Kira Hesser lives, writes, and acts in Los Angeles. She is a native Chicagoan who enjoys old people, old places, and old things.
Italy's Aeolian Islands
Just north of Sicily's eastern coast lies a volcanic archipelago renowned for perfect weather, beautiful scenery, deep caverns, blue grottos, steep cliffs, ancient ruins, thermal healing resorts and volcanos ... including one of the most active on the planet ... erupting almost continuously for the last 2,000 years! While we went looking for islands out of time, what we found on "Italy's Aeolian Islands" was a series of unique experiences for all of the senses. From islands so isolated that there was no radio to the extremely upscale tourist destinations, we treated all of our senses to the wonders of these volcanic dots ... smelling citrus, jasmine and salt, listening to the call of fishmongers and then to the silence of the night sky, tasting incomparable Aeolian tomatoes and their beloved capers, felt mineral baths and sunshine on our skin ... and met people who welcomed us into their unique lives with generosity and care.
Croatia's Dalmatian Coast
Over a thousand unique and beautiful islands dot Croatia's incomparable Dalmatian Coastline. And in our search for islands without cars, we explored the tiny island of Zlarin, known for its beautiful coral, and the even smaller island of Krapanj ... celebrated for its history of sponge harvesting. But we began our Croatian island journey in the car-free medieval walled old town section of Dubrovnik ... which was also an island until the canal that separated Dubrovnik from the mainland was filled in the 11th century and a limestone-paved pedestrian thoroughfare was built. "Croatia's Dalmatian Coast" reveals the history, humor and hospitality of this former Kingdom and current tourist destination.
The Channel Island of Sark
Exploring the Island of Sark with Kira is a unique look at the last feudal state in the western world - a tiny, ruggedly beautiful island in the English Channel with only 600 contentedly car-phobic residents. Interviews include Seigneur Michael Beaumont, the feudal lord who inherited the island from his grandmother -- the infamous Dame of Sark. The program features an "improper" tea (thanks to the Americans) with a founding descendent, an interview with the island judge (who is not a lawyer), a look at the single-cell jail for drunkards, as well as demonstrations in pottery-making, chocolate-mixing, carriage driving and cave exploring. Interviews include a rocking horse carver, a water colorist and a hotel operator straight out of Fawlty Towers.
Ireland's Inis Meain
According to legend, in the l7th century, Oliver Cromwell, the fanatical Protestant "Lord Protector" of England gave the Irish Catholics a choice: they could go to hell or go to Connacht. Some went further still -all the way to three ruggedly beautiful islands off of Ireland's west coast. Following in the footsteps of great Irish writers, "Ireland's Inis Meain" explores Ireland's pre-colonial past as the 150 Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of this wet rock in the Atlantic figure out how to manage their legacy and lifestyle just outside of the contaminating influences of the modern world. The innovations - like a luxurious and exclusive new hotel and a sweater factory that sells to the likes of Barney's - are controlled carefully with an eye toward tradition and the environment. This program celebrates an island that is the repository of Irish culture, Irish island cuisine that is locally gathered, organically grown and beautifully prepared and reveals what it takes to knit a sweater that bears little resemblance to the fisherman's sweaters. In the process, we hear one of Ireland's noted poets and fiddle players, learn to pour a proper Guinness and discover what inspired the Irish Nationalist imagination.
The Greek Island of Hydra
"The Greek Island of Hydra" is an exploration into the lives of American and British ex-patriot writers and artists who have responded to the Siren's call and reinvented their lives on this tiny, preserved, architectural and historical landmark - which also happens to be the only developed Greek island without cars. Interviews include internationally acclaimed Hydriot artist Panayotis Tetsus at a showing of his paintings, along with a host of ex-patriots who have followed in Henry Miller and Leonard Cohen's footsteps to make Hydra their home. This is an opportunity to see what it's like to escape to a Greek island.
France's Isle of Porquerolles
Just 20 minutes by boat from France's famed Cote d'Azur, the island of Porquerolles is dotted with five small ranges of hills, lined with cliffs and beaches and is renowned for the best weather in France with 275 sunny days per year. In 1912, the entire island was purchased by Francois Joseph Fournier as a wedding present for his second wife. He then planted ... among other things ... 500 acres of vineyards ... and built a hotel. Everything is small, intimate and bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and pine. There are no beachside shops or fast food. There is no smoking allowed outside of the village. And building on the island is mostly forbidden. What there is, is nature ... a grand hotel ... and a great story of conservation and consideration.
