Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surfing in Switzerland?

This is some of the most fascinating adapting to the environment I've ever seen.  This is the Aare River in Thun, Switzerland.  This is one of several places that you can go river surfing in Switzerland.
Let me begin by saying that this is one of the most dangerous ways to surf in the world.
That being said, here's how it works.  You find a deep, very quick part of one of those Alpine style rivers.  If need be, you sink a wedge to the bottom of the area.  Then, you surf on the sucker, just like on a cruise ship.  You really don't move.  The water moves under you and it's your job to stay standing.  Interesting?  Yes it is. River surfing is the latest rage in landlocked and other countries.  Europe is a buzz on the subject.  There is river surfing in several countries from Germany to France to Slovakia to Switzerland and more.  Here you can see that there are even books on the subject.  There are also professional river boarders.
River surfing is rumored to have begun in Munich, Germany which is also the site of the only true competition that I could find.  It is a phenomenon though, and it's spreading all over the world.  They even do it in Colorado and Canada.

Now, all kidding aside, this is different.  Regular surfing is where you go to the beach, paddle out into the ocean, catch a wave and ride it back to the beach.  We all understand that.  But this is fundamentally different.  With this, you find a bend that creates a quick moving section of river.  You take your board out into the whitewater and get up on it and stand there.  The water moves around you.  You don't move.  You could stand there indefinitely, surfing, because the water will run forever.  Interesting, huh?
That's not all.  There are shorter, wider, flatter boards for river surfing.  It's a whole cult sport of it's own.  It's amazing, but amazingly dangerous.
 surfing in munich
This is one of those things that you want to include in an Alpine vacation though.  Driving through Bremgarten or Munich or Thun or Lyons or Bern on a hot summer day you might just get a chance to watch it or join in.  If you are traveling Europe check it out.  The locals will know all about it.  They'll tell you how to find it and anything else you want to know.  So, if you think that the only adrenaline junkies in Europe are doing the Luge, Skeleton, or Heliskiing, you're wrong.  They have extreme summer sports too.  Check it out and add something amazing to an already amazing vacation.
Don't just look this stuff up.  Go out and try it!  It's fun!

Thanksgiving in Its Truest Form at Plimouth Plantation

America's Thanksgiving Dinner at Plimoth Plantation
This is a beautiful Thanksgiving spread.  And this is where you find it.
This is Plimouth Plantation.  This one is for history buffs.  This is where it all started.  The very first Thanksgiving Dinner was right here in 1621.  For anyone who didn't know that the first Thanksgiving Dinner was held to celebrate a successful harvest and was shared with the local Native Americans, I'm sorry.  I realize that they don't have pageants about this in elementary school anymore.
Now, Plimouth Plantation is the beats all ends all of historic villages that are in operation to teach and remind us of our European heritage in the U.S.  There are several versions of who came here first these days, but there's no argument about the first Europeans that stayed.  That was the Pilgrims.  And visiting Plimouth Plantation for Thanksgiving is a very special event.  That's right, after all these years, they still have Thanksgiving Dinner right here in the village.
Mayflower II undersail vert

This is something that you don't see at a lot of historic villages.  This is the Mayflower II.  It was built in 1957 and sailed here from England to live its life out at Plimouth Plantation.  It was built as an exact replica of the original ship, and it's quite an experience.  You can go aboard and look around and see the abysmal conditions that the Pilgrims faced on their trip over here centuries ago.  There are both knowledgeable modern folks and folks in period dress around to show you how things work and answer all your questions about this time in what is now American History.  It actually happened before American history had been created.
  Here's another part of the Plimouth Plantation experience.  This is the Wampanoag site.  This is a replica of the Native American village as it was in 1621.  There are Wampanoag people here to help you understand their traditional ways of life.  And remember, they as a people, were there for that historic first Thanksgiving.

