Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga to be excavated

Revolutionary War, Saratoga
One of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War is going to be excavated by archaeologists ahead of an EPA cleanup.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River near Saratoga, New York. The dumping was banned in 1977 due to risks to public health, and the EPA has ordered GE to dredge up the affected silt from the river. Dredging destroys archaeological sites, though, and has already damaged Fort Edward, a British fort in the area dating to the mid 18th century. Archaeologists are working to excavate the stretch of river near Saratoga before the dredgers arrive.

Saratoga was on the frontier for much of the 18th century and played a large part in the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the two battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, the American army stopped the British advance down the Hudson River Valley, then surrounded them and forced them to surrender. It was a major victory that led to the French coming into the war on the American side. French help was one of the deciding factors in an ultimate American victory, and the creation of the United States.

The Saratoga National Historical Park 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, includes the battlefield, a visitor center, the restored country house of American General Philip Schuyler, a monument, and Victory Woods where the British surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Archaeologists hope to find artifacts from both wars and are currently looking for a British army camp.

[Image courtesy U.S. government]

Surviving a revolution, tips from those who have been there

Surviving a revolution

Fox News has an excellent story on surviving a revolution from the front lines. During the best of times, travel is a game of chance. You trust that your airline will get you there, you trust that your hotel will have your reservation and you really trust that you will have some Internet access. Wherever you may travel, all those things we take for granted and have planned for are off the table if a revolution occurs. Here’s what you need to know.

Engineer Scott Wallace recently landed about 75 miles south of Benghazi in eastern Libya. Very quickly the situation turned into a “day of rage” protesting Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and his regime and revolution-mode was the order of the day.

“The whole regime was very effective in shutting down cell phone access, Internet coverage, and data services,” Wallace told Fox News, noting that he has been in many overseas destinations “where connectivity was limited, but when you have a government that is actively trying to block you,” as the Gaddafi regime was doing from Tripoli, “sending a message becomes a cat and mouse game.”

Wallace found texting was the key to having any kind of communication with the outside world noting there was “always enough of a breakdown in the [regime’s] spam filters,” and while the text “might be delayed by six to twelve hours, it still got through.”

Electronic methods of communication may be the best bet but if everything is cut off, other strategies can work too.

Mike Bowers, senior director of health and safety at People to People Ambassador Programs, urges parents with kids overseas to “make sure you have online access to bank and credit card accounts they’ll be using. Not only can you monitor their spending and budget, but this will give you some clues as to their whereabouts and activities.”

Registering with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) can help too. Travel security expert Philip Farina suggests registering “could make the difference between your having to stay [in a dangerous situation] and your getting out”

A lot of surviving a revolution is hinged on being prepared too. Keeping your eyes open, being aware of your surroundings, staying off public transportation (big terrorist target) and having cash in case ATM’s and banks lock up without the Internet connection to process transactions is important too.

“I don’t go on a trip anywhere without a flashlight,” adding that it doesn’t have to be a huge one. “If there’s no electricity in your hotel or city you may need a flashlight desperately.”

Farina cautions travelers to remember the revolution is “not about you being a tourist, it is about something else. In some cases tourists can be harmed, in others not, [but] it stands to reason you may need to buy yourself through checkpoints, through neighborhoods, or through a particular zone.”

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Flickr photo by B.R.Q.


Pittsburgh restaurant features ‘conflict cuisine’

Most American travelers will never set foot in Iran, but at least now if they make it to Pittsburgh, they can enjoy some of the country’s delicious cuisine. It’s the idea behind a new take-out restaurant called Conflict Kitchen, a new eatery that’s attempting to feature cuisine from countries the United States is in conflict with.

Conflict Kitchen might serve food, but it’s hardly your normal carry-out joint. The project, which was started by artist Jon Rubin, will regularly shift themes to feature a different “conflict country” and promote cross-cultural understanding. The first four months are devoted to a collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Iranian community. In addition to delicious food like the Kubideh Sandwich, Conflict Kitchen also plans to host events, performances and discussion surrounding this much discussed Middle Eastern country. Though there’s been no announcement on the project’s website, chances are good that other “rogue states” like North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan will get similar treatment.

The Conflict Kitchen project raises an interesting question. Who are we demonizing when we disagree with a country’s politics? Is it the government of that country? Or is it also the people who live there, many of whom have nothing to do with the policies we dislike? Perhaps by traveling and through projects like Conflict Kitchen we can learn to better differentiate between the two.

Cool Lust-Collazo photo exhibition in Havana

During my time in Cuba, I grew increasingly obsessed with those colorful, old, refurbished American cars that would go galumphing down narrow urban streets. I mean, who wouldn’t? I’m not even a car lover, but these clunky vehicles give Havana its character and speaks volumes about the country’s history as well as its relationship with the United States.

As another great effort to bring awareness to the slowly opening door of travel to Cuba, the Cuban government commissioned U.S. photographer, Melani Lust, and Cuban photographer, Bryan Collazo, to create a ground-breaking joint exhibition to build bridges between the two countries. This video features Lust and Collazo’s photographs of post-embargo automobiles in Havana in January 2009, during the 50th anniversary celebration of Castro’s Revolution.

Feel free to check out my own photos of old cars in Cuba in the gallery below.

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If you are in Havana, this special exhibition runs May 8-June 8 at the Deposito de Automoviles in Havana.

Cuba Libre: Havana – Part One

The old part of Havana (Habana Vieja, they call it) reminded me a great deal of Cartagena with its fairly well-preserved colonial and often brightly colored buildings. In just our first two days in Havana, however, I was most astounded by the Cuban people. Lora’s guidebook says that the locals earn on average U.S.$25 a month and that, in some cases, even doctors double shift as waiters by night. The people are extremely friendly and accommodating, helpful and vibrant.

