Archive | March 2013

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in April

On Queen's Day, Amsterdam residents are allowed to sell wares on the street without a permit, transforming the city into a vrijmarkt (free market). (Photograph by Ferry Peys, My Shot)

There are some amazing events on tap all over the world, all the time. Here’s a taste of what you can see and do in April:

  • If you still haven’t been to the Big Easy, spring is the time to go. Come for the French Quarter Festival (April 11-14), the “largest free music festival in the South,” but stay for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 26-May 5), a bucket-list worthy celebration of Louisiana music and culture that’s been going strong since 1970.
  • Calling all foodies! Report to Singapore for the World Gourmet Summit (April 16-26). Described as a “gastronomic extravaganza,” the upscale event promises 10 days of eating, drinking, chef demonstrations, and classes. The experience will require some dough though, and we don’t mean the edible kind.
  • With a name like Queen’s Day (April 30), you might expect something regal and refined. Instead the Dutch holiday transforms Amsterdam into a citywide party and a sea of orange, with revelers sporting the national color flooding the streets and forming flotillas in the canals.  This year’s spectacle is also the official day of Queen Beatrix’s abdication (next year the holiday will be called Koningsdag – King’s Day — and held in honor of soon-to-be-King Willem-Alexander).
    The Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians take center stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  (Photograph by Derek Bridges, Flickr)

    The Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians take center stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Photograph by Derek Bridges, Flickr)

  • Woombye, Australia’s Big Pineapple Music Festival may celebrate homegrown artists from Oz and neighboring New Zealand, but the concert, which takes place on a plantation that practices fair trade and organic growing, is an occasion worthy of an international crowd. Join the fun on April 20.
  • Best known for its aquarium, Monterey, California will soon turn its attention to terra firma for the Sea Otter Classic (April 18-21). What has been billed as the world’s biggest bike festival boasts races, expositions, beer, barbecue, and excursions – enough to satisfy the most fanatical cyclers.
  • Preeminent tea makes a brief bow to its caffeinated counterpart during The London Coffee Festival (April 25-28). Hosted by the hip Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, the four-day fete celebrates all that is coffee and more, with tastings, barista demonstrations, gourmet food stalls, and live music.
    Tea makes way for its caffeinated counterpart at the London Coffee Festival. (Photograph by David Clare, Flickr)

    Tea makes way for its caffeinated counterpart at the London Coffee Festival. (Photograph by David Clare, Flickr)

  • Bangkok may be Thailand’s superstar city, but Chiang Mai still has it beat when it comes to celebrating the traditional Thai New Year. In addition to a massive parade, street performers and street food pervade the nation’s northernmost city during its Songkran festival (April 12-15). But the festival’s final day makes a real splash, with locals and tourists taking to the streets for a massive water fight. Though the tradition stems from a cleansing ritual, it has a practical purpose: April is Thailand’s hottest time of year.
  • Grenada may have been marred by political conflict in the past, but the island nation is moving forward fast. See for yourself at the Carriacou Maroon and String Band Music Festival (April 26-28), a triumphant display of authentic Caribbean food, music, and dance.
  • No wicked witches here, just modern-day Hansels and Gretels looking to celebrate. Two centuries after the Brothers Grimm published their first volume, Kassel, Germany honors the hometown heroes at Expedition Grimm (starting April 27). In addition to seeing the storytellers’ manuscripts and personal effects on display, visitors can take in walking tours, festivals, and special performances.
    Celebrants splash water on each other to mark the traditional Thai new year.  (Photograph by Charlie Tray, My Shot)

    Celebrants splash water on each other to mark the traditional Thai new year. (Photograph by Charlie Tray, My Shot)

  • It’s that time again in Hampyeong, South Korea when the canola flowers start to bloom and boatloads of butterflies flock to the meadows in a glorious display. Celebrate the arrival of spring and an ecological spectacle at the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival (April 26-May 8) with countless exhibits and experiences dedicated to these delicate insects.
  • Get a head start on your summer reading…in good company. The 39th annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair (April 25-May 13) expects to draw more than a million attendees from all over the world this year, and features 400 exhibitors, a comprehensive series of conferences, readings, and workshops.
  • If you’re looking to put some pep in your step, head to Memphis, Tennessee (one of Traveler‘s Best Trips for 2013). Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music occupies the space where the “Soulsville U.S.A.” recording studio once sat, but the beat goes on at Stax to the Max (April 27), a free and family-friendly festival that celebrates soul legends like Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes — as well as the modern-day musicians that are keeping their legacies alive.

