Thursday, February 25, 2016
I'm really busy this week, but I wanted to put something helpful out there to all of you who are struggling with the idea of taking a dream trip. I was listening to the radio about this list that was done a few years ago of 140 countries in the world ranked by who is the most friendly toward travelers. I found it interesting and I looked into the top ten. The countries in that top ten that I know about personally are spot on. The rest you'll just have to look into.
1. Iceland is reportedly the most tourist friendly country in the world. I, based on my knowledge, would agree. This is one of those countries where you're never completely sure what's going to happen, but if anything does happen the locals are right there with you. What you tend to find in Iceland is culture, northern lights, waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, and some of the greatest scenery anywhere in general. This country has taken to swimming in a big way. So, if you go up to Iceland, no matter what time of year, make sure that you go when the Aurora viewing is good. There are several places around the country now that have it set up so that you can watch the northern lights from a swimming pool outdoors all year round. The thermal heating in the country makes this possible. Thank you volcanic activity!
2. New Zealand has always fascinated me, and while I've never been there, I do know a lot of people from that wonderful country. I think that from what I know, the list was right about this one. The folks that I've met visiting my country from New Zealand have actually given me their phone numbers and addresses and told me to look them up if I'm ever there and they will take me on a guided tour. That's friendly. I have researched this country. There are all kinds of things to do in this country, and for an active person it's heaven. The outdoors is the main thing in New Zealand. They have some of the best surf in the world, some of the best mountains in the world, and some of the most amazing activities in the world. This place is the home of bungee jumping. They also have epic hikes, caves with worms that glow and Hobbiton. Throw in some great wine, amazing local Maori culture and the general Kiwi laid back friendliness, and you will have a great time.
3. Morocco is one of those places that I was scheduled to go to and then didn't get to go. I was upset, but there was a small time period when they were a little unsettled there a few years back. I was going to visit as part of a trip to southern Spain and Gibraltar. From Gibraltar it's only a short ferry ride across the strait. I have a friend that spends an enormous amount of time in Morocco, and he loves it there. He hates to come home, but work is here. He started out with visits to larger cities like Tangier and Marrakesh. Now, he loves to take trips into the desert areas. The architecture and the people who live in the smaller desert towns are amazing he tells me. Oujda is one of his favorite cities with the ancient walls and the medieval mosque and the souq where you can buy all the best fabrics and leathers and eat some fabulous food. The best part about Morocco is that it's well known and there are several tours to go there if you've never been. My friend tells me that the Moroccans are the friendliest people in the world, so maybe they deserve to be at number three.
4. Macedonia comes in at number four on this list. Macedonia is one of those countries that we only know so much about. We know that they used to be part of the whole Yugoslavia grouping during the Soviet years. I don't know a whole lot about this country, but I have visited all around it. I know that it's a small section of the Balkans; about the size of Vermont. I know that it is a cross rep of all kinds of cultures from Greek to Turkish to Ottoman to Roman to Serbian and beyond. There are mosques, churches, ancient ruins, aqueducts, and ancient cities. There are also mountains and amazing countryside. So, if what I found in other surrounding countries which are considered unfriendly for some reason stands for Macedonia; I bet the folks there are really friendly as well. I always found the Eastern European countries very friendly when I was visiting them. Maybe you reap what you sow on that one.
5. Austria. I won't lie; this was one of my favorite countries too. I went there with a group of students who didn't want to go out and do anything. So, there I was running around Vienna all by myself. It wasn't long before I ran into a whole bunch of local people who were eager to show me around and get to know me. We went everywhere in town while I was there. I saw all the cathedrals and parks and they even took me all the way out to Grinzig and Schonbrunn Palace. We rode the wheel in the park and had a great time. I didn't know any of the three people who joined me for those three days until I met them in the main square. So, from the Alps to the Olympic town of Innsbruck to the history and the palaces. Stop by Austria and have a great time. Come to Vienna in the winter for the ball season and you will have a fabulous time.
6. Senegal is right next to Morocco on the African map and is also well known for it's hospitality. My friend who spends a lot of time in Morocco also spends a lot of time in Senegal. For one thing, he loves the Dakar Rally. This is one of the most grueling cross desert races in the world. It's mainly for motorcycles, but there are other vehicles in it too. Senegal is the end of the race for those who make it that far, and they do love to meet outsiders. Similar to Morocco, there are many exotic spots to visit and great architecture to see. Tuaregs come to market here and there are tons of things to see and do and eat and buy in the souq at the Medina. This is a great combo trip to go to Senegal and Morocco and visit two of the friendliest countries in the world.
