Wednesday, November 25, 2015

There's Always Something New in Vegas

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.  I've seen this sign a few times, as I'm sure we all have.  This is one of the biggest playgrounds in the world.  Over the years it has gone from adult playground only to come one and all and bring the family.  Vegas has something for almost everyone and it's constantly changing so that there is always something new to do.  They know how to get you to come back.  And it works.  I've been there multiple times just because it was time to go and see what was new since the last time I was there.  My first trip to Vegas was over 20 years ago, and at that time there was something new and big on the horizon.  They were building the Fremont Street Experience in order to bring some of that massive tourism money from the strip to downtown.  I remember the people that I was traveling with said that it was a nice idea, but that they couldn't see anyone wanting to go downtown instead of spending all of their time on the strip.

Ten years ago I went to Vegas and did all the stuff on the strip at the time, but I found myself being drawn downtown just like my earlier group had told me I never would.  These days here, I have to say downtown has made one hell of a comeback.  The place is jumping, the tourists are coming, and life is good.  So, Welcome to fabulous downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.

Downtown Las Vegas is the original party area of this famous playground in the desert.  The strip came to exist as a destination because of growth.  Just like any other town, the businesses coming in later moved to what was the edge of town.  But, the true history of this fascinating town is in downtown.  I love to go to Fremont Street to gamble anyway.  That's where the party is.  The people who gamble downtown are mostly there just to have fun.  They realize that the house always wins, and that they are going to lose money.  They come for the fun, and I like that.  My favorite place will always be LA Bayou, a little casino on Fremont Street right under the Experience.  This place is just a lot of fun.  The patrons, waitstaff, and everyone there have fun and it's the experience that I think most people are really looking for when they go to Vegas.  When you go to Fremont Street, you never know what you will find.  There's always the light show every hour.  You can't miss that.  It was one of the single greatest ideas that downtown ever had.  It was the Experience that really began to bring tourists downtown.  Being a pedestrian street, you see street vendors, performers and all kinds of great things.

But, there's always something new in Vegas, and now you can zip line right down Fremont Street right through the Experience.  Slotzilla will launch you on this one of a kind ride through the famous pedestrian mall.  This is brand new this year and it's something you can only do in Vegas.

Over at the Golden Nugget, one of Las Vegas' oldest hotel casinos, you can swim with the fish, or so to speak.  The Tank is what it's called and it's a swimming pool.  But, in the middle of the pool is a tank full of sharks.  It makes for a unique swimming experience.  You can also slide down a water slide that goes right through the tank.  The Golden Nugget is one of the best and oldest destinations in downtown for hotel and casino as well.

It's new, it's green, it's eco friendly.  It's the Downtown Container Park.  What is it really?  Well, there's a park, some restaurants and shops and even some sculptures.  Everything is designed from reclaimed shipping containers.  It's a great place to go and hang out  when you're staying in downtown.  It's the only one of it's kind and they also have the world's largest working fire hydrant.  Downtown is filled with new things and shopping for those who love to spend their winnings.  The Neonopolis Mall is still going and getting revitalized from it's little downturn there about 10 years ago.  There are shops and great restaurants in every hotel casino as well and all along the Experience.  Here's a tip for you.  Some of the best wedding chapels are in downtown as well, so if you're getting married while in town, this is a great area.  Check out Viva Las Vegas for any themed weddings you might want.  We did one where I was Guinevere and my husband was King Arthur.  It was a vow renewal but it was a lot of fun with our minister, Merlin.

But, if in all the tourist trap modern day nonsense you want to take a look at old world Vegas; come to Main Street Station.  That's right, it used to be the train station back in the day when people actually traveled by train.  They still have a pullman carriage in the building for atmosphere and it's a restaurant.

The casinos look like something out of an old western movie.  The rooms at the hotel are modern, but the common areas have been purposely made up to look like the old west days.  They also have a brewery that you can tour while you're in town.  They have many wonderful restaurants too.  Remember, all those buffets that you've heard so much about in Vegas have gone up in price over the years.  In most cases, the better prices on the all you can eat buffets are downtown.