On our first day in Habana Vieja (the old part of the city) passed just one restaurant that appeared affordable for locals called El Restaurante Bucanero, where everything – even lobster pizza – was less than $5 and mini mojitos and Cuba libres were just $1.

Another surprise for me was browsing the books in the Plaza de Armas. Nearly all of them were histories, biographies, or autobiographies of Che or Fidel, collections of poetry by famed pre-revolutionary José Martí or Nicolas Guillen, or a mish-mash of Revolutionary cartoons. Sprinkled throughout the racks were Lenin, Marx, and Malcom X books. I saw a Spanish version of the Communist Manifesto.

Frank found some good old-fashioned, hand-rolled Cuban cigars and I purchased my own for $5. It’s the smallest one and the most mild, but boy did it pack a punch. I slowly made my way through the mini-cigar for a solid week, though it was common to find “caballeros” (Cuban gentlemen) dressed in their finest suit and smoking an enormous stogie. At the end of the first day of our Habana exploration, we discovered La Floridita, the bar that Hemingway made famous.

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The following day was full of rain – from when we woke up until 5 p.m. it was a constant and miserable kind of drizzle. Despite the poor weather, we made a very full day of it, as it was the perfect day to stay inside by visiting the Museo de la Revolución and watching a ballet at the Gran Teatro.

Lora and I spent a good 3 hours browsing the very odd propaganda-filled, revolutionary museum, which is housed in the old Presidential Palace. Some things I learned: Che Guevara is really hot; so is Fidel Castro but less so; the Revolution and overthrow of Batista is a really fascinating story; Fidel doesn’t hate America, he hates the capitalist nature of American society and the holier-than-thou mentality of the U.S. administration.

The museum lacks modern updates, so bringing my camera in (for an extra $2) to take photos of the displays and interior of the “palace” was pretty useless. Nearly everything was displayed in glass cases, and most of the Revolutionary artifacts were copied photos. There were some seemingly worthless items on display as well, such as spoons used by second commanders or patches worn by soldiers, but other items like Fidel, Raul, and Che’s attire or letters were rather interesting to see.

In all, I see the Cuban Revolution that culminated with Castro & company’s march into Habana as an awfully great feat of determination and heroism. In school in America we learn about Fidel in a completely different way, so I’m grateful to have learned both sides of the same story. To be perfectly frank, I don’t blame Fidel one bit for his hard feelings toward the U.S. I also think Fidel did a bold, noble, and heroic thing freeing Cuba from a criminal like Batista.

However, I still don’t understand what drew Fidel to Communist ideals, nor what made him stick to such extreme socialism beyond the Revolution into today. Fidel is a brilliant lawyer, one who would have clearly recognized how socialism couldn’t possibly solve the problems that his nation faces today. While Cuba’s health care, organic farming, and education are some of the best in the world, the reflection cast is not the same. I walked through the crumbling city of Havana, witnessed with my own eyes how families are packed into shared apartments, and heard personal accounts where citizens rely on monetary deliveries from overseas to survive. There is something dearly wrong with the Cuban system: a sound quality of life is nearly impossible or certainly not easy to achieve.

Following our museum visit, Lora and I had a local beer (Bucanero Fuerte – which has a whopping 5.4% of alcohol… I was happily buzzed) at Hotel Inglaterra, a $1 mojito at the Bucanero Bar just down the street by the Capitolio, and then a Floridita daiquiri a few more blocks away (at that same bar that Hemingway made famous in the 60’s). Between these pub stops, Lora and I procured four tickets to see a performance of the National Ballet of Cuba at the Gran Teatro, a 200 year-old architectural gem. The ballet itself was only average, but well worth the $10 ticket.

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We were sufficiently hungry by the time the ballet was over, so we headed to the eclectic yet delicious paladar (privately-owned restaurant), La Guarida, which was made famous by the Cuban film “Fresa y Chocolate.” These paladares are pretty much the way to go if you want to get the authentic Cuban dining experience, so I intend to have many while I’m here. While there are a few paladares that are actually legal, there are many others that are not government-approved. They can only be legal if the private home that houses the restaurant pays a heavy tax to provide meals for tourists.

I have a feeling La Guarida is the real deal. Not only was it on the third floor of a dilapidated residential building in Centro Habana, the marble stairs leading up to them were steep and precarious. Then, of course, was the interior of the restaurant. There was a small sitting room and then three small rooms that seat up to twelve in each (most paladares are not allowed to host more than twelve, so this one likely pays higher taxes to be host more people each night). The kitchen spits out healthy meals from a room smaller than my bedroom. We were seated at a table in a room with a mish-mash of Christian, film, and art paraphernalia. Instead of sitting one to a side of the table, Lora and I sat on one side together, tightly squeezed in.

We really splurged on dinner. Between the four of us, we ordered a bottle of Italian Rioja, two appetizers (eggplant caviar and chicken in spinach crepes), a main course each (I had a delicious grouper; Lora had pork medallions; Frank had swordfish; Peter had chicken curry), followed by a yummy “three chocolates” dessert. The bill came to about $30 each (pricey!), but really worth it considering the atmosphere, company, and unique experience.

We capped off the evening with a brisk and slippery walk along the Malecón, which was pretty barren with locals. The waves would crash up off the wall and onto the promenade making it very difficult to walk down, but it was worth the experience, and something that I couldn’t have done had I been traveling on my own. We passed by the U.S. “Special Interests” building, which is the only thing resembling an Embassy here in Cuba.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —