Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy New Year!

New Year's is fast approaching, and there's no time for much.  Therefore my blog will be short and sweet this week.  One of the few things that almost everyone on Earth has in common, is that we mostly celebrate New Year's at midnight on December 31st.  It's just the way it is.  It is the one holiday that we most have in common around this globe.  There are a couple of other New Year's, but the standard has been shifting over the years for everyone to have some kind of celebration on this night.

There are many customs around the world for celebrating this occasion.  When I was in Russia, the locals where we were made a bonfire.  It was on the night of January 6th.  They took paper and pencil, and wrote down all of the things that the previous year had tested them with.  I thought it was a really polite way of saying all the bad stuff.  They wadded up the paper after making their list and threw it in the fire to say good bye to it.  Then they made a wish for the new year and jumped over the fire to go into the new year.  It was interesting.


Likewise, the Icelanders also tend to celebrate with bonfires and family gathered around.  The town does not have a celebratory fire works display like many other cities.  The locals all have their own and it makes an amazing spectacle.  It's the community in Iceland that really counts and they all come together on New Year's.

In the same tradition as New York City, the streets of Paris are full of people celebrating the New Year.  The busiest street in town is shut down for pedestrians and the fireworks are everywhere.

One of my favorite New Year's I spent was in Budapest.  This town is great.  At noon on New Year's Eve, they shut down.  I mean there's no store open, and not a lot of restaurants.  Most people have a party to go to.  We had ours at our hotel that night.  There was music, food, and some wonderful company.  At midnight, they came around with a pig.  That's right, a live pig.  It was a small pig and the purpose was to pull the pig's tail and make a wish for the coming year.  Not a lot of fun for the pig, but it was a very interesting tradition.

One of the most amazing celebrations that I've ever watched, even though it was on Youtube, was the fireworks in London.  They do it along the river in the center of town.  The fireworks are unmatched in their grandeur.  They also shoot off the fireworks to music which you can hear all over the area.  It's truly amazing.



Fireworks are a great way to celebrate the New Year, no matter where you are.  If you're like me, and have to work way too much during the holidays, you may end up at home.  I spend New Year's Eve at home with my family.  We watch all the celebrations around the world on the computer and we love every minute of it.  I've spent a lot of time traveling the world on that magical night, and now I spend it with my son.  It's the greatest way I've found to spend New Year's Eve.  We do our toasts at midnight and then we have a silly string fight.  That's our tradition.  We love it.  Remember to drive safe, have fun, and look forward to all the great things in the upcoming year. I hope that you all have wonderful traditions of your own, and I hope that you all have a very Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just Once...Christmas In Vatican City

I love Christmas, and I love to look at lights, have a good time, get and give presents, watch old specials on TV, and eat all kinds of food I shouldn't eat.  But, there's more to Christmas, and I'm sure that some of my readers would agree, so I decided to talk about one of the ultimate Christmas trips to take.  For Christians all over the world, Christmas is a wonderful time to make a pilgrimage to that fabulous place the we call Vatican City.

Vatican City is the smallest independent city state in the world.  It's only 110 acres of land.  It has a population of less than 1,000 people.  It's only been a city state since 1929.  It's been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984.  It's been the Pope's residence since 1337.  It's considered one of the holiest places on Earth.  In addition to the religious side of life, Vatican City is home to several museums and holds some of the most important and famous artworks in the world.  It doesn't have it's own military, so it's guarded by the Swiss.  If you don't know where Vatican City is, it's right in the center of Rome.  Fascinating?  It is.


Millions of Catholics go to midnight and morning mass at Christmas.  Thousands attend it at St. Peter's Basilica.  The largest Catholic Cathedral in the world holds a whole lot of worshipers, and the ones that can't get in for the service can watch it on a jumbotron in St. Peter's Square.  It's amazing how easy it is to feel like you're part of something truly special on Christmas Eve night when you're at ground zero for Catholicism.

In St. Peter's Square you will find a beautiful Christmas tree and a life size Nativity along with the televisions to view the services.  Just standing in the square gives you the feeling that you've come to someplace Holy and special.  This is the spot that most Christians would like to be in at some point during their lives for Christmas.  Remember, this isn't just about Santa, folks.  This is the night that Christ was born.  This was when it all began for Catholics.  This is where it all started--on this night in Bethlem.  Sometimes we forget that this holiday has deep meaning.  It's become so commercialized  that the message sometimes gets a little lost.  If you've ever felt this way, and want to get away at Christmas, then this is the best spot to do it.  You'll feel reborn.

I've been at a service with the Pope presiding.  It's a feeling that you can't get from anything else.  You feel like you've been touched by God.  Nothing is quite like it.

But, why else would you visit Vatican City?  Well, you'll obviously be visiting Rome.  There's about a thousand reasons to visit Rome from the Spanish Steps to the Colosseum to--oh, that's right--The Vatican.  In addition to Christmas services at Vatican City, you could take a tour of the Sistine Chapel and see great works of art covering every single part of the walls and the paintings of Michelangelo on the ceiling.  You might want to take a tour of one of the other museums and soak up some culture.  You may want to take a tour of the catacombs and see where the popes are laid to rest along with St. Peter, the first of the Popes.  You can watch the changing of the Swiss Guards and if you're lucky, get to go to a mass conducted by Pope Francis.  You'll always remember that.


You can run all over Rome while visiting the area.  At Christmas the whole city is lit up and there are Christmas Trees everywhere.  You'll love the lights, the festivities, the shopping, the food, the hot chocolate.  You will.  But, you can see and do all of that in any city.  You can go to Rockefeller Center and see a famous tree.  This time take a little time to better your inner self.  Quit thinking about getting the new Iphone for Christmas and take care of you soul.  Feel good this Christmas and celebrate the things that Christmas was meant to celebrate.  Remember where the gift giving began.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Remember how important the lights are.  Remember Christ and everything that his life stood for and still stands for.  Come to the center of it all.  Come to Vatican City.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Lights and Lots of Fun at Theme Parks

This picture looks like an average shot of bumper cars at your local amusement park, but look closer and you will see that everyone is bundled up for winter.  Europe has long mastered the idea of just sucking it up and going out to ride the rides at the local amusement park, but Americans have just recently really warmed up to it.  Maybe it has to do with climate change, or maybe we're just bored with sitting inside waiting for spring.  Whatever the reasons, many amusement parks around the country that normally are closed up tight this time of year, are beginning new traditions with Christmas light festivals.  Only some of the rides are open, but the entire park is aglow with amazing light displays.  There are all kinds of thing to do, and most importantly, it gets the kids off the XBox for a while.


Now, there are several parks going this way like Dollywood, Silver Dollar City, some of the Six Flags, Busch Gardens, and many more.  So, you can't do it all.  Well, me and my son decided to go to our local amusement park for Holiday Lights.  It just so happens that our local amusement park is the oldest continually operating theme park in the country--Lake Compounce in Connecticut.  The park already opens pretty early in the spring and runs through Halloween with the haunted graveyard, so it didn't surprise me a whole lot that they were ready to take on Santa Clause and Christmas.

It was 30 degrees the night that we went to Holiday Lights, but the sky was clear.  The whole park was aglow with beautiful Christmas lights.  Kiddieland was open and certain other select rides.  These included; Zoomer's Gas N Go, the Airplanes, the bumper cars, the carousel, and the train ride around the lake.  The train ride is a must do.  Almost all the games were open.  Several of the restaurants were open and a couple of stores that had been converted to Christmas shops.  The pavilion where the shows are in the summertime had been converted into a Santa's workshop where the kids could visit Santa, have some hot chocolate, eat, or spend some time decorating cookies.  It's a lot of fun for the kiddies.

Now, most of us are worried that we might be too old for something like this.  Well, my son is 14 and I'm old, and we had the best time.  We didn't worry about the cold--we just dressed for it.  We didn't need a thrill a minute--we just had fun spending some rare time together.  This is family fun, and we don't have enough of it these days.

