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  • Tuscan Pizza and Chianti (and Tuscan Pizza and Chianti (and more!) PART 2

    • From: LTBergren
    • Description:

      Continued from Tuscan Pizza, PART 1...

      castleChianti near Chianti...

      Even though it was still raining the following day, Velma--what we dubbed our GPS’s voice--helped us reach the Chianti region, an hour away, and we toured the medieval Castello di Meleto--somewhat decrepit and in need of repair in areas, but a good glimpse at what these hilltop castles look like on the inside--and had a lovely wine tasting while chatting with tourists from So. California and Germany, as well as a U.S. military couple living in Naples. We purchased several bottles and then enjoyed the castle’s pretty gardens, the most romantic part of this location, (http://www.castellomeleto.it/tuscany-castle-siena-farmhouse-chianti.asp), before returning to our side of Tuscany for more grocery shopping and meal preparation—this time a fantastic chicken pasta in red pepper cream sauce—and wine before a crackling fire.

       

      FirenzeFirenze...

      The next day we arose early and hopped a 7am commuter train in Montevarchi to Florence (a lovely way to enter and exit another big city that is difficult to navigate), and spent the entire day there. We saw Michelangelo’s David in the Academia (highly recommend you purchase tickets for the Academia and Uffizi like this—ticket lines can be murder, especially during high season, and you can circumvent some trauma by going to web site http://www.tickitaly.com/ ), and moved on to climb the winding Duomo (church) stairs for the most magnificent views in Firenze. firenze dome peekabooWhile we found the churches of Rome and Venice (and elsewhere in Tuscany) more interesting and beautiful on the inside, this is an iconic church with the largest of dome ever built at the time (completed in 1436), and still the largest masonry dome. To be able to get close to her frescoes inside the dome was intriguing—you catch a glimpse of how the artists achieved scale—and then to climb to the top through tight stairways that resemble secret passageways (great for kids!), between the two layers of the dome, was a unique experience. For lunch we ate bad tourist pizza that did not remotely compare to our homemade version at the Odina, and moved on to the Uffizi for a brief Lay-Your-Eyeballs-On-Famous-Paintings tour, then walked Firenze’s streets.


      Il LatiniOne of Three Memorable Meals We Didn't Cook Ourselves...

      Weary from our day of touring, we moved north to the famous Il Latini trattoria, which I had seen on Rachael Ray’s show and was convinced we had to try (6r Via del Palchetti; Tues-Sun 7:30-10:30, reservations possible by calling +39 55 210 0916, but be prepared to still be patient and wait—they’ll bring you a glass of wine after 7:45). We arrived at 7pm and waited outside with the crowds for it to open, like people at a zoo watching the staff eat family style underneath a hundred prosciutto ham hocks hanging from the ceiling, and probably making fun of the hungry tourists salivating outside. Everyone jockeys to get inside and then are seated family-style—we happily landed at a table for four, but reportedly, part of the fun is joining locals and other tourists at larger tables. Our waiter arrived, pointed to the house Chianti sitting in the center and poured our first glasses, then pointed to the hams, asking if we wanted antipasto. The waiters here are notorious for avoiding menus—the first time we went, we just looked at him, said in sign language and lame Ital-glish phrases that essentially boiled down to “bring us what you think is best, but make sure we get a couple of those steaks,” and then were treated to one of the finest meals of our whole trip—antipasto, house wine, foccacia, house wine, white bean soup, house wine, massive 3” thick bistecca alla fiorentina (split one or two!), house wine, and then cantucci con vin santo—dessert and dessert wine the waiter forced on us (okay, he just gestured toward a tray of golden liquids in dainty glasses and we, unable to stop grinning, just nodded). bisteccaFlorence The maitre d’ came by, measured our bottle of house wine to see how much we had drunk, nodded with admiration, and scribbled out our bill . Once outside, we were glad to be stumbling back to a train vs. a car. We were fairly sober—just still miserably full-- by the time we hit our train stop and made the serpentine climb up the hills to our home away from home. Several antacids later we were blissfully back to sleep in our fine Odina beds. NOTE: We returned here for my 40th birthday a year later, (yeah, it was THAT good and memorable) and got even more food—next time, I’d just stick to antipasto, white bean soup, bistecca and dessert, despite how your waiter might push—the massive platter of roasted meats is just plain over the top, the house pasta is so-so, and those two additions really jacks up the bill. Trust me, you’ll get enough food! Check out the "bistecca" photo above with my husband's hand--that's just TWO steaks!

       

      Siena il CampoSienese Pasta...

      We slept in a bit the next day, then ventured farther afield, and made the 1.5 mile trip to Siena. It’s a not-to-be-missed medieval city, once a major competitor to Florence in terms of military might. “The Nine” (a governing body of nine elected officials from the most important families) once ruled here—you can see many of their old palazzos, right on Il Campo—a magnificent, shell-shaped piazza—with nine rays that were bricked in c.1430; but there are also vibrant family neighborhoods and lots of soccer going on. campanile sienaWe hiked up the campanile for another birds’ eye view a la Firenze--this time of fantastic rolling green Tuscan hills, the old walls of the city and the tight quarters within. In the distance, you could see the zebra stripes of the fabulous city Duomo. Siena il CampoWe climbed down, toured the old Pubblico museum, gobbled dfown some fabulous pasta around the corner in a small trattoria, then moved on to spend a good amount of time in the ancient church. Most of the inlaid marble floors were uncovered (sometimes, they’re covered for protection) and there are ancient choir books viewable under glass in a side music room. Be sure to spend time checking out the carved pulpit, which took several sculptors years…

       

      San GalganoA Sword in the Stone...

      Just outside Siena (by about an hour—pretty drive) is San Galgano, which features the roofless ruins of a 14th century Cistercian abbey and they say has a buried sword in a stone (that part of it was closed when we were there, but check it out on YouTube; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gioJ2scFDM ). The legend (which might have served as inspiration for Arthurian legend) is that St. Galgano, a crusader knight, came home from afar and promised to serve his God, and never to fight again—and then immediately sank his sword in the stone as a promise. It was San Galgano that supplied Siena with her clergy, and there was a large scriptorium here, where they laboriously created treasured copies of the Bible by hand. Even though we couldn’t see the sword in the stone (one of the hazards of traveling off-season), wandering the ghostly, quiet ruins and envisioning this elegant beauty in her heyday made San Galgano a worthwhile stop...and hungry for dinner at the Odina.

       

      tuscan castleTuscan Castle Ruins Hike...

      The last day, we awakened to a bright, crisp morning, with sun streaming through our windows. Following the advice of our innkeeper, and the few-and-far-between small arrows nailed to trees, we hiked to the castle ruins above us, along narrow and winding forest trails that boar hunting truffles might favor, past small homes, circumventing olive groves…until it opened up and we could see the wide, verdant expanse of the valley below us, the rolling and heavily forested Chianti hills on the far side. You could almost see all the way to Siena. We could envision this castle lord surveying the acres below, watching the fog roll in and sock in the valley floor, then dissipate and perhaps reveal a troop of soldiers on horseback. Now there is little but rotting timbers and a few stone walls left, but it’s a trip back in time to visit—as well as a lovely view.

      We packed up our things and regretfully departed the Odina and Toscana. Only the leftover pizza for our lunch en route to Venice made us feel better about leaving!

       

      **CAR RENTALTIPS:

      • Renting a car out of Rome? Get a cab to the airport and rent from there—trust me, it’s MUCH less stressful than dealing with Rome’s confusing and congested roads!
      • People honk at you on the freeway if you’re going too slow, even if you’re in the slow lane. Ignore them. There are several speed-trap cameras between Rome and Tuscany, and arriving home to a ticket will be a bummer.
      • You can rent a car with GPS, but you might want to bring your own from home, already loaded with the Italian software and your principal locations. You’ll know how to use it from the get-go, and you’re certain to avoid time-consuming detours, which might save some trauma (although getting lost can be part of the fun—depends on your personalities). Just stow it away or carry it with you so it doesn’t get swiped. (Also stow away maps and other tourist paraphernalia that make your rental more of a target to thieves.)
      • If you’re driving like we were, only between Rome and Venice, know that dropping your rental car in Piazzale Roma (Venice) can be confusing; don’t park in the parking garage; park outside on the congested street, where it feels totally wrong, until you hear from the rental car guy where he wants the vehicle.
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    • 6 years ago
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  • Venice: Part 3 (A Girlfriend's Venice: Part 3 (A Girlfriend's Guide; Boys Allowed)

    • From: LTBergren
    • Description:

      CONTINUED FROM VENICE, PART 2...

       


      BUT SOMETIMES IT'S GOOD TO BE FASHIONABLY LATE...


      Campanile viewArrive late to go up the campanile (the bell tower in St. Mark's Square), so you can see Venezia at sunset. It is incredibly beautiful and will help you get your bearings because you can see how the neighborhoods are laid out. The Rialto really does look like a big fish, sitting on a Giudecca platter.

      Take a breath and absorb what architecture you’re seeing. A good guide book will help you differentiate between Baroque and Byzantine, as well as identify the various palazzos along the Grand Canal as you cruise by.

      As I said earlier, Venezia was THE maritime power for many centuries, the hired sea-faring thugs for queens and kings and emperors and crusaders. Wander down to the Arsenale and peer into the vast boatyard from the bridge (inaccessible beyond that, as I understand it), and imagine ancient Venetians  building and outfitting a battle-ready galleon in one or two days—reportedly, something they did to show off for visiting dignitaries.Arsenale

      WHAT'S THAT? YOU WANNA EAT SOMETHING??

      After all that walking, you’ll be HUNGRY. You can get pizza or Panini-to-go for a pretty good deal (keep in mind that Euro/USD exchange makes everything costly), then find a piazza/corner to sit down and enjoy your lunch. If you sit down inside the little restaurants, it will cost you more. Also, you might want to take dinner back to your room one or two nights if you’re trying to save some Euros and have someplace suitable to picnic. Walk the canalazzos (streets that line the canals), but try and find trattorias one or two streets back from the canal (in particular, the Grand Canal) to eat; you’ll save 10-25%. The farther you get from San Marco or the Rialto Bridge, the better the food….and the more you save!
                  --The Castello district/Via Giuseppe Garibaldi has a couple of grocery stores too, or there’s a Co-Op near the end of the Grand Canal (near the Piazzale Roma stop). Bring a small, rolling suitcase or backpack so you can get your provisions back to your room without killing yourself
                  --Floating fruit/veggie barge vendor in San Barnaba is interesting for a stop; be aware they do not like you touching the produce. You touch, you buy. Just take your chances on what looks best and don’t expect California-fresh. All produce is imported, for obvious reasons.
                  --Even if you doubt you’ll be cooking your own fish dinner, cruise through the Rialto Fish Market, on most mornings, it will give you a visual for what all those fishermen are angling for each morning
                  --We ate at the lovely Osteria Antico Giardinetto, a trattoria in the San Croce district. Wonderful, fresh food in an intimate atmosphere—and they had a tourist special that offered four courses. Usually, I like to avoid the tourist menu and dive into local fare, but this was hard to beat with gourmet presentation and tasty offerings. Take the San Stae vaporetto stop and make your way to Campo San Cassiano in the San Palo district. You’ll see two bridges—take the one to the right. Once you cross the bridge, the restaurant is at the end of the street on the left side.
                  --If you really like fish and are not averse to fishy fish like sardines (I myself am a halibut and salmon kind of girl), you might try the Venetian version of tapas—small, finger-food hors d’oeuvres you purchase one by one and eat standing up beside tiny bars and swallow down with small glasses of wine. I wanted to try them, but I couldn’t get past the sardines.
                  --Lots of trattorias open early to cater to the tourists—it’s an option if you want to beat some of the crowds and be free to roam the city at night—or if jet lag is getting the best of youSan Marco at night 2
                  --If there’s a popular restaurant you want to try, get a reservation a few days ahead; there’s only so much competition in a city this small and word spreads fast!

                  --Harry’s Bar is on the Grand Canal near the San Marco Vallaresso stop, almost directly across from the Customs House—the point that marks the entrance to the Grand Canal. Pause for a famous Bellini (sparkling peach drink that isn’t my favorite, but you have to try one; maybe it’d taste better in the heat of summer) and share a plate of Carpaccio—thinly sliced beef with a light dusting of mayonnaise and lemon, created for a countess on a special diet. All the rich and famous traipse through here, from Hemingway to Helen Hunt, and the menu prices reflect that; I’d find an alternate location for dinner.

      FULL STOMACH, HUNGRY SOUL...

      Santa Maria domeThe lesser known, less touristed churches are beautiful and offer a reprieve from the heat. My favorites: the 17th century San Pantalon, with its spectacular ceiling painted by Fumiani; Santa Maria della Salute, a church you’ll see time and again in films that feature Venice, and was built as thanksgiving to God for delivering the city’s people of the Black Plague of 1630; Santa Maria Gliriosa dei Frari, first built in 1250, rebuilt in the 15th
      century—and sporting great Venetian art and tombs, including a funky classical pyramid for the artist, Titian.
                  --Remember, you can’t enter most churches with bare shoulders or shorts. A good walking skirt or capris, plus a long-sleeved shirt worn tied around the waist (and pulled on at the church entrance) would work.

      A GIRL NEEDS TO SHOP...

      SHOPPING: I like the Accademia district for jewelry, glass and art. I think because the museum is here, it attracts the more artsy, upscale crowd. This is where I found my art glass for less than in the Rialto or on the island of Murano. Shopkeepers can UPS it home to you—or wrap it in bubble-wrap and and a box if you want to hand-carry it back. A fantastic necklace, a beautiful bowl or tray—very fun souvenirs and killer gifts to stow away for next Christmas. But I bought small lithographs from a street vendor at night beside the Bridge of Sighs—a wonderful memory in itself.

      STOP AND LISTEN TO THE MUSIC! YOU'RE ON VACATION!


      MUSIC: This Vivaldi’s city (he was born and worked here in the 18th century). Purchase tickets for an evening concert (opera concerto—they sell tickets outside the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro and elsewhere) and sit 2/3 of the way back so you don’t have to see the musicians sweat in their period costumes—you can simply enjoy the magic and music. I swear if you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself a couple centuries back in time. At the concert we went to, the musicians were all females except for one prize male. There were some interesting dynamics transpiring between them all, delicious undercurrents of pride and irritation and teasing and laughter, and I was writing a whole novel in my head even as the “Four Seasons” filled the grand room.Aqua Alta San Marco

      While we’re on the subject of music, if you choose to sit in one of the outdoor bars on St. Mark’s Square, there will be a surcharge for the music. I think it’s better to wander by and enjoy them all from afar.

      MISC ADVICE...

      Don’t feed the pigeons or let them land on you. As a nurse, you know this isn’t cute and entertaining. It’s disgusting. Birds that make their nexts out of their own poop? Ugh. But watching others do it in front of San Marco is oddly fascinating.pigeons

      Yes, you have to do a gondola ride. It’s like going to the pyramids and not getting on a camel. You simply must embrace it. And it’s a dying art—fewer and fewer master gondoliers; one one boatyard left in the city (and our gondolier said that boatswain is reported to be the son of the last master—and not as good in craftsmanship). Totally touristy, but worth the cost for the experience, to know you’ve “done the real one” every time you see that cheesy Vegas gondola ride advertising on TV. It’ll be about 100-120 Euros for about a 45 minute ride. Take a bottle of wine and paper cups (yes, it’s allowed, but ask the gondolier before you board) and oolala…I wanna go back!gondola boatyard

       

      SEE VENICE, A GIRLFRIEND’S GUIDE, PART 4 FOR DETAILS ON THE OUTER ISLANDS & THE END OF THIS REPORT…

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • Venice: Part 4 (A Girlfriend's Venice: Part 4 (A Girlfriend's Guide; Boys Allowed)

    • From: LTBergren
    • Description:

      CONTINUED FROM VENICE, A GIRLFRIEND'S GUIDE, PART 3...
      Doge's Palace

      YOU REALLY, MUST GET FARTHER THAN THE RIALTO...EVEN OFF THE ISLAND!

      There are some evening cruise boats that I think might be of interest/value, but I never tried one. Someone told me to hire a water taxi for an hour or two and have them give you a tour--I think that'd be lovely (probably about 180 Euros, if that's in your budget). Even to just see the Grand Canal and all the lovely palazzo facades at suset, glass of wine in hand, would be a lovely experience! I myself saw most of it in the back of a water bus...

      You can venture pretty far via the vaporetti, even if you don't choose to get off. They're noisy, but you can see so much from the water! And you've paid for the pass; you might as well use it. Wait for a seat to open up outside if the weather is decent--or bundle up and embrace the cold!

                  --TORCELLO: You must go--it was my daughter's favorite stop and one of my top three. It's the birthplace of Venice, abandoned because of rising silt and malaria, but there's a thousand-year-old church, as well as ancient Roman artifacts, such as a governor's set of marble! And you'll see Isola di San Michele en route--an island dedicated solely to burial grounds. On the day we went, we could see the Italian Alps in the distance, across the water. (This excursion will take you a third to a half a day.) But hardly anyone I talk to who has been to Venice has seen it, and I think it's a loss to miss it. Off the beaten path and wonderfully intriguing. Watch the time, however; vaporetto stops are infrequent here, especially off-season.

      Lisa architecture            --BURANO: Quick stop to lay your eyeballs on the brightly colored houses--it's right across from Torcello. Short on time? View it from the water or across the channel on Torcello and keep on moving.

                  --MURANO: They are all about the tourists here and and I don't like how they herd you off the vaporetto--we were led away from the museum I asked about, into a glassmaking expedition and then directly into the associated glass shop. It was all highly organized when I was there, with fifteen or twenty men all guiding the crowd to one location--like a Murano Glass Mafia. I kept wondering, "Do they take turns? Is tomorrow that guy's family's turn?" The glassmaking show is moderately entertaining if you've never seen glass hand-blown. My daughter loved it. I preferred the glass museum (when I finally got there--had no idea they made glass 2000 years ago!) and the ancient Santa Maria church at the center of town with more fantastic mosaic floors. We were on the hunt for one element for my novel research--mosaic floors that depict a peacock drinking from an urn, a classic pagan/Christian symbol, and this church gave us yet another example. But I purchased my glass souvenirs elsewhere. I couldn't shake the vultures-over-the-tourist-carrion feeling.

                  San Giorgio--SAN GIORGIO MAGGIORE: Hop the vaporetto over to the island you see across the lagoon, from just outside the Doge's Palace--San Giorgio. This place was toppled by an earthquake centuries ago, but was rebuilt in 1559, and is now a church/monastery you can visit. (A friend even scored a night's stay there for about $50! Alas, no web site...) And it gives you one of the finest views of classic Venice possible--from just off the Rialto's shore. The church is more impressive from the outside than the inside, other than the choir loft, but the view is worth a stop. And sometimes you can go up the campanile for an even better view--but both times we've been there, it was closed. Take your camera!

                  --LIDO: 1920s, more modern feel, beaches on the far side (although I wouldn't go just for that). You can rent a bike there, but arrive before siesta! Time short? I'd vote to skip it. Feels more like retro-California than Italy to me.

                  --GIUDECCA: Fun to walk through; more neighborhood-y

                  --CASTELLO: This is where Olivia and I stayed in an apartment. Walk the wide Via Guiseppe Garibaldi at about 5-5:30 to see families mingling, grandparents ooing and ahhing over babies, women with bad, drooping stockings buying grappa for their menfolk and then wearily sitting down to see who else is out and about, and frown at teens, skateboarding or roller-skating by. Not many families live in Venice anymore because they can't afford it--but here you can see the remnant. It will give you a totally different perspective.

      TWO LAST BITS OF ADVICE...

      GELATO. Every day. At least one scoop. Quit it. You're walking off the calories. You deserve it.

      LANGUAGE: Learn the basics of polite society--yes, no, please, thank you, right, left, excuse me, good morning, good night. As with most foreign cities, you can get a good distance with a ready smile, hand signals and a cheat sheet of translated words.

      Did I say I wanna go back? I do! I have a serious case of Venezia withdrawal now, writing this out. Enjoy, and arrivederci, my friend!

       

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • Authentic Caribbean--Nevis, We Authentic Caribbean--Nevis, West Indies with Family

    • From: LTBergren
    • Description:

       

      Kids on NesbitIn early June 2008, we packed up our kids, (ages 13, 9 and 5) and went to Nevis, an island in the West Indies. If you're like most people I meet (and you might not be, because you're loyal BT readers and travelers), you're blinking twice and muttering, "Nevis? Where's that?" But I love that--going places few have discovered before me! (St. Kitts is easily seen from Nevis--she lies just beyond a channel that passes between the sister isles.)

      How'd we settle on going to Nevis? A writer friend and his agent wife have been going there for years and are even thinking of relocating to the island. Listening to their starry-eyed description, with a hint of in-the-know secrecy, I knew my little "Pirates of the Caribbean" fanlets--typically land-locked in Colorado--would love it. They'd watched the movies and wondered about the clear waters. All of us had a difficult time imagining water warmer than the mountain lakes we typically frequent. And we all were dying for some down-time together as a family. Add to that a passion for family travel--we run a multigenerational website called FamilyTripster.com--and we decided Nevis would be our Idyllic Island answer.

      We met people who were staying at the Four Seasons. While world-renowned and recommended by the Travel Channel's top 10 Caribbean resorts, we felt sorry for them. They had no car, so they had explored little of what we'd come to know as an amazing island, brimming with history. And the Four Seasons reportedly works hard at keeping her visitors on-campus; if you stay there, definitely find ways to venture out!

      Tim on verandah
      We chose to rent a villa, found via www.Nevis1.com , and it was perfect for our family of five. Since we went off-season, and had our own kitchen, we saved some serious buckaroos. With a private pool, a gardener who brought us mangoes, coconuts and teeny bananas, and the ability to walk 100 yards to the beach, and we felt like we were living a dream! The only thing that was missing: air conditioning. If I could get that villa, at that price, with air conditioning, I'd be back every year. (But I'm a person who likes her weather best at about 72 degrees. So, take what I say about the heat with a grain of salt. This is the Caribbean, after all! Heat is part of the equation.)

      SATURDAY : We arrived on Saturday morning at the tiny Nevis airport. TIP: Try to get seats at the front of the plane to be first off--you'll get through customs fastest. That airport is sweltering! We were at the back of the bus, so we stood in line with sweat running down our faces for 30-40 minutes before we reached the counter. We were too excited, however, to let it get us down. Outside, our friendly driver, Marlon Brando (no, not that one; Nevis' rental car owner can be reached at #869.663.2013.) picked us up in his spacious van and delivered us to our villa, Coral Reef (http://www.nevis1.com/coral-reef-villa.html ), near Nesbit Plantation--which boasts one of the best snorkeling beaches on the island. He then brought us our rental car. (NOTE: You have to buy a $25 temporary driver's license. And they drive on the wrong side of the road--just keep chanting, "Left, LEFT, KEEP LEFT!!!")

      Coming from high and dry Colorado, it took us days to adjust to the humidity, which hovered around 85% (temps ran 82 to 90 degrees). Eventually, we got adjusted--and even to the wild jungle noises at night. We kept all the windows open and ran every fan in the villa. And we jumped in our pool right before sleeping--and again as soon as we awakened. The best way to deal with the heat, is to beat it by one of your water options--pool, ocean or shower.

      Long Haul BayNevis is like the Caribbean was fifty years ago, if I'm to believe my island-hopping and far-more-knowledgeable friends..."Authentic Caribbean" as per Conde Nast. Very low-key and relaxed, not a lot of tourists. Goats and chickens and donkeys run free-range and you have to watch out for them on the road. We had our eyes peeled for wandering animals and I squirmed in my seat, trying to get used to being a passenger on the wrong side of the road, and made our way to the grocery store for supplies. Prices are in Caribbean currency, but Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. The nearest store was about 850' square, stocked like a city neighborhood grocery. All the meat was frozen, and there was not a lot of produce--more is available on the other side of the island. Still, we managed to buy about $300 in provisions.

      Back at the villa, enough food in the fridge to last us a while, pina coladas in hand (rum is CHEAP!), we walked down to the beach for a quick dip. We explored many other beaches too, but the one 100 yards away--Nesbit--from us was definitely one of the best. 6 out of 7 days we swam and snorkeled there.

      We returned to the villa, whipped up dinner, took our first post-dinner dip in the pool, then tried to sleep through what sounded like forty small boys with tin whistles pulling an all-nighter--but were really only tree frogs. We awakened at sunrise and wondered if we'd ever sleep during our "restful" vacation; after the second night, we had some hope; after the third, we realized we'd become accustomed to island sounds--a special victory.

      Emma with shell
      SUNDAY : Two visits to Nesbit Beach to explore, snorkel and swim. My nine-year-old, haunted by a library book about sharks, didn't want to come in. I told her she must, to just try it, I'll be right there, that she'll love it. And she did. Within five minutes, she lifted a massive conch shell from the swirling sands, rising, victorious. She was officially addicted to her mask and snorkel from then on. We found if we started down the beach to the right, we could drift with the current and not go all the way to St. Kitts! Liv with shell


      MONDAY : We met Jim Johnson ( http://www.walknevis.com) an island naturalist and guide, for an evening bonfire, marshmallow roast and to talk about what we were seeing, smelling and hearing--all foreign to us landlubbers, other than a vague recognition of the stars. Jim is a brilliant, wiry man with zero percent body fat (he climbs Nevis Peak at least a couple of times a week) and Coke-bottle glasses, a living whirr of information--he constantly spews a blend of trivia, scientific and historic facts, and tosses out quizzes, attempting to engage and educate you. He pointed out the Scorpion and Bear constellations to the kids and related mythology about each of them. The kids, exhausted after a full day of sun and swimming, barely absorbed one-third of what he said. Heck, we adults did little better. Still, we planned to meet him in the morning for a bamboo forest hike.

      bamboo forest

      TUESDAY : We headed to Golden Rock Plantation (great place to spot monkeys!) to meet up with Jim for that hike. A young honeymooning couple cheerfully joined us and we tramped up the hill, through a native neighborhood, and then descended through the jungle. Jim, who has taught at the med school about native plants and their medicinal uses, pointed out flora and told us about their medicinal properties. We tasted key lime leaf and cinnamon, smelled lovely bath bush--evoking images of Victorian ladies soaking in cool tubs--and stopped to swing on jungle vines just like George, George, George of the you-know-where. My favorite parts were listening to the giant bamboo stands, which knock together and creak in eerie fashion, and walking the 17th century trail that the Spanish used to overtake the French in their foolishly low-lying fort. But I was hot. Really hot. So damp with sweat I might as well have been swimming. Later, I decided I had a touch of heatstroke. Luckily, my family fared much better. We passed by some sugar mill ruins and returned to Golden Rock, where we gulped down liquids and had a lovely lunch, overlooking the sea, far below us. 

      Golden Rock umbrellasWEDNESDAY : We headed out to find Long Haul Bay (pictured with boat above), just around the corner from Nesbit, and supposedly boasting terrific snorkeling. We realized later we could've walked there, but we drove, and the only sign we saw was a faded "Long Haul Bay Development" plaque falling off the post--apparently a business development deal gone belly-up. It's typical of Nevis's beaches; very few are marked with signage; you just follow directions/your nose and brave rough, dirt roads. The beach was picturesque, but we failed to locate more than one natural reef--lovely with its white coral, but disappointing because there are few fish. We did, however, see a lobster pot among vast fields of sea grass just two feet below us, which was cool for the kids--they'd only seen lobsters in the tank at the gourmet grocery store at home. And we saw a family of monkeys in the trees along the road! 

      We went back to the villa for lunch and then went to the Alexander Hamilton museum, not worth a stop in our estimation (expensive for what you get)--just drive by to see from where our American forefather hailed. The afternoon was redeemed however, because we stopped at New River, on the southern end of the island, and wandered through the amazing 17th century sugar mill ruins. It's a not-to-be-missed stop. Nevis was once the #1 sugar producer in the Nevis New River sugar millCaribbean and a provisioning stop for trade ships and those heading to the U.S.--the soil seeps history from its pores. While this location offers one of the few identification signs we saw up by the road, there is no explanation signage down by the actual buildings. But history comes alive as you walk through it--we could visualize ships down by the wave-washed shore, men carrying supplies in and exports out, smoke tufting out the chimney of the mill...We wandered in and out and on top of many of the buildings. In the U.S., we would've been twenty feet away and behind a rope. The kids loved it and so did we!

      New River sugar mill

      THURSDAY : We rose and took our normal morning swim--a futile attempt to ward off the heat of the day. But we changed, packed up and went to Nevis Equestrian ( http://www.ridenevis.com/) for a horseback ride along the beach and beyond. It was girls-only, since my husband needed to stay with our son (he was too young to ride). They took off to pick up a picnic lunch from Deli by Wendy--a wonderful place for sandwiches and more.

      It had been more than twenty years since I had been on a horse, and my nine-year-old had never been astride a saddle, but the horses were well behaved and the guide tied my daughter's horse to his. We crossed the road, then wound our way past Cay's Bay and Paradise Beach, beside some sumptuous, drool-worthy private abodes on the water, up past a school, where the kids waved at us, and then into the hills, were we saw nice suburbs and poorer neighborhoods too. It was a nice "real Nevis" peek rather than the sanitized vacationer view. After an hour and a half, however, I was saddle-sore and longing for the stables. Fortunately, they soon appeared.

      Liv riding on the beach
      The boys were waiting for us when we returned. We dismounted, then joined them in the car and headed out to Paradise Beach--a local favorite--for a picnic and swim. (To get there, turn beside the St. Thomas School playground and head toward the ocean.) On a beach exploration roll, we then went to Lover's Beach. (To get there, park by the highway just west of the airport and walk west of the shore. You can park closer, but you have to cross smelly high tide muck to get there--eewww, hardly romantic.) But this beach, like them all, is very worth a visit! Sun-soaked and weary, we returned to the vila.

      Our eldest was feeling at home, so we got the kids settled with dinner and a video, and my husband and I escaped to a fabled beach bar, Sunshine's, for a sunset dinner and amazing drinks called Killer Bees. Warning: No more than one of these alcohol-laden doozies per hour! (To get there, turn at the faded and worn sign that says "Welcome to Pinney's Beach" and head toward the brightly colored stands to the left.) They start cooking at sunset and we watched them buy the lobster from a local fisherman an hour before we ate it. Tristan and Tessa, ex-pat American children at sea with their parents for a couple of years (or "until the money runs out"), sat down and chatted with us for half our evening, making us wonder why we left our own children behind. But we had enough Killer Bees in our system to thoroughly enjoy it all. We decided to bring our kids back the next night so they could know what a true "beach bar" was really like. We considered it educational...Okay, we considered it experiential, and I wanted another Killer Bee. Sunshine's

      FRIDAY : Our last real day! Snort, sniff...We rose, took our dip, then headed down to what we were now calling "our beach." But this day, we walked farther, down to Harvey's Beach and an old grease pole where the girls tried to balance their way all the way to the end. I tried it and fell off half-way down, where it wasn't so deep, and sprained my ankle. Fortunately it wasn't anything that 4 Advil and an ice pack couldn't cure. But the girls couldn't get enough of the challenge. We stayed there for an hour. We returned to the villa, changed for dinner and went to Sunshine's, hoping to run across Tristan and Tessa again and introduce them to our kids, but they had shipped out, off to Antigua as planned, apparently. We moved on to the Gallipot for dinner, a pretty expensive stop for our family of five (about $225 for all of us). My husband and I noticed that most of the wines in Nevis are from South America and France--not many California varieties available.

      Nesbit Beach SATURDAY : Our younger daughter awakened at 3 a.m. with a terrible ear ache--Swimmer's Ear, I guessed, that was rapidly turning into an infection. With two small plane trips to weather to reach our next island stop (Vieques) the next day, we had no choice. My husband took her to the tiny island hospital at 4 a.m. She was seen by a nurse on call, the only one in the building, who didn't charge to administer ear drops and arrange for her to see a doctor in the morning to get a prescription. What's a family vacation without a trip to the local medical establishment? For us, it was all part of the adventure. (But next time, we'll take over-the-counter ear drops and an antibiotic prescription "just in case.")

      We packed up, gassed up, and cleaned up. Transition day! With luck, we hoped we'd be in our condo on Vieques by nightfall. And we were! But that's another story...

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 6853
  • Venice: Part 2 (A Girlfriend's Venice: Part 2 (A Girlfriend's Guide--Boys Allowed)

    • From: LTBergren
    • Description:

      CONTINUED FROM VENICE, PART 1…


      NAVIGATING THE CITY...

      canalRemember that map I made you purchase? You'll be glad for it, but it's mostly good for vaporetti routes, BIG streets, bridges and landmarks. The streets are nearly impossible to navigate via map--too many twists and turns and intersections by canal or bridge (and some have two names!). Signs are few and far between, anyway. So if you know your general direction, and check a couple of times on your compass or map to see you're generally heading in the right direction, you'll be more free to follow the flow of traffic and enjoy the city. It's an island; you can't get too lost. And you'll feel more like a Venetian, strolling along!

      VAPARETTO (WATER BUS) DETAILS...