You can also visit the craft center and see how many of the artisans of the day way back in 1621 made the furniture, tools, and other things that were necessary for frontier life.
On certain days, you can attend services here at Plimouth Plantation.  Most of the original settlers who came here from Europe came in part for religious reasons.  Most of them wished to practice their chosen religion and were being denied in their home countries.  Coming to America meant religious freedom, and the Pilgrims were a big part of that.  When you go to services here, you will be taught about the religious practices of the time and have a window into the motives that these people had for braving the unknown here across the pond.
Plimouth Plantation is a fabulous way to learn the history of the original permanent immigrants to North America, but to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the original ideas?
Check it out.  It's priceless.  Take a step into the past and see how the original Thanksgiving Dinner really was.  Eat the food that they ate.  Meet representatives of the peoples who were there.  Take part in the one and only reproduction of the original.  It's a Thanksgiving that you won't want to miss.
Oh yes, I hear there's a very historic old rock you can visit in the area too.


Winter is the Time to Visit the South--Antarctica!

Sculptured icebergs grounded in North Bay, Rothera Point, Adelaide Island.

This is not your average pile of ice and snow.  This is Adelaide Island at the continent of Antarctica.  In the winter time you can visit this harsh, freezing cold and beautifully amazing land for a very short time.  The tourist season in Antarctica only lasts a couple of months, and it's so far off the beaten path that there are only so many ways to go there.  Book Early, and book smart.  There are more and more companies braving the weather and heading to the ultimate southern destination, so you can cruise on any number of kinds of ships, and you can even do a fly over from Australia.

Here's my idea.  This is the Kapitan Khlebnikov.  This huge ship is a Russian Nuclear Icebreaker from the 1980's.  This ship means business.  There is no chance that you won't be able to get through the ice to see what you wish to see in Antarctica.  And, it's an adventure.
Danco Island, Antarctica The landscape of Antarctica is something that will seem otherworldly to you.  It will seem like you've landed on Saturn in a frozen world that is so foreign, that even when you're prepared, you're not.  There are several areas now where cruise ships go.  There's Snow Island, the Ross Sea, the Western Peninsula, Goudier Island and Port Lockroy, and so many others that are now open to visitors.

The Kapitan Khlebnikov has gone to pretty much all locations in Antarctica.  They've been doing it since the mid 1990's.  You might ask yourself why you would ride an icebreaker other than the practical aspects of getting to your destination.  Well, a while back I recommended riding on a container ship for the experience of it.  This is a lot like that.  But don't think that it will be bare bones travel.
It's a pretty classy ride.  This ship has been outfitted with two dining rooms, a lounge, a theater, a heated swimming pool (indoor of course), a sauna, a library and more.  All the comforts are there in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean.  Imagine that.  There are also activities.  There's a helicopter to fly you off to land excursions such as visiting a research station or visiting with penguins.  You can also go sea kayaking around the shore where all the icebergs are.  A trip to Antarctica is unique in the first place.  To go on a Russian Icebreaker is the icing on that cake.  The crew on this ship is knowledgeable.  This ship was the very first one to offer a cruise to tourists back in the 1990's.  Remember, the idea of going to Antarctica as a tourist on a cruise ship is only about 20 years old.  It's still new and interesting.  It's still remote and undisturbed.

Remember, things are a little different in Antarctica.  Take the dining hall for instance at South Pole Station.  It's not the Tavern on the Green.  This is pretty basic, but it's far more advanced than it was just 20 years ago.

Also, remember before you get yourself in a tail spin about going to the South Pole, remember, this picture here is of summertime.  It's a hostile environment down there, but it's fascinating.  It's not for the weak or for the person who wants to live in Florida or Arizona.  It's cold, just above freezing with 24 hour sunlight.  It is an adventure though, and isn't that what life is all about?

Why go there?  You will simply see things that you will see no where else.  This picture is just of the clouds in Antarctica.  Those beautifully multi colored images are just clouds.  Nowhere else on Earth.
So, the season is coming.  There are a dozen or more ways that you can go and visit this amazing land these days.  Take the time to see things that only a few people when you think about it have seen.  It's wild and untamed and becoming more and more touristy all the time.  See it before it looks like Vegas down there.  The clock is ticking on this one.  Pretty soon they'll have a Wynn resort and an Indian casino.  Get there while it's still unspoiled and really special.  Get there while the main transport is still dog sled and snow machine.
Oh yeah, and take an icebreaker for a truly unique experience.
Now, pack your favorite parka, get some Bunny Boots and go explore the most southern spot on Earth!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Welcome to Siberia! And it's the city