Sometimes you just want to get out and have some fun.  Sometimes when you work in a Christmas frenzied business like I do, you just want to take a minute and enjoy the season for once.  This is a great way to do just that.  You have to pay to get in, so no one is protesting the fact that you're celebrating Christmas.  It's nice.  You get to do something, eat a lot of Christmas junk food, like roasted chestnuts.  It's calming and beautiful in a way.  You can ride the carousel instead of the roller coasters, and it makes sense.  That doesn't happen often after your kids start school.

The park is only open on the weekends from 5 to 9 on Fridays and 4 to 9 on Saturdays and Sundays, so you don't really have time to get bored or tired.  The train trip around the lake is lined with light displays and there's the tale of Rudolph on the speaker for all to enjoy.  You can even get 3D glasses at the gate that make all the lights look like candy canes or elves or whatever.  It's cute, and we could all use a little of that in a world gone wild.  If you're frugal about things like that, you can put the entrance fee towards a season pass in most parks.  That makes it a bargain.

So, give it a try.  Bundle up and head out into the cold to enjoy a theme park at Christmas.  You'll be glad you did.
Merry Christmas and Enjoy!|utmccn=%28organic%29|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=%28not%20provided%29&__utmv=-&__utmk=22109883

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Absolutely Beautiful Christmas in Halstatt

When it comes to Christmas, I just want to have fun.  I love the lights, the food, the festivities, the snow, the wonder that is Christmas.  This year, I'm showcasing some spots that I haven't talked about before, and the first one is an area of the Alps that runs along a beautiful lake in the Halstatt/Salzburg region of Austria.  This one is dubbed the most beautiful town in Austria.  Halstatt, Austria is one of the villages that sits on the shores of the lake known as the Halstattsee.  The town is ancient and has the old buildings and cobblestone streets to prove it.  At Christmas and all winter long, this place becomes an amazing wonderland.

Halstatt is just one of the villages along the lake, and it is a beautiful little town.  During the Christmas season, the local band plays in the afternoons for the people.  There's a winter market in the beginning of December where you can pick up all kinds of local delicacies and handicrafts.  The village is full of stands and everyone comes out to shop.  There's also a great spa in town with natural hot springs.  It's a great relaxing and gorgeous spot in the world.

Halstatt and area are not only beautiful but interesting.  The funicular will take you up to get an amazing look at the area.  Driving into Halstatt you go through some fantastic tunnels.  There are boats for hire that will take you to the other villages along the lake as well.  In the winter time you can catch a sleigh pulled by horses.  It's all like spending time in a fairytale.

The town is so picturesque that it almost seems fictional.  It sits in amongst the Alps and hangs right over the edge of the lake.  It's been there for hundreds and hundreds of years.  But, there's more to this area than just it's good looks.  There are some great things to see and do here. 

The folks in the Alps are hearty souls, and the folks that visit them in winter are as well. We all know you can ski in the alps and hike and ice climb.  But January brings balloon week to Halstatt.  The area has great wind currents and is a premiere location for hot air ballooning.  If you come for the holiday, stay another week and get a great ride and a great view of the entire area.

  Sitting on an outcropping of an Alp at the edge of a mountain lake doesn't leave a whole lot of room to maneuver, so the local cemetery is quite small.  Years of having to deal with this problem has brought about some seriously creative solutions.  The dead do not stay buried in this place.  The painted skulls are in the Beinhaus Ossuary and, you guessed it; these folks are from the local cemetery.  They are now painted so that loved ones know who's who and they are resting comfortably in the local ossuary.

Also in the area you will find the remnants of glaciers.  There are glaciers all over the Alps, and they have some interesting ways of seeing them.  The Dachstein Ice Caves are just outside of town, and they are a great place to see the effects of glaciers in the region.