      Buy a Venice Card with your vaporetti pass (at the Piazzala Roma or Rialto station, or better yet, online before you go at http://www.hellovenezia.com .) When I arrived to buy 72 hour passes for seven of us, I had to have a heap of Euros--almost every one we had--because they don't take credit cards. Buy it before you go online! Vaporetti TIPS:

                  --TIP #1: Watch what direction that vaporetto is going out of the stop ahead; it will tell you which floating "terminal" you want. There are usually two landing stages/terminals--one for each direction on the route.
                  --TIP #2: Keep your vaporetto pass in a neck wallet with your passport. If you lose it, you have to purchase a new one--no recourse.
                  --TIP #3: You must validate your ticket with a date stamp by sticking it into a brightly colored machine, about shoulder high, on most docks. Big fines if you're caught without it. And when we last went, it was teeny-tiny--very easy to lose. We had to buy a replacement when my daughter's flitted away in the wind.
                  --TIP #4: There is a board/sign at the front of each boat that gives you the route/line number and the stops so you can keep track of where you are, just like a bus or metro. Don't get caught in the back of a crowded vaporetto; if your stop is coming up, move toward the open, standing area so you can readily exit.

      You can get from the airport to the Rialto via the vaporetto system (although the Venice Card and pass doesn't cover this portion; extra fee). Or you can walk down to the airport docks (about the equivalent of five blocks) and take a water taxi for 90 Euros (2007 rate). This is an other-worldly and convenient way to enter the city, and they can bring you to a stop close to your hotel or apartment--especially wonderful when towing luggage.


      Sigh! You've arrived and can move around!

      NOW...ON WHAT TO DO:

       The Venice Card will gain you free or less expensive access to the vaporetti, museums and public toilets. You can choose the culture version if you want to enter lots of places for less/free, or the transportation version if you're mostly interested in just walking around, absorbing the city from the outside. The culture version lets you enter lots of places for less/free, one of which is the delightful Ca’ Rezzonico on the Grand Canal; go check it out because it will give you a sense of what it might be like to live in one of these grand palaces on the water. Be sure to go all the way to the top piano (floor) and look out the windows. Many of Venice's old guard/money live on the top pianos of the old palazzos and rent out the rest.

      Take time to visit a couple of the scuola buildings--they have amazing art and big cavernous rooms that might give you a reprieve from the heat (and they draw far fewer tourists). For centuries all workmen in all trades were associated with these guilds--sort of fraternities or unions. Some were charitable institutions. To see their meeting places helps you understand some of Venezia's deep history and view some amazing artists you might never have heard of. I particularly liked Scuola Grade di San Rocco, and Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. These grand old meeting halls often have big mirrors you can hold and see the amazing paintings on the ceilings--without having to look up the Italian word for "chiropractor" later.

      THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE YOU-KNOW-WHAT:

      Lisa and Liv columnsArrive early (or get in line before they open) to experience the Big 3: Shop on the Rialto Bridge, see the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), and tour St. Mark's (San Marco) Basilica.
                  --The RIALTO BRIDGE and immediate vicinity offers some of the best glass shopping anywhere--but be aware that you can probably find the same pieces in other parts of the city for less. It's also great to people watch--Venetians and tourists intermingling in the boats below.
                  San Marco silhouette--SAN MARCO: Wander the basilica, slowly, looking up and down. Pay the extra few Euros to go upstairs and go everywhere they allow--it'll take another hour--but you can see the original bronze horses sacked from Constantinople (reproductions outside); the mosaic ceiling up close (giving you a better idea of the massive amount of work involved); relics from the first church that stood her, and much more in the recesses and quiet corners. There are pieces here that are more than seven hundred years old. This is an OLD city--part of knowing her is to take the time to digest that fact, and seeing some of these artifacts helped me.
                  --PALAZZO DUCALE: The doge was the duke of Venice, the big man, the head cheese, and Venice was once a huge, international maritime power. My favorite parts of his palace are the Sala dello Scudo, with walls covered with maps of the world and two giant 18th century globes in the center; the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, a massive meeting hall for the Great Council that will take your breath away; and the Bridge of Sighs that leads down into the dungeon where Casanova (and many others) were held—look for the graffiti displays.doge's dungeon

       

      SEE VENICE, A GIRLFRIEND’S GUIDE, PART 3 FOR MORE DETAILS…

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 4417
  • Oops Wrong Way...Let's Go To K Oops Wrong Way...Let's Go To Krk Instead

    • From: Buqo
    • Description:

      We left the Neboder Hotel in Rijeka about 9:00 am in our rented Skoda for a day trip to the Istrian peninsula.  Navigating the city in our first full day in Croatia was not as straight forward as we had thought, and we found ourselves heading east out of the city instead of west.  By the time we realized our mistake, we were already about 15 kilometers east of Rijeka.  Rather than turn around and retrace our route, I suggested that we see if we could get to the island of Krk, off the southwest coast of Hrvatska, as the Croatians call their nation.  I had read a little about the island during our trip planning, and since we weren’t on a rigid schedule, away we went!

       

      Kraljevicia Kastel Zrinski 4.JPGOur first stop was at Kraljevica, on the mainland of the Adriatic coast, for coffee and a stretch of the legs.  Like many Croatian port cities, Kraljevica is a blend of the old and the new, modern ships unloading their freight, a centrum complete with a castle, shopping, cafes, and everything you would expect in any city, but small enough to get around quickly, and with few tourists. 

       

      Between my limited Russian, a little pidgin Croatian I learned for the trip, and my wife’s passable Italian, no English was spoken at all during our visit because no one we met spoke any.  It was obvious that few Americans have ever taken the road down to the center of the city to the coffee shop at the end of the main street.  We hung at the central park for a while and visited the Kastel Zrinski before getting on the road.

       

      From Kraljevica we headed east to the Krk turnoff.  We weren’t sure if there was a ferry or not.  Turning south, we found a modern bridge as impressive as anything you will see on the interstate highway system in the United States.  After paying a modest toll, we drove through the rolling hills of the northern part of the island.  The two-lane highway was comparable or better than the rural highways in our home state of Nevada.  In about an hour, we were on the outskirts of Grad Krk. 

       Suncani sat Sundial in Krk Croatia

      Krk (pronounced just like the renowned starship captain) is a mecca for Italian tourists, but visited by few Americans.  Small kiosks sell grappa and souvenirs outside the walled city, sharing space with the Sunčani sat (a stone vertical sundial), and outdoor restaurants.  The large marina serves a fleet of small craft and yachts and is very picturesque.

       

      There are four entrances into the city.  We chose entry through the southwestern entrance, a small portal marked by a Roman plaque that is barely noticeable between the vendor stalls.  Inside, the city is a maze of narrow polished cobble-stone streets and adjoining buildings and homes all built with native rock and completed with painted plaster in most cases.


      Frankopan Castle Krk Croatia

      Our first stop inside the city walls was the Kamplin, a large public square adjacent to the Frankopan Castle.  The oldest tower of the castle dates to the late 12th century and construction was completed in the mid 13th century.  Today the area is used for festivals, concerts, and outdoor theater.  A single art vendor, his cat, and a few strolling couples were the only inhabitants on this sunny autumn day.  A small gate on the north walls of the castle opens to a rock stairway down to the sea.  A great view of the harbor, the modern residential sections of the city, and the rocky coast were well worth a few minutes braving the brisk Adriatic winds.


      Most visitors enter Krk through the main entrance on the west which opens into the Vela placa, a public square where modern banks, restaurants, and shops give little indication of the rich history of the city.  The strange mix of old and new is perhaps most reflected by the ornate cistern which was built in 1557 but moved to its new location during restoration work in 1997. We had a memorable lunch of fresh anchovies at the Terasa café and tasted our first Karlovec beer (one of the Croatia’s leading brands).  We were not disappointed in either the fish or the brew.  Cats, which seem to be ubiquitous in the old town sections of Croatian cities, waited none too patiently for treats from the tourists whose language was strangely unfamiliar to them.


      24 hour clock.jpg One of the prominent features of the Vela placa is the Old City Hall Tower, a two-story structure completed in 1493.  The old arched entrance into the city now serves as the location of a modern coffee shop. 

      The tower includes a unique clock with a 24-hour face.  Originally, the clock only had one hand, probably because of the limits on the mechanical clockworks  A minute hand was added to the clock in the 1990s, when the old mechanical works were replaced with an electrical system.

       

      The skyline of Grad Krk is dominated by the domed bell tower of Krk Cathedral, built in the 11th and 12th centuries on the site of a 5th century basilica.  The cathedral is part of a complex that includes the Romanesque Saint Quirinis and Saint Margaret churches. We also stopped at the Roman frescoe Krk Croatiawhich was located in a small room next to an equally small bar.  We did not have to time to visit the many other city attractions such as the Benedictine Convent of St. Mary, the Stanic Gallery, and the Freedom Gate.  The weather was a little to cool and windy to take advantage of any of the city beaches.  After enjoying Grad Krk, we studied the road map and decided to take a circuitous route back to the mainland.  We had no idea where we are going or what we might find, but the map showed that we would eventually end up where we wanted to be and, figuring that we might never again be on the island of Krk, set off on our way.

       Mudflats near Solini Croatia

      Ĉižići lies on the east of the island, across a small bay from its sister city of Solini.  The two towns are separated by a picturesque tidal flat where the locals come to bike, wade, sun, and relax.  A narrow man-made spit extends northward into the sea with a dramatic view of the mainland coast in the background.  We enjoyed a picnic snack and then headed for Rodine on the east side of Island Krk. Unfortunately, we arrived at Rodine too late to visit the Biserujka caverns (maybe next time).


      Rodine Croatian Sheep Slaughter.JPG

      Along the way, we saw a shepherd slaughtering a sheep.  We stopped, and when he quizzically looked at me, I showed him my camera and asked “photograph?”  In perfect Italian, he simply shrugged his shoulders and went about his work.   I made a picture of his efforts as his sheepdog patiently waited for scraps.

       

      The northeast part or the island is harsh terrain with stunted vegetation and a landscape of boulders and rocks.  Unsuitable for cattle, sheep are the major agricultural commodity.  According to the Croats we spoke with, this part of the island was once forested but had been denuded of its timber to supply Venice with pilings to keep that Italian city above water.  Once the trees had been cleared out, erosion removed the native soils, leaving behind a stark landscape of rocks and boulders. 


      Stone sheep corral near Rodine, Croatia

      Not to be stopped, the Croatians of Krk lined the roads with rock walls more than a meter tall, constructed circular sheep corrals that are visible on Google Earth, and built every house and building, including new construction, with the native rocks loosely bound together with mortar and a few precious wooden lintels and roof beams.  Rocks and boulders everywhere, a dreamland for geologists.

       As dusk fell, we headed back west to the main highway and a journey to the mainland and Rijeka, reaching our hotel about ten hours since our departure.  While we did not have the opportunity to see the entire island, we were able to turn our wrong turn in the morning into a wonderful day trip that allowed us to experience and enjoy a special part of Croatia. 

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
    • Views: 3252
  • Antarctic adventure Antarctic adventure

    • From: bberwyn
    • Description:

      Penguins ... but no polar bears!Austral sunrise

      Sipping a Beagle beer at the Banana Bar in Ushuaia,Leigh and I contemplate the trip ahead. If everything we've heard about the Drake Passage is true, we figure this may be our last pint for quite a while. 

      We're about to board the M/V Professor Molchanov for a 10-day adventure cruise to Antarctica, and the formidable weather of the Southern Ocean is on our minds. Unimpeded by land, the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans all mingle in a circumpolar maelstrom of waves, current and wind. It can be rough — very rough, according to the guidebooks and blogs of previous Antarctic voyagers. Nearly everyone gets seasick during the crossing, we read. Alcohol may not be the best idea, but despite the warnings, we chug the last of our brews and head for the pier.

      Ushuaia HuskyOur short stay in Ushuaia has been exceedingly pleasant. Ana, Marcello and the rest of the staff at the Posada del Fin del Mundo have made us feel completely at home. On the first day, we share the cozy breakfast nook with several researchers who just returned from Antarctica. We eagerly listen to their stories, hardly believing that soon we'll be floating among icebergs.

      The gritty little harbor town puts on a clean frock for tourists, dressing up its main street with shiny souvenir stands, electronic shops and internet cafés. But what we enjoy the most is hanging out with the many well-behaved and friendly dogs that each patrol a section of sidewalk. Every morning, there's a parade of canines outside the posada, all wearing collars and purposefully trotting down the street toward some unknown destination or rendezvous. We befriend an especially cute mutt living just down the street for our lodge. He runs the length of his fenced-in yard each time we walk down Rivadavia to reach the waterfront.

      Ushuaia HuskyToothy crags decorated with ice form a dramatic backdrop. There's even a small ski area at the Martial Glacier, near the head of a heavily forested drainage just a few miles from downtown. Lupines, Shasta daisies and rose bushes are still blooming in the surprisingly warm maritime climate. Strolling the commercial district and residential neighborhoods, we find a pleasing hodgepodge of houses, from tiny wooden A-frames reminiscent of Icelandic huts, to new wood-framed homes built with brightly painted corrugated metal. 

      The local history museum tells the story of the early explorers who first traveled these waters in their quest to circumnavigate the globe: Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook and Ferdinand Magellan are all among the notables who sailed the maze of fjords and headlands of the archipelago at the tip of South America. 

      After sending a few postcards, we visit a waterfront fishmonger to buy portions of seafood salad studded with chunks of apple. It's made from king crabs. The spiny, long-legged denizens of deep southern ocean waters are starting to move south closer to Antarctic shorelines as currents and water temperatures shift under the influence of climate change. It’s a first taste, literally, of what we’re going to learn about how global warming is affecting Antarctica, and especially the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have warmed five times faster than the rest of the planet during the past few decades.

      Drake PassageWanderer

      Our first day at sea is mellow. We make good speed, heading almost due south and averaging 12 knots, with huge albatrosses and petrels swerving and swooping alongside to keep us company. Trying out a borrowed 300 millimeter lens keeps me busy for hours, as I try to steady myself, while keeping the horizon straight and focusing on the speeding birds at the same time. Finally, I manage to snap a half-way decent shot of a petrel skimming so close to the cobalt-blue water that it's wingtip touches the surface.

      "Mr. Drake is sleeping," says Russian Captain Nikolay Parfenyuk. "He is not hungry today. Mrs. Drake is saying, hello to all of you," the captain jokes. 

      M/V Professor MolchanovThe Molchanov is a Finnish-built ice-hardened vessel previously used by Russia's polar research program. The ship is now leased to Oceanwide Expeditions for tourist expeditions on both ends of the Earth. In most conditions, the bridge is open to passengers, so we're able watch Parfenyuk and his crew of officers plot a course through the Southern Ocean and scan the radar screen for errant icebergs.

      The swell increases during the second night, tossing a few chairs around our cabin. Evelin Lieback, the ship's doctor, hands out motion-sickness patches to several passengers, and a number of places remain empty in the dining room during the evening meal. Leigh and I don't succumb to the dizziness at all. Instead, we enjoy the rocking and rolling in our comfortable berth and take in the exhilarating spray of wind and sea foam as often as we can.Fin whale

      But by noon the next day, it's smooth sailing once again. Just as the kitchen crew starts serving desert, expedition leader Jan Belger says whales have been sighted. We all drop our forks and rush on deck, marveling as the gentle giants flash their dorsals and blow clouds of mist into the gold-tinted sunset. Fin whales are the second-largest cetaceans. Males in the southern hemisphere grow up to 88-feet long and weigh 70 to 80 tons.

      For more information on the ecology of fin whales visit the IUCN Red List web site.

      The Molchanov is full for the voyage, 52 passengers in all, with a large contingent of jolly Dutch. There are a few Germans, a couple of Israelis, a well-traveled couple from South Africa and some Brits. the passel of Americans includes eight from our own home state of Colorado as well as a few Midwesterners. One young traveler from California is making the most of the recent economic malaise, using his severance package to finance a world trip, including the jaunt to Antarctica, booked last-minute in Ushuaia at a significant discount.Two of the experienced guides are Dutch, the third is a French biologist, and our cooks are Malaysian, so the good ship is bit like a floating United Nations. 

      Convergence

      The big milestone for this part of the trip is the Antarctic Convergence, where cold water flowing northward from Antarctica mixes with warmer water from the adjacent oceans. The turbulent upwelling is zone of high biological productivity, where phytoplankton nurtures vast swarms of krill, which in turns is food for whales and seabirds. The convergence is part of a circumpolar current — the world's largest, carrying 130 million cubic meters of water per second, or 100 times the volume of all the world's rivers combined. The current delineates a discrete body of water and a unique ecologic region. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization designated the waters south of the current as the Southern Ocean.