What would you add to the list? Let us know what we’re missing by leaving a comment.

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in April amsterdam , Argentina , Australia , Big Pineapple Music Festival , Brothers Grimm , Buenos Aires International Book Fair , California , Caribbean , Carriacou Festival , Chiang Mai , French Quarter Festival , germany , Grenada , Hampyeong , Kassel , Kirani James , louisiana , Memphis , Monterrey , netherlands , new orleans , Queen Beatrix , queens day , Sea Otter Classic , Singapore , Songkran , South Korea , Stax to the Max , thailand , The London Coffee Festival , Woombye , World Gourmet Summit , World’s Largest Jazz Brunch

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Saving Sea Turtles

Spring Break is wasted on the young.

When I’m in charge of the world, I’ll make it so that all the kids stay in school and anybody over thirty will take a mandatory week off in the Spring.

Though everyone warned me that going to South Padre Island in March was a mistake (“It’s a mob scene!”), I found it to be quite the contrary. As a species, vacationing college kids are entirely nocturnal, so that every morning until noon, I found myself walking alone upon miles of silent, empty beach. When night came, I huddled away in my beach view hotel room and drifted off to sleep just as the juveniles began their shrill cries and boozy mating dance.

Spring Break at South Padre Island, Texas (Photo by AE/NGT)

Spring Break at South Padre Island, Texas (Photo by AE/NGT)

Aside from college kids who flock from all across America, South Padre is an important migratory hotspot for  so many fabulous birds, including the Roseate Spoonbill, hilarious loud laughing gulls, and a real beauty, the Painted Bunting.

As juniors from Kansas State snoozed soundly past breakfast, I tiptoed through the splendid South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, happened upon a sleepy 10-foot long alligator and watched Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons swoop within a few feet of my face. The nature is truly splendid down in this tropical corner of Texas and it was hard for me to connect this lively shoreline of sea grass and mangroves to the high plains of the Panhandle and desperate deserts of the west. And yet, all of this is in Texas.

I was even more excited to learn that South Padre is home to one of my favorite animals: sea turtles!

The rare and critically-endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) nests primarily on a single beach in nearby Tamaulipas, Mexico, but a few hundred have made South Padre their home. Threatened by decades of poaching, pollution, and getting caught in fishermen’s nets, the smallest of the sea turtle species fights a tough battle to survive in the wild.

While nature accounts for the poor odds of baby turtles by hatching them in large amounts, the Kemp’s Ridley can no longer afford such odds. Luckily, South Padre’s Sea Turtle, Inc. is actively involved in recovering injured turtles and rehabilitating them, and then (if they are capable), releasing the turtles back into the wild.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle is the most endangered of all the sea turtle species. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle is the most endangered of all the sea turtle species. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Though Kemp’s Ridleys are a special priority, the non-profit organization works with all species of sea turtle, including Loggerheads, Atlantic Greens and Hawksbills.  Aside from treating wounded animals, they are actively involved in turtle conservation and public education.

I simply walked right into their open facility and came head-to-head with a species I had only read about before. For all the great food and fun that’s in South Padre, seeing a baby Kemp’s Ridley swimming merrily about with this three remaining flippers was sheer awesomeness.

