Thursday, February 26, 2015

This One Just Came Up The Other Day...Uruguay

It's one of those places that I admittedly don't think about too often, but once in a while it comes up.  This time it was a random coin found at work, that people wondered about.  I told them that it came from Uruguay.  None of them even knew where that was.  So, for anyone wondering something like what and where is Uruguay, it's that little country between Brazil and Argentina in the south of South America.  It's a beautiful little country that has ancestral ties to Anthony Bourdain, but what else do we really know about it?

Montevideo is the capital, but I'm not big on capitals for this blog.  So, we will be talking about the second largest city in the country, which is only a little over 100,000 people, named Salto.  No, it's not named after a dog.  Salto is a district and a city on the inner Argentinian Border along the Rio Uruguay.  It's a lovely Spanish Colonial town with plazas, cathedrals, fountains, shopping areas, great food, hotels and resorts and great weather; especially in the winter when it's summer down there.

One of the most amazing venues in town is the Teatro Larranaga, the classic theater where all the local performances are.  They have all the old grand features, like the luxury boxes, amazing painted ceilings, and the grand stage for philharmonic, ballet, and opera.  It's an amazing place to visit, even if you only stop in to see the architecture.

Salto is roughly 300 miles from Montevideo.  Unlike most countries in South America, this is a nice day's drive.  I wouldn't normally tell people to rent a car in South America.  Roads are questionable in a lot of areas, bridges are unreliable, and seasonal rains can make some terrible problems.  But, in this area the roads are well maintained, as long as you stay on the main roads.  You will have to keep both hands on the wheel and have your lights on at all times per local laws, but the scenery is nice and the drive is something that you wouldn't normally want to do.  I say pick up the car instead of waiting on the bus to come along.  I don't want to say that the buses aren't regular, because they are.  They are fewer than we are used to in other parts of the world.  That's why I say go ahead and rent the car.  Enjoy the drive and see the sights.  You can also fly, but I like the drive in this case.  If you are driving from Argentina, you will get a great stop along the way at the border crossing which is the Salto Grande Hydroelectric Dam.  This amazing achievement is the border crossing.  You can stop here and get tours of the massive dam and find out how they built it.  It's educational and impressive.  I find that dams make great stops along the way.

A day trip or a stop on the way in Concordia, Argentina also gives you the opportunity to visit the Castillo de la San Carlos.  This failing castle was built by the French Count Eduardo in the 1880's.  It was abandoned not long after, and is now one of the more mysterious sites in the area.

But, why Salto?  Why the border of Argentina along one of the more beautiful rivers in the world?  Why would I send you somewhere that is a day's drive from the main drag?  Why would I recommend driving?  What's with all of this?  Well, sometimes you just want to get away and see how the other parts live.  Salto is a lovely town with great shopping, great eats, and wonderful colonial buildings.  The people there are down to Earth people who work for a living and love where they live.  They get together and have Carnival just like most other South American folks.  It's a relaxed place to lose yourself in the winter.  It's not overrun with tourists.  It's a great place to go and just be.

But, I wouldn't send you there for nothing.  Salto is another land of hot springs.  In the winter the days can be in the 90's and the water is never cold.  You can visit the hot springs in the summer or winter down there and they will still be great.  But winter is summer down there and the water is the draw.  There's the dam, the river, and the hot springs.  Dayman Hot Springs is the main spot for the locals and tourists alike.  There are fountains, pools, ponds, waterfalls, lazy rivers, jacuzzis and whatever other manner of hot spring you may like.  The area sits on one of the largest thermal springs in the world, and there is no end to the possibilities.  Several area hotel resorts have spas on the grounds for their guests, so you don't have to hang out with the locals, but I highly recommend it.  You can never do better than to have a cultural experience with the people who live there.

But, if you don't want to just swim and sit, Salto has you covered.  This place loves water, and they have a great water park in Acuamania Water Park.  This is also thermal, so you can visit pretty much any time of year.  They do have waterslides there.  They also have Finnish water massage.  They even have mini golf for the kids.  Acuamania Water Park was designed by some of the same people who brought you Wet N Wild.  it's a great time for all.

So, let's review.  Get your water on in Salto, Uruguay.  There are a lot of ways to do it.  When you're done, catch a performance at the Teatro Larranaga.  Take a ride over to Concordia, Argentina via the Salto Grande Dam.  Stop for a tour on your way to the Castillo San Carlos.  It's all worth it.  It's relaxing and pretty.  It's soothing and accompanied by good food and accommodations.  So, grab a rental car and head into the countryside of one of the least talked about countries in the Western Hemisphere.  Visit the interior of Uruguay and you'll have something to tell your friends about.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

I Know...Classic Winter Stuff...But Really Costa Rica

I know that it's February, and here in the Northeast we're jumping out of third story windows in our bikinis to land in giant piles of snow, because we've gone round the bend, but I have to say that there really isn't a better place to shake off the coldsies than in Costa Rica.  I also have to say that there is not better place to visit in Costa Rica for us beach hating non swimsuit wearing people than the Lake Arenal Area.  Lake Arenal, the volcano that shares the name and a whole bunch of cool things lurk up in the Northern part of the country somewhere between the central highlands and the northern lowlands.  Lake Arenal is home to many resorts and spas, and has all kinds of activities and tours to keep anyone busy.  You can go fishing for the area's famous rainbow trout, play on all kinds of water toys, or just rent a boat and enjoy the water and warm weather.