      StormyIt's still a productive life zone, but increased solar ultraviolet radiation through the Antarctic ozone hole in recent years has reduced phytoplankton productivity by as much as 15 percent and damaged the DNA of some fish. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing has depleted stocks of some species unique to the area, including Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, sold commercially as Chilean sea bass.

      There are also concerns about how climate change might affect the circumpolar current, which is known to be important to regulating the world's climate, but those potential impacts are poorly understood.

      Antarctic SoundIce floes

      South of the convergence zone, the sea is still. The ship slows to maneuver between giant ice floes and we awaken to a magical world of icebergs tinged lipstick-pink and tangerine-orange by a spectacular Antarctic sunrise. Only a few passengers are awake and perched on the bow of the Molchanov to watch a group of penguins arch through the water like mini-dolphins. They're powerful swimmers, using their wings to propel themselves under water with flying motions. 

      "They're trying to fly," says  expedition leader Jan Belgers. Even though the birds gave up the sky for the deep sea eons ago, they still have some genetic memory of what it must be like to soar through the air, Belgers explains.

      OrcasLater, we spot a pod of orcas cruising between the fantastically sculpted bergs. Leopard seals lounge on flat floes, looking fat and happy after feasting on this year's crop of penguin chicks.

      Paulet Island

      Our first landing in Antarctica is on Paulet Island, a small circular chunk of volcanic rock that's home to a major adelie penguin colony during the Austral spring and early summer. In early March (late summer in the southern hemisphere) the penguins are mostly gone but the remains of their rookery, in the form of pungent pink guano, was still evident. The acrid smell wafts across the water as we approach the shore in Zodiacs and getting across the beach to the uplands involved a hike through the smelly turf.

      A few straggling adelies remained, along with dozens of fur seals lounging on ice floes and along the beach, along with a group of blue-eyed shags, the only members of the cormorant family to venture to Antarctica proper.Paulet Island

      We hiked to the remains of a stone hut that served as shelter for Captain Carl Anton Larsen and the crew of his ship, the Antarctic. Larsen, a whaler, was exploring the region in 1903 when his ship was trapped and crushed in the ice offshore, leading to one of the many epic stories of polar survival. Part of Larsen's party traveled over the ice by sledge seeking rescue. Eventually, all the men but one were rescued by an Argentine vessel. A simple wooden cross set back from the beach marks the grave of Ole Kristian Wennersgaard, a 22-year-old sailor who died on the island in pursuit of science and exploration.

      Dundee Island

      Although more and more people are visiting Antarctica these days (up to 40,000 annually), it's still a remote tourism location compared to other hot spots on the global travel circuit. Our second stop is at  Petrel Cove along the shore of Dundee Island. It's part of a group of islands known collectively as Graham Land, closer to South America than any other part of Antarctica. It was named by Scottish whalers in 1893 and served as the take-off point for American pilot Lincoln Ellsworth when he made the first trans-Antarctic flight in 1935.

      When we got back to Summit County, I did some research on Petrel Cove to try and find out how many people have been there. A list maintained by a group that monitors environmental impacts shows that, during the past 15 years, only two commercial trips with a total of 107 visitors have landed at the remote site.

      A few metal buildings, painted rust-red, are left over from an Argentinian settlement. Although it was supposedly a science station, our expedition leaders dismissively calls it a political site, established to help the South American country bolster territorial claims in Antarctica. 

      Under existing international law, the continent belongs to nobody and is managed for the purposes of scientific research through a consultative process. Still, several countries, including the United States, maintain that they have the right to exercise those claims in the future. With potential for vast reserves of precious resources, including offshore oil and gas, some observers think it's only a matter of time before some countries try to assert some level of sovereignty.

      Fur sealHundreds of fur seals, along with a few Weddell seals, lounge on a broad beach covered with red seaweed. Clumps of miniature icebergs melt in the warm days of late summer. A large glacier on the island appears to be in retreat, crumbling at our feet. It feels like just a few days since the last ice age ended. 

       

      Brown Bluff and Deception IslandGentlemen Gentoos

      Setting foot on mainland Antarctica is a big step for some of the Molchanov's passengers, who are visiting their seventh, and final, continent. The brown basalt rocks are part of an unusual geologic formation called a Tuya, formed when a volcano erupts beneath a continental ice sheet. Whether it's our seventh continent or not, we all agree it's the most spectacular site so far. Ice floes fill the bay for as far as we can see, and the curved beach is densely populated by friendly gentoo penguins and ornery fur seals, who protect their turf by grunting and lunging awkwardly when a tourist wanders too close.

      Deception Island, AntarcticaThe next day we visit Deception Island, anchoring in a small cove near the crumbling ruins of a whaling station. The bay is almost completely encircled by glacier-draped ridges, with only a half-mile wide opening to the sea. It's one of the few places in the world where an ocean-going vessel can sail into the water-filled hollow of a caldera, the collapsed center of a volcano. The ice on the slopes is colored black with the ash and soot of the most recent eruption which was just a few decades ago. Geologists keep a close watch on the island to monitor for potential eruptions in the future.

      The rotting sheds and rusted metal tanks that once stored whale oil are grim reminders of a not-so-distant past, when men slaughtered tens of thousands of the giant mammals at sea, then dragged them to the stations to be rendered for oil, flayed for meat and carved up for their by-products, including baleen to make combs and corsets. Thankfully, Antarctic waters have been designated as a refuge for whales. Several species that were hunted to near extinction are making a comeback.

      Ice ArchWe hike up to the rim of the caldera and across the ash-covered glacier to reach a chinstrap penguin colony at Bailey Head. On moss-covered ground, improbably distant from the sea, thousands of the birds are molting. In some places, the feathers have piled so deep it reminds us of drifts of snow back in our hometown of Frisco, Colorado. We're amazed that the waddling birds can climb this far up a steep mountainside. At first glance, they look like precariously balanced bowling pins, but on closer observation, we see that they're sure-footed and steady walkers.

      South Shetlands

      Our last day in Antarctic waters is spent around the South Shetland Islands. In the morning it's drizzly and cold when we stop at Half Moon Island, where fur seals rule the beach. A chinstrap penguin rookery thrives in on the rocky crags above the beach. 

      Penguins are the iconic species of the frozen continent, but the simple and prolific food chain in the Antarctic region is under the gun from global warming. In the last half century, winter temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula — the skinny spit of land sticking up toward South America — have climbed five times faster than the global average. Polar conditions have given way to a moist maritime climate, with huge impacts for the birds and mammals of the region, all of which depend on krill for sustenance.Charts

      Krill, a Norwegian word for "small fry," refers to tiny shrimp-like crustaceans found in great abundance in Antarctic waters. The krill feeds on tiny free-floating plants called phytoplankton. In turn, the krill is eaten in mass quantities by whales, sea birds, seals and penguins. 

      But changing wind patterns linked to global warming are altering the system. Researchers in the area are documenting changes in the distribution and density of phytoplankton in the ocean around the Antarctic Peninsula. In the March 13 edition of the journal Science, Rutgers University biologists reported that those changes may help explain declines of some penguin species in the area. Some of their research is documented in a paper, available online at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5920/1470.

      Adelie penguin populations, adapted to a colder climate, are declining. Warmer-weather chinstrap penguins have become more numerous and displaced adelies in some parts of the peninsula and on surrounding islands. The research is based on satellite images showing changes in ocean color, temperature, sea ice distribution and wind. It's supported by data collected at surface by University of Hawaii researchers  who are currently working in the seas around the peninsula and maintaining a blog of their voyage at http://uhmanoa-antarctic-research.blogspot.com/.

      Aitcho IslandA final landing on Aitcho Island gives us a glimpse of an elephant seal and a close-up look at hundreds of bleached whale bones littering the beach. A giant petrel is feeding chicks in a nest, and fur seals frolic on mossy ground. Our time in Antarctica is nearly done. Climbing the ladder from the Zodiac on to the Molchanov one last time, we stow our gear and prepare for the voyage home.

       

      Check out the Posada del Fin del Mundo at www.posadafindelmundo.com.ar/.

      Information on Antarctic voyages with Oceanwide Expeditions is at www.oceanwide-expeditions.com/.

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • Our Budget Travel Trip to Irel Our Budget Travel Trip to Ireland - Part 1

    • From: CliffK
    • Description:

       

      View from Charles Fort

      This trip actually began last June, when I was notified by email that I had won the Budget Travel Photo Contest with a photo I had taken in Costa Rica. My wife didn't even know I had submitted an entry, and she was in a meeting all afternoon, so I could not call her. We were meeting friends for dinner and had all of five minutes in the car together for me to inform her, "Um, honey, I have some news for you..." She screamed and quickly responded, "Well, I guess we know how we're going to use our furlough days this year!"

      After doing our research, we settled on a region (southwest Ireland) and a time frame (October, after the high season but before it gets too cold). I worked with Una at Sceptre Tours to iron out the details, and before we knew it we were on our way.

      We flew directly into Shannon, arriving at 7:00 a.m. on a Friday morning with a full day ahead of us. A friend had told us how beautiful it was to fly into Shannon where you could see all the green as you were landing. Well, at 7:00 a.m. on an October morning, the sun had yet to rise and it was still pitch black. Not to mind, we got our rental car and hit the ground running (that is, with a little adjustment for getting used to driving on the left side of the road). First stop: Galway. Although it was raining, we weren't going to let a little rain deter us from having fun. After stopping at the TI, we walked through Eyre Square (aka John F. Kennedy Park) and explored the old town center. We stepped inside the Widow Jane EyreCollegiate Church of St. Nicholas, where I was impressed with the testament to the Widow Jane Eyre's generosity, commemorated on a plaque. We then walked, struggling to keep our umbrellas open against the wind and the rain, to the much Irish Holy Familymore modern Galway Cathedral. This is a cathedral you want to visit during the day so you can better see and appreciate a more modern approach to stained glass artwork. Keep an eye out for the Irish Holy Family, where Mary is knitting and Jesus is offering tea to Joseph. Also look for the mosaic John F Kennedy Tribute(hidden the day we were there behind a curtain, but that did not stop us) of John F. Kennedy.  Needing some lunch, we found our way to Busker Brownes, where my wife had Aubergine and Sweet Potato Gratin and I had delicious Irish Seafood Chowder, accompanied by tasty brown soda bread. We did not want to sit too long and let our jet lag overcome us, so we got back to our car and pushed on, driving northwest toward Letterfrack and the Kylemore Abbey. One of the best ways to combat jet lag is to spend time outdoors, and so our first activity at Kylemore was to tour the walled garden. Still nice in October, this must be even more beautiful in the middle of summer. The Abbey itself is lovely, though only a few rooms are open to tour.Kylemore Abbey Also on the grounds is a small Neo-Gothic church, Neo-Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbeywhich is also worth a visit. Finishing at the Abbey, we still had a relatively short drive to Clifden and our first night accommodations at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel. We checked in, dropped our bags in our room, and then walked about a mile into town to find a light supper. Back at the hotel, we headed downstairs to a common room where we thought we could sit by a fire and write in our journals. Ha! The combination of the warmth of the fire and the full day of touring, on top of our jet lag, and we were both dozing after writing only a sentence or two. However, it was also very effective: we got to bed early, got a full night's sleep, and when we woke up in the morning, we were both effectively over our jet lag.

      Saturday morning we woke up to the first of our full Irish breakfasts: a lavish buffet spread of cereals, yogurt, fresh fruit, rolls, eggs, bacon, sausage, and the traditional Irish accompaniments of grilled tomatoes and black and white pudding. Although we had another full day Diamond Hillahead of us, we decided we did not have to be held hostage to our agenda and allowed ourselves to backtrack a bit, driving back towards Letterfrack and the Connemara National Park. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to Diamond Hill Hikehike, so we took the trail to the top of Diamond Hill. This wasn't the Ireland I was expecting: instead of the lush greens one hears about, this area was still beautiful but much more in shades of brown. Partly this was due to the season, but also the geography, as the terrain is very wet and boggy. We made it to the top of the hill, and were rewarded with wonderful views both of the harbor and of Kylemore Abbey from above. Once back in the car, already past noon, we headed out towards our next destination: back past The BurrenGalway and on to the Burren. The Burren is a region of massive outcroppings of rock that have been scoured by glaciers, rich in archaeological sites, the most famous of which is the Poulnabrone Dolmen. One look at this landscape and it is no wonder why there are so many stone fences and stone buildings in this country. It was getting late, and we had one more goal for this day: to get to the Cliffs of Moher. I had hoped we'd have a beautiful sunset looking out over the Atlantic from the Cliffs of Mohercliffs, but although the sunset itself was obscured by fog, it was still light when we arrived and we enjoyed the day dwindling away to twilight Poulnabrone Dolmenwhile there. After another full day, we recognized the wisdom of our chioce to go in October: pleasant weather for hiking and no crowds to contend with. Saturday was the night of our castle stay, so we drove (now in the dark) back to Dromoland. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that they had upgraded us from a standard to a deluxe room. This is not your drafty medieval castle: the room was quite spacious and luxurious. Sunday morning I went for a run on the castle grounds, through a wooded area where I came upon (and frightened) many pheasant.Dromoland Castle

      Friday and Saturday were both extremely full days, but this was our Irish Countrysidefirst time in Ireland and we wanted to see everything. Recognizing the need to slow down a bit, we had planned to spend two nights at our next stop: Kinsale. Driving south past Cork on Sunday we got our first taste of the beautiful green countryside that Ireland is so famous for. As the sun breaks through the clouds, the lush green fields just pop out at Kinsale, Irelandyou. Kinsale very much has a small-town feel, located on a beautiful, well-protected harbor, rich in history. It is one of Ireland's "Tidy Towns," a competition first launched by Bord Failte in an effort to improve the appearance of towns and villages throughout the country for the main tourist season. In addition to just wandering the streets and exploring the shops and restaurants, we took the "Historic Stroll in Old Kinsale." Our guide, Barry, was a wealth of information about the history of Kinsale, from the occupation by the Spanish Armada to theHistoric KinsaleCharles Fortnearby sinking of the Lusitania, including stories as well of the real Robinson Crusoe. Fun side trips included Charles Fort across the harbor and the Cobh Heritage Center, about a 45-minute Cobh Heritage Center Statuedrive. Our mainstay through most of Ireland was basic pub food, which we enjoyed, but in Kinsale ("the Gourmet Capital of Ireland"), we had to try a nicer restaurant. We couldn't have been happier than with a visit to Jim Edwards, where we had a delicious meal of grilled salmon.

      (Continued in Part 2)

       

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • Small Miracles in Assisi, Ital Small Miracles in Assisi, Italy

    • From: Janice St Marie
    • Description:

      Assisi, ItalyA Promise Fulfilled
      A few years ago, I made a promise to myself: before I turned 50, I would return to Italy. It had been more than 25 years since I was there as a student in Perugia and Assisi,  located in the heart of Umbria. Little did I know what a wonderful surprise was in store for me once I arrived in Italy.

      I had studied mainly in Perugia but had taken a stained glass class in nearby Assisi as well. We worked in a rustic studio with arched doors and stone walls. My teacher was renowned in Italy and had a shop where he made and sold pieces commercially. I also learned cross-stitch (the famous local stitch called the St. Francis stitch) from a gentle old woman who worked in the public bathrooms. She was responsible for cleaning the restroom and collected coins as tips from tourists. I would sit next to her on an upturned bucket as she taught me the traditional stitch, stumbling through directions with my beginning Italian.

      Marisa's Storefront, Assisi, ItalyThe Search Begins
      Arriving by train to the city of Assisi, I realized I had left a part of myself there and it felt incredible to return. My first goal was to try locating the stained glass studio where I had studied. I wound my way up the crowded streets lined with restaurants, tourist shops and art galleries looking for something familiar. When I found the central piazza, I knew I was on the right track. “Up, up!” I thought. And so I continued. I stopped a little farther on and decided I had better ask someone if they had heard of the studio. I entered one of the many stores along the street and began my search there.

      Marisa in her tiny shop, Assisi, ItalyAn older woman greeted me. Her shop was the size of a walk-in closet and filled to the brim with souvenirs and handmade items. I asked if she spoke English. “No,” she said. With trepidation, I began to speak in Italian. I asked if she knew of the studio where stained glass had been taught many years ago for Americans by an Italian teacher (he must be 80 years old by now). She thought a moment and then asked, “Is his name Renato Rossi?” “Yes!” I said. “Renato Rossi!”  She was quite pleased for me and indicated on the map the area where she thought the studio had been. She said it was no longer there, but that Renato was still alive and lived somewhere near the edge of town.