Not far away is  the Salzwelten salt mines.  This salt mine is one of the oldest in the world.  The miners went down into the mine by sliding down huge slides, and that is exactly the way that the tourist get down there today.  There are a lot of exhibits that help to teach the history of mining in the area, and some great sights to see including a lake at the bottom.  It's a beautiful place to see, and the train ride back to the top is pretty cool too.

 Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen).  In Bad Goisern  during the first two weeks of December, Krampus is running around frightening the children.  It's all part of tradition here in the area and it's the festival that comes just before Advent.  It seems more like Halloween, but it has been a tradition in the small town of Bad Goisern just across the lake from Halstatt for generations.  All of the Krampen meet with good Saint Nicholas and and good angels at the end of the festival, and then Christmas as most of us know it commences.

Have you ever tried a polar bear plunge?  Well this little area of the world goes one better.  They have dive trips under the ice during the dead of winter in the lake.  The ice is so clear that the divers will tell you that it's an amazing experience.  I don't know if I personally would want to dive in water so cold that it was iced over, but I'm assured that it's a once in a lifetime experience and that under the ice is incredibly beautiful.

But, no matter how you slice it, Santa coming across the lake to Obertraun, just up the lake from Halstatt, is a unique way to get in the Christmas spirit.  This whole area is interesting, unique, and one of the most gorgeous places on Earth.  Getting there is easy and scenic.  It's a tourist area, so a lot of folks will speak a little English.  In reality, it's not far from Salzburg.  If you've ever wanted to get away from your old and moldy traditions, come and try some of these out.  They are centuries old traditions, but it will be new to you.  Come, enjoy the view, enjoy the food, enjoy the shopping, enjoy the sights, and enjoy the people.  Relax for this holiday.  Come to Halstatt. Enjoy!*Yqx41fSOA-5368137356&utm_campaign=Austria&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=bing&utm_term=Hotel%20hallstatt

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Do You Like James Bond?

I've spent a lot of my time in life with James Bond.  I've read all the books by Ian Fleming, I've watched all the movies, I've remained a fan of all the actors that have played James Bond, I've got the companion books and so forth, and I've been to James Bond World on top of the Schilthorn Mountain in the Alps.  But, as always in life, I continue to learn more about the things I love, and one of those things is James Bond.  So, if you've covered all the Bond stuff that I have, what's the next stop on that crazy tour?  Jamaica man.

There's a lot of things that most people don't know about Jamaica, and the little village of Orcabessa Bay that is home to all things Bond is just one of them.  Most of us would either take a cruise that stops in Jamaica at Montego Bay, or stay at one of the Sandals Resorts or something which are also close to Montego Bay.  What most people don't know is that Jamaica is not so slowly turning into one big resort, and that most of the public beaches are going away and becoming part of private resorts and personal homes.  It is possible that in the near future Jamaicans won't be able to go to the beach.  That's nuts.  Fortunately on the north side of the island nation, there are more laid back  spots and public beaches to use.  Also on that north side are some really interesting places to see and things to do.  Isn't that always the way?  You get out of the main tourist junk, and you get to see something really great.

Let's talk about the obvious first.  Goldeneye.  It's a James Bond 007 movie.  What you may not have known is that it is the name of the rental and beach villas for sale property in Orcabessa Bay, Jamaica.  Why on Earth would it be here?  Well, as luck would have it, Ian Fleming was in Jamaica when he was a British Spy, before the novels and the movies.  The mission that he was there for turned out to be a bust, but he fell in love with Jamaica.  Years later he returned and lived in Orcabessa Bay on this property.  As James Bond became larger than life, Orcabessa became more and more centered on James Bond.  You'll find beaches referring to Bond, streets, restaurants and everything else imaginable.  The whole area is Bond centered.  It's a must visit for us Bond junkies.

I must mention one thing, however.  Goldeneye is expensive.  It is one of the resorts that is taking over the country.  James Bond beach, however, is one of the remaining public beaches.

There are tons of things to do in the area besides sit on a beach though.  Ocho Rios isn't far from Orcabessa and they are well known for some things like Dunn's Falls and the bamboo raft rides on the river.  These are a must do and must see in Jamaica.  They are both relaxing and beautiful.  Watch out particularly at Dunn's Falls.  It is one of the most popular day trips going and it's normally pretty crowded.