Arenal Volcano will be your neighbor.  It's one of the 20 most active volcanoes in the world.  You can book a tour to go hiking on it, and be closer than you can to most volcanoes.  You will most likely get a picture of it with some smoke coming out while you're there.  It's pretty common. You can also book a flightseeing tour to fly over it and get some cool pictures of the caldera at the top.  For those of us who don't go bungee jumping and skydiving, this might just be the most adventurous place we ever land.

La Fortuna is the local village here that the tourists visit.  They have several resorts, hotels, restaurants, and shops for the traveler, and they have a great view of the volcano.  The last time that the volcano had a major eruption was back in the 1980's, and it somehow missed the town.  Good to know if you are a superstitious traveler.

The resorts in La Fortuna are wonderful.  They have all the amenities that you might be looking for.  There are plenty of tours companies that will take you out to do everything from taking photos to repelling down waterfalls.  There are caves, canopy walks, white water rafting and all kinds of trips to take.

There are many ways to get close to nature in the area including zip lining.  One of the things about the area are the cloud forests, and there's a lot of great ways to experience them.  The Sky Tram will take you up.  From there you can go back down or walk on the canopy walk or take the zip line.  It's all a lot of fun, and they all provide a great view and great experience.  Depending on your level of I want to do something crazy, you'll choose the way you want to see it.  I like them all.

Cloud forests and mountains normally mean waterfalls, and this area is no exception.  La Fortuna has their own waterfalls and the La Fortuan Waterfall is the favorite.  It's about 200 feet high, give or take, and it's gorgeous.  It does require a little travel through the forest, either on foot or on horseback; depending on you personal preference.  If you wish to go to the bottom, there are stairs that you will have to climb back up.  You can view it from the platform if you wish.

Now, you've heard how much there is to do, but what is the adventure for anyone?  For my money, it's the hot springs.  A volcano nearby creates them, and there are many resorts that have them.  It's romantic, it's therapeutic, and this time of year it's warm.  Whether it's Tabacon or one of the others, they are a relaxing place to spend your spare time.  This is where you take a load off.  This is where you soothe your aching joints and muscles.  This is where you have a drink and remember the day's events fondly.  This is where you rest and spend time with the ones you love.  There is nothing like a natural hot spring to make you feel better, no matter why you want to feel better.  They are great honeymoon spots as well.

So, volcanoes, zip lines, Sky Tram, waterfalls, huge caves, watersports, spas, and hot springs.  It's a tough idea to top, especially in the dead of winter.  So, I know we all missed out on Valentine's Day, but there's still plenty of time to get out of the snow before winter finally goes away.


Thursday, February 12, 2015


Sunsets are something that most people don't pay a whole lot of attention to, unless they are on vacation.  Most of us don't get to go on a vacation that often, so does that mean that most of us don't see many sunsets?  I think it does.  I make a point to notice sunsets, because they are some of the most beautiful sites that you will see in a lifetime.  I work at Walmart as most of you know, so I don't have overwhelming amounts of joy in my day to day life.  But, at my Walmart we have one of the most wonderful vantage points for watching a sunset that I have ever seen.  It's great to see gorgeous sunsets over the mountains in the distance right from out parking lot.  That, my good people, is a gift.

Of course, there are places that you should run off to once in a lifetime to see some really amazing sunsets, like these along the harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland.  These are at midnight, in June, and the midnight sunset is something truly amazing.  I also love sunsets over the water, because they have a reflective effect that really enhances the experience.

I know that skyscrapers seem an odd view to take up for a sunset, but along the waterfront of the Hudson River in lower Manhattan, these buildings make a great backdrop for sunsets.  You have to take your time and enjoy the setting, in order to see things at just the right time, but it's beautiful.

The waterfront in Manhattan is not a continuous parkway along the entire island.  You can bike, walk, dine, catch a water taxi, go on a cruise, catch a ferry, go to the Statue of Liberty, visit the Intrepid, go to a park, and so much more.  It's an ambitious project, and go New Yorkers for making it happen.  It's great for all us tourists too.  We love a good view.

We all know I love Greenville, Maine.  I love the moose, the lake, the waterfalls, the mountains, and the people.  Still, the wilds of northern Maine are a great place to see sunsets.  Whether it be over the mountains, the buildings, or the bogs; Maine in the summer time has sunset around 10:00 pm, and it's amazing.  There are normally just the right amount of clouds which make the most amazing colors.  I get great shots of sunsets every time I go there.  I also have an amazing time and meet cool people too.