      Pushing My Luck
      I was very grateful and I decided to push my luck even further and ask about the woman who had taught me the St. Francis cross-stitch. So, I described when and where I had met her and how she had taken the time to sit with me and teach me the stitch. The store owner listened to my query and then, after a thoughtful pause she said quietly, “She was my mother.”

      Unbelievable! Tears of surprise and happiness came to my eyes. What serendipity! I told Marisa that her mother had been very warm and generous to me and remained close to my heart. She told me her mother had died eight years ago and she missed her tremendously. Then she walked over to a stack of St. Francis cross-stitch handiwork, shuffled through the pile and selected two pieces. She handed one to me and said, “I want you to have this. My mother stitched it.”  Then, she gave me the second piece saying, “And this too, I stitched it myself.

       

      A gift from Marisa, Assisi Italy

       

      I accepted the gifts, still feeling stunned. We both marvelled at the chance of me walking into
      her store of all the stores along the road. Marisa was convinced her mother had a hand in bringing us together. I can hardly disagree.

      Renato and his son, Assisi, ItalyLife Can Be So Easy

      After more conversation and plans to meet throughout the week of my stay, I took the map she had marked for me and started up the hill once more to search for Renato. I stopped in a small shop where a kindly gentleman listened to my story and pointed me in a general direction. I was wandering around a neighborhood, map in hand, when I saw three women talking on a small side street. Approaching them, speaking in Italian I asked if they knew Renato Rossi. One of the women looked at me and said, “Yes, he’s my uncle.” Amid wild gesticulations and hoots of laughter (“Puo facile la vita!” Life can be so easy!), Rosana accompanied me to Renato’s house only a few blocks away. She buzzed his door and I heard someone shout, “Ooooah!” I hadn’t heard that expression for 28 years!

      Walking back through town, Assisi, ItalyOnce inside, while we toasted fate with a glass of wine, Renato (he is almost 80) pulled out photographs from when I studied with him years ago. We exclaimed at how much younger we had all looked. After an hour or so of reminiscing, I agreed to return the next day for lunch.

      I walked back through the city as the sun was setting, thinking to myself, my first day in Assisi, after an absence of more than a quarter century, had been magical beyond all expectation.

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 3202
  • God created the Grand Canyon, God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona!

    • From: sladoja
    • Description:

      God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona!



      The sentence from the title is 100% correct!
      It originated from the Indians  but  now it's widely used by  locals and tourists.

      interesting house
      Sedona is located 120 miles from Phoenix. It is residency of  11,000 people on about 50 square kilometers. 51% is privately owned and the rest belongs to the Coconino National Forest!http://www.fs.fed .us/r3/coconino /


      The average altitude is about 1330 meters. The highest point is Coffee Pot Rock, located about 1,700 meters above sea level . Average  age of population is 50 and it is mostly high income households.There are number of famous residents who currently live or have lived here in the past and among them is a  former president candidate  John McCain http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/John_McCain It is easy for him - he has a good retirement !
      About 3 mliona tourists visit Sedona each year. Among  them was myself - twice!

      Sedona also known as Red Rock Country.
      Here's why.

       
       
       
       
         
      Myself on the red rocks 
      As I said , I visited Sedona twice. In my first visit,  I went by car . Second time - by plain .
      One thing that you must do  in Sedona is a Jeep Tour . We had our own car so we visited a destination called Broken Arrow that made  Sedona famous . It is named by famous 1950 western movie with James Stewart    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042286/

                                                                           Our car




      They do not know what happened to them ....
      - tourists in the Pink Jeep 

      parked 
      Garisha in front of our pride car 



      no turning back
      Truly a wonderful experience for me . My travel buddy Adža is a great driver !
      Learning how to drive in  Serbia , one gets a great experience of "cross country" - so cruising  on the rocky Sedona roads was a peace of cake !

      What else  one has to see  in Sedona?
      One of the most popular attractions  is the Chapel of the Holy Cross http://www.chapeloftheholycross.com
      I'm not an expert on architecture or a  religion but I must give credit to the person  who designed it. At the entrance it is written that they welcome people of any race and religion and I like that !

       
       

      Here are some photos of the church.




      Sedona is famous for art galleries .  Here is some of the work displayed outside 


       


      Thanks to my buddy  Mich , the second time I visited Sedona was  plane.
      Did I enjoy ? Hmmmm - what do you think ?
      I loved it !





              
                                                                Inside Mitch's plain        


                                                Me at the airport

        taking off  


      Where is the airport? 


      One can  see the official website of the airport.http://sedonaairport.org/
      What else  to see and to do?
      Let's say there are many healers, psychotherapists and energy healers.  There are even tours named : Sedona Vortex tour, Authentic Psyhic Spiritual Healer, Wisdom, etc. Psyhic Sedona.
      I did not visit any ....we have enough of them in Serbia. 
      I am just not in to that at this point of my life, next time maybe...
      And surely I will return because:

      "God created the Grand Canyon but he lives in Sedona" 

      Just to check if he is still there .... 


    • Blog post
    • 4 years ago
    • Views: 3033
  • Belize - An Un-Belize-Able Vac Belize - An Un-Belize-Able Vacation Destination!

    • From: oldfashiongirl
    • Description:

      In February of this year, in order to escape the notoriously wet and cold winter of Oregon, my husband, Matt, and I traveled to the wonderfully warm and exotic country of Belize. We expected a tropical beach vacation - what we didn't expect was how welcome the people of Belize would make us feel and the lessons they taught us about what it takes to be truly happy in life.


      Day 1 & 2 - Welcome to Belize!

      It didn’t take two entire days to get to Belize, but it sure felt like it did! Our flight from Portland didn’t leave until midnight on Friday and we both worked that day, so by the time we got to Belize at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were exhausted. The Belize City airport is very small and it took us about an hour to get through customs. We have found that these small airports, such as the one in Ixtapa, Mexico, seem to schedule all of the arriving flights at the same time each day, presumably so that customs only has to be open for a few hours. After clearing customs, we took a taxi to the marine terminal, listening to the radio along the way about all of the violence and murders that had happened in Belize City the day before due to some elections that had taken place. We were very glad that we were not staying in the city and what we saw of it seemed very impoverished with not much to do anyway.

      Caye CaulkerThe loading area of the marine terminal was very hot and crowded with everyone shoving to get on the boat when it finally arrived. They loaded all of the luggage into the hull of the boat and then everyone piled on. It was just an old speedboat – no life jackets or safety speech of any kind. A little different from back home where even a dinner cruise on the Portland Spirit requires a safety debrief. It took about 45 minutes of high-speed boating to get to the island of Caye Caulker, jetting by many little uninhabited islands surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean.

      Seaside CabanasBy the time we arrived on the island, I was sporting a major wind-blown look. We stayed at one of the larger hotels on the island (Seaside Cabanas - about 15 rooms), which also has the only pool. We had our own little cabana room with a stairway leading up to the rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean, complete with shaded hammock. After checking in, we went next door to the Sand Box restaurant and had a late lunch/early dinner of two rum drinks, some conch cakes, a burger and fish burger all for about $20 USD including tax and tip! We took a quick swim in the pool and were in bed by 6 p.m.

       

      Day 3 - Sunburn Death March from Hell

      Caye Caulker TaxiSince we went to bed so early the night before, we woke up at 7 a.m. well rested and ready to explore the island. Caye Caulker is a very small island quite a few miles off of the main coast of Belize. The beaches are bright white sand made of tiny crushed shells and there are no cars on the island, only golf carts zooming around to carry the lazier tourists. Many dogs inhabit the island, some that are strays, some not. I guess if there is any place that it would be safe to let your dog run wild, it would be a small island with no cars. The water is a gorgeous turquoise and you can see the fish and stingrays swimming around when you walk out onto one of the many docks.

      We had a Belizean breakfast at the Sand Box of eggs, sausage and fry jacks with black beans.  Fry jacks are delicious, although eating beans at breakfast takes some getting used to.  After breakfast we decided to walk the circumference of the island, starting from our hotel and heading south. I could have sworn that I read in a guidebook that it only takes about 20 minutes to walk the island, but that turned out to be very wrong. We leisurely walked along the beach, past many small inns and beach cottages, and started venturing into a more unpopulated part of the island through some lightly forested areas. After an hour, we started to wonder just how big the island was. We should have paid attention to the fact that we were passing very few people. Unfortunately, we were at a point in the trail where we could either turn around and go back the way we came, or keep going forward. Not knowing how much longer we had to go, we chose to keep going forward.Caye Caulker Walk

      Caye Caulker AirportAbout two hours after beginning our “short” walk, we finally arrived at the opposite end of the airstrip running the width of the island that we had passed at least an hour prior. We walked down the airstrip to get back to where we had started and had to jump off into a marshy area to let a plane take off. When it went by, we could see the looks on the passengers’ faces wondering what the heck we were doing on the runway. By the time we got back to the hotel, our feet were killing us (I was wearing my pool-side flip flops) and we were both really sunburned. We hadn’t put on any sunscreen because we didn’t think we would be out that long. We cooled our poor feet and bodies in the pool for the rest of the day until a quick storm blew in during the evening.


      Day 4 – Going Slower

      All over the island, there are signs that say “Caye Caulker – Go Slow”. It’s kind of the island’s unofficial (or perhaps official?) motto. So, after our bruising day yesterday, we decided to take that advice. After breakfast, we tried snorkeling for the first time at the northern point of the island that has a shallow area said to be good for inexperienced snorkelers. We did see a few tropical fish, but unfortunately there was a large seawall in the area that we kept bumping into due to the waves and rebar buried in the sand that easily cut your skin. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t go on a professionally arranged tour while we were there as Belize is one of the top snorkeling destinations in the world. The tour we wanted was not running while we were there, plus we were both a little nervous about sitting in a boat in the open water with our existing sun burns.

      Rasta Pasta Rainforest CafeWe headed back to the hotel to clean up for lunch and I noticed a strange rash breaking out on my arms. With our sunburned bodies, Matt’s cuts from snorkeling and my rash, we were a sorry looking couple. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Matt hurt his foot during our walk the day before which was causing him to limp around in pain. We had lunch at a small place called Rasta Pasta Rainforest Café that served the largest tostadas we had ever seen. We talked to the owner for a bit who happened to be from Eugene, Oregon.  Isn’t it funny how, no matter how far you travel from home, you almost always meet someone who lives virtually next door to you?

      We relaxed for most of the afternoon reading in the hammocks and decided to have our last dinner on Caye Caulker at the upscale restaurant Habaneros. I had shrimp and fish skewers over a bed of rice with peanut sauce, Matt had seafood ravioli, and we shared a pitcher of sangria.  The tables are on a wrap-around porch set above the street, which makes for some of the best people watching on the island.  After dinner, we walked to the island’s main dock, listened to the waves and looked up at the millions of shining stars.  We couldn’t have felt farther from home on this small island in the Caribbean.


      Day 5 – Into the Jungle

      We took the 10 a.m. water taxi back to the mainland where a driver was waiting for us from the eco-lodge we were staying at: duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge. The lodge is located on the other side of the country from Belize City, almost on the border of Guatemala. It was a long two-hour drive to get there, but along the way we stopped at the Belize Zoo, which features the native birds and animals of Belize, including some beautiful jaguars. Our driver gave us a personal tour of the zoo. He was full of information and quite helpful as well. For example, when the Tapir began spinning around in his pen, our driver cautioned us to take a step back from the fence, as the big animal was about to spray. We were lucky; the French couple next to us were not.

      We arrived at duPlooy’s via a long dirt and gravel road winding through farmland and forest. The lodge is smack-dab in the middle of the jungle and is definitely the most remote place I have ever been in my life.  We checked into our room, which was very nice and spacious, with its own screened porch and hammock. Although there is no A/C at the lodge, at least you could flush toilet paper, unlike on Caye Caulker!

      DuPlooy's DeckAfter dropping off our luggage, we headed down to the bar, which is on a giant deck sitting on stilts overlooking the jungle connected to a wooden boardwalk high above the forest floor leading out to an overlook area with a view of the river and some hammocks. The overlook area is also home to some bats that make creepy noises above you when you are trying to read in the hammocks. We had a few drinks at the bar and then dinner at the onsite restaurant, which thankfully serves very good food. I was a little concerned with that since there is no option of going anywhere else to eat because you are so very far away from civilization.  However, every meal we had was very well done and you could tell that the breads and desserts were handmade that day. That night, we went back to our room and fell asleep to the noises of the jungle.


      Day 6 – Iguanas, Tarantulas, and Killer Bees, Oh My!

      This morning I awoke with a new ailment to add to our list – an eye nearly swollen shut. I’m not sure what caused it, but after I took some Benadryl it receded a bit. After breakfast, we met our guide for the day and headed off to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. To get there, we crossed the river via a small hand-cranked ferry.  Huge iguanas perched in the top of the nearby trees and every once in a while one would dive into the river below.

      XunantunichWe had a specialized guide for the ruins who was very knowledgeable about the Mayans and filled our heads with various facts and dates until they were about to explode. We had the site almost entirely to ourselves and the weather was just gorgeous. We climbed the largest ruin, although I chickened out about half way to the top and sent Matt up alone with my camera to take pictures. While Matt was exploring the ruins, the guide called me over to see a tarantula nest in the ground. He stuck a blade of grass into the hole in the ground and out came a huge tarantula! At about the same time, we heard a loud buzzing noise come toward us and pass above the trees somewhere. Our guide, looking nervous, informed me that it was a killer bee swarm, noting that there are traps around the area to catch and kill these bees. Now, I had read before our trip that both tarantulas and killer bees existed in Belize, but I didn’t think that I would come across them, on the same day at the same time no less.Tarantula

      After leaving the ruins, we had a quick picnic lunch by the river and headed out to Barton Creek Cave. It took about an hour of driving down a very bumpy gravel and dirt road to get there, through lots of farmland and orange groves and even some Amish farmsteads. We passed some Amish on the road in their horse-drawn buggies and long beards in the hot and humid weather. We got to the cave and were again the only ones there. Belize has a large system of caves throughout the country that the Mayans used as burial sites and this particular cave is explored via canoe. We hopped into the canoe with our guide and paddled into the darkness, armed with headlamps and flashlights. We spotted some skeletal remains and pottery, as well as many bats and the expected stalactites and stalagmites. The trip through the cave was actually quite peaceful and not as creepy as it sounds, except for the times that we were squeezing through such tight spots that our canoe barely fit. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with claustrophobia.

      Blue Morpho ButterflyOn the way back to the lodge, we visited a butterfly house specializing in the breeding of the huge Blue Morpho butterfly. It was so much fun standing in the atrium while these magnificent butterflies flitted around and landed on you.

      That evening, we saw the kinkajous that come out at night to feed on fruit the bartender puts out for them on the deck. Kinkajous are a kind of half-monkey, half-cat type of creature that climbs around in the trees. Perhaps you heard the news reports a few years ago that Paris Hilton was bitten by her pet kinkajou. At the time I found this funny, but it is sad to think that she could own such a creature that really should be in the wild.


      Day 7 – Valentine’s Day in the Jungle

      We got up extra early for a birding walk and to try and catch a glimpse of the toucans that come out in the morning to feed on the fruit put out on the deck. Unfortunately, they stayed only briefly and flew away without eating the fruit. So, we went on the guided bird walk, along with three other couples that were much more experienced than us. It was a very educational experience and we saw a variety of birds, including some parrots. After the bird walk, we ate breakfast back at the restaurant. As we were eating, we noticed a commotion over on the deck. The toucans had come back for a late breakfast and were swarming the fruit. The best part was that we were the only ones around to see it and I could take as many pictures as I wanted without fighting with the other birders and angling for position. DuPlooy's Toucan

      After the high-noon sun had receded a bit, we went for a walk in the +40-acre on-site botanical garden. There were some gorgeous plants, many that we have never even seen in the North West, and we saw a lot of birds as well. That evening, dinner was delicious as usual, and a little more special since it was Valentine’s Day. The kinkajous even came out again to say hello.


      Day 8 – Tikal & Guatemalan Spider Monkeys
      We drug ourselves out of bed at 5:30 a.m. for a daylong trip to the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. Because the other guests from the lodge that were going to go on the excursion cancelled at the last minute, we had to go with another hotel’s group. A driver from the lodge took us down the long dirt and gravel road to the main highway and dumped us off to wait by the side of the road. He didn’t know who exactly was coming to get us, or even when, saying that we should just wait there and then he drove off. This was a little nerve racking as we were out in the middle of nowhere and it would have been a long walk back if no one showed up. But, a van did show up for us after only about 15 minutes and we were off to cross the boarder into Guatemala.