So, the next time you feel the need to go and see what's new in Las Vegas, you should come downtown.  Sometimes what's old is refreshing and sometimes old gets refurbished into fabulous new.  There are things for everyone downtown, and it should not be missed.  There is now East Fremont building up as well.  There is just more to do.  There are more ways to spend money and more to see.  So, if you're tired of the atmosphere up on the strip, come downtown and see what made Vegas great.  Have dinner, party at LA Bayou, play and shop and the Container Park, swim with the sharks, and fly like a bird on a zip line right through the Fremont Experience.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Define Dangerous Travel Spots

Paris, France had a horrible set of terrorist attacks last week.  We've all heard about it.  I applaud the French for going after the camps of the terrorists who took credit for the attacks.  I think anyone would be right to do that.  Since then I've seen a plethora of advisories and such that are warning travelers about this area.  I just have to say that I'm not sure that's fair.  Lest we forget that there are many dangerous places to travel and Paris has rarely been one of them.  In the past we have told travelers to avoid South Africa, Venezuela, Georgia, Russia, China, Chad, Nigeria, Liberia, Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya, Libya, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, Columbia, Grenada, Northern Ireland, Mali, Bali, the Philippines, Borneo, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, and the entire Middle East; just to name a few.  My theory is that you have to go somewhere if you intend to travel at all.

I once traveled to Russia at a rough time.  It was the end of the Soviet Union.  It was January, and you figure nothing will happen because it's bloody cold.  Well, they opened the churches for the first time in the Baltic States and invited the Pope to preside over several of the services and it turned into a bit of a fiasco.  There was an uprising in Vilnius, Lithuania and we just happened to be passing through there.  It was inconvenient to say the least.  A week or so later, we were trying to come home from Germany, or West Germany at the time, and the first Gulf War started that day leaving us stranded.  Was it stressful?  Yes.  We weren't sure that we were even going to be able to go home, because Europe shut down its airports that day.  But let me tell you something.  I have great stories to tell today.  Was it dangerous?  Yes.

I would like to think that there are safer places to go.  There should be a place to take the kids to that doesn't run risk.  We all love our families and want that to be true.  I wish it were.  I once took my mom to Iceland to go hiking.  What could go wrong?  Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world for women to travel in.  They don't have many people and they have virtually zero terrorist risk.  Great.  Everything did go just fine and we had a great time.  However, shortly after we left, a volcano erupted and the area that we were hiking in all but washed away.

I know, you can't fight mother nature, but it's scary.  I mean, would you travel to a place if you knew that it was about to erupt?  But, let's talk about those damn terrorists.  Back in 1993 came the first attack on the World Trade Center.  In those days I used to drive to the city to go shopping.  The parking garage at the World Trade Center was great and open to the public.  That's where I used to park, and the day before that attack, I was parked there.  Did that stop me from going to New York?  No, and 9/11 didn't either.  Am I foolish?  Probably.

In the winter of 1991-92 I was on a train to Budapest and as we passed the airport on our way into town, there was an explosion.  One of the terminals had been bombed by terrorists.  It was Al Qaeda.  No surprise, not even all the way back in those days.  What did we do?  A few days later we went to that airport and flew to Russia.  It was our itinerary.  Never mess with a history professor's itinerary.

I've been on trains that wrecked days later.  I've shown up to a Native American reservation inside the Grand Canyon the day after a flash flood ravaged the area.  I've lived through tornadoes, car wrecks, and having the Measles at age 25.  Do I have a purpose for telling you all of this?  Yes.

Over 33,000 people die in car crashes each year in the US.  We all still drive.  Gas leaks, extreme weather, disease, starvation, and accidents in general kill more people each year than terrorists do.  What is it about the terrorists that make us think that we can just avoid it?  What makes us think that if we don't go where the terrorism is, we won't have to be involved in it.  There are more people in this world scared of terrorism than are scared of ghosts, clowns, and nuns put together.  Do you know that old saying that you could get hit by a bus tomorrow?  Well, in New York there have been a record number of pedestrians being hit by vehicles lately, so apparently you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.

So what should we do when faced with the terrorist threat?  A couple of years ago I planned a trip to southern Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco.  It was a great trip, but I didn't take it.  There was an uprising of the people of some kind in Morocco, and I switched all of my plans to go to a safer place, because I didn't want to put my son at risk.  We went to Switzerland, and it was a great trip, but I still want to go to Gibraltar and vicinity.  Now I may never get to, and that was my second trip to Switzerland.  Did I miss out on something?  Probably, and all because I was scared of terrorists for the sake of my son's safety.

