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Saturday, 01 September 2018

Comparing Tuscany and Provence

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We spent two months (October & November) driving about 3,500 kilometers in both Tuscany and Provence. After extensively exploring both we considered these questions: How does Tuscany differ from Provence? Conversely, how are they similar? Our unavoidable bias and unscientific observations are indeed noted. (1) We found the Provence countryside, landscape and topography much more diverse with more vineyards than Tuscany. (2) Missing in large parts in Provence towns and villages are the piazzas that are found in Tuscany. (3) The churches in typical Provençal villages were mostly near the top of the hill, not at a focal point at the center of Tuscan towns and villages. Provençal churches were always closed except on Sundays. Tuscan churches were open parts of the day and many contained some bits of fresco, paintings or sculpture. (4) Between French and Italian cuisine it is still a toss-up! There is such a wide range…
A visit to two cities of the ancient rulers of the Yucatan: Kohuhlich & Tulum The vines covered the grey stones with a lattice work of green. The cries of the howler monkeys from the trees sounded a warning to residents long gone. I climbed up narrow and steep steps of the temple toward the sky. You could almost imagine the priests of the temple looking out over the whole city from their vantage point at the top of the Temple of Masks at Kohuhlich. This old Mayan city sits near the border with Belize in southern Yucatan, Mexico, and is slowly being recovered from the jungle which has been trying to envelope it for hundreds of years. The cloudy sky made the green of the jungle seem more luminous and the ruins more ominous. You enter the city along a dirt trail and the first structure you see is…
There was no doubt about it. We were well and truly lost. Our coach was due to collect us in 20 minutes, and we had no idea where we were, let alone how to find our way back to our pick-up point at the magnificently ornate 17th Century Trastevere Arch. We were on the first leg of our tour of Italy, and the trip to the flea market at Porta Portese in Rome seemed like a great idea at the time, especially to seasoned bargain hunters like us. Open from 6:30am to 2pm every Sunday, the market is a sprawling mass of stalls spilling through the bohemian Trastevere area of the Eternal City. Manned by traders from all over the countryside, you can find and haggle for all kinds of goods here, from clothes and jewelry to cheap plastic electrical items and rather dubious looking antiques. Bargain hunting Italians in…
Saturday, 30 December 2017

Montenegro: Land of Adventure

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It was a little unsettling when we received word that the cycling tour in Montenegro we had put a deposit on was cancelled due to insufficient sign-ups. It was just a week before we were to leave for Europe and now we had nowhere to stay and no plans for our time in Montenegro. What to do? Thank goodness for the Internet. We found and reserved hotel rooms, and then contacted tour companies in Montenegro. We heard right away from two of them; one was booked for the week and couldn’t help us, but the other was happy to put a schedule together. Marko, who heads Active Travels Montenegro, asked us what we wanted to do and what restrictions we had. Cycling, hiking, and kayaking we told him – with really no limits. Oh, and maybe a boat trip … and how about swimming in the Adriatic Sea? No problem,…
My wife and I were seeking a vacation destination in March, after the typical long Chicago winter with its mostly grey skies each day. We wanted a place that would incorporate historical/cultural sights, unique and interesting scenery, relaxation—which in our case happens to be water sports—particularly snorkeling or diving, and that extra something that is different than places we have been to in the past. Because we allocated 12 days for the trip, including 2 travel days, we didn’t want to fly half way around the world. Curacao & Bonaire perfectly satisfied these requirements. Both islands, situated between 40-50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, offered desert scenery filled with giant cactus gardens (as opposed to the more common lush rain forests one sees on other Caribbean islands), historical plantations to visit and a UNESCO World Heritage site—Willemstad—the capital of Curacao that offered many interesting cultural sites and museums, and…
Wednesday, 01 November 2017

London through the Eyes of a Cabbie

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There is much to see in London and taxi driver, Dominic Shannon, will help you take it in – from a unique perspective. From the moment you enter his cab you embark on an adventure; not just moving around the city, but observing it. Shannon has been photographing London for years, capturing thousands of moments in time, from vistas to vagrants, and he gladly shares his views with his customers. It started with a traffic accident when Shannon, a former boxer and family man from Camden, wished he had a way to record the positioning of the involved cars, so he bought a disposable, then moved up to a smart phone, and finally to a point-and-shoot camera. Today, he takes photos primarily from the cab of his taxi, often leaning on or shooting into the rearview mirror. Taken together, his photos are an extraordinary collage of an amazing city. As…
Monday, 01 May 2017

Beyond Skógafoss

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A misty breeze blew into our faces as we approached the base of Skógafoss. The thundering waterfall in Iceland pours a huge volume of water off a cliff as high as an 18-story building and can be seen from the main highway a kilometer away. Tourists traveling the Ring Road find it an irresistible stop. For my friend and me, it marked the beginning of our run on the Skógar trail. We hiked up the stairs to the top of the falls weaving through throngs of people wielding selfie sticks and tripods. A short distance beyond the upper viewpoint of the falls we clambered over an A-frame step ladder through a fence and found ourselves in the company of a few sheep in the quiet realm of the Skógar trail. Our plan was to run 20-25 kilometers toward Þórsmörk and turn around to come back before the afternoon rain. Rapid…
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…

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