7. Portugal showing up on this list did not surprise me a bit. Once again, not one of the countries that I have visited, but some of my dearest friends and their families are from there and some of my best friends have spent significant time there. This exotic cliff country by the sea is well known around the world for its wines, food, architecture, and the Azores Islands. There are so many beautiful places to see from churches to castles to cliff towns to volcanoes. There is always something amazing in the tiny western European country of Portugal.
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina was at the heart of the Serbian war that took place directly at the end of Yugoslavia. This little country was nearly wiped out of it's indigenous people during that war. It amazes me that the beauty that exists today in this country survived it all. This is another one of the countries like Macedonia that has ties to many ancient dynasties. They too were ruled by Greeks, Romans, Turks, Ottomans, and the Soviets by proxy. Today this place is laid back and beautiful. There isn't a place that's not worth seeing, so it's a great time to go and see all the beauty. The locals will be very happy to help you see all the best stuff. In modern times they have also become famous for their casinos.
9. Ireland is one of those lands of myth and legend from the kings to the Norse to the leprechaun. If you're looking for a place to visit to find out what's at the end of the rainbow, then Ireland is your spot. This country is famous for pubs and beer. The countryside is gorgeous. The castles are some of the most amazing in the world. The legends are beyond comparison. The people are warm and friendly and it's probably easier to rent a room in someone's house or do a farm stay or rent a castle here than anywhere else on Earth. No matter where you go, people in Ireland are friendly. Just make sure you don't miss out on that tour of the Guiness Factory while you're there.
10. Burkina Faso is the one country on this list that I know virtually nothing about. I do know that it lies in the war torn areas of Africa, and I know that there are diamonds there. I don't know anyone from there or anyone who has been there. So, have fun with the links below.
The Global Tourism Report comes to me via Time and the radio program that I was listening to when I first heard of it. They have good information on this thing and you can look at the entire list of the 140 countries. I didn't want to call anyone out on being on the bad end of the list which is the 10 unfriendliest countries in the world. I will ask everyone to take notice. The United States, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and many other popular countries are not in the top ten of this list. So, take some time to check into some spots that maybe you wouldn't ordinarily think about, and maybe you'll find a country that is way more than you thought it was. Enjoy!
Monday, February 15, 2016
Ah, wintertime. It's below zero here in the wilds of the Northeast. This is the time that everyone I know starts talking about taking a cruise. This is the Yankee way of getting away from the cold and the snow and forgetting that they live in the most crowded, rudest, busiest, most expensive, and socially coldest place on Earth. So, with that being said; if you take a cruise to the Caribbean like most people, you will run into them. Save yourself! Most people who go on a cruise dream of sitting on a beach, watching the water roll in and watching others in their swimsuits that they shouldn't be wearing. What? That last part doesn't suit you? Well none of it suits me. I've talked about cruises off and on for years, and I just delved into the Antarctic Cruise for the second time, but that cold stuff isn't always popular, and it is winter. Enough already.
So, let's say for the sake of argument that you wish to remain warm, but you don't wish to go to the Caribbean or to Mexico. How about Egypt? Not only is Egypt big on the Mediterranean Cruise circuit, but Nile River Cruises are great. Just like the African Queen but without all the drama of a movie. You get to sail in style and see all the best attractions as well.
It's one of the most famous waterways in the world. You can take several different kinds of cruises that go through the Panama Canal. Not only can you go from the east coast to the west coast of the United States through this amazing feat of engineering, but you can do it on a day cruise as well. You will in addition find that this passageway is included in several South American cruises. There are many cruises that include the Panama Canal.
South America is where most Antarctic Cruises take off from if you want to do that. There are also cruises in South America that don't go to Antarctica. You can cruise all around that continent on many different itineraries with many companies. You can cruise around the tip through the Straits of Magellan with a possible stop at Cape Horn. You can stop off along the famous beaches of Rio de Janeiro. You can cruise the Amazon on river cruises. You can cruise either major coast with stops all along the way. You can even cruise around the continent and go through the Panama Canal.
One of the more exotic cruises that I know of is out of Chile and that is the Galapagos Islands Cruise. You can experience what Charles Darwin did all those years ago first hand. You can experience the wildlife and see the natural beauty of one of the toughest places on Earth. This is a specialty cruise and you will be traveling with experts and having some adventures, so enjoy that.
