Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh, The Side Trips of Italy

I don't know of anyone who hasn't dreamed of traveling in Italy.  I've always wanted to drive my Ferrari along the Amalfi Coast and see the ruins created by Vesuvius at Pompeii.  I've longed to look out over the Mediterranean Sea and swim in it's clear azure waters.  But, I digress.  Just off the south tip of the Bay of Naples lies the Island of Capri.  This is a great spot.

There are several ways to reach Capri.  There are ferry boats from several locations such as Amalfi, Sorrento, Naples, Salerno and more.  It's not far off the mainland.  It was once part of the mainland, but the limestone that forms the island eroded and now it is disconnected from the mainland.  The fact that the island of Capri is in fact currently an island leads to its being very different from the mainland.  Things are far more easy going on the island.  One of the boat companies is called relax.

So, Capri is full of history.  Parts of it are reportedly used in Homer's Odyssey.  It's covered in rugged peaks and limestone cliffs and spires rising right up out of the sea.  It is a playground for the rich, but you don't have to be rich to enjoy it.  You can take a boat tour around the island for a day coming in from the mainland for around 20 Euros.  It's not all about the rich.  There are also some reasonably priced accommodations on the island, and you can rent scooters to get around.

So, what to do in Capri.  Boat tours that stop at various points around the island are very popular.  You can sail, take a yacht, take a tour boat, rent a private boat, or bring your own boat.  There are a lot of options.  One of the most popular stops on boat tours is the Blue Grotto.  This is a cave and inside the conditions make it reportedly some of the bluest water in the world.

Now, the Blue Grotto is a stop on any tour.  It is a separate activity.  Just outside the grotto is where you start your tour for that.  There are guides who will take you from the boat you came in on and put you in a four person boat specially designed for this trip.  You go through a very low opening in the rock and into the cavern on the other side.  It's not for everybody, because some may be claustrophobic or something, but it is an Adventure for Everyone.  It's the bluest water you'll ever see, and it's one of the most famous grottoes around.

Most boat tours take you all around the island with stops at grottoes, land marks, parks, towns, and all that.  Some of them take you to the lighthouse, the Villa San Michele, various beaches and rock formations and ports.  By and large, the boat tours are the most popular activities on the island.

There are land activities as well.  One of the more popular destinations is the top of Mount Solaro.  It's about 1,500 feet up and you can climb it and get some stunning views of the mainland and the sea.  It's some of the more gorgeous views you'll ever see.  The best part about this one is that if you aren't in the mood to climb a mountain, you can take the chair lift up.  I like those options.

But, if you take the chair lift up, try to walk down.  All over Capri are amazing walkways that have stunning views and unique things to see along the way.  Going down Mount Solaro, you have some historic places where you can stop and look around and a plethora of amazing views.  There aren't a lot of cars on the tiny island, so this is a great time to take  advantage of the air and the freedom that you have on foot.

Most of the more interesting sites can be reached in part by boat.  Capri is not a large island and has only two towns on it.  But, if you are coming ashore, consider renting a scooter.  There are roads, once again with amazing views around the island and between the cities of Capri and Anacapri.  If you're not comfortable on a scooter, then pretty much stick to the boat.  Most things are accessible in part by them.  In Capri, there's even a funicular that takes you from the port up to the town proper and back.  It's all pretty convenient.

Can you stay on Capri?  Yes.  There are a wide variety of accommodations on the island.  There are more expensive than not expensive, so check with a travel agent or a large website like or Wow.  Sunset on the Mediterranean is not to be missed.  If you stay, you will love the view.  Make sure that you are somewhere that you can see the sunset when it happens.  And bring your camera.  Phone cameras are nice, but a place like Capri deserves a really good camera.

Capri is a place to come and enjoy the view, the food, the arts, and shopping for those who like to spend a lot of money on the best of the best.  It's got it's own style and set it apart from the rest of Italy.  It's more laid back there and you can take some time to just soak up the sun at a beach with a stunning view.  It's a short trip from the mainland as well.  What's my favorite part of going to Capri?  It's the whole package.  I've always wanted to visit Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast.  Well, that's where you catch the ferry from.  Then you go to an amazing island that's famous for the bluest water in the world, take a chair lift up to a mountain top with amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea, take the ancient walkways back down stopping at historical sites, rent a scooter to drive around the island, and take a boat tour around the island.  Visit the Blue Grotto, dine along a cliff, stay in a comfortable hotel with a view of the sea, and then take the funicular back down to the ferry launch and head on back to mainland Italy.  What a great side trip while in Italy.  It should not be missed.  If you are booking a guided tour, which is recommended if you've never been to Italy, you can get one that includes a trip to Capri.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ten Amazing Things That Everyone Should Check Out

