegfried & Roy.

Families arriving at the Mirage can enjoy the 53-foot aquarium behind the reception area, where more than 1,000 sea creatures represent underwater life from coral reef habitats around the world.

The hotel also features a 1 1/2-million gallon Dolphin Habitat, where youngsters can watch five adult bottlenose dolphins (and a baby male born last April) dive, flip, feed and frolic. Seeing the dolphins costs $3, which helps support an educational program devoted to marine mammals and their environment. The Mirage is at 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; call (800) 627-6667.

Scandia Family Fun Center is a great place to drop off the kids for a few hours. Youngsters can amuse themselves with three miniature golf courses, go-kart racing, bumper boats, batting cages and dozens of the hottest new video games.

The center opens at 10 a.m. and keeps going to 10:30 p.m. during the week, until midnight Friday and Saturday nights (with extended summer hours). Look for it just west of Interstate 5, at 2900 Sirius Ave.; call (702) 364-0070.

Curious kids (and their parents) can marvel at the 1,000-plus oddities in Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Freaks of nature, torture devices, and artifacts from primitive cultures are among the attractions in the 10 theme rooms. The museum, in the downtown Four Queens Hotel, at 202 E. Fremont Ave., is open from 9 a.m. to midnight (until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). Admission is $4.95 for teens and adults, $3.95 for those over 50, $2.50 for kids 5-12. Call (800) 634-6045.

If Ripley’s strikes your fancy, you’re a likely prospect for the year-old Guinness World of Records Museum, billed as a 3-D version of the popular book. The museum features amazing videos, artifacts and displays from the worlds of sports, art, science and entertainment. Kids can play with the many computer data banks. A Las Vegas exhibit highlights local history, casinos and entertainers.

The Guinness museum, at 2780 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Admission is $4.95 for adults, $3.95 for seniors and students, $2.95 for children 5 to 12. Call (702) 792-3766.

Another diversion for the whole family is the Omnimax Theater, housed in a geodesic dome as part of the Caesars Palace complex. Omnimax features an 82-foot-high wraparound screen, reclining seats, and an 89-speaker “sensaround” stereo system.

The 70mm short-feature movies change regularly, with screenings daily, on the hour, from 2 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $4.50 for teens and adults, $3 for seniors and kids 4 to 12. Caesars Palace is at 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; call (702) 731-7901 to find out what’s playing at Omnimax.

Across the street, car fans in the family can explore the impressive Imperial Palace Automobile Collection, which houses more than 200 classic and antique autos. Al Capone’s bulletproof 1939 Cadillac and Adolf Hitler’s 1939 Mercedes-Benz are part of the regularly changing display, along with autos owned by Dwight Eisenhower, W.C. Fields, James Cagney and Howard Hughes. All kinds of special-interest cars, antique trucks and motorcycles are part of the tour.

The auto museum, in the Imperial Palace Hotel, 3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S., is open 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $6.95 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and children 5 to 11. Call (702) 731-3311.

Chocoholics of any age can hit the Ethel M Chocolate Factory for a behind-the-scenes look at how gourmet candy is made. Enjoy a self-guided tour and, as your reward, free samples. A bonus is the two-acre cactus garden adjoining the factory. Ethel M is named for Ethel Mars, matriarch of the candy-bar family that owns the facilities.

The factory and garden are in Henderson, six miles southeast of Las Vegas, on the way to Hoover Dam; the address is 1 Sunset Way. Hours are 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and admission is free; call (702) 458-8864.

When you’ve had your fill of candy, pack the family back in the car and keep driving to Hoover Dam, an engineering wonder of the modern world. Completed in 1936, the 726-foot-high dam helped tame the Colorado River to provide cheap energy for Arizona, Nevada and California.

The dam also created Lake Mead, one of the world’s largest manmade bodies of water and a popular recreation center that offers boating, water-skiing, fishing, boat tours and camping.

Tours of Hoover Dam are conducted daily from 8 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, 9 a.m.-4:15 p.m. the rest of the year. Adults pay $1 for the 35-minute tour, while kids under 16 go for free.

From Las Vegas, the dam is a 30-mile drive southeast on U.S. 93; you can also take a tour bus from the city. Be prepared for traffic delays caused by the construction of new visitor facilities. Call (702) 293-8367.

From April to September, the kids will enjoy splashing the day away at Wet ‘N Wild, a 26-acre family water park. The attractions include the world’s highest and fastest water slide, a 500,000-gallon wave pool, flash floods, and “Willy Willy,” a hydra-hurricane ride spinning inner tubers around a pool 90 feet in diameter. If you prefer just to drift, the “Lazy River” flows through the park at a leisurely pace.

Regular Wet ‘N Wild hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, with extended hours June through August. All-day admission is $16.95, $13.95 for youngsters 3 to 9, $8.50 for splashers 55 and older. The water park is at 2601 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; call (702) 737-3819 during the season for details.

Lied Discovery Children’s Museum is a wonderful hands-on facility where kids can actually have fun. With more than 100 participatory exhibits, it claims to be the fourth largest children’s museum in the world.

In the “Everyday Living” area, youngsters can choose a job, earn a paycheck, deposit money in the bank, buy groceries, and imitate other grown-up activities. No, they don’t get to play blackjack or shoot craps.

The museum shares space with the downtown Las Vegas Library at 833 Las Vegas Blvd. N. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (until 9 p.m. on Wednesday). Sunday hours are noon-5 p.m. Adults pay $4; seniors and students, $2.50; kids 4-11, $1.50. Call (702) 382-5437.

Across the street from the Discovery Museum is the new home of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. Its newest attraction is a shark exhibit. Don’t miss the wildlife art gallery, with paintings, bronzes, and award-winning wood sculptures, including an eagle valued at more than $650,000.

The museum, at 900 Las Vegas Blvd. N., is open daIly 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $5 ($4 for seniors and students, $2.50 for children 4-11).

Just a baseball toss from the two museums, at 850 Las Vegas Blvd. N., is Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas Stars. A Pacific Coast League affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the Stars play ball from April to September. Call (702) 386-7200 for schedule and ticket information.

Southern Nevada Zoological Park is small, but it houses some exotic and interesting creatures, along with many furry and cuddly animals to pet. Barbary apes, a Bengal tiger, golden eagles, pot-bellied pigs and talking parrots are among the residents.

The zoo, three miles northwest of downtown at 1775 N. Rancho Drive, is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults and teens pay $5, while kids 2-12 and senior citizens get in for $3. Call (702) 647-4685 to find out what’s happening at the zoo.

For more information, call the Chicago office of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, (312) 951-8655.

Travel writer Arlen Grossman lives in Del Rey Oaks, Calif.

(Versions of this article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (8/21/88), The San Diego Union (10/2/88), ParentGuide News (Oct. 1989), The Chicago Sun-Times ((10/30/88) and the Vancouver Sun (3/14/92).)


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