Better yet was that I got to meet Allison, a Green Sea turtle that was rescued in South Padre after she lost three of her four flippers to what was probably a small shark. Given a 5% chance of survival, Sea Turtle, Inc. nursed her back to health, and today, she is alive, healthy, and nine years old! With only one flipper, Allison could only swim in circles, until an ingenious intern devised a prosthetic fin that would provide enough drag to balance her out. Now, visitors to South Padre can come and watch Allison swim with her prosthesis in the deep water tank of Sea Turtle, Inc. Though I have seen so many able-bodied sea turtles swim in the open ocean, none of them compared to watching Allison soar through the water.

This is the great beauty of travel–that you never know what you might find. I came to South Padre prepared for the mad rush of crazed college kids, and instead I found Allison, the amazing green sea turtle who swims with one flipper.

Gerry the sea turtle

Gerry the Green Sea Turtle is tempted by a lettuce leaf at Sea Turtle, Inc. in South Padre Island, South Texas

Saving Sea Turtles conservation , endangered , Kemp’s Ridley , sea turtle inc. , sea turtles , Texas , Texas Trip

Finding the Beat of Brussels

Grand Place. (Photograph by Marianne Janssens, Flickr)

I marched into Parking Garage #58 with confidence, punched the 10 key to the highest floor, and zoomed up. When I exited, the lot was desolate, with some late winter snow and ice remaining. What a pleasant surprise to discover one of the best views in the city: St. Catherine’s Square, a melange of Art Nouveau, gleaming corporate buildings, and a few layered church spires in all their glory. And it was free.

There’s no way I would have found this spot on my own and I have my Brussels Greeter, Martine, to thank for it.

Watch the world go by at a cafe. (Photograph by Sofie Coreynen, Visitflanders/Flickr)

Watch the world go by at a cafe. (Photograph by Sofie Coreynen, Visitflanders/Flickr)

The greeter program is free and connects locals with people who want an insider look at a city. At times, the perceived symbols of a country can be written about so ad nauseam in travel literature that I find myself bored with them before I even arrive. Not so for tiny Belgium. That’s probably because most of the nation’s icons are edible: from the decadent waffles and sinful toppings I just had to sample to the moules frites I washed down with a crisp cold beer. And everyone knows about the chocolate.

But, I was grateful to Martine for that glimpse of another side of Brussels from lofty new heights.

Brussels is far from undiscovered, but it can feel underrated. It is an easily walkable city, with evenly spaced cobblestones, and the ambiance of a merging and blended Europe. But outside the bustling Grand Place, I was comfortable as a tourist, with room to roam. Streets like Rue Lebeau curve around; you feel embraced by the city but not smothered by it. Your independence is respected but if you wish to chat, the locals are most happy to oblige.

The museums in Brussels are worth a week alone and, being an admirer of René Magritte (I have a copy of “La Clairvoyance” in my apartment back in New York), the Magritte Museum quickly became one of my favorites. His modus operandi – a jumble of text, photos, and objects that don’t seem to belong together — left me pleasantly puzzled and mildly amused. (For instance, why is Magritte’s painting of a blue sky with perfect, fluffy white clouds called “The Curse”?!)

The bookshop at the Belgian Comic Strip Center. (Photograph by Johan Martens, Visitflanders/ Flickr)

The bookshop at the Belgian Comic Strip Center. (Photograph by Johan Martens, Visitflanders/ Flickr)

At the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, which encompass ancient and modern art in one location, I was floored by the enormous Rubens room, and could almost feel the pulse of the peasants milling about in the Bruegels. On another side of town, don’t miss the Belgian Comic Strip Center, worth a stop to pay to Tintin and The Smurfs.

Locals are definitely bon vivants — people who live well and have refined taste. The Grand Sablon area hits a sophisticated note as a center for chocolate and home decor, ranging from kitschy to gilded and elegant. Surrounding the Sablon are streets worth savoring like Rue Ernest Allard and Rue des Minimes. I ducked into Claire Fontaine, a tiny gourmet shop, for spices and takeaway sandwiches. Top dining choices in the area are Restaurant JB, LOLA, and Aux Vieux Saint Martin, all teeming with locals.