I've been known to do some amazing things in my life, and I love it when I have a truly great experience or see something absolutely breathtaking for any given reason.  I've talked for years about how I got to sit on top of the Berlin Wall, go to church with Pope John Paul II in St. Petersburg, tour Wielickza Salt Mine in Poland, meet the Havasupai Indians in the Grand Canyon, and visit Piz Gloria on top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland.  But, just in case you wanted to know, here are ten great adventures and amazing sites that you may not even know about that may just pique your interest.

1.  Carhenge:  North of Alliance, Nebraska along Highway 87 at the edge of the Sandhills sits this truly American replica of the monoliths the have been attracting visitors to England for centuries.  The attraction is free and if you happen to be in Nebraska, then this is a great thing to do.  Nebraska is one of those places that is out of the way, and not overrun by tourists.  Just the idea that you would be there is some kind of adventure, so this addition will make it truly great.

2.  Cadillac Ranch:  Route 66 just screams with nostalgia for Americans.  Cadillac Ranch's iconic half buried Cadillacs are standing not far from Amarillo on Route 66 exactly where they were planted in 1974.  The best part about this attraction is that the tradition is to bring a spray can and add your own artwork to the cars.  Leave your mark and let the world know that you were there, along the way on Route 66.

3.  Armourgeddon:  England has a lot of hisotry, but once in a while they come up with something that sounds like smashing great fun.  So, here it is, paintball with real life tanks.  You take your friends and choose teams, choose tanks, and take off for the world's most massive game of paintball.  For 95 pounds you can join your friends for 2 hours of paintball.  There are other adventures with tanks too.

4.  Explor Mexico:  About half an hour's travel time outside of Cancun you will find a one of a kind park.  It's true they do have zip lines, amphibious drives, kayaking through caves and all kinds of other stuff, but here's the thing that they have that you won't find anywhere else.  It's a water slide, but not just any water slide.  You take zip lines half a mile to get to the slide.  Then, you go down this several hundred foot long mountain water slide and land inside an amazing cave.  Just in case you thought you'd seen it all in Cancun, you might have missed one.

5.  Tropical Islands Indoor Waterpark:  I've talked about this one and I still want to go.  In between Berlin and Dresden in central Germany sits the world's biggest indoor waterpark inside the world's largest free standing building.  Built to take care of dirigibles, this old hangar has been transformed into an entire resort area with shopping, restaurants, hotels, clubs, spas, and yes; a huge waterpark.  You feel like you've gone to the Caribbean when you're here, and you can go for as little as 30 pounds.  They are open year round, so it makes winter fabulous.

6.  The Qinghai-Tibet Railway:  It's the world's highest elevation train crossing sections of the Himalayas on it's way from China to the province of Tibet.  If you don't feel like climbing Everest, this is one of the best alternatives with some of the best views anywhere.  You can catch train connections to this train from all over China like Shanghai and Beijing.  The prices are very reasonable, and it's the train experience of a lifetime.

7.  Heavy Equipment Playground:  Pack your bags for Las Vegas, Nevada.  There's always something unusual there, because craziness is some of what that city is famous for.  This one is great, because you get to play with heavy equipment.  For as little as $249 you can play with these toys.  You get some training on usage and safety and then you get to go out on a big dig.  It's a lot of fun, and it's just one more great thing to do in Vegas, baby.

8.  The Nurburgring:  The NASCAR experience and Richard Petty Driving Schools and such are well known, but there's a place in Germany between Bonn and Franfurt where you can just go crazy.  You can bring a car or do a ride along in a race car.  There are a lot of things you can do at the Nurburgring.  They have a whole schedule of events for visitors.  If you love cars and racing, this is your spot.

9.  Adventure Aquarium:  What could you possibly do in Camden, New Jersey?  Well, it turns out that you can swim with sharks.  That's right, for $185 you can spend 1 hour and 45 minutes getting up close and personal with these amazing creatures.  You will spend about half that time getting instructed on how to swim and interact with the fish, but you will get to be up close and personal with wild sharks.