Well, I'm not one for the city, but here's one that you shouldn't miss.  This is probably the first place you will see when you get to what's lovingly been called the wild wild east.  This is the train station where you could depart to visit the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Novosibirsk is the third largest city in the Russian Federation.  During the Soviet era, it was used as a major academic center.  The section of the city named Akademgorodok is still centered around learning institutions and universities. I very rarely talk about large cities.  I sometimes talk about unusual things in large cities, but this is one of those rare occasions where I'm saying that you should consider visiting the city as a total tourist destination.
  Yes, it gets cold, so if you want to visit, you might wish to come in the summer.  Novosibirsk is one of the coldest major metropolitan areas in the world.  It is in the western more civilized part of Siberia, barely across the Urals, but it is still in Siberia.
The amazing thing about this place is that it is so modern.  I think that's why it appeals to me.  It was one of the first bastions of capitalism to pop up after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The people of Novosibirsk are used to being on the cutting edge with all of the research facilities in the area, and it was natural for them to be the first ones who really took capitalism out for a test drive.  They did it in no small part with help from America.
The SAIC, American Business Center is an organization that works hard to partner with American businesses and use that cooperation to further the standard of living for Novosibirsk.  It's almost antiquated at this point in time, but back in the 1990's when the country was going through the enormous change to capitalism, the people of this area reached out and got some advice and help.  It was a time in history that made the city what it is today.
And no story about Novosibirsk would be complete without the story of Eric Shogren.  He's in all kinds of trouble now for taxes that he hasn't paid since the economic problems all started a few years ago, but in his time, he was a hero.  Eric Shogren comes from Minnesota.  He moved to Novosibirsk in the 1990's and started a pizza place called New York Pizza.  Now this is an institution in the city.

It was a simple idea.  Shogren soon found himself the most successful entrepreneur in town.  He married a Russian girl that he'd met years earlier in America on an exchange student program and they had five kids.  In the years of his great success he not only owned the pizza places, but a bakery, a furniture business and a Victoria's Secret.
Novosibirsk was very western very fast.  IKEA, McDonald's and all the other popular chains are commonplace in the city.  It's a fascinating combination of old time Russian, secularist Soviet, and modern western.  It's the kind of cityscape that you very rarely see, where three distinct cultures that are so vastly different meld together.  That's what makes Novosibirsk so interesting.
In this picture you can see the Times Square like images across the street from the Lenin Statuary Park.  It's a combination that you won't see anywhere else.
  The mixing of cultures is something that you can't help but notice.  In some places is looks like Moscow.  In some places is looks like New York City.

The towering apartment blocks look like Soviet Moscow.

   And there it is.  Ancient Russian shrines and churches right in the middle of it.
Novosibirsk has it all.
pic of novosibirsk  - russia - JPG Picture or Photo of Russia. novosibirsk. church
image of novosibirsk  - night view on novosibirsk opera and ballet theater - JPG   Picture or Photo of Winter view on novosibirsk opera and ballet theater. russia
They have all the stuff you want to see when traveling to Russia, but it's different.  It's modern.  It has an American quality to it.  There are Americans there living and working.  It's their chosen home.  Those who live in Novosibirsk love it.  That's why you should take the time and visit.
Picture or Photo of Bridge across the river in Novosibirsk Ob
Even the bridges over the River Ob are worth viewing.  But that's not all for water here.  There is a giant reservoir that's called the Ob Sea.  It's huge and it's every bit as much of a water draw as a great lake.
Picture or Photo of On seacoast by novosibirsk
It looks like the shore of Lake Michigan.
Picture or Photo of Boat basin on ob reservoir. novosibirsk, russia.
You can go sailing from the marina.  Most places have rentals.
Picture or Photo of Empty beach after a rain and when sun going down
You can even go to the beach.  Try that anywhere else in a city in Russia.  Try it.
At any rate, you can do all the quintessential Russian stuff in Novosibirsk.  You can go to the opera, the circus, the churches and the Lenin Statues.  But, you can also get an American Pizza, American lingerie, Swedish furniture, and a Big Mac.  You can go to the zoo, or go to the beach.  You can go sailing or ice fishing depending on when you visit.  You can see all the Russian stuff, Soviet stuff and modern stuff you want.  You can go to the big city and see the most amazing combination of things you'll see almost anywhere.  So, instead of doing what everyone else does, like going to Moscow and St. Petersburg; take a look east and try out the new look of Russia in Siberia in Novosibirsk.
Then there's that other thing.  In the beginning of the story, I mentioned that you would probably be arriving by train.  Well, not only do they have a train museum in Novosibirsk, it's a major stop on the Trans Siberian Railway.  So, if you have the time, take the train.