Netherlands' Island of Schiermonnikoog
While Amsterdam is technically not an island, this watery canal filled city is arguably the epicenter of western bicycle culture. With more bicycles than people, Amsterdam's car-free ethos has been evolving for centuries. We caught up with two Americans playing a significant part in that evolution. Then we travel across the North Sea for a 45-minute ferry ride to the 9.9-mile car-free island of Schiermonnikoog. With only 900 residents, Schiermonnikoog is the least densely populated municipality in the Netherlands. There is one supermarket, one bakery, and an unblemished beach stretching for miles where the Frisian Islanders come to commune with nature and each other. Finally, we visit the tiny floating village of Geithoorn. Established as a settlement of peat harvesters, Geithoorn consists of a series of fairytale thatched 18th and l9th century farms and houses built on individual peat islands and connected by over 170 small bridges. Often called the Venice of the North, cars are not allowed and have to be parked outside of the village. And while a bike path has been added, most transport through the canals is done by boat.
Michigan's Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island was the setting for the cult 1979 film "Somewhere In Time," starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer. This segment offers a 'Somewhere In Time' experience as well. June is Lilac Festival time on Mackinac Island. And our experience included the 18th Century experience of the iconic Grant hotel, complete with carriage lessons as we clip clopped past the painted Victorian mansions on the bluffs, through the dappled interior of the island and into the one of the Grandest Victorian era hotels in America. The Grand Hotel proudly and elegantly sells and giftwraps summer memories that often last a lifetime. After further immersion in Americana, American history and island-specialty fudge-making, we experienced and documented the Lilac Parade celebrating an idealized American sense of community that feels "Somewhere In Time."
Sweden's Southwestern Archipelago
In this episode, we go island hopping in the land of the Vikings. Just off of Sweden's southwestern coastline are a series of small islands dotting the north sea. We explore Marstrandson for a midsummer sun - and a midsummer celebration - that almost never ends while learning about the island's most famous and some would say beloved cross-dressing criminal, and taking a private museum tour featuring an exhibit on the incomparable Ingrid Bergman. On Styrso, the largest of the southern islands, which is considered the "main" island in this archipelago, we spend some time understanding the understated elements of Swedish hospitality. And finally, on the southern-most island of Vrango, we don't just cook the island fish... we catch it!
Italy's Venetian Lagoon (Venice and Burano)
The Venetian Lagoon in northeastern Italy is dotted with dozens of inhabited islands. We're exploring two of them for their international importance and influence. First, is the incomparable and mythologized city of Venice --- which is probably the most famous car-free island in the world. - where we get an idea of the 50,000 tourists a day that are drawn to this uniquely beautiful artistic achievement comprised of 118 small islands separated by 114 canals and joined again by 400 bridges. Long considered the most beautiful and romantic city in the world, Venice is also Europe's largest urban car-free area and is recognized by UNESCO. Then we explore the tiny island Burano has been a colorfully curated home to generations of lace makers, artists and fishermen. We discover exactly why their lacemaking is unique their meals unforgettable.
Germany's Heligoland Island
Located between 30 and 40 miles off the North German coast, and about 100 miles north-west of Hamburg, Heligoland (Helgoland in German) is a rocky island in the North Sea and Germany's only non-coastal island. It features vertical cliffs dropping nearly 200 feet into the waters below and is the only such formation in the North Sea. Possession of the island changed hands several times between Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. And many of the possessions of the possessors ended up bombed into the ocean in 1947 as Great Britain used the former enemy territory for target practice in what was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history. But the islanders returned and rebuilt this unique place, even making unique jewelry out of the fragments of its past that wash up on its shores daily. Except for two taxis and a police car, automobiles are verboten. But access to the "upper land" (from the port or "lower land") is made comfortable by an elevator cut into the rock. Or there are between 184 and 260 steps on three different stairways connecting the lower port with the upper grazing parts of the island.
Scotland's Isles of Eigg and Easdale
The Isle of Eigg is one of the most beautiful Hebridean Islands. About five miles long by three miles wide, Eigg lies 10 miles off the Scottish West coast and features beautiful moors, beaches composed of white quartz and historic ruins that include Iron Age forts, a 6th century Christian church and Viking burial mounds. Eigg is home to musicians and craft workers, writers, film-makers and photographers. It even has its own record label and artist residency, craft shop co-operative, an annual Feis, the Howlin Fling Festival and a regular programme of concerts, ceilidhs, plays, workshops and films. At less than a mile in length, Easdale is the smallest permanently-inhabited island of the Inner Hebrides, off Scotland's west coast. Many visiting residents live in other parts of Scotland but have ancestral connections going back several generations. Every year - in September - they have a world-famous stone skimming competition - which we are there to document!