The world is a crazy place, and terrorists are some of the crazies.  They scare the hell out of us, and in case no one knew, that is the purpose of terrorism.  It's meant to scare the whole world into doing what some group of nuts wants us to do.  They are cowards, hiding in caves and deserts.  They pray on the weak and the young.  They treat women like disrespected animals and animals better than women.  They take a beautiful religion and bastardize it so that they can do whatever they want to others and still have a clean conscience.  They like to see us scurry for cover.  They like to drive us out of the cities.  It makes them feel strong.

There was a movie called War Games back in 1985 or so, and it was about a computer that could learn that was running our military.  It almost started World War III.  In the end it made a discovery.  It said, "Strange Game.  The only way to win is not to play."  I only wish we had that choice.  We have tried that, but it isn't working.  Negotiating doesn't work.  So what does?

I believe in solidarity.  Has anyone besides me noticed what's happened since these attacks in Paris?  The whole world is standing with Paris.  I think the world has had enough.  I hope that the time for terrorists is finally coming to an end.  If everyone stands against it.  If everyone fights against them.   "We can't be consumed by our petty differences any more." Said the President in Independence Day,  "We will be united in our common will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live, to exist...We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on, we're going to survive."

So, I say to all the terrorists out there, be careful what you wish for.  Jihad is your way, but you may just find yourself with more than you bargained for.  Have the terrorists seen what I have?  The world is standing up in one united voice and saying that we are tired of being terrorized.  We are tired of being afraid to take a train with our children.  We are tired of worrying when we go to the city.  We are tired of checking for dangers before booking a vacation.  We are tired, and we want a peaceful world full of free people who can move about freely whether they are of a specific gender or religion or not.  We are all equal and we are all done.

 So, urge your leaders to work together.  This stunning show of solidarity says that the citizens are ready.  Let's try and get our governments and leaders ready.  It's time to take back our world.  It's time to remove the vermin from the shadows.  It's time to rebuild and redesign.  It's time to agree to disagree about religion and culture.  It's time to learn instead of shut down.  Don't ban it, teach it.  Don't take away celebrations, add them.  Don't shelter, teach.

Will we ever get to be one world?  I would like to think so.  Wouldn't it be nice if the people who died in Paris didn't die in vain?  I say let's get some good out of the bad.  Let's make our world one to be proud of.  We have a good start.  The voice of the people is speaking.  Now all we need to do is listen to it.

And what about Paris?  I say we should all go to Paris.  We should state in one united voice that we are done being afraid and we are all ready to fight to end this era of unknown terror skulking about in the dark alleys of our minds and cities.  Stand together.  Stand united.  Stand with Paris and change the world.  If we can do that then we can live and let live.  If we can do that then we can learn to respect differences.  If we do that then maybe we can truly travel and enjoy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

So, You Could Tour a Really Amazing House

They are all around the country.  The signs of bygone eras, the monuments to the super rich, the memories of the men who built America, and some really terrific places to look around and spend some time.  I'm the first one to miss the museum and go do something more interesting, but sometimes you just have to stop and take a look.  In my case that happens when I see a really great house.  So I decided to give you a list of whoppers that might sound interesting to you.

We'll start with the Biltmore.  This is one of Asheville, North Carolina's most amazing homes.  This was built by George Vanderbilt, one of the later Vanderbilts of note, and he designed this place to be a completely self sustaining property.  It is the largest of all the family mansions, with the smallest being in Hyde Park, New York; and it is the only Vanderbilt property that is still privately owned.  Nowadays, they are open for tours, there is a hotel and conference center and the family farm.  You would think that such a property would be in the country of Appalachia, but it's nestled right in town.  The property is amazing and elegant and is still the picture of extravagant luxury.

Another of the biggest and most luxurious properties in America is the Hearst Castle.  This sprawling property was originally purchased by George Hearst, which no one ever talks about.  But, when William Randolf Hearst inherited it, things really began.  William Randolf Hearst was famous for his genius in the media, and he is the one who made the house into the sprawling property that we see today in San Simeon, California.  It's been a while since this was a private home and it is now one of the more interesting museums in the country.

