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I can’t help but wonder if anybody has passed by on the highway to see a clear image of my sleeping face smashed up against the window on the bus. Later, I open my eyes to see an almost empty little town. The streets are empty. Then again, it is 2 o’clock. The infamous siesta. When everybody goes back into their cave to eat, sleep, drink wine, do something other than being outside. The town still seems smaller than what I always imagined it would be. The buildings are rusty. I wonder where the bulls are at. As I step out of the bus, I immediately can feel a change in temperature. It is much cooler than Madrid. The air brushes against my arms. I walk around the quiet ghost town and notice a family dressed in white pants with red handkerchiefs tied around their necks. The dad has his…
Sunday, 01 January 2017

Chasing the Northern Lights in Finland

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We traveled a long way to see them, and we have one more shot at it. We flew for nearly 11 hours from San Francisco to Copenhagen, and then another two hours to Helsinki. After a couple of days exploring Finland’s capital, we boarded a train (the super-fast, super-clean Lapland Express) for an eight-hour ride up Finland’s west coast to the Lapland city of Rovaniemi. We are staying in a comfortable small hotel and hoping for the best. Last night was too cloudy and tomorrow we will head back to Helsinki, so this is it … our last opportunity on this trip to see the Northern Lights. It’s on our bucket list, for sure. We have heard about the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis, as we knew them in school) our whole lives. As children we studied what caused them, but we didn’t really understand it. Our science books said…
“Don’t miss traveling at least a part of the Cabot Trail when you visit Nova Scotia. The scenery is heavenly”. Our colleague who hailed from that part of Canada advised when I told her that my daughter and myself were making a trip to Cape Breton Island for a writer’s conference. We took her advice to heart and a few months later, we were at the village of Baddeck, the starting and ending points of the Cabot trail. Tourist literature describing this trail conjure images of a magical island claiming that if one never believed in magic, this is the place where one becomes a believer. “Your eyes may not be big enough to take it all in, but your heart will”, another of the promotional statements of the island’s official Destination Cape Breton Association, are words that we hoped to verify during our short tour. The 297 km (185…
Thursday, 01 September 2016

The Rome You Might Have Missed

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Out of breath and far sweatier than our touristy outfit desired, we had finally reached the crest of our hike. Briefly looking back to admire the steep, sloping road we had just conquered, we then turned our view to the jewel that our “extra” day had allowed us to see: a panoramic view of Rome. Now there are many magnificent places throughout the tourist-laden city to get a bird’s eye view, and perhaps it was the journey that made this one so worthwhile, but as we looked out across the tiny buildings, laid before us like building blocks for the gods, we could do nothing but stand breathless. Within the forest green and sky blue frame of nature stood the entirety of the city. At one edge of the painting is The Vatican, and then all the way on the other stands the ancient ruins, including The Coliseum. Here before…
Friday, 08 July 2016

Antiquities in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

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They weren’t making this easy. Flexibility is the top card in Rules for Travel. Taking things in stride and all that. Since my default setting is pouting rigidity, it can be a tricky business. But one tries to roll with the punches and with that maxim in mind, I arrived in Plovdiv, got off the bus, stepped into the ring and took a pummeling. After weeks of comfortable Romanized alphabet, I was back among the loops, symbols and wacky diphthongs of Bulgarian Cyrillic. But there wasn’t merely script to interpret but body language, for they stoke the confusion with contrarian head feints, nodding for NO and shaking it for YES. On top of that, my city map made no sense in any language. Oh, most of the streets were there and the bus station. But the ruins and museums and old city walls were evidently disguised with a cloaking device.…
Sunday, 01 May 2016

Pondicherry at Christmas Time

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You can always judge a city by its road signs. Well, no you can’t but they do indicate priorities. There’s the rather stark advisory I saw in Madurai: WEAR A HELMET, AVOID DEATH, which was at least intermittently observed and the laughably ineffectual NO HORN ZONE, in several cities throughout India. In Puducherry, there’s a large red and white billboard at the north end of Goubert Salai: PUDUCHERRY ISN’T THE SAME WHEN YOU LITTER. This doesn’t exactly forbid it – in fact, it may prompt some staunch nationalist to add a garnish of pop cans, wet newspaper, dirty linens and the more unspeakable stuff. No, it isn’t the same when you litter. Too sterile by half. Downright Un-Indian in its way. India had its own Macao, its own Hong Kong. Or more accurately the French did. While Britain was shedding its colonies after the Second World War, Puducherry or Pondicherry…
Tuesday, 01 March 2016

Destination Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

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Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is known for its airport. Many foreign travelers come to Dar es Salaam only to connect to their next flight, usually to a national park for a safari or to Zanzibar. But during my months of volunteering in Dar es Salaam, I found that the city of 4.5 million people has a lot to offer itself. Markets One of the more popular places for tourists to shop is Mwenge Craft Market. It is a little courtyard area surrounded by stalls of people selling artwork. Watch people carve wood on the outside of the courtyard. The market is famous for woodcarvings and ebony. However, beware of shoe polish cans that the sellers use to color other wood to make it look like ebony. Woodcarver at Mwenge A place the locals go to shop is Karume clothes market. However, beware that these clothes are not perfect. I bought…
The capital of Ukraine is a surprising destination to be explored in the fall, when the season transforms autumn leaves into striking hues of golden yellow, red and amber. The city center that staged Ukraine’s revolutionary demonstrations and protests awakens to a beautiful and serene existence. After the political turmoil that shook the country in 2014 and affected its entire tourism industry, a visit to its glowing capital is a powerful and overwhelming insight into the wind of change blowing over Ukraine. When you think of a city break away, Kiev doesn’t instantly spring to mind. However, back in 2012, tourists and investors were flocking to the city and Ukraine stood proudly as the 8th most popular tourism destination in Europe welcoming 23 million visitors. No wonder really, the “Mother of all Slavic nations” is steeped in history, rich in culture and culinary delights. Meet the Locals “Babushkas” are the…
Saturday, 31 October 2015

10 Sights to Visit in Xi'an

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The city of Xi'an is one of the great ancient capitals of China and is the starting point of the Silk Road. It's also where the Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang was unearthed in the late 1970s. The best way to get to Xi'an is by Shanghai Air after exploring the city of Shanghai for a few days. Here are 10 of the top sights you will want visit while in Xi'an for two to three days: 1. Ride a Bike. Xian's offers one of he best preserved city walls in all of China. The modern wall was initially built during the old Tang Dynasty between 618 to 907 A.D. It's at least 40 feet tall and once surrounded by a deep moat for added protection. The top of the wall has an almost 9 mile bike and walking path. There are a total of 18 gates.…
Monday, 31 August 2015

Bus 18 to Ramallah

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If we were ever going to visit the West Bank, this seemed like the time. The fighting between Israel and Hamas had ended months earlier, and although the hostility lingered, no large-scale violence had broken out in the Palestinian Territories since. So after a few days sightseeing in Jerusalem, Mardena and I crossed into East Jerusalem, found the New Arab Bus Station, climbed on bus 18, and settled in for the ride to Ramallah. Ramallah was a city I especially wanted to see. For one thing, since it was the de facto political and cultural capital of the West Bank, I thought it would give us about as unvarnished a view of Palestinian life as we were likely to find. Later that week, we’d be spending a few days in Bethlehem, another West Bank town, but given the importance of Christian tourism there, I had a feeling it might affect…

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