One of the Deepest Gorges in the World

  It's called Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan Province of China.  Now, with all the constant troubles in Tibet, this may be about as close as you can get to that.  That's for the massive height and impressiveness of this place.  The reality is that it's frighteningly close to Myanmar/Burma, depending on what school of belief you go with on that one.
Lijiang is the main metropolis close to Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The area has everything to see if you're looking for old world charm.  The temples, the gardens, the tiny streets and friendly people.
But, it's outside of town that the adventure begins and you get to see Mother Nature in her natural splendor.

This is Tiger Leaping Gorge.  It's nearly 20 miles of tiny roads and hiking trails.  You can hike along the water or from amazing vantage points up above.  There are many tour companies that will be happy to take you on a guided driving and/or walking tour of this magnificent area.
 Now, if you like a good trek, take a few days and do this.  The scenery is a one of a kind.  This gorge is thousands of feet deep at its deepest point.  This is so dramatic that entire books have been written about it.  It is a remote area, and there are no large cities in the midst of this trek, but you will find wonderful little guesthouses along the way.

And you'll meet some interesting guides and characters along the way.

So, if you ever wanted to see the Yangtze River up close and personal, here's your big chance.  Now, you can drive, take a bus or hike.  You can also get a guide who will help you or take a tour.  The one thing that you cannot do is go by water.  Be well aware that the river in this massive gorge is to treacherous to navigate.  That is non-negotiable.  The Chinese government keeps a very close eye on tourism in their country.  This is another area that has only been open to outsiders for a decade or so.  It is also close to Myanmar, so make sure you don't take any wrong turns if you drive in the area.  Americans are not welcome in Myanmar without a lot of advance notice and strict visas.

What an incredible walk.  Take the time to get there.  Take the time to do it.  Look at something so big and impressive that you'll never forget it.  Check out Yunnan Province, Lijiang, and Tiger Leaping Gorge.  It's the adventure of a lifetime.
Remember, China is full of legend a folklore.  There is a rock in the middle of the gorge that is said to have given the place it's name.  Legend has it that a tiger leapt from the rock to escape from hunters.  It's the narrowest place in the river gorge and no human could make the leap, leaving the tiger to be the only one who's ever been able to leap across the river in the gorge.

Day One - Naxi Family Guesthouse
Day One - Naxi Family Guesthouse

Take a Scottish Cruise in Your Own Yacht...Yeah

This is a yacht similar to that you could rent from Le Boat.  And this is an idea that sounds great to me and I've always liked.  Le Boat rents yachts so that you can take your own trip and do the things that you want to do on some of the most scenic European waterways.  They operate in several areas, but the one that I've always thought sounded like the most fun is to cruise the Caledonian Canal in through the highlands of Scotland.

   Now, the idea of cruising through beautiful scenery in a 2, 3, or 4 cabin cruiser may sound expensive.  It's really not.  The cost of a yacht to rent can be as low as $1,800.  If that sounds like a bit much, remember, that's your transportation, hotel rooms and it's by the boat, not by the person.  All in all, it's a pretty good deal.

Urquhart Castle

 That's right.  Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness are on this trip.  The Great Glen is an amazing place to see.  In summer months you can go swimming with Nessy.  Who do you know who can say that?  There are many amazing things to do and sights to see along the way.
  This is Ben Nevis, the highlands biggest mountain.  What else is there to see in the highlands of Scotland?  Well, there's castles obviously, but there are other things.