Then there's the Winchester House, or the Mystery House as it's also called and it is a wonder and a puzzle.  There are many reasons tossed around about why Sarah Winchester continued to build this house around the clock day after day throughout her entire life.  There are stairs to nowhere and doors that open to nothingness all over this sprawling property in San Jose, California.  The most common diagnoses of this behavior is that Sarah had nightmares about all of the killing that had gone on with the guns that her family's business produced and it induced some kind of psychosis making her believe that bad things would happen if she didn't continue to build the house.  At any rate, today it is one of the most fascinating homes in the country to tour and well worth the trip.

While we're talking about some strange behavior, I'd like to mention the Hemingway House in Key West, Florida.  This is only one of the homes where Ernest Hemingway lived.  He was well traveled and considered one of the most interesting men in the world, but he was a tortured soul.  The property has long been public and the house a museum.  The best part about this place though is the cats.  The unusual six toed cats have been the residents of this home for decades, but you can visit during the day.

If you haven't heard of Graceland, Elvis' sprawling home in Memphis, Tennessee then I don't know where you've been hiding.  Not only is it fabulous to look into the homelife of the King of Rock and Roll, but you will get your fill of American Capitalism while you're there.  They have all kinds of ways that you can spend your money and many ways that you can pay to stay on the grounds.  Even the website is mostly advertising.  But, if you can circumvent all of that, and deal with all of the followers making their pilgrimages, the house is historic and there are many items from the King's history for you to look at.

It's one of the most famous homes in Texas and we've all seen it on television.  Southfork Ranch is just outside of Dallas and is extremely well known as the setting for Dallas, the TV show.  It's been a while since this was a private residence, and it is now a convention center and special event location.  They hold weddings and other special occasions all year round.  But, if you're in the area and you were a Dallas fan, you must stop by.

Long gone are most of the great homes where Scarlet Ohara would have lived, and the house that Forrest Gump called home was just a stage set.  But, if you want to take a look into times gone by, Magnolia Plantation of Charleston, South Carolina is the place to go.  The house is magnificent with settings from times gone by.  They also do special occasions there if you need it.  You can tour the house or you can tour the magnificent southern gardens that will make you feel like you've stepped back into far more romantic times.  You can easily spend the whole day at this one and you will love the view.

Here's one of may favorites and it's not far from my house.  Gillette Castle is the creepy old castle that overlooks the Connecticut River in East Haddam, Connecticut.  This place was built for the stage actor, William Gillette, not the guy who invented the razor.  William Gillette didn't like people much, which was a little weird since he was an actor and a celebrity.  Instead, this place was his haven where he could hide and visit with his close circle of friends.  The entire place is made of natural stone and the inside is all wood and velvet and looks like an old castle.  He was a little nuts with the opiates, but he was very creative.  He even had a little train on the property for visitors to play on.  Today, in addition to the house tour and the grounds, they tend to do scenes from some of the plays Gillette was in for the guests on the weekends.

There are many properties that I have visited that just make me wonder, and the Mystery Castle in Phoenix, Arizona is one of those spots.  It sits at the bottom of South Mountain and is one of the most baffling places I've ever been.  Boyce Gully is the builder of this montage of rock, metal, glass and wood.  This place is the place that he built for his little girl Mary Lou, because she loved sand castles.  There are nearly twenty rooms in the place and each one is unique.  I've been there multiple times and I still have a hard time describing it.  Mary Lou did love it though.  She was not only the owner, but the tour guide until 2010.  Now it is a museum and a great place to visit.  We miss you Mary Lou, and the stories you told of your dad.

But, if it's stories you like, then you should spend a weekend on Cherry Street in Newport, Rhode Island.  This was the playground of America's royal elite back in the beginning of the 1900's.  This was where the Vanderbilts left the bulk of there architectural marks.  There are several Vanderbilt mansions in Newport, with my favorite being the Breakers.  But the one house that always stands out to me is the Marble House.  This one is one of the most famous houses in town, and is still open to book for private parties.  You can tour it any day as well.  The place is pure opulence and was the set for the movie The Great Gatsby when Robert Redford was the star.  The best part about Newport is that not only can you see the beautiful mansions, but you can also walk one of the most beautiful cliff walks I've ever seen right behind them.