Provincetown, Massachusetts is one of those places that if you blink, you'll miss it.  We were out there, and there were some clouds coming in, so we took the pictures earlier than normal.  We thought that it would be a solid bank of clouds later on.  What we ended up finding was that Pilgrim Tower in twilight was just as beautiful as the sunset that we missed getting great pictures of.  Provincetown sits in a unique place on the East Coast.  There are only a select few great places to watch a sunset on the eastern beaches.  Provincetown sits at the end of Cape Cod, so there is water to the west and the sunsets are just as gorgeous as they are on the west coast.  Another really great place for that on the east coast is Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine.  If you sit on the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset, it's amazing.

Mountain valleys can be interesting at sunset.  In Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, you don't get direct sunlight much unless you go up an Alp on one side of the valley or another.  It's a deep box gorge there, and the sunlight looks like no other place on Earth.  When the clouds roll in and the sun starts to go over the next ridge to the right, the distant valley glows.  You don't get the colors that you get in some other sunsets, but what you do get is the sensation that there is a heaven and that you're looking into it.  It's quite relaxing and pretty.

Lake Champlain between New York and Vermont is another great place to see sunsets.  It starts there with the seagulls sunbathing in the late afternoon light that reflects off of just about everything, and ends with a long lasting sunset that fades slowly, giving you the most colors for your buck.  Lakes also provide that big sky that makes sunset seem even more grand.

Evening is a great time to visit the National Mall area of Washington D.C.  The White House has a great viewpoint where the sunset will shine right behind it.  Also, the light makes the fountains glow in the twilight.  Honest Abe also looks fabulous in the evening with his lights shining on him.  It's a great time to visit that part of town.  You get to see some great light over the reflecting pool, and if you go on a Monday in the summer, you may get to see a free movie on the green.

Now, the desert is different.  On the Mexican Border of Baja California, there are hardly ever clouds.  It's dry out there.  I do however like the fact that the sun just makes the whole dune area glow orange, yellow and red.  I also like it when the moon is coming up as the sun sets.  It's just gorgeous.

Now, the one exception that I have found to the desert lack of clouds problem is January.  While at my mom's, I had a lot of stuff going on.  The only escape that I had in Sun City, Arizona, was to take a walk at sunset, despite the coyotes, and look at the sunset.  In January, there are clouds almost every night.  That makes for some of the most beautiful sunsets you've ever seen.  So, January in Arizona is not only a great idea to escape the cold, but a great time to see beautiful sunsets.

But, I love to look at sunsets even when I'm just around home.  The Northwest Hills of Connecticut have some great vistas.  Sometimes it's even great right from my back yard.  So, note to self; enjoy the sunsets.  It makes life easier.  It makes life calm and beautiful for just a little while.  If you can't run all over the world, then enjoy the beauty in your own back yard.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Tuscon is Not What You Might Think

Tuscon, Arizona is part of the wild west.  Arizona is known for many things; The Grand Canyon, Native American Reservations, desert, cactus, coyote, dry, and heat.  It's the land of searching for the Flying Dutchman Mine and ghost towns of times gone by when the west was wild and the saloons were full.  Truth is, there's still a lot of those things wandering around, but in Tuscon you get a couple of things that maybe you didn't know about.  One of those is the Pima Air and Space Museum.

The great thing about having an indoor/outdoor air museum, is that there will be virtually no wear and tear on the planes and things that are outside.  The other great thing is that there will hardly ever be a bad day to go, because the sun shines so much in Arizona.  I don't recommend visiting in the summer, however, because it's bloody hot.  I can't explain how hot it gets in the summer.  But, on a not so hot day, the sheer pleasure of doing this activity outside in the always great sunshine almost overshadows the fact that there are over 300 planes to look at.  They've got it all.  There are military planes of all kinds from all eras.  There are private planes of all kinds from all eras.  These guys even have a Harrier.  There are great exhibits about the history of flying as well.  It's just a great time for everyone, because it's a really hands on type of place.  You know how when you go to a museum you only get to look at stuff?  Not here.  There are several planes that you can look inside of and see how they work.  There are lots of interactive exhibits too.

But, that's not the only surprise spot you'll find in the greater Tuscon area.  The Count Ferdinand von Galen Titan Missile Museum Education and Research Center is a view back to the cold war.  It's one of the old missile bunkers that were deactivated after the fall of The Wall.  There is a disabled missile still in it, and all the equipment is still there.  You'll be shocked how big everything is.

You get a guided tour that shows you how it all would have worked if, God forbid, anyone had ever pushed the button.  There are many wonderful exhibits in this museum, and remember, this was once a real live bunker that held a real live missile that was ready to fire at our Communist enemies.  I don't know about the youngsters out there, but I remember duck and cover.  I remember fallout shelters.  I remember bomb shelters in people's back yards.  This is a compelling look at a time that we hope we will never have to live in again.

There are a ton of things to do in and around Tuscon.  You can go to Biosphere II.  This is a whole world inside a dome.  It's fascinating.  There's Tombstone, home of the OK Corral.  There are more than a dozen parks; state and other, from lakes to deserts, to caves.  There's historical downtown, and so much more.  There are tons of things to do in Tuscon.  I just figured I would mention a couple that you might not have thought about.  That's what I do, and that's why this is an adventure for anyone.