Might I suggest Australia, New Zealand, or French Polynesia? If you really want to stick with warm and sunny during winter then these are three excellent choices for cruising. New Zealand is beautiful all the time anyway, along with Australia and Polynesia; but winter is a great time to visit. The waters are beautiful and the temperatures are right. The days are long and the hospitality is always great in these areas. The islands of the South Pacific are paradise. Ask anyone. Australia has many options from cruising around their continent to cruises that take you all the way up into Malaysia and Indonesia. The options are endless.
The Indian Ocean is another great place to take a cruise in winter. There are cruises that go all around India. There are cruises that go all around the Arabian Gulf. There are tons of cruises that go all over Asia and start in Singapore. Remember, before planes, boats are how people got around. Today, we are returning to it for fun and entertainment.
There's no end to the places that you can take a cruise, so why stay in the Caribbean? You can cruise along the coast of Africa. You can cruise around the coast of China and all around Japan. You can visit more than a dozen different countries on a cruise in the Mediterranean Sea. You can cross the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans on cruise ships. You can go with the Viking people and cruise rivers all over the world. You can go with Windstar and help sail the ship. It's amazing what you can work into cruising.
There's a cruise that takes you to Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. That's one that I would love to try. It's very popular in the UK and word is traveling fast. These islands have long been a playground for Europeans, and they are huge on tourism. They also have some fascinating cultures to experience. You can do everything from wine tasting to riding camels in the desert on this trip. It's one of my favorite Adventures for Anyone.
So, why not take an original cruise. Get away from the Caribbean and get out there. You can even take a world cruise with several companies up to 180 days and see it all. Those guys go everywhere, and when you get back, it won't be cold anymore. There's a whole big amazing wonderful beautiful world out there, beckoning you to come and explore it. Winter is the perfect excuse to get away, and a cruise is a leisurely way to see the world. Just pick a direction and a cruise line and enjoy.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Somewhere in the heart of the Province of Mexico, south of Mexico City in a broad valley surrounded by beautiful scenery and Aztec Ruins sits a city known as Malinalco. Why on Earth would anyone go there? Excellent question, and the answer is because no one else does. This is one of those old world towns that has more history than Paris that is a weekend getaway for the Mexican folks. This spot is little known to the outside world, and is visited even less since Americans are afraid to travel to the dangerous land of cartels and drug lords that we now known as Mexico. Well, bad news for the people in charge that want us all to be afraid of traveling. Malinalco is one of the magical towns of Mexico.
Malinalco's history goes way back. In the area are caves and ancient temples. There are drawings and carvings from prehistoric times. They are in the hills outside of the town. There are archaeological sites all over the area and a museum in town at the university that covers several different time periods and the history of the people of this area.
The museum covers all kinds of cultures from the Mexica People to the Aztecs to the Conquistadors and beyond. There are even gardens outside where the local flora is grown. In the time of the Aztecs, flowers were a sign of prestige.
The Aztec City outside of Malinalco is one of the largest and best preserved cities in the Aztec Empire. Not only will you find the temple here, but you will find houses, theaters, and statues. There are local guides that can tell you all about the culture and why it went away. The experts have compared the place to Ellora and Petra. Of course, the Spanish are the ones that came along and ruined a lot of the great civilizations of Mexico and South America, so it's no surprise that they wreaked havoc in Malinalco as well.
Then came the Benedictine Monks who brought Catholicism to the area. The monastery, church, and chapels that came with them were specifically designed to combine the cultures of the Aztecs with the Catholic Church in order to draw the people into the religion. The paintings and general decor around the monastery is one of flowers and the tree of life, appealing to the power and prestige that the locals gave to the flora and fauna of the area. The church is still in use today, and the town has become primarily Catholic. There are many churches from post 1500 in the area, and most of them are definitely worth a visit.
One of the great things about the area around Malinalco is the natural landscape. This area is trying it's hand at adventure tourism. Gotcha is a company that is getting people to come to Malinalco and take a flying leap into adrenaline. They offer paintball and ATV riding. They, along with other companies will take you rappelling, rock climbing, zip lining, hiking, hang gliding, kayaking, and even across a Tibetan style hanging bridge. The landscape is great for all of it, so take the time and have a real adventure while in the area.
If you want to get your fix of Mexican village while you're there, no problem. Malinalco has all the open plazas, cobbled colonial streets, colorful stone houses, and outdoor shopping that you would expect to find in a little Mexican town. The stereotype is not lost there. The trinket shopping is magnificent, the food is everywhere and fabulous, and you can watch the wood carvers do traditional work any day. There are churches to visit, art galleries, little hotels, and unique restaurants like The Trouts. The Trouts serves trout. No surprise. But not only can you eat trout, but you can make arrangements to go and fish for trout and they will cook it for you.