Here's one that was never a house at all but I need to mention.  This is called the Mohonk Mountain House, but it is a resort and spa.  Albert Smiley built this place in New Palz, New York back in the 1800's and it is one of the few resorts in the lower Catskill area that survive today.  This is the most luxurious spa I've ever seen and it's all about antique furnishings and wonderful activities.  Now, there is a Victorian Castle on the grounds that was the home of the owner for some time.  I guess that officially makes this one a historic home worth visiting.  You can stay for a high price or you can visit for the day for a fee.  The views are amazing, and you can't see it from outside the property making it one of the most private properties around.

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most famous architects in America during his time.  I have visited many of the buildings that he designed including Taliesin, in Arizona.  Fallingwater is one of his most famous private property designs.  Fallingwater was designed for Edgar Kaufmann, a retail magnate in the area of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Today the property is just as fascinating as it was in the day with the waterfall running right through the house.  As a note here, Frank Lloyd Wright designed properties all over the country and a lot of them are worth looking into.

Here's one that is a can't miss.  Jutting out over the Wyoming Valley outside of Madison, Wisconsin sits the infinity room of the House on the Rock.  This amazing place was the brainchild of Alex Jordan who began this place in the early 1940's and continued to build for years.  There are 14 truly unique rooms in the house and the property now covers 200 acres.  The infinity room is the star attraction here, because it is a completely glass room that hangs off the rock that the house was built on.  It is the only room like it in the world and caps off a great visit to a place with a carousel and many other things to enjoy.

And last, but certainly not least is one of my favorites.  The Hillwood Estate sits in Washington DC north of the National Mall and all the hustle and bustle.  It's a stately property that looks like any other luxury house from the turn of the last century.  But, for people like me, it's really different.  Marjorie Merriweather Post bought this place in 1955 and she lived there with her husband who was at one point an ambassador to Russia, or the Soviet Union.  Marjorie decided to turn her home into a museum of rare items that she had gotten from Russia.  This was a time when things from the days of the Tsars were vanishing.  Although it is illegal to take historic items from Russia, Marjorie brought them here to keep them from being destroyed.  The result was the most comprehensive collection of Russian art and antiques outside of Russia.  It's a fascinating place with portraits of the Tsars and even some of the Faberge Eggs have come here for a visit.  There are a constant flow of exhibits of Russian art and antiques through the property, so every time I visit I see something new.

So, if you don't know what to do with yourself, here are some ideas.  There are tons of homes to tour.  The Hudson River Valley is full of them.  Sometimes you just want to look at something different.  Architecture is one of my passions, and the people who built with daring and imagination keep me interested.  So, take some time away from the conventional museums and take a walk on the museum wild side.  Take a tour of someone's home.  You'll be surprised what you see.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The View of Travel Continues to Change

A few weeks ago I talked about the Hudson River Valley in New York State and about how nothing is new over there.  I talked about all the old mansions, the old restaurants, the drive in theaters, the aerodrome and so on.  I like the old ways.  Am I against technology?  No.  I take my cell phone with me all the time and have my app on there so I can get from place to place with my reservations in tact.  But one fact remains and that is that everywhere I go, I see people looking at their cell phones more than at the world around them.  That does worry me.

When I was a kid we had telephone booths.  Over the years they went from the thing that you put a dime in to the thing that you put a quarter in to the thing that you used a calling card for to a thing you used a credit card for to a monument to a bygone era.  We were taught that humans only used about 10% of their brains.  I think that may have been right, because now that we have all the cell phones and smart phones with constant access to friends, family, internet, news and what have you; people can't get enough input.  Well, I say calm down Johnny Five.  Enough is enough.

Tourism would suggest that a lot of people agree.  The latest thing in tourism is getting off the grid.  Getting away from it all.  Tourism goes through some amazing trends of it's own.  We've seen the all inclusive resort.  We've seen the cruise.  We've seen the green resorts.  We've see Air Bnb.  Now, places are advertising that they can get you away from your own technology and make you feel better about the world around you.  They can get you back to basics and pry you from Facebook to look at the amazing world that has been provided for us by mother nature.