      There is a US travel advisory for citizens traveling into the country of Guatemala and my guidebook had a page-long warning about corrupt cops, banditos, and highway hijackings targeting tourists. The guidebook advised that if you are hijacked, it is best to just hand over your valuables or the situation could likely turn into murder. So, as a precaution, when we got to the border we transferred into another van, this one with a Guatemalan driver and license plates instead of Belize plates, which are targeted more often. After crossing through immigration at the border, the differences were like night and day. Although we thought that Belize was a fairly impoverished country, this was nothing compared to Guatemala. The main highway was a large dirt and gravel road, which eventually turned into a paved road that was almost worse as the potholes were so bad that the van had to slow down to a crawl to traverse them. We drove for hours past villages of shack houses and farm animals spilling out into the road, girls carrying water urns on their heads coming back from the local streams, and people basically going about their daily lives.

      After a few hours, we finally got to the entrance of Tikal and started our hike in. We were with our guide and a nice couple from Sacramento. Tikal is a huge ruin site in the middle of a jungle landscape. There were more tourists there than we had seen on our entire trip, but because the site is so large, we rarely felt crowded. The ruins were gorgeous and we both agreed that seeing them was worth the trip.Tikal

      Tikal 2


      Day 9 – Belize was Un-Belize-Able!
      It was time to start our long journey back home. We didn’t leave the lodge until 12:30 p.m., so we had time to have breakfast, lunch and pack. The trip home included the two-hour drive back to Belize City, a two-hour wait at the airport, a two-hour flight to Houston, a two-hour trip through lovely Houston customs, and then a five-hour flight back to Portland. It was a long day, made even longer due to the Houston airport being shut down because of a thunder/lightening storm that left us taxing on the runway for an extra hour.

      With the various physical ailments aside, our trip to Belize was absolutely fantastic and we would love to visit again some day. Most of the country’s residents did not have electricity or telephone service, but they were so friendly and engaging and seemed so genuinely happy that it made us question what truly makes us happy in our own lives.  I pondered how I would spend my time if I were to live in Belize, where there are no chain stores, traffic, or the endless quest for material items that seems to take up so much of our time and energy in the USA.

      As the saying goes (at least this was printed on various souvenir t-shirts) “Belize is un-Belize-able”! Matt has asked me to please stop saying this, as it is extremely annoying. So, in reply I say: “You better Belize it is!”Matt and Jessica in Tikal

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • BEACHES RUNAWAY BAY JAMAICA RE BEACHES RUNAWAY BAY JAMAICA RESORT

    • From: bobcat812
    • Description:

      Bob and Cathy Smith

      THE BEST MISTAKE EVER MADE

      Jamaican SunsetA nephew was getting married in May 2008 in Jamaica.  A few months before that Cathy and I decided we'd go - because Jamaica was not on our "Bucket List".  In other words, if we didn't go to the wedding, we'd probably never see Jamaica. The wedding was at the Breezes Resort at Runaway Bay.  This is one of those "all-inclusive" resorts where you pay one price and everything is included - food, drinks and all.  Photos and descriptions on the website showed that it is a beautiful place with white sand / tourquoise water beach, etc., etc.

      We booked the resort through our local travel agent and received confirmation with a number.  There were a number of different room configurations including rooms with a patio and small pool, suites of different types and simple room for two.  We chose the simple room for two.

      We flew into the Montego Bay airport and took the shuttle bus to the resort.  Along the way, the natural scenery was pretty and the local architectural style was typically third world cinder block poverty. 

      Upon arrival at the beautiful Breezes resort we went to the check in Our Deluxe Suite Balconydesk with our confirmation in hand.  The friendly clerk punched the numbers into her computer and had a troubled look on her face.  After a few moments of silence and a tinge of alarm in her continence we realized that they did not have us in their computer.  She went and got her manager who came and looked at the computer too and then, with a big Jamaica grin of happy confidence, took us to the bar, paid for two drinks and told us she was going to get us 'a very, very special room, mon" and that she would be back soon to show us to our special room.

      About 45 minutes later she came to us with a very big, confident smile and said, "I have your room ready, mon, and you are going to really like it!"

      She took us to our room.  Instead of having a standard room for two we had a deluxe suite on the second floor, on the ocean view end of one of the three legs of the building.  There are only six such suites in the entire place.  Later we found that the cost for one of those suites is astronomical.

      We keep hoping that someone else in our travels will loose our reservation.

      A FEW NOTES ON THE RESORT

      Our room's balcony looked out over the beautiful beach, pool and the mountains to the south.  The bedroom was oversized and extremely comfortable.  The shower was one of those where a whole bunch of nozzles squirt you like a carwash.  That was special.

      BoozeSince everything is included, the most popular spots on the resort are the bars which seem to be populated 24/7.  We are not "drinkers" in the classic sense, so it wasn't a real draw for us.  Even though so many people lived at the bars, we did not find anyone being obnoxious or stumbling drunk on the resort.  There were a lot of glazed eyes and zombie expressions.  The popularity of the bars made the beautiful beach almost empty!

      There are several eateries on the resort and every one is excellent.  The outdoor breakfast cafeteria was unbelievably good.  The food everywhere was top-notch.  Coffee was good.  Even the Jamaican beer was good.

      Seemingly, the two national sources of income in Jamaica are tourism and "ganga".  Yeah, I didn't know what "ganga" was either until someone in the know explained that it is marajuana.  Drug dealers are kept off the resort by guards at all perimeters.  What that means is that the drug dealears are about six feet outside of the beach fence wearing their big knit hats and gesturing trying to get the tourists to come and buy drugs from them.

      We enjoyed our trip to this resort, especially since we got upgraded due to the lost reservation.  That made it very special.  Would we go to another all-inclusive resort?  Probably not.  Free booze is the big draw in our estimation and we're just not interested.  We can experience beaches equally beautiful, food equally as delicious and accomodations as nice on our own and pay a lot less.  And when I want a beer, I can find one.

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
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  • Samos Greece Excellent Adventu Samos Greece Excellent Adventure

    • From: Dan Beamer
    • Description:

      In 1973 my wife and I chose to honeymoon on the island of Samos, Greece where she had accepted a job teaching watercolor painting at the Pythagorian Institute of Art. During that summer we spent 10 weeks on the island. The entire summer was spent relaxing on the beautiful beaches and dining at the typical flavorful restaurants on the island. The tab for our entire ten weeks was less than $1,000!

      europe 2007 fall-149.jpg

       

      A typical day required shopping for a picnic lunch to share with my wife after teaching, at the beach. I would begin by purchasing fruit at the fruit market. I would then buy some slices of salami and cheese from the meat market and cheese store before buying a bottle of Samos Sec wine for 25 American cents. Upon returning the empty bottle to the wine store you would get a twelve and one half cent credit towards the next bottle. My final stop would be the grocery store where I would buy ten Greek olives. The owner would think I wanted 10 liters of olives and pull out a plastic garbage bag. When I would explain that I only wanted ten olives he would next assume I wanted enough olives for 10 Drachmas (former Greek money) and would pull out a gallon sized Baggie. I would then re-explain my request that I only wanted 10 olives. Once he saw me using sign language to count out 10 olives he would count the olives and put them in a small sandwich baggie. When I would ask the merchant, “ poso kani”, (how much?) he would turn me around and push me out the door for asking such a foolish question. europe 2007 fall 3-044.jpg

       

      Over the past 35 years we have returned to Samos several times. On our honeymoon we found an inexpensive one star hotel called Hotel Artemis located on the quay of Samos town. In 1973 the rooms were only $6. per night. In 2007 we paid 30 Euros per night. The owner of the hotel is Kostas Kateris. The hotel is clean, newly remodeled and the owners friendly, hospitable, and helpful. We have stayed there each time we go. During that first summer we took side trips to Rhodes and Turkey upon their recommendation. Boats leave weekly to various Greek islands. europe 2007 fall-141.jpg

      Samos is an island close to the Turkish coast where one can take a short 2 hour boat trip to Kusadasi, Turkey and pay for a taxi or bus out to the ancient site of Ephesus and return to Samos on the same day. A hired taxi driver will drop you off at Ephesus and pick you up a few hours later. If you ask he will take you to a nearby restaurant, Turkish rug store, leather shop or drop you off at the bazaar in europe 2005 part ii-02.jpg Kusadasi. The purchase of a rug may net you a free lunch for your entire party.

       

      Each time we return to Samos we find something new to explore. The island had a rich history filled with people like Pythagorus, (we all remember the Pythagorian Theorem), Aesop, Polycrates, and ­­­­­­­­­­ Aristarchus living there in the past. The writer, Carl Sagan wrote about Samos as the center of scientific inquiry. It was on Samos that it was discovered, “the world was not made by the gods, but instead was the work of material forces interacting in nature.” The tyrant Polycrates, patron of the arts, science, and engineering built a one kilometer aqueduct through the mountains. Visitors to Samos can explore the aqueduct today. europe 2007 fall-115.jpg

      A walk through Samos town will bring you to the botanical gardens where you can enjoy a coffee at the outdoor café as well as use the internet café located in the same area. At the top of the gardens is the Samos historical museum. Inside is the five meter statue of a Kouros discovered on the island recently. The museum has high quality sculpture and other antiquities from the classical era to the Hellenistic era. europe 2007 fall 3-025.jpg

       

      Traveling around Samos can be accomplished by car rental, taxi, bus, or motorbike The island is about 40 miles long but there is no one road that goes totally around the island thus ensuring delightful stops in mountain villages and seaside towns. We enjoy visiting the Temple of Hera and the town of Pythagorian as well as a short hike to the Potami waterfalls. The lush vegetation on Samos is like no other Greek island. We often travel to the remote villages of Vourliotes, Manolates, and Marathokampos where we spend the day hiking and enjoying the fantastic food at the local tavernas. The food on Samos is the freshest in all of Greece because it is locally grown on the island. Our favorite restaurants are located in different villages. In Samos we frequent the Octopus restaurant located on the quay and Christo’s, located on the back square off of the Lion’s square. In Vourliotes we dine at the wonderful Pera Vrisi restaurant where all vegetables are grown on the hill adjacent to the taverna, and in Manolates we always hike to the top of the village to eat at the family owned Lucas restaurant. The view of the Aegean is extraordinary from this lofty location. europe 2007 fall-092.jpg

       

      Other days we spend at the wonderful beaches. Places like Kokkari, Tsamadou, Lemonakia and Psili Amos offer the vacationer a choice of rock beaches or sand beaches all with the incredible turquoise water of the Aegean Sea. For a change, we also drive to the far western end of the island to the area of Drakei. This is a small community where they build wooden fishing ships by hand. If you can drive down the narrow dirt road to the lower seaside village you can see the ships being assembled. europe 2005 ii-185.jpg

      A spiritual respite awaits those who drive to the Monastery Zoodochos Pigi that overlooks the breath taking Straits of Mykelai separating Samos from Turkey. Picnicing is allowed on the grounds. Near Pythagorian is another religious site, the smaller monastery of Spiliani with an adjoining ancient cave grotto sacred to early Christian worshippers. Cool and contemplative, these sites, a bit off the “beaten path” are well worth the experience. europe 2005 ii-159.jpg

       

      For a fun filled day you might try taking the day cruise to tiny Samio poula island with “Captain Yannis”. You can find his boat on the quay in Pythagorian. For about 25 Euros he will take you out for swimming, a raucous barbeque lunch prepared by his crew and include Greek dancing lessons. europe 2007 fall-118.jpg

       

       

       

      Of course, our favorite past time is to sit in the atrium of the Hotel Artemis and visit with friends. Over the past 35 years owner Kostas has entertained numerous guests from all parts of the world. Summer at the Hotel Artemis means reminiscing with international friends from previous years. Each summer Kostas’ regular guests return from France, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels, Denmark and various other places on the planet ranging from Canada to Australia, including a few Americans. It is interesting to reconnect and reminisce. After a couple of ouzos or wine and a “prominade” along the quay, around 9:00 or 10:00 pm, we venture out to find a good restaurant for the evening followed by a coffee and pastry at the Colossus café in the Lion square afterwards. europe 2007 fall 3-081.jpg

      Samos is a great place to relax and recharge your batteries. Come join the family adventure.

      europe 2005 ii-168.jpg europe 2007 fall 3-098.jpg

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • Eurail: Texel to Piran, via Wa Eurail: Texel to Piran, via Waffleland!

    • From: bberwyn
    • Description:

      Bruxelles jaunt yields tasty treat that can't be beat

      Belgian Waffle

      After a bike marathon on the Dutch island of Texel, we decide that a Belgian Waffle, slathered with cream, fruit and syrup, sounds darn good. Leigh breaks out the Eurail map and timetable, and within a few minutes, we have a plan. On the train, we laugh about our waffle craving and daydream about a mythical Waffleland theme park, where all the attractions are modeled on the fried treats. Hey, there's a Legoland nearby, so why not a waffle theme? We're not sure it exists, but if it did, it would be Shangri La for waffleheads like us, and every good trip has a mission.

      Between train connections in Amsterdam, we stroll the downtown, getting sidetracked by a slice of pizza. Then it becomes an Amazing Race scene, as we sprint through the massive construction zone at Centraal Station to catch our train.

       Leigh solves the maze and we end up at the right platform just in time to board. We joke about the extra-long, double vowels in every other word — just throw 'em in there, it doesn't cost one European cent.In Bruxelles, we're pretty sure we've disembarked at the wrong station. Above the escalator, panels droop from the ceiling with electrical wires hanging down, and some of the faux-marble slab benches have been ripped apart, as if someone needed a chunk of the rock for a backyard home improvement project.

      Can this really be the capital of the European Union, we wonder, suddenly realizing we got off one stop too soon.

      The lead skies split apart briefly as we walk toward the hostel, and the grimy bourgeouis facades miraculously change hue, from gray to brick- red. The waffle shops are closed, as far as we can tell, and Leigh calls it a night. I take a walk around the block, marveling at the hodge-podge of culture and languages; French-speaking Africans share a beer and a smoke with Russian stock brokers, while Arab vendors dish out falafels to traveling salesmen from Pakistan and Ireland.I'm raring to go the next morning. Overly enthusiastic, I accidentally wake Leigh just before dawn. Big mistake. But don't get me wrong, Leigh is an all-star travel partner: Creative, patient, spontaneous and kind. She's a stellar companion, lover and friend, and dead-sexy to boot, but she doesn't like to get up before the sun. "I knew that," I mumble beneath my breath, watching as she gathers her gear, brushes and flips her hair, all in about two minutes flat, while suggesting that I take a hike.

      "I knew that," I mumble beneath my breath, watching as she gathers her gear, brushes and flips her hair, all in about two minutes flat while suggesting that I take a hike.

      But our morning walk beneath exquisite Baroque facades soothes the waters, especially after we drop our packs in a locker at the station and finally track down the sought-after confection in a cozy joint near the Grande Place. The deluxe waffle comes with scoops of ice cream, fruit compote, whipped cream and syrup, and for dessert, we try some crepes.  Just around the corner, Mannequin Pis is cheerfully spurting a steady stream while grinning angelically at the rooftops. Today he is wearing a natty red vest in honor of some ethnic celebration in this multi-ethnic city. Maybe he's making fun of the fact that, if you don't have exact change, you too will be peeing in the street. Baroque

      It's murky-gray in the Benelux, so we're starting to think about the sunny south. Leigh finds a winding connection through Luxembourg, Trier and Koblenz that will put us on an overnight train to Munich, with a transfer on to Salzburg and Linz, in Austria.

      In Luxembourg we agree that pay toilets are not one of Europe's great contributions to world culture. You can use a cell phone text function to buy candy in a vending machine, but when it comes to public sanitation — look out, you'd better have the right coins in your pocket. An afternoon cloudburst sends us scurrying to shelter in the arched hallway of a convent. We drip dry as a passing nun gives us a curious stare. On the bright side, we have a few hours to enjoy seafood platters and mounds of pasta at a family style Italian place in an alley near the station, next to a couple of go-go girl clubs and a car parts store. The wait staff treat us like family in a way that only Italians do, acting disappointed when don't inhale every last strand.

      The train to Munich is a Eurail special. As the station manager adds on extra cars, we find a compartment and stretch out a bit awkwardly on the spring-loaded, straight-back seats. Before dozing off to the clickety-clack of railroad ties and passing powerline poles, I ponder the fact that everybody trying to sleep on planes, trains and in station waiting rooms ends up looking like one of those grotesque Pompeii cinder figures, all arched backs and twisted arms, sometimes cradling the head of a loved one. It sounds macabre, but it's really more of an ode to the art of travel.

      July 12: Market mushrooms

      With seamless transfers, we arrive in Linz in time to buy a bucket of luscious gooseberries and fresh chanterelle mushrooms at the Saturday morning market. 