This is called the Falkirk Wheel.  What is it?  It took me a while to follow.  There are two canals involved here.  One of which is the Caledonian.  This wheel is actually a type of lift to transfer boats from one canal to another.  It's the only one of it's kind in the world.  The Falkirk Wheel is a big tourist attraction in the area.  From this iconic destination you can kayak, walk, rent a bicycle or even play inside a massive plastic floating ball to explore the area.  You can find out about it all in a massive visitor center where they will help you decide which way you would like to explore the area.  I love the unusual and there it is.
the stunning Jacobite route
Does this look familiar?
The Hogwarts Express
How about this?
That's right, this is also Harry Potter land.  If you're a fan, you'll want to ride the Jacobite.  The Jacobite is an old steam train the runs through the Scottish highlands and you guessed it--that's where they filmed the train scenes for Harry Potter.  You can catch the train most days in Mallaig for a wonderful ride through the lands of Harry Potter.
Here you can see the route that you would be sailing on in your yacht on the Caledonian Canal.  The little towns, the castles, the sights, the trains, and the freedom to decide for yourself where to stop and what to do.  I recommend vacations where you get to choose when and where you go and what you do.  I'm not a fan of guided tours.  Real memories are created by going where you want when you want and with whom you want.
 Rum from Mallaig 2 children cycling along canal towpath

Mallaig Visitor Centre

  No matter how you look at it, the area is quite something to explore.  There's nothing not to like.  For the most part, you get away from the city and see the true highlands.  You get to wander and enjoy the local villages.  You get to meet all the people along the way and learn about the local culture.  There is not reason not to love this idea.  You can rent your boat for a week or a month.  The Le Boat company has many options.  And if you've never captained a yacht, they'll put you through a short course to teach you how to do that too.
Remember, it's the unique that you remember most fondly.  Le Boat operates all over Europe, so you can go to Germany, Italy, France, and other countries, but Scotland is special.  Give it a shot and see what it's like to relax and do what you want with your vacation.

Don't miss out on this one.  It's a freedom you'll most likely never get again in travel.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's Almost Punkin' Chunkin' Time!

Every year at the beginning of November some rather unique individuals get together and do some crazy things.  It's a great way to spend a weekend.  Every November, whether we're all supposed to be getting ready to vote or not, Royal Farms, or Wheatley, in Bridgeville, Deleware becomes ground zero for guys with really big toys designed to shoot and fling pumpkins as far as the eye can see.
Now, don't worry if you can't make it, you can see it on the Discovery Channel on Thanksgiving.  This is one of the biggest cult classic events of the year in the United States.  I follow it every year on TV.
Here's how it works.

Take some pumpkins that are carefully chosen for size, so they fit into the machine that you've built.  Make sure that they aren't too soft, so they self destruct on their way, which won't count.
   Build yourself a really big, powerful machine,

or cannon.
And shoot the pumpkin as far as you can.

There's even a division for the kids, so they can participate too.

Now, I mention the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Contest because I love it.  It's the craziest way I've ever seen to have good old fashioned family fun.  It's also a great way to blow the crap out of some pumpkins, but that's okay.  Everyone loves a good cannon.  Another thing that I thought I would mention about this craziness is something that maybe not everyone knows.
First, Punkin Chunkin in Deleware was conceived back in 1986.  It happened quite by accident.  They were throwing around some pumpkins and the next thing you knew, they had a contest.  The World Championships officially started in 2001.
Second, this is one of the world's most popular offbeat events.  In recent years, it's drawn up to 20,000 people a year.  The field is limited and it gets closed every year.  There is a long waiting list too, just in case someone has to drop out.  There are plenty of other potential competitors waiting in the wings.

And most important is the one thing that everyone might not know.  Punkin Chunkin is a non profit event.  That's right, if you thought it was just a bunch of rednecks shooting pumpkins out of a cannon, you missed the point.  Here's some of the causes that Punkin Chunkin is currently supporting:
    So, in addition to putting on a great show, they really do good work.
So, pack you bags, and come to the party.  There's many festivities to go along with the contest.  You can camp at the site if you like.  There's a festival, there's a Miss Punkin Chunkin contest.  There's crafts, and food for all.  It's a great time and a great way to give Fall one last hurrah.