Now, you're accommodations don't have to look like an Earthship to be off the grid.  They could be in a resort hotel.  There are a lot of places offering to take you off the grid and let you truly relax.  Take that brain that you are suddenly overloading and turn it off for a while.  Forget about how many likes you have on Facebook.  Forget about the office or your Wall Street investments for a while and just relax.  St. Vincents and Grenadines is an entire country that offers  to help you get off the smart phones and just be.  Try it.  The ocean is an amazing thing and it doesn't require a smart phone to experience it.  You can post your pictures to Pinterest later.  Take a swim, remember what your kids look like and get them off the video games for a while.  Turn off the TV, Netflix, Chromecast, The Firestick, the Roku, HBO, and Showtime.  TiVo that stuff and catch up with it when you get back.  It's not like you have to miss anything.  Just save it for later.

Medieval towns and castles have been standing for centuries.  No technology required.  Take time to visit one.  Many of them are boasting these days that they are a tech free or digital free zone.  They are everywhere from Europe to Africa to Asia and beyond.  Don't look up history--walk through it.  I worry that with the ability to spend your time online watching the world that people won't go rushing out to see it.  My son would rather play video games and text with his girlfriend than take a walk on a beautiful day on the banks of a fabulous river gorge.  What's up with that?

But people are finding that the very social media that they love and can't live without is turning on them.  How many stories are we hearing these days about employers spending their time on Facebook checking out the employees and finding out things that they didn't want to know.  People are losing out on jobs because of stupid things that they may have posted on social media years ago and forgot all about.  We all need to realize that social media has a very limited benefit base.  I use it to keep up with old friends from where I used to live and to share photos and this blog.  My life is not Facebook.  My son said one thing on Facebook three years ago that meant nothing and was suspended from school for two weeks.  We all need to put this in it's place.  It's social.  It's media.  Put it down and go out and live.  It will be there when you get back.  You can catch up then.

The United States is so tech happy that we've had to work very hard to make places where you can get away from it.  You can look around and find lodges that specialize in technology free vacations.  They are great.  You know, you get to do some cool stuff with the family that you will get to know again, and see what mother nature has to offer.  When I was a kid I spent some time with the Amish and I thought it was amazing.  Well, now it's a trend.  Look up to see the sunrise or the sunset.  See a moose or a bear or a dear or an eagle.  

There are places that will teach you to herd cattle.  There are places that are designed to look at the northern lights.  Whatever you never thought you wanted to learn about or see and do is becoming more and more readily available as people long to get away from the amazing technology that they created.  Family time is wonderful.  Our kids grow up so fast that if we blink we'll miss it.  Why stare at a smart phone and miss out on all of that.  I see people on dates where I work and they are on their cell phones and don't even look at each other.  That's nuts.

So, take advantage of the new revolution in travel.  Get off the grid.  Power down, disconnect, sign off, and spend some time the way nature intended.  Just remember, The Grand Canyon is the most popular tourist destination in the world, and it's mostly off the grid.  Just sayin'.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Take The Train!

Take time to smell the roses; that's what my grandma used to say.  She has a point.  In times of getting there as fast as you can and risking your life for an adrenaline rush, is there a way for old time travel to survive?  Apparently so.  Luxury trains are all the rage for travelers around the world.  So, since I've taken a couple of these babies myself, I wondered what other people thought of trains around the world.  Turns out that there are several luxury trains doing just fine in the current global economy.

In no particular order:

1. The Bergen Railway or Bergensbanen runs 308 miles from Oslo to Bergen in Norway.  This train runs across 18 snowsheds, goes through 200 tunnels and over 300 bridges. The ride lasts about 7 hours on northern Europe's highest elevation train.  It goes through the Hardanger Plateau, the largest wilderness area around.  The views are amazing and the accommodations are top notch.  This used to be the only year round transportation between these two cities, so come and try it out.

2.  The Maharaja Express is the most comfortable way to see Rajastan, the land of kings in India.  There are a couple of multi day tours that you can take on the train that stop to see the Taj Majal and some of the more beautiful cities and sights in northern India.  The best part about this train is that you travel in style.  They boast the largest single cabin in their presidential cabin that takes up an entire car.  The train only boards 84 passengers and pulls 22 train cars to do it.  You will be most comfortable on this train as you see the most beautiful parts of India.