Closer to the Grand Place is Galeries Royales St Hubert, a vibrant 19th-century shopping stroll that set the standard for similar arcades in London, Milan, and St. Petersburg. Here, you’ll find shops like Ganterie Italienne selling buttery leather gloves in a space where nothing has changed for decades, from the wood floors to the antique register. Nearby is La Taverne du Passage, an old-school choice for dinner, with big bowls of mussels and great wine.

Other shopping streets in Brussels include Boulevard de Waterloo, which is more like Fifth Avenue in New York, and Avenue Louise, strewn with international chains like Zara and Longchamp. But the most delightful neighborhoods to while away a day are near St. Catherine, where an old fish market has been replaced by delicious seafood restaurants. Ramble around the Dansaert, chock-full of unique, trendy shops and excellent eateries.

The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. (Photograph by James Stringer, Flickr)

The Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. (Photograph by James Stringer, Flickr)

After all that walking, you’ll crave a good night’s sleep. There’s a huge range of accommodations, and rates are especially good on weekends due to all the business travelers departing en masse. I loved staying at The Dominican Hotel a former abbey that pays homage to its history by piping Gregorian chant into the elevators. The soaring public spaces and relaxing outdoor garden practically force guests to unwind while the thoroughly modern lounge pulsates with a diverse mix of people each night.

Or, for a completely different vibe, there is always Hotel Welcome, where each of the 17 rooms has an international theme like Silk Road or Egypt, and the gregarious owner, Michael, couldn’t be more friendly.

In places like New York, London, and Paris, locals (I’m guilty, too) feel the need to shout from the rooftops about how great their city is, perhaps to justify sky-high rents and expensive dining. You’ll find a refreshing change of pace in Brussels. They instinctively know they are fortunate enough to live the “good life” daily in a city that feels more like an inviting village than an anonymous urban expanse. Everything is close by and not too congested, rents are decent compared to other capitals, and there’s a decidedly peaceful vibe that works its way into your stride.

The only complaints I heard from locals revolved around traffic and lack of parking — and that, in my estimate, is about as good as you can get.

Finding the Beat of Brussels Annie Fitzsimmons , Art Nouveau , Aux Vieux Saint Martin , beer , Belgian Comic Strip Center , belgium , brussels , Brussels Greeters , chocolate , Claire Fontaine , Dansaert , frites , Galeries Royales St Hubert , Grand Place , Grand Sablon , Hotel Welcome , La Taverne du Passage , LOLA , Magritte Museum , Parking Garage #58 , Rene Magritte , Restaurant JB , Royal Museums of Fine Arts , Saint Catherine , The Dominican , Urban Insider , waffles

Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta.jpgMarch Madness is in full swing and the lucky teams that are still left in the hunt have all eyes toward Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta will host the NCAA Final Four tourney and fans of college basketball far and wide will be flocking to the “Peach State”.

Of course, there’s plenty to do and see if you happen to visit Atlanta, Georgia during the tournament or even after the final whistle blows. Take a look at what Atlanta has to offer!

 

Piedmont Park
This 189 acre park offers amazing views of the Atlanta skyline and plays host for many events/festivals year round. The park used to be a farm in the 1800’s and even hosted professional baseball games until 1904. The close proximity (1 mile) to downtown makes it an easy sight to visit while in the Atlanta area.

Martin Luther King Jr. National History Site

You can take some time to visit Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood home, Ebenezer Baptist church (where he served as pastor) and MLK’s final resting place & eternal flame – all featured on this national historic site.

CNN Studio Tour
The news giant is headquartered in Atlanta and the studio tour gives you a peek behind the scenes. Check out how a newsroom operates and watch reporters in action!

World of Coca-Cola
Are you a Coca-Cola fanatic? Well then this is your Graceland! The headquarters of the soft drink giant are also located in Atlanta so to have this 20 acre museum located here made perfect sense. This exhibition includes memorabilia, a tasting center and a collection of Coca-Cola advertisements over the years.

Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia Atlanta , final four travel , march madness atlanta georgia

Powder Highway Road Trip – Stop #5 – Skier Lynsey Dyer on Kicking Horse Resort, BC (Photos Video)

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Most powder junkies know there are a few regions around the globe that seem to get more than their fair share of cold smoke. For North American shredders, one of those legendary deep-snow destinations is the Powder Highway, a 680-mile stretch of road that winds through the southeast corner of British Columbia, Canada. Kicking Horse Resort near the town of Golden is one of my favorite stops along the Pow Highway.

Powder highway dispatch #5 / Kicking Horse from Stellar Media on Vimeo.

Kicking Horse Local Stats
• Vertical: 4th highest vertical in North America, 4,133 feet (6 feet less than Jackson Hole)
• Once named Whitetooth Ski Area, the resort was bought out, expanded, and reopened as Kicking Horse in December of 2000.
• Annual snowfall ranges from 254 cm (100 inches) at the bottom of the mountain to 700 cm (275 inches) at the summit.
• Terrain: Kicking Horse has 75 inbound chutes and limitless bowls ranging from advanced to expert skiing.
• Backcountry Access: With a 15-30 minute hike one can access amazing backcountry options. South of the resort, you’ll find Super Bowl by hiking up Terminator Ridge. Or head North of the resort to Rudi’s Bowl and many more.
• Best Place to Stay: The Vagabond Lodge is a luxury boutique hotel just steps away from the gondola with a great community atmosphere.
• Bo, the Grizzly Bear: Can sometimes be seen in his 22 acre pen from the gondola in winter and most certainly in summer months.
• Summertime means Kicking Horse is open for downhill mountain biking, offering Canada’s longest downhill decent off the Golden Eagle Express Gondola.
• While You’re There: Try an ice wine martini. It’s a special treat.
• Kicking Horse Coffee: Canada’s number one organic, fair-trade coffee is roasted here and makes a great gift to bring home.

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Lynsey Dyer at Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

After an 18-hour driving adventure from Jackson Hole, we finally pulled up to the Vagabond Lodge at Kicking Horse Resort. It had been dumping for weeks and the lure of a sunny day, spectacular accommodations, and good friends had us white-knuckling through blizzard conditions. I was welcomed with fresh cookies, cold Kokanee, and friends Lexi duPont and Jacqui Edgerly. With four days of shredding to look forward to, the trip promised to be one to remember.

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

I first discovered this place six years ago and have been in love ever since. A rockin’ gondola shuttles skiers up 4,000 vertical feet to one of the most breathtaking mountain vistas I’ve ever seen. The terrain offers a bit of everything from steep chutes to wide open bowls and unrivaled tree-skiing. Kicking Horse truly is a skier’s paradise, and when it snows like it did when we were there, let’s just say it’s “ALLLL time!”

What I love most about the Powder Highway is the potential to find that authentic Canadian culture. If you’re the kind of skier looking for a cookie-cut village with big brand name shops, best stay in the sates or head to Whistler. Most towns on the Powder Highway are still primarily old mining and logging towns with a few quaint restaurants and hippie coffee shops. As long as you’re in it for real deal skiing and down to earth resorts, the Powder Highway is a sure bet to keeping your legs tired and your soul burning.

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

One thing you won’t find at any other resort is the once-rescued cub and now adult resident grizzly bear, Bo, who can sometimes be spotted in his 2-acre pen from the gondola. Once you get off the gondola you can dine at the mountain top restaurant with incredible views and fine cuisine. As for accommodations, we fell in love immediately with the ski-in, ski-out Vagabond Lodge. The lovely couple who owns and operates the beautiful bed-and-breakfast felt like family. With 4 pm fresh cookies after a big day of skiing and pillow-top beds to rest our tired bodies, we didn’t want to leave.