10.  Idabel:  I've talked about this one before too.  Idabel is a tiny submarine used by researcher and captain Carl Stanley for many years to study underwater life off the coast of Roatan Island in Honduras.  What does that mean to us?  Well, we can go for a trip in Idabel.  Captain Stanley will take tourists down on a real life submarine dive to see what the world looks like up to 2,000 feet underwater.  It is the only place in the world where you can do this, so get down there and do it.

So, there's ten more great adventures and great sites to see.  I've said it for years, if you get the chance to do something amazing and unforgettable, do it.  Sometimes you need to go because you can, sometimes you need to go because that's when it's happening, sometimes you need to go before it's too late.  Don't wait to get out there and see and do. You might miss something incredible.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

It's Time For Oktoberfest!

It's that magical time of year when one and all gather to celebrate fall, the harvest, the bounty of life, music, food, and especially the beer.  Oktoberfest season is here!  So come one, come all to the celebrations that make us all a little more festive even if we have nothing to be festive about.  So, put on you liederhosen, get your Alpenhorn, grab a stein and head out for a polka.  I just thought I would take a moment to mention that since almost none of us are able to take weeks off and go party in Munich, there are some great Oktoberfests around the United States that you can check in on.  Let's see what we've got.

Zinzinnatti.  This is Cincinnati, Ohio's big giant Oktoberfest with all the polka music, bier, and liederhosen you could ever hope for.  This is reportedly the largest of all the Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S.  It attracts about a half million visitors each year and has rides and food for all.

Addison, Texas.  This is labeled as the most authentic Oktoberfest outside of Munich.  The beer halls are large, the music is accordion, the Brats are authentic, and the beer is plentiful.  It is only four days in September as opposed to some other festivals that run for several weekends, but it attracts 70,000 people in those four days and is a huge blowout.

Leavenworth, Washington.  These guys have an authentic looking Bavarian village to throw out there for effect.  It makes sense that a town that looks like Bavaria would have a several weekends long festival to celebrate all things Oktoberfest.  150,000 people come in for this one over the four weekends, and there are plenty of contests, music, food, and of course, beer.

Phoenix, Arizona.  That's right, somewhere between all the Southwestern culture, the wild west, and the much awaited end of the extreme heat is the Oktoberfest at Tempe Town Lake.  It's not held until mid October, which makes it one of the later festivals in this season.  You will find lots of beer, but in addition to German food, you will find some great southwestern food at this festival.  You'll also find that there are some different activities like the garage band contest and the John Madden Football Tournament.

Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That's right, Bon Apetit Magazine named this one of the best spots to celebrate Oktoberfest in the world.  Not joking.  If you've ever wondered what goes on in Tulsa, this is your chance to check it out.  They have all the authentic food, beer, dancing, music, costumes and so on as well as a carnival and great contests.

Torrance, California.  USA Today chose this festival as one of the top ones in the world.  They have a great Alpine Village there and do every single authentic Oktoberfest ritual from the contests to the beer to the music to the food to the rides.  100,000 visitors come each year.

Mainstrasse Village Oktoberfest.  Covington, Kentucky has won many awards over the four decades that they have been throwing their authentic Oktoberfest.  This one has more family fun than some of them with family friendly entertainment, food, and contests; however it's all authentic Bavarian stuff and the food has been ranked some of the best of it's kind in the country.

Helen, Georgia.  This is the southeast's best of the best.  For four decades this tiny little town turns into a party central for four weekends in the fall.  They have all the authentic foods, beverages, arts and crafts, music and more.  It's the thing that puts this place on the map and is visited by thousands each year.

Hofbrauhause Las Vegas.  Welcome to an authentic replica of the Munich destination ground zero for all things Oktoberfest.  As usual, Las Vegas does things up right with a multi weekend Oktoberfest that gives one the impression that they are indeed, in Bavaria at the Munich event.

Harpoon Oktoberfest.  Boston Brewery puts this on in late September every year.  It's small but a whole lot of fun.  They bring all the fun and shenanigans to a single location in Boston to celebrate all things Bavarian, especially the bier.  Thousands of people attend this 20 year and still running event.