3. The Alaska Railway is a fascinating way to get around America's largest state.  They have several trains that run different routes, but the most famous is the Denali Star.  This train takes you from Anchorage to various stops and ends at Denali National Park.  The scenery is something that you will never forget and in Alaska, this is the best and possibly the only way to see these places.  On a good day, some trains have not only dome cars for observation, but also an outdoor terrace for all the best views.  Most cruise ships stop in Prince William Sound and that's it.  The interior of Alaska is too amazing to miss.  There are many specialty trains though and you can also take them to the Kenai Peninsula and other locations.  Remember, if you just want to travel like a local, they have regular transportation trains as well.  Rail is still a necessary travel method in the rugged wilderness of Alaska.

4.  The Belmond British Pullman Day Train travels from London's Victoria Station to Calais in France.  This is the old world for a day with the interior completely refurbished to look like new with Art Deco and all.  Not only do you get great scenery and a step back in time with wonderful food and atmosphere, you get to hop a short piggyback between the French and English trains while you take a ride through the Chunnel.  Now, this is only a day trip, so if you would like more than that, then take the Belmond Orient Express onward to Istanbul.

5. The Hiram Bingham Railroad is another of the amazing refurbished specialty trains run by Belmond and it goes from Cusco, Peru to Machu Pichu.  So, if you've ever wondered how you make that trip, here's one option.  It's a day trip, but you get to go through the Andes on your way there.  The Andes are some of the most picturesque mountains in the world.  And, when you get to the end, you will be at the Machu Pichu Lodge and from there it is just a short walk to the lost city in the clouds itself.  Once again this is an antique train refurbished with five star service and great amenities.

6.  The Glacier Express in Switzerland runs from Chur or St. Moritz to Zermatt through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges through one of the highest passes in the Alps.  The trip takes seven and a half hours and is one of the slowest of all luxury trains, but you will never see anything like the views from this train.  There are times when you are almost 8,000 feet straight up looking out over the valley below.  If you don't like heights, you may not even want to take this one, but if you truly love an amazing view, this will be a day that you will not soon forget.  This train goes places that I honestly didn't think trains could go.  It's amazing and you'll remember it for the rest of your life, trust me.

7.  The Shangri La Express is part of the Golden Eagle Line and is the private guided tour train that takes you across China from Beijing to the Russian border.  This train has amazing views, which is what you take the train for.  It follows parts of the old Silk Road and runs through parts of the Gobe Desert.  The accommodations are second to none on this train and in addition to great sleeping accommodations and fantastic food, you get live entertainment with a pianist to listen to.

8. The Trans Siberian Railway is the mother of all train rides in the modern world.  Golden Eagle runs a luxury train all the way across it.  You can catch it coming off of the Shangri La or you can take it all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok.  Luxury accommodations, entertainment, fine dining and some of the most amazing scenery in the world.  Russia crosses 11 time zones and the trip takes a good two weeks.  Siberia is still a lot of wilderness and small villages.  This is a trip like no other.  This is a bucket list thing.  Don't miss this one.

9.  The Blue Train is the world's most luxurious train and it hails from South Africa.  Run by Spoornet, the old time train has been refurbished and runs 994 miles between Pretoria and Cape Town.  There are stops along the way and you can not only see amazing scenery, eat fine cuisine, and stay in five star accommodations; you can also go on a safari.  You will be taken back in time and pampered like nothing you've ever experienced before.  The big point to this train is the luxury.  Enjoy it.

So, there's a few for you.  I love trains, because they are a great way to get to see the scenery that you won't see any other way.  They tend to go through the wilderness that roads won't dare traverse and therefore you get to see more wildlife, scenery, and panoramas.  The Glacier Express is amazing.  You can take my word for that.  I have spent a lot of time on trains in Europe and Western Russia, so I can tell you that it is worth it.  In Switzerland you get all the best views from the top of the Alps on more than just one train.  In America we have Amtrak which is great and has wonderful scenery which I really enjoyed over roads and driving.  We also have all kinds of specialty trains.  In New England we have some whoppers.  So keep an eye out, because I will just randomly get in that mood where I decide that it is time to once again talk about trains.  Take one and have a great trip.