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Kicking Horse Resort; Photograph by Will Wissman

Powder Highway Road Trip – Stop #5 – Skier Lynsey Dyer on Kicking Horse Resort, BC (Photos Video) british columbia , canada , Kicking Horse , Lynsey Dyer , Powder Highway , Reggie Crist , road trip , skiing , Will Wissman

The Rangerettes

The Kilgore College Rangerettes rehearse on the stage of Dodson Auditorium in Kilgore, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Sadly, I can never be a Rangerette.

Not only does being male disqualify me, but I would never make it past the first audition. Apparently, in order to join the elite dance drill team of Kilgore College, girls must be able to kick high enough to touch boot toe to the front brim of their white cowboy hats.

“You will not get on the Rangerettes if you can’t kick,” says Jan Janes, Director of the Rangerette Showcase and Museum in Kilgore, Texas—and she’s right.

Elaborate kick line routines are the mainstay choreography of this dedicated corps of precision dancers and when visiting their shrine in East Texas, I watched dozens of video clips of the girls, arms linked, kicking so high, that they (to quote my brother), “Make the Wehrmacht look like a bunch of pansies.”

The Rangerette Museum in Kilgore, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The Rangerette Museum in Kilgore, Texas (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

I had traveled to Kilgore to see the East Texas Oil Museum—a fascinating tribute to the petrochemical wealth of East Texas and the boom that sprung serious life into this corner of the state. Alas, I had failed to call ahead and arrived to learn that the museum was closed for the day.

For me, the real joy of travel lies in the sudden change of plans—because the open road always delivers something far better than we could ever schedule. Just as I was ready to pack up and leave Kilgore behind, I caught a glimpse of the smiling blond vision down the street, a three-story cowgirl grinning and beckoning to me with all the friendship of sunny Texas.

She was not real—more of a permanent paper doll glued to the side of a beige brick building at Kilgore College—but she served her purpose in drawing me away from the oil museum and pulling me towards the Rangerette Museum.

Maybe I am too young and maybe I am too ignorant, but until driving through East Texas, I had never heard of these Rangerettes. I read the sign and wondered right away, “Oh, the Texas Rangers have a female division?” How had I missed this? “Some special unit of woman combatants who could shoot and ride and who defended the great state Texas from evildoers and lawlessness?” I imagined, entering the museum with a wide-open mind.

But no—The Kilgore College Rangerettes are a drill team. In fact, they were the very first dance drill team in America, founded in 1940 at Kilgore College to “keep fans in their seats”.

Early Kilgore College Rangerettes from the 1940's (Kilgore College Rangerettes Museum & Showcase in Kilgore, Texas)

Early Kilgore College Rangerettes from the 1940′s (Kilgore College Rangerettes Museum & Showcase in Kilgore, Texas)

 

Like barbecue and church, football is a religion in Texas, and apparently, back in the day, fans used the half-time to run beneath the bleachers for a drink (the practice may have been exacerbated by the fact that Kilgore’s biggest rival Tyler was a dry city).

Kilgore’s creation of the lively half-time show with synchronized dancing majorettes got the fans’ attention. Chatting with Jan at the museum, she said, “Tyler used to beat us in football but we sure beat ‘em in halftime.” Indeed, Kilgore College was the birthplace of the half-time show—the Rangerettes spawned a tradition that gets replayed across America every Friday night in football season and at every Superbowl.

Today, it’s fair to say that the dance team outshines their own football team in a big way. The Kilgore College Rangerettes have traveled the world, performing in dozens of different countries and representing Texas in a way that no football team ever could: 71 young women, rigid with white smiles, wearing the mini-est of mini skirts, white boots and cowboy hats, dancing in lockstep.

Besides their impressive kick lines, the Rangerette’s signature move is the jump-split, where the girls leap into the air and then land on the floor in a full split. I doubt any Texas Rangers, be they policeman or baseball players, could perform such a physical feat.

“Beauty knows no pain,” is The Rangerettes’ official motto (versus the Texas Rangers’ “Courage, Integrity, Perseverance”) and based on my brief observation of their rehearsal at Kilgore College’s Dodson Auditorium, I would say they live and breath by that motto.