      Austria's Second City, sprawled along the Danube, is bustling on a fine summer weekend, but we beeline for Aunt Erika's apartment, eager to do laundry and nap in a comfortable bed. The next morning we pack up and head downtown, stopping at the Hauptplatz for an ice cream and Prosecco at the Garda Cafe. A gilded statue, honoring the Holy Trinity for deliverance from the plague, hovers above the scene. The ice cream parlor specializes in creating sweet sundaes that look like savory food. One dish features strands of vanilla covered with strawberry sauce to mimic spaghetti, while another uses peach halves, whipped cream and pools of vanilla sauce to create a convincing likeness of sunnyside-up eggs.linz ice cream.jpg

      BoatelGenerally heading east and south, we roll to Vienna, jump on the subway and find a speedy hydrofoil heading for Bratislava on the Danube River. After a night in a floating Boatel, we walk the length of the town to the railway station, where we consider trains to Zagreb and Budapest, although our plans change when we hear about the Hungarian train strike, with unspecified delays expected. The automated teller in the station is covered with bird poop, and one of the vendors is selling two-inch thick wedges of what looks like bacon pie, with slices of sausage layered on top for good measure. Our best bet is back to Vienna, a main crossroads where we'll have more choices of trains.

      A serendipitous and unspoken agreement puts us aboard an express headed for Croatia. We're not sure exactly where we'll end up, but we hop on as the train pulls away. Not worrying about it too much, we settle in the dining car, where a wry waiter keeps us well-supplied with icy Croatian beer and an appetizing platter of air-dried ham, country cheeses, farm bread, peppers and pickles. It's a welcome meal, and we toast to the freedom of the rails, chugging up the steep grades of Slovenia's Julian Alps.

       

       

       

      Dragon BridgeJuly 14: The dragon bridge

      If Ljubjlana was ever truly behind the Iron Curtain, Llublana has shed every link to that drab past. The city hums with international energy. At the Park Hotel, I ride the elevator with a group of four men, all from different countries. in fluent German, they discuss the U.S. political campaigns. We set out to explore the old town center and scope the bronze dragons on the bridge across what was once surely a protective moat around the castle. In the sprawling open-air market, not everything is as it appears. A batch of bright orange apricots turns out to be dry and mealy, while the purple Italian plums are riddled with worms! So much for the myth of market produce being the best.

      The promise of sunshine lures us farther south, and the newest plan is to head for the nearest seaside. As we skim through the Eastern Europe Edition of Let's Go, we spot a world heritage cave site. Plenty of daylight left, so we jump off in Divaca. The musty hilltop town has been a crossroads since Roman times. It's still strategic, straddling the main freeway between huge Italian seaports and the entire Balkan penninsula. Much of the recent burgeoning trade in the expanding European Union passes through this corridor. We pop into a pub near the station, seeking a bus to the Skocjan Caves. The last one is gone and time is getting short, so we offer the local lads what we think is a fair price for a ride. We jostle around a foosball table for a quick game. They laugh and nod, suggesting that they would take us — if they only had a car.

      Even cowgirls get the blues ...Let's Go has concise directions suggesting we can walk the stretch in less than an hour, so we hit the pavement. We throw our thumbs out in the air with a Sissy Hankshaw attitude. The sassy hitchhiking heroine in Tom Robbins' 1976 classic (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) taught us that you gotta keep on truckin', no matter what life throws your way. A couple of cars swerve to the curb, but neither they, nor we, are sure we're all headed in the same direction, so we walk. We  miss the last tour of the day and settle for ice cream as a consolation prize. 

      The region is geologically well-known as a significant limestone uplift — a karst landscape — carved into gorges and caves by mountain streams. For residents during the stone and bronze ages, the site was sacred. It was a place of emergence and spiritual renewal, amazingly similar to Hopi beliefs in the American Southwest, or the Mayan theology practiced in caves and cenotes of what are now Mexico and Belize.

      A nature trail from the visitor center leads us back to town along a more scenic and direct route, along the rim of the gorge and then through the old settlements outside the center. Along the path is a Romanesque chapel crumbling in the ivy. The site isn't described in our guidebook, but we can feel that the grounds have been hallowed for centuries. Across the highway, a pair of locals lounge near their cars, trunks open to display mounded boxes of fresh forest blueberries.  We can't resist, and along with our berries, we get a short lecture  on the ancient and recent history of the northern Balkans.We savor the tart berries as we board the train headed to Piran, a Slovenian fishing village that fills a skinny spit of land between Italy and Croatia.

       


       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 3351
  • Magic Morocco Magic Morocco

    • From: hnahed
    • Description:

       My daughter was about to finish a study abroad program in France. Towards the end of her stay, I thought it would be nice if I could join her and we would discover together a country in the vicinity that we did not visit before. As it is my habit before undertaking a trip abroad, I hit the local library, checked out tons of travel books, and started doing my research. I was smitten by Chefchaouen, a town in Morocco, so I decided we had to get there. As I read in the "dangers and annoyances" section of almost all these books, that females traveling alone can be subjected to relentless hassle by Moroccan bachelors, I started having second thoughts about this destination. But I was intrigued by the country, and thought, what the heck, I am an old woman, no one will go after me anyway. Speaking French also would make things run smoothly. So, after carefully planning the trip's logistics and calling around some budget hotels, off we went.

      Marrakech-Jamaa El Fana.jpg We spent ten days visiting Marrakech, Fez, Chefchaouen and Casablanca. Marrakech was hot and very exotic. Our hotel, Chez Ali, was dirt cheap as it was more of a hostel than a hotel, but we had a room with bath to ourselves, and most importantly, air-conditioning. We were dazzled and dazed by the biggest circus in the World, aka as Djemma el Fna. Around dusk, the most colorful and bizarre street performers, snake charmers, fortune tellers, acrobats and dancers, gathered in this square to peddle their ware , to the amusement of locals and tourists alike. We also took a trip to Oujoud, where some impressive waterfalls seemed to sprout magically from the surrounding arid hills. To reach the floor of these waterfalls, we had to take numerous flights of stairs. During our descent, we could see macaques monkeys swinging among the bushes and moroccan campers sleeping in beds - no sleeping bags here- that were tucked under rock formations. At night, we treated ourselves to "Fantasia", a horserace, where riders dressed in white tunics sprinted to the finish line and shot their firearms all at the same time. 

          Ouzoud falls.jpg                                                   

      Marrakech- Fantasia copy.jpg

      The Seven hours that the train took to get to Fez went by quickly, as we spent the time discussing politics with our fellow Moroccan and Italian travelers. Fez is Morocco's Imperial City.  The old part, the Medina, is encircled by ramparts and consists of a web of very narrow alleys and mazes, where the tourist would get lost without the services of a local guide. A little kid no older than ten clung to us as we arrived at our hotel. I brushed him off, but the next day, he was still tagging along, offering his services. So we hired him for the day. He was so tiny, and told us with that little voice of his, that his father died and he was helping his mother and brothers financially. To this day, I still think of our little friend, and wonder if life is treating him any better. He took us to the famous tanneries, where we were given a sprig of mint to put under our noses so that we don't faint from the foul smell of the tanning process. Workers there were standing knee-high in colored pools of solutions Fez- Tanneries.jpgused to tan the animal skins. I felt sorry for them having to work in such horrid conditions. 

       

       

       

      The Medina's alleys revealed wonderful mausoleums and mosques showcasing the most exquisite Islamic architecture. Donkeys carrying all sorts of loads , were competing with throngs of people squeezing in its narrow alleys. These animals are the only means of transportation inside the walls of the Medina. They carry everything needed, from crates of coca cola, to building materials and haberdashery. Shopkeepers in the Bazaars sell artifacts made of ceramic, brass, wood, as well as lots of babouches- these distinctive and traditional Moroccan footwear that we had to have.

      Fez- Locals.jpgFez- Babouches.jpg

      Fez-Medina.jpg

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

      Leaving  Fez behind, we took a bus to the town of Chefchaouen, the blue town nestled high in the Atlas Mountains. Along the way, we passed by villages in the countryside and hills blanketed with olive groves.Enroute.jpg The scenery was serene, quite a contrast with the hectic rythm of the bazaars. After a rest mid-trip where we got closer to herds of sheep, we resumed our voyage. Being the constant worrier, I was a little apprehensive, as were getting pretty much out of the tourist circuit. Huffing and puffing on the hilly roads, our bus finally arrived at our destination.

      The town attracted mostly  European backpackers and hippies, lured by the marihuana that is produced and consumed everywhere in the surrounding hills. Other than this dubious distinction, Chefchaouen proved to be the gem of a town that initially attracted me to Morocco. Wherever we looked, all we saw was blue in all its shades. Blue doors, blue walls,blue rocks, and blue fountains. Local ladies sold  mint, kids played by fountains adorned with blue mosaic, and old women wore garb eminiscent of the ones worn in the Andes!!Chefchaouen- Blue Entrance.jpgChefchaouen- Out of the Hammam.jpg

                                                                          

      We stayed in a little hotel inside the Medina. At night, our room was wrapped in a strange smell. I asked my daughter if that was the smell of Marihuana, to which she replied: what do you think? Apparently the hotel keeper was indulging in the favorite pastime of the town's inhabitants, and the smell was seeping from the stairwell and invadid our room. My second night there was pretty much a white night. The Spanish owner and his family came back from a trip and spent the night causing quite a commotion by partying with some friends of his. Outside the window, there was a wedding procession complete with drums and trumpets and noises were being magnified hundred times over by the narrow walls of the alleys. Then there was one pesky kid who thought of nothing better to do than bang his football against the walls way past midnight. Chefchaeoun- Henna Art.jpgBut all this was forgotten, when the next day we wandered the streets of this charming town, watching the locals conducting their daily lives.  We got a good scrub in a Hamman, had intricate henna designs painted on our hands, and took some nice pictures of all that BLUE!!!

      Leaving Chefchaouen early morning, we took an old and raggedy local bus to Casablanca. The trip lasted seven hours, and we were pretty much the only foreigners on that bus. The driver stopped several times to talk to friends standing along the road and holding marihuana pipes, as well as to pick more passengers. Apparently they were picking more than they were allowed, as, everytime they passed a police post, they ordered the standing passengers to duck for cover.

      After this adventurous and long ride, we arrived safely in Casablanca, where se spent an afternoon visiting its famous mosque by the waterfront. Sadly our trip was ending, and the next day we headed to the airport to board the plane back home.Casablanca.jpg

       This trip will always stand out among the many trips that I took in my lifetime. Morocco is only a couple of hours away from France, but once you get there, you are plunged into another World. Morocco takes hold of your senses with its smells, its food, its old customs, its  culture, and its beautiful varried terrains. It also happens to be a very inexpensive country were your dollars will go a long way. I truly believe that if you want to have a rich travel experience, you have to get into the adventure with an open mind, get off the beaten track, and most importantly, mingle with the locals You will have an experience that will last you a lifetime. And to be fair to the Moroccan guys that we were warned about, ladies, if you follow common sense and be considerate to the customs of the country, you would not encounter any problem, will have a good time and wonderful memories. 

       

       

       

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
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  • The Most Romantic Christmas in The Most Romantic Christmas in the Scottish Castle

    • From: Traveller32
    • Description:

      bedroomIt's cold outside and it's snowing somewhere. It brings a special mood: this magic time of Christmas when everybody wants something special, some special memories...

       

      The last Christmas came to my mind and put a smile on my face. It was in Scotland...

       

      A lot of people would say that the best place to spend this holiday is some sunny country with plenty of tasty coctails. I made apartmentanother choice - Highlands.

      It's possible to save a lot of cash if you choose serviced apartments to rent or premier cottages. I used Highland Club company (it is a part-business of Cottages and Castles CO http://cottages-and-castles.co.uk/ and http://www.the-highland-club.co.uk/). There is a place called Scriptorium, Fort Augustus. I attached some photos, so you can look at this magnificent Scottish castle. Actually it was St Benedict's Abbey and changed for a living area later.

       

      When you go inside, it just rocks: wooden ceilings, stained-glass windows - a feeling of luxury ancient place..

       

      It was a bit more expensive than I was expecting, but not more than 400 pounds a wmonasteryeek. If you choose a weekend only, you pay just 120 pounds which is worth of spend romantic time with a person you like :)monastery

      Last photo was taken in the summer time, sorry :) My pc crashed so I had a small time to save some info. Well, the best photos and memories I have in my mind ;)

    • Blog post
    • 5 years ago
    • Views: 2504
  • Nagasaki: A Trip I Needed to T Nagasaki: A Trip I Needed to Take

    • From: joe8211943
    • Description:

      Statue in Peace Park, Nagasaki, JapanStatue in Peace Park, Nagasaki, Japan

      My choice for a vacation destination usually depends on a country’s photographic opportunities, its food, and exciting, new things to see and experience. My reason for selecting Nagasaki was different  -- it was an attempt for me to connect to my father, who died a few years ago.

       

      An officer in the U.S. Marines, my dad was one of the soldiers who were chosen to go into Nagasaki soon after the Atomic Bomb had leveled the city. A young man in his early 20s, he and his fellow Marines stayed in one of the Mitsubishi factories for several days, soaking up radiation in the contaminated region.

       

      A violin student at Juilliard, Dad dropped out of school and enlisted in the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor. He never talked much about the experience in Nagasaki, other than to say that he didn’t like to think about the unspeakable horrors he had seen. I remember his telling me, when I was a child, about finding a book beside the road. When he picked it up, it crumbled into dust.

       

      After the war, the government designated him and those other Marines “Atomic Soldiers,” and for years they were monitored for possible illnesses related to the radiation. Fortunately, for Dad, the exposure didn’t have any adverse effects: he returned home after the war and had six more children, and he lived to the age of 82, dying of complications of diabetes. Many of his fellow comrades were not so lucky -- a statistically large number of those veterans developed various types of cancer.

       

      On our train ride to Nagasaki, my wife and I passed through Hiroshima, site of the first atomic blast, on August 6, 1945. Gazing through the window at the buildings and people, I tried to imagine that day.

       

      Our visit to Japan so far had included Tokyo, Nikko, Takayama, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, and Kurashiki. We found the Japanese people to be unfailingly polite, helpful (one lady led us four blocks to find our hotel), considerate of others, and welcoming to us American tourists. 

       

      During rush hour in the Tokyo subway there was none of the pushing, shoving, or breaking in front of others that is found in most large cities -- people formed lines and proceeded to board the subway cars in an orderly, civilized way. We saw no litter, no graffiti, and there were very few police in evidence -- Tokyo’s crime rate is surprisingly low. The palaces, temples, and other sights were as magnificent as anything we’d ever seen.

       

      Our day in Nagasaki began with a streetcar ride to Peace Park, at the epicenter of the atomic bomb’s explosion. We lingered for a few minutes at the wing-shaped fountain that was dedicated to the fatally wounded who begged for water. 

       

      Heading farther into the Park, we stopped to see statues and sculptures from all over the world that were donated to Nagasaki to memorialize the atomic bombing. We passed by the ruins of the concrete walls of a prison where 134 inmates had died instantly. 

       

      At the end of the Park is the Peace Statue: a seated man, 30 feet tall, with one hand pointing up in the direction from where the bomb had come and the other extending outward in a gesture of peace.

       

      A few hundred yards away, the exact epicenter (1500 feet below the explosion) is marked with a black pillar in the center of concentric circles on the ground that signify the spreading waves of death. A black coffin in front of the pillar contains the nearly 150,000 names of all of the known victims of the fiery blast.

       

      The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum pulls no punches. Its photographs and videos of the city before and after the explosion are mind-numbing. Inside, the lighting grows dim and a clock can be heard ticking away the seconds until 11:02, when it abruptly stops. 

       

      Displays show hand bones melded in the searing heat (7000 degrees F.) into a clump of melted glass, remnants of a person’s skull inside a helmet, clothing exposed in the bombing, photographs of dead and dying victims, and video accounts by survivors. 

       

      Other exhibitions show damages caused by heat rays, by the force of the explosions, by fires, and by radiation. It is not a pleasant experience, but, like Auschwitz, it is something that should be seen by everyone. 

       

      Whether or not the bombing was justified, countless innocent lives, young and old, military and civilian, were lost; animal and plant life were destroyed. Visiting this museum is the closest you can come to comprehending the magnitude of the death and destruction of atomic warfare.

       

      I came to Nagasaki and got a glimpse of what my father experienced 63 years ago. By connecting with history, I connected with him.


       

    • Blog post
    • 4 years ago
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  • Ho Chi Minh Itinerary & Resour Ho Chi Minh Itinerary & Resources

    • From: laratada
    • Description:

      My husband and I took a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines last December. I plan to write a more detailed journal about our adventures, but thought I'd start with some handy resources for anybody planning a trip. Since we barely had five days in Vietnam, we decided to make Saigon our home base and take a couple of day trips beyond city life. Feel free to contact me with any questions!