So, you may want to check out one of the above listed Oktoberfests or some more like:  Oktoberfest in Hermann, Missouri; Big Bear Lake Oktoberfest in Big Bear Lake, California; Denver Oktoberfest in Denver, Colorado;  Oktoberfest in Mount Angel, Oregon; Oktoberfest in LaCrosse, Wisconsin;  Oktoberfest in Stowe, Vermont; International Oktoberfest in Newport, Rhode Island; New Ulm Oktoberfest in New Ulm, Minnesota; and Oktoberfest in Historic Germantown, Nashville, Tennessee.

So, take some time, enjoy the parties, come join the crowds, do some dancing, eat some great food and try all the beer.  It's fall and it's time for Oktoberfest!

Monday, September 21, 2015

There's Almost Nothing New Along the Hudson, and That's a Good Thing!

For years, my husband and I have talked about checking out the Culinary Institute of America or the CIA.  We finally got a reservation this weekend for lunch and got up early for our weekend away in order to get there on time.  It turned out that it was finals weekend and all of our food was graded for graduation.  How cool is that?

We ate at the Bocuse Restaurant which is one of several restaurants on campus.  It was some fabulous fine dining.  I won't lie, it costs to do it, but it is so worth it.  Whoever made our meals, I hope got all A's.  The amazing part about the restaurant for me is that you can watch them cooking in the kitchen.  That's how we discovered that they were all being graded that day, because we could watch the teacher checking all the food before it left the kitchen.  We both had the lobster trio which was amazing.  I tried Ceviche, and it was great.  My husband had an amazing corn soup.  I had what was called the Chocolate Variation and my hubby had Pear Charlotte for desert.  All amazing.  Then we stopped in the bookstore and picked up some great items for our own kitchen including some Tandoori seasoning that I intend to use soon.

So, we decided to walk off that amazing lunch with a trip up the road to the Vanderbilt Mansion.  We strolled the gardens which were designed in grand Italian fashion.  Francis Vanderbilt was a horticulturist and he and his gardener enjoyed the outdoors more than most of the folks who visited the cabin by the Hudson.  Mr. Vanderbilt even had escapes built in so that he could escape the crowds in the house and go outside.  His gardener, Mr. Shears, was such a good friend and loyal employee that he inherited the house by the garden when the Vanderbilt's passed on.  The grounds are still vast today, and the public is invited to enjoy them every day.

The mansion is one of the smallest of the 43 mansions built by the Vanderbilts in this country.  It only had five guest bedrooms.  It only had six floors.  It only had 14 bathrooms and a staff of 20 to run it.  These Vanderbilts had no children, so when they passed the main property went to their favorite niece who wanted to sell it because it was so small.  FDR and the National Parks finally bought it for $1.  Mrs. Vanderbilt was a huge fan of French design, which is why her bedroom looked like Marie Antoinette's.  The best part of this mansion is that most of the interior is original.  Nothing was removed from the house and most things remain today.  The house did have indoor plumbing and electricity even though it was built in the late 1800's.  The Vanderbilt's went there in the spring and fall to get away from the city.

We did a lot of things on our weekend along the Hudson, and believe me, almost nothing was new.  The Hudson Valley is full of historic mansions.  A bunch of them belonged to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  But all of the elite followed the Vanderbilts up the river and there are mansions all over the place.  I will be checking them out over time.  On Sunday, after we took a walk across the Hudson, which is one of the newer ideas on the river even though it was made from an old railroad bridge.  I love the views up there and this time we went twice and got a sunset view and a morning view.  It was great.  But before we headed home, we went to Rhinebeck and went to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.  If you like old planes, this is your spot.  If you like air shows, well, here you go.  These guys have many hangars full of antique planes and other antiques.  They call it a museum.  But they also have an old time airfield and since 1958 they've been doing air shows every weekend all summer long.  So, you can walk around and see everything from the French version of the Wright Flyer to a Sopwith Camel. We had a great time, and they had to cancel the show because of the wind.  But, they still flew a couple of planes for us and there happened to be a car show that day, so they had an antique car parade as well.  I didn't get to take a ride in the biplane, but I will go back.  It was still a good time.

So, you could spend months roaming around the Hudson Valley and you would see nothing new.  What you would see is a plethora of amazing historical sites.  Everything here has a story.  The colleges are old, the properties are old, the shows are old, the towns are old, the bridges are old, the parks are old, the restaurants are old.  You'll never have a better time with a bunch of old stuff.  So take a walk over the Hudson, that's your something new, see the view and then take off and see something old and amazing.