“The lower, the better y’all!” yelled Dana Blair, director of the Rangerettes since 1993 and a former Rangerette herself. The girls were practicing a hip-hop number for the upcoming springtime review “Rangerette Revels” dipping low and then jumping high. Dressed in laced-up black boots, they practiced the same move over and over, stopping constantly for critique from their choreographer and director.

“Yes ma’am, Thank You Missus Blair,” The girls replied cheerfully in unison with flawless smiles plastered on their faces. I watched and listened to them repeat that exact same phrase about fifty more times during their practice, to the point of it becoming slightly alarming, or at least disconcerting. They were not saying these lines out of heartfelt gratitude or common courtesy—they were saying it because if they didn’t, something horrible would happen.

Mrs. Blair seemed nice enough, but this was a drill team and she is their drill sergeant. There was no giggling or laughing or playing up on stage—watching the Rangerettes practice was no different than watching a US Marine boot camp where if a soldier made a misstep and forgot to say, “Yes, Sir”, they might have to drop and give twenty.

And yet despite the discipline and physical rigors of the corps, being a Rangerette is a great honor and the dream of many a young Texas girl. Every year, more than 100 girls audition for just 35 spots. Most are trained studio dancers and the competition is fierce—most who make it receive a full college scholarship and a chance to live in the Rangerettes own dormitory on campus.

More importantly, they become part of the Texas tradition and a lesser-known American legend—the team that invented the half-time show and the sport of precision dancing. Though I have now seen them practice in person, and have since watched countless clips of their spectacular routines, discovering the Kilgore College Rangerettes of East Texas has granted me another, new travel dream—that someday, I might come back to Texas and watch the Rangerettes perform live—to find out for myself if they can really kick that high.

The Kilgore College Rangerettes prepare for the spring dance review

The Kilgore College Rangerettes prepare for the spring dance review “Revels”. Intense training, discipline and constant practice make the Rangerettes one of the best precision dance teams in the world. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The Rangerettes cheerleaders , dance , drill team , East Texas , Football , history , Kilgore College , precision dance , Rangerettes , Texas , Texas Trip

Family Time: Philadelphia Freedom

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted at Independence Hall.  (Photograph by Ellen Fitzsimons, Flickr)

Here they are — ten kid-friendly things you can do in and around Independence Hall:

1. Ponder whether the sun carved into the back of General George Washington’s chair inside Independence Hall is rising or setting (Benjamin Franklin wondered as much during the Constitutional Convention in 1787).

2. Sneak down Bladen’s Court, a secret passageway off Elfreth’s Alley, and listen for the ghosts of two Loyalists hanged during the American Revolution.

3. Go to St. Peter’s Church cemetery in Society Hill to make grave rubbings of notable Philadelphians.

4. Mail a postcard to yourself from the B. Free Franklin post office, where clerks hand-cancel stamps with a colonial-era postmark.

5. Pretend you’re in The Brady Bunch (or at least find out what shag carpet is) at Jones, a paean to ’70s decor and home to some groovy mac and cheese.

6. Duck into the Curtis Center to gaze at “Dream Garden“ the luminous mosaic made of some 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass.

7. See how a clove drop and a peppermint Gibraltar—two early 20th-century confections made at Shane Candies—measure up to their modern counterparts.

8. Putt through the crack in the Liberty Bell at the Philly-themed miniature golf course at Franklin Square.

9. Walk across a huge map of the city, which spans an entire gallery floor at the newly reopened Philadelphia History Museum.

10. Book a tour or stay overnight on the WWII-era battleship New Jersey (take the ferry from Penn’s Landing).

Family Time: Philadelphia Freedom B. Free Franklin post office , Battleship New Jersey , Bladen’s Court , Caroline Tiger , Dream Garden , Elfreth’s Alley , family time , Franklin Square , Independence Hall , kids , National Geographic Traveler , philadelphia , Philadelphia History Museum , Shane Candies , St. Peter’s Church