      SUGGESTED ITENERARY

      DAY 1: Late night arrival and check-in

       

      DAY 2: Explore HCMC District 1 & 3

      • Grab a quick bite to eat at the city's largest covered market, Ben Thanh. Explore the maze of fruit, meat, food and shopping stalls. 
      • Walk or take a cyclo to the Reunification Palace 
      • Stroll through the shaded park filled with locals and students to Notre Dame Cathedral and the General Post Office. This is near HCMC's high-end area with some of the fancier and more diverse dining options (albeit pricey by Vietnamese standards).
      • Spend the afternoon touring the collection of machinery and weapons and getting a different perspective of the Vietnam War at the War Remnants Museum. Be warned that some of the displays and exhibits can be very graphic. Make sure to bring water as there is no A/C and on a hot day, it can get quite muggy on the upper floors.
      • Jet lag may sink in so you may want to head back to the hotel for a break, or get a cheap foot massage at one of the many salons (stay away from ones with women in scanty outfits displayed in the window).
      • Enjoy dinner near your hotel or at a Bia Hoi sidewalk stool for a cheap and more authentic experience

      DAY 3: COOKING CLASS & MORE EXPLORATION

      • Arrange a cooking class or tour with Connections Vietnam. A local guide, usually a student, will meet you at your hotel and take you around the city or to a family's home where you can shop for ingredients at a nearby market and prepare a delicious, Vietnamese lunch.
      • Spend the afternoon visiting one of the city's many Pagodas. For an atmospheric, spooky experienceI recommend the Emperor Jade Pagoda in District 3. Cholon (Chinatown) also has a slew of temples to visit, including Giac Lam Pagoda.
      • If you have time, take advantage of one of the city's many cheap salon or spa services before dinner.

       

      DAY 4: DAY TRIP TO CU CHI TUNNELS AND CAO DAI TEMPLE

      Arrange a tour through your hotel or something more personalized with an operator like Connections Vietnam or Sinh Balo for a day trip out of the city. A popular day trip is to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels in the morning and Cao Dai Temple in the afternoon. The advantage of taking a personal tour is that you can start earlier and beat the crowds.

      • Meet your guide and take a 90-minute ride out of the city and through the country to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground network of tunnels made by the Viet Cong during the war. You start the tour with a funny, war-era propaganda film about its history and proceed to explore an outdoor exhibit of tunnels, bunkers, and traps. There's even a shooting range where tourists can pay to fire different weapons.
      • Head out to Tay Ninh to visit the spiritual center of the Cao Dai religion and observe a ceremony at the colorful temple around noon. Cao Dai is a popular religion in southern Vietnam that pulls from the pillars of Buddhism, Islam, Christiany, and Taoism.
      • Usually the tour will arrange for lunch nearby the temple before arriving back in the city in mid to late afternoon. Spend the rest of the day shopping or resting.


       

      DAY 5: DAY TRIP TO MEKONG DELTA

      We arranged our tour with Sinh Balo and were very happy with their personal service and expertise. Though a little pricier, our tour group only consisted of six people, unlike the many bus-loads you may encounter on your journey. There are several Mekong sites you can visit, we opted for a trip to the Can Tho floating market as described below.

      • Meet guide in morning and pick up remaining tourists before take a two hour drive south to Can Tho.
      • Board a small boat and explore daily life at the floating market.
      • Enjoy a tour where you get to watch how candies and rice paper is madewith free samples and tea afterward (in hopes of course that you'll buy more).
      • Set back out on the Mekong River and admire the countryside and local life. Eventually you'll arrive at a small canal area where each couple boards a sampang (Vietnamese canoe) to explore the area.
      • Hike through fruit orchards and sample exotic fruit in season.
      • Board back on boat and stop at restaurant for a late lunch.
      • Arrive back in Saigon in the early evening.

       Mekong Sampang

      RESOURCES

      HOTELS:
      • Lavender Hotel - Clean and comforable rooms (around $50) in District 1 across from Ben Thanh Market
      • Agoda - Booking site for Asian hotels owned by Expedia. Note that they have great prices, but often times is because it does not include extra amenities like breakfast or all inclusive options.

      TOUR OPERATORS:
      • Connections Vietnam - Responsible tourism operator that sets up tours with local students or young residents. Offers cooking classes in people's home. Highly recommended!
      • Sinh Balo: Adventure travel operator offering in-depth, small tours. I recommend booking with them a few days before you want to take a tour. The more people that sign up, the cheaper their rates become for the next people who join.
      GENERAL HCMC INFO:
      • Travelfish – Asian budget/backpacker site
      • Reid on Travel – Great itinerary and planning suggestions written by ex-pat living in Vietnam. Super helpful.
      • Any Arena – Guide for hip Saigon shopping, dining and nightlife
      • Spas Vietnam – Helpful listing of area spas

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 4 years ago
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  • Hiking Quilotoa Crater Lake, E Hiking Quilotoa Crater Lake, Ecuador

    • From: steve778
    • Description:

      The Black Sheep Inn

      Quilotoa crater lake, EcuadorGetting to the Black Sheep Inn ,which is a short distance from Quilotoa Crater Lake (pictured to the right), proved to be more difficult than I had expected. The front desk attendant at the charming inn where I was staying in Baños assured me that a local driver she used for just such excursions knew the way by heart.

      How long would the trip be? Not very long, she said. Would I get right to the door? No problem. Easy trip? Not bad…

      The driver picked me up at the appointed time the next morning. I had a coffee in my hand, I remember, and turned to look out the car’s rear-view window as a friend and I started on our journey; the massive volcano that dominates Baños receded behind us for what seemed like forever.

      I can’t tell you how long the trip to the Black Sheep took; it's the kind of thing you measure in frustration. We drove for hours before we reached where we should have been hours ago. We stopped for directions a few times, with mixed results. We reconnoitered, discussed, and re-plotted our course. Then, when I wearily consulted my map (yet again), and it seemed that only a short burst of roadway separated us from our destination—we climbed onto a narrow, pockmarked dirt strip, rimmed by steep cliffs. We jerked and rattled over the road, picking up speed and then slowing to a near-stop, weaving stomach-churningly close to the cliffs, and then veering away at the last minute. We did that for a long, long time. By late afternoon, I could sense the driver’s growing desperation—he gradually increased his speed, and then increased it again; the road wasn’t getting any better; the cliffs were stubbornly treacherous.

      So I told him he could drop us at the next town, and we’d find a way to get to the Black Sheep. A half hour later, in a village whose name I forget, we piled onto a bus with a gaggle of school kids and wound our way along more unreliable dirt roads. The bus finally dropped us at the bottom of a sizeable driveway-- at the top, mercifully, was the Black Sheep Inn.

      It turns out, by the way, that there are easier and more pleasant ways to get to the lodge. But I didn’t know that until later…

      Remember, You're at 12,000 Feet

      I think it’s wise to take a day and acclimate before you make your way to the crater lake, especially if you plan to make the trek all the way back to your lodging.

      The Black Sheep Inn is at about 12,000 feet—people deal with it differently—but while I was there, all the guests transitioned easily. Still, on my first day, ascending the simple staircase to my cabin took my breath away. I’m in reasonably good shape, but I stopped at the top of the flight and rested for a moment before crossing over to my assigned doorway.

      By late the next day, I was fully acclimated. At a communal dinner that night in the main lodge (that’s the way they roll at the Black Sheep—food is included and served to the group at a designated time), a fairly large quorum agreed to hike Quilotoa the following day. A debate ensued about the transportation: Should we hire a car and travel at our leisure, or get up super-early and ride the local milk-truck to the crater? Yours truly was silent, but my friend happily sided with the early-risers. I shot her a withering look, to no effect.

      And So We Took the Milk Truck…

      Cheese Cottage, EcuadorI don’t want to make this sound remotely heroic. I think there are a lot of people who can hop the milk truck and complete this hike well into their 60’s, and I met an older couple from Copenhagen on Day 4 who got along at 12,000 feet perfectly well. I went hiking with them one afternoon, in fact, and we found a great little cottage that made and sold local cheese in the mountains—a legacy, it turns out, of a historical relationship between Swiss aid workers and Ecuador's government. Who knew? I bought a wheel of (very affordable) cheese, hauled it back to the lodge, and shared it.

      But back to the milk truck…

      A group of us picked up the truck in the morning and made our groggy way to the lake. You have to realize: rural Ecuador is beautiful at nearly every turn. I have pictures like this that bring back stunning memories; but there were too many pictures like that to take. The Ecuadorian Andes are simply spectacular in a way that you come to expect. Still, arriving at Quilotoa is sublime; I can’t think of any natural setting off-hand that made a deeper impression on me. The landscape is lunar; the water is a vivid green, and very still; the size of the crater (some 2 miles across) is hard to fathom. The photo at the top gives you some sense, but it doesn’t do it justice.

      The hike around Quilotoa itself is mostly flat, and not especially arduous. For folks who don’t want to do more, it’s a gorgeous and fairly simple circuit, though you’re at a heady altitude (12,000+ feet). You can circle the crater and then head home if you want to take it (relatively) easy.

      New Baby, Andes, EcuadorMy group, though, decided to make the trek back to the Black Sheep, a hike that lasted for the better part of the daylight hours. You should be in good shape to do it, but it’s the length of the hike—and not the route itself—that makes it something of a challenge. We hiked a clear trail the entire length back, pausing to rest, talk, and eat-- and to admire the breathtaking views along the way. Periodically, grazing lambs (and baby lambs, like this one at right) brought us all to a standstill with their ridiculous cuteness. For the final hour of the hike, we were mostly silent, and the first glimpse of homebase set us plodding forward with a renewed intensity. On most hikes, I've noticed, the initial view of your destination gives a misleading impression of the remaining distance. It was no exception this time: we descended gentle slopes, and then turned corners to confront another slalom of rolling hills. Finally, we crossed a huge plateau, and with daylight failing just a little, came within the last hundred yards of the Black Sheep Inn.

      Recovery is a Rum and Coke

      After a long hike, there’s that exhilarating mixture of accomplishment and exhaustion. It’s the kind of feeling that calls for a drink—a reward, I suppose, and a tonic.

      I spent the few hours before twilight looking out towards the mountains from inside the central lodge, and pondered whether I would hike again tomorrow. I didn’t ponder very hard. And I didn’t bother myself with decisions.

      I just sipped one or two really good rum and cokes, ate some fattening food at the shared table, talked to guests about things I can’t remember anymore-- and did absolutely nothing.

      Then I got up super-late the next day, the way you do on vacation, if you know how to do it.

      Tips

      >> Ecuador’s weather is fickle, but the mix of altitude and sudden bursts of intense sunlight made for unexpected sunburns. Bring sunscreen, and pack it on hikes. Always.

      >> On weather (again): all the guidebooks say it rains a lot, and it does-- but I experienced little more than frequent showers. The real challenge was managing cold and heat; pack layers, and add and subtract as the temperature changes.

      >> Ecuador’s currency is the American dollar. Don’t worry about changing your money if you’re coming from the U.S.

      >> As of a few years ago, Ecuador could be unsafe at night. I’ve been reading lately about security improvements in the country, but until I see more proof, I’m sticking to this advice: travel during the day.

      More Photos and Videos from the Trip

      PHOTO: Quilotoa, View 2 | PHOTO: A Sense of Scale: Me at Quilotoa | PHOTO: View Near the End of the Hike

      VIDEO: View at the Crater | VIDEO: View at the Crater, Take 2

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 9493
  • Italy: Adventures and Ancesto Italy: Adventures and Ancestors

    • From: Ann Fessler
    • Description:

       

      How Can One Go "On the Cheap" to Italy in 2008?

      Part 1

       

       

      Thirty years ago, my husband, Ed, and I went to Europe using Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars A Day. For six weeks this September and October, we concentrated on Italy, cutting costs by renting a house in the oldest area of a town in Umbria, a non-Marscianotouristy town named 'Marsciano." Instead of Venice, Florence and Rome, with their costly hotels, we lived in Marcia's typical Italian home with three floors. Not only was the price right, $1,500 for the month of September, but also we were afforded the comfort that comes from being able to cook many of our meals and do laundry. In addition, we didn't have to live out of a suitcase and move from place to place every few days.  Here is a picture of a Sunday morning procession as seen from our Marsciano House. See Marcia's blog and pictures of her home at the web site provided: http://web.mac.com/marsciamckean1/iWeb/MyItalianHometown/Welcome.html

       

      All Aboard! Part 2

       

       

      Train travel is the way to go! When gas was $9.00 a gallon in Europe at the time, traveling by train is the cheapest/least stressful way to go. This time around we did not visit big cities (because we had already spent weeks touring them), but on the days we chose to travel, we visited hill towns in Umbria and Tuscany. Some of the towns in which we spent a day included: Todi, Amelia, Perugia, Sienna, Pienza, Montefalco, Bevagne, Orvieto, Civita di Bagnoregio, Trevi, Gubbio, Spello and Montepulciano.

       

      Umbrian and Tuscan Hill Towns and Thrifty Eats!     Part 3

      We visited the towns, read the history, marveled at chapels and cathedrals, but didn't spend much time in museums. We arrived early enough to peruse the town and determined to find a tratoria or restaurant for a long lunch, during the time when shops in Italy close - 12:30 to 3:30 P.M. We often had a first plate (pasta or gnocchi) and either a salda or contori (vegetable - often, spinach or chicory) and the vino of the house - blanco or rosso. We called this "soaking up the culture." Second plates are meat and fish and are more expensive, and simply too much food. Bread and olive oil are always included and Italian restaurateurs add the gratuity to the bill. Usually, we did not have dessert but two were memorable - a tiramisu in Trevi and a warm chocolate cake in Spello.

      Searching for Ed's Roots - in Amelia (the region of Perugia) and in Grimaldi (the region of Calabria.)

          Part 4

       

      We went to Amelia, a beautiful hill town in the region of Perugia, Ameliawhere Ed's grandfather was born and lived until he immigrated to Portland, Oregon. Amelia is a walled city and has the reputation of being one of the friendliest cities in Italy. Everyone greeted us. It was poignant for Ed to imagine his grandfather there and he had many questions - when exactly did Ersillio leave, and why? And then, how was it for him to leave Ameilia in the early 1900's, a put together/beautiful walled city that was his home and move to Portland, a muddy frontier town in an unknown new world, that was an ocean and a continent away?

       

      After living in Marsciano in Umbria for a month, we went south to the region of Calabria.(from the ankle to the toe of the boot that is Italy.) Ed's grandmother came from there. She received her passport from Cosenza, a big city, and then took a boat from Naples to New York and the train to Portland. Her home town on her passport was listed as "Gruniliti." As we researched before leaving for Italy, we found no town of that name, so we went to a town close to Cosenza named, "Grimaldi." We were taking pictures and since it is not a tourist town, many people greeted us. I had studied a bit of Italian before we went and so I struck up a conversation (in my limited way) with an Italian man, saying that we thought that Ed's grandmother came from this town.

       

      Grimaldi 2He said, "Uno momento" and from his home, he brought out his cousin who was born in Grimaldi and now lives in Ottawa, Canada. She enthused, "Come with us to city hall; it's called 'the Commune of Grimaldi.'" Two people in the office started looking at birth records and found the family name. We didn't have her birth date, but thought she should have been born in the last decade of the 1800's. After about 20 minutes, Ed said, "I don't want you to waste anymore of your time. I think that because you found the family name, my Grandmother really did come from here. I don't have to see her birth record. I just wanted to walk in the city of her birth."

       

      The people in the office continued to look. In the very next book, they found "Rosa Sdao born in 1891 on January 21st to Bruno, father, and Falsetto, mother, Sdao." They listed the midwife's name and the church in which she was baptized.

      Ed was clearly emotional as he touched the book. The serendipity of this entire experience was incredible. The couple from Ottawa was supposed to leave for the city hall an hour before we arrived in Grimaldi and were actually supposed to leave to fly home to Canada the day before we came.

      Clearly, this was the "wow" of the trip. Ed's grandmother came to Portland when she was 23 years of age for an arranged marriage to a man (Ersillio) from the Umbrian region. They quickly had four children and then he died of TB. Ed really wasn't aware of her story when she was alive, so the discovery of her birth records and town were very important to him.

       

      A Hotel on the Mediterranean for $60 a night, including breakfast!

      Part 5.

       

      On October 2nd, for our final week in Italy, we enjoyed the beach and poolside at the Trevi Village near Campora San Giovanni and Amatea, Italy in the region of Calabria. Because it was "off season," it was definitely a bargain! www.trevivilliage.it

      Trevi Pool

    • Blog post
    • 6 years ago
    • Views: 5258
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