So, if you want to get away from the typical Mexico without getting away from the charm of a Mexican town, this is a great stop. There's a lot to do. There's a lot to see. There's a lot to learn. This spot showcases more history than most spots in Mexico. While you're there, you can do some adrenaline junkie activities, visit temples, learn about the local wildlife, and do it without a ton of tourists in your face all the time. This is pure and real. This is how they live in this town. They do have tourist attractions, but their lives go on as usual around town. It's a beautiful spot, and it's away from the normal places. Take a look at Malinalco before it becomes more popular and the Americans find out that you can still have a good time in Central Mexico. Come, see the flowers, the temples, the paintings, the churches, the locals, and the view. Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
My fascination with Napoleon has taken me to a lot of places, and most recently has landed me in the Mediterranean Sea. I've talked about his birthplace, Corsica. Now, I feel the need to discuss his place of exile for 10 months or 300 days back in 1814...Elba, Italy. Portoferraio to be exact. As with every other section of Napoleon's life, I find this one fascinating. Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about the Emperor of all Europe, I find out a little more. It's not that I didn't know that he was exiled to Elba. It's just that I'd never learned about his life while he was there.
When Napoleon arrived in Portoferraio, Elba on May 3rd, 1814, he had done so by choice. He'd been given the choice of being exiled to Corfu or Elba and chose the latter. He liked the mild climate, and he preferred the idea of being around the locals there. Reportedly, while he was there, he united several groups into a united island group. I had no idea that he'd more or less put himself in charge and helped to make the place more balanced and peaceful. There are stories of how wonderfully he treated many of the people on the island during his stay. He supposedly paid a dowry so that a young girl could marry the man that she loved. It is said that the people of Portoferraio helped him ready his ships so that he could head out to conquer France again.
Elba is one of seven islands off the coast of Italy. They are part of the Tuscany Province, which I find interesting because you don't normally think of islands when you think of Tuscany. Tuscany is that province of rolling fields and vineyards on the mainland with medieval villages and winding roads. Elba, on the other hand is rocky and mountainous and known for its mines. The island's value for centuries was largely due to minerals that were mined on the island and sold abroad. There are mines on Elba that have now been turned into tourist attractions. Elba is the third largest island belonging to Italy and the largest in it's archipelago. It's known for it's beaches, it's old world villages, and the archipelago is largely national park area. The main activity in most of the island areas is hiking and rock climbing. Off the coast they mostly hang out on the beautiful beaches, sail, and snorkel. The beaches are gravel in most areas, so the water is crystal clear. In the summer time the beaches are busy.
Both of Napoleon's homes, Villa dei Mulini and the Villa in San Martino are now museums where you can see what his living situation was like when he was on Elba. His sister and mother joined him on the island, and they maintained a very close family life. The Villa in San Martino was chosen by Napoleon for his love, Maria Luisa; but she never came to be with him. He did, however, have one visit with his other liaison, Maria Walewska of Poland. She came to visit him and brought their son once while he was there. At the Villa dei Mulini you can see Napoleon's death mask as well.
Napoleon's influence is seen all over Portoferraio. It's strange that the man that we were taught was such a monster, was revered by the people of this town on this island. It's hard to remember that he also did good for the French at one point too. He brought a unity and brought law and education to the masses. That was before he went mad with power, but even Hitler did good in the beginning. The strange thing with Napoleon was that he did good things for the people of Elba after he went mad with power and before he went back to France and took another swing at it in the 100 days war. I guess he had more than one side.
The Misericordia Church is where Napoleon and his family went to church while they lived on Elba. The ancient church still stands today, and is still in use. There is a museum with it that has things from the time of Napoleon, one of their most famous visitors. This is how they feel about the man. He died on St. Helena on May 5th, 1821. Every year on May 5th there is a service held in his honor in Misericordia Church. In 2014 they had a celebration in Portoferraio for the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's exile on Elba. Isn't it strange how one world's monster is another world's hero?
Portoferraio is more than just the location where Napoleon spent a few months in 1814. It is an old town that was fortified by Cosimo dei Medici in the 1600's to protect the territory from pirates. Forte Falcone and Forte Stella were built around the town to that end. Linguella Fort and its imposing Martello Tower are also part of the local fortification. All of these are amazing museums with fascinating histories and should not be missed. The lighthouse at Forte Stella is one of the oldest lighthouses on the Mediterranean Sea. Forte Falcone you can drive to, but the other