Now, let's talk about the really fun stuff.  We'll start with horseback riding on the beach.  This is one of those things that we all say we should try someday.  Well, that day should be while you're in Jamaica.  There are a few companies that will take you on an amazing ride while in Ocho Rios.

Dolphin Cove is another great stop.  There are several places throughout the Caribbean where you can swim with Dolphins, but this is the one in Ocho Rios.  While you're there is shouldn't be missed.
Dolphin Cove is also associated with Prospect Plantation, who has great adventure tours all over the island.

Prospect Plantation and Prospect Tours will take you out to do some amazing things that you never really thought about doing in Jamaica.  First off would be the camel rides.  I'm not joking.  Instead of trail riding on a horse, you'll be on a camel.  This is something that normally is done in desert regions of Africa, so it stands out in an island nation like Jamaica.

And here's one of my favorites.  Mystic Mountain is Jamaica's first mountain theme park.  Here you can get your game on with a Jamaican bobsled.  That's right, just like the Olympic team that has made it's members so famous.  Do you really get to try it the way that the Olympians trained?  No, it's a mountain coaster and it's fabulous.  There are also many other mountain park activities at Mystic Mountain, like great water slides, scenic ski lifts, and zip lines.  It's a lot of fun and a great way to spend the day.  The scenery is amazing as well, and the butterflies are gorgeous and plentiful in the gardens.

So, whether you come for the thrills of Mystic Mountain, the uniqueness of camel rides, to see the view from Noel Coward's estate, or to just enjoy the turtles and beaches; come visit the north side of Jamaica, and see what it's like without being all about the resorts.  This is changing.  The resorts are coming in with Goldeneye leading the way, so see it now before it becomes just another land of foreign tourists like the Sandals Resorts area on the other side.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Love Waterfalls!

One of the reasons that I travel is to hunt down, hike to, and photograph waterfalls.  I'm not alone in this endeavor, because I understand that there are over 10,000,000 million waterfall lovers around the world.  That's a lot of people who love waterfalls.  World of Waterfalls is a huge website that documents and posts photos of waterfalls from all over the world.  There are over 10,000 books about waterfalls.  Russell Dunn has written about a dozen just on the eastern half of the United States alone.  Painters, love them.  Photographers make a living on them.  Niagra Falls, United States and Canada would not exist as a settlement if it weren't for the actual falls.  The Eastern Seaboard wouldn't have electricity if it wasn't for them.  Think about that for a moment as we all had to several years ago when the power plant over there had a problem and New York City was in the dark.  It's mind boggling how important waterfalls are, and yet how much they are used as a mode to draw tourists.  They are an all purpose item that is useful, beautiful, natural, and replenishes itself.  Beat that.  Is it any wonder that I love them so much?

Niagra has long been a fan favorite.  There's probably not a waterfall anywhere in the world that is better known.  It's famous for people getting married there.  It's famous for people trying to go over it in a barrel.  It's famous for being a border crossing for the underground railroad.  It's runs an enormously powerful hydroelectric plant.  Combined the two waterfalls have over 7,000 cubic meters per second of water crashing over them.  That makes them not only the most famous falls in the U.S. but the falls with the highest volume as well.  It also makes it tough to visit in the summer, because it is one of the busiest tourist venues in the entire country, and well known throughout the world.

There are many amazing waterfalls around the world such as Iguazu, Victoria, Kaieteur, Guillfoss, Tugela, Angel, and so on.  The thing is that there are about a million waterfalls out there and the big ones are not always the best.  One of my favorites is Multonomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.  This one is over 600 feet high.  It's impressive and it also comes with about five other amazing waterfalls and a drive on a cliff road that you will not soon forget.  The view overlooking the Columbia River is breathtaking even without stopping at the amazing waterfalls.  It's a treat that I'm really glad I didn't miss.

In the wilds of southern Oregon is Toketee Falls.  This beautiful plunge is found along Route 138 on your way from Roseburg to Crater Lake National Park.  This entire road runs through a gorge area, with ample trailheads along the way that all lead to amazing waterfalls.  It's one of my favorite spots and it should not be missed by a true waterfall hunter.  But, when you stop in your local bookstore or go on Amazon, look around for a book.  Look online for a website.  Most areas of the world have some way to look up local waterfalls.  New England just happens to be famous for them.  You can probably find some really pretty waterfalls close to you.  I grew up in Indiana, and it was flat as a pancake, but we still had some pretty waterfalls that we could go and see.  Turkey Run State Park had some gorgeous ones in a box canyon that I loved.  So, look around.  You might be surprised what you find.

In the northeast you can't go far without running across a waterfall.  There are numerous towns named after them, which is how I have found some of them.  Lots of them are right in the center of town.  You can't miss them.  Some towns, like Ithaca, New York are made of waterfalls.  Ithaca Falls is right in the middle of town and it's enormous and over 150 feet high.  There are over 100 waterfalls in the Ithaca area, most of which are part of a state park.  New England is amazing with waterfalls.  They are everywhere, and most of them aren't hard to walk to.  That's the great part of waterfall hunting.  In some places the waterfalls are remote, but in New England that's rare.  We do have a high population density which probably has something to do with it.  Most of the time in my area the walk to a waterfall is less than one mile.

North Carolina is another place that I visited that prides itself on the waterfalls.  It's called the Land of Waterfalls in Brevard County, NC.  Not far from Asheville is home to around 200 waterfalls, one of them is Whitewater Falls and it is the highest waterfall in the Eastern part of the United States at over 400 feet high.  There are numerous waterfalls in the Appalachian Mountains though.  The Appalachian Trail finds thousands of them along it's route.

Deleware Water Gap and Bushkill Falls Park is another popular waterfall area along the Deleware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The falls are plentiful and the whole area is beautiful.  But the spots go on and on.  Anywhere you find a hill in my country, you'll probably find a falls.  It's just that simple.  When I started hunting waterfalls, I had no idea what I was getting into.  I needed a cheap hobby that got me out of the house on the weekends when I was young, broke and single.  It's a cheap hobby.  It's not like going to a club, a show, or a casino.  It's just communing with nature, and it's healthy and pretty.  You tend to meet people along the way, and you become kind of part of a club.  It's like being a biker.  When you meet other waterfall people, you automatically have something to commiserate on.  It's a great icebreaker.  When I took the day and went to Silver Falls State Park in Central Western Oregon, I met dozens of people who were just like me.  They had to be for that one, because that park was hidden and it took me researching in a book to find it.

There are tons of places to find waterfalls.  Like I keep telling my friends, they are everywhere.  Some of the most beautiful waterfalls I ever saw were inside the Grand Canyon.  I'm not joking.  There's a whole village down there called Supai Village, and it's inhabited by the Havasupai Indians.  They have a ten mile or so trail that goes from their village to the Colorado, and there are some amazing waterfalls along the way.  Not bad for sitting in the middle of the desert.

So, I've not discussed in any detail waterfalls outside the contiguous 48 United States, but there are waterfalls out there, whether they be the classic project of the 1930's that is Watkins Glen or the 22 cascades of Rickets Glen.  Whether they are the famous falls of Yosemite or Yellowstone or the more unsung beauties like Kaaterskill.  They are out there and they are beautiful.  I can't say enough amazing things about waterfalls.  They are wonderful.  They are soothing.  Hiking to them helps with stress.  It's great to get away from it all.  If you like to walk, then they are your friend, because in the summer when the heat is too much, the streams that you follow to the waterfalls are cool.  The waterfalls tend to provide spray and a swimming area to beat the heat.  They are wonderful in so many ways that I could spend all day talking about them.  Believe me, get closer to God and go find some waterfalls.  Take your camera too.  You'll get hooked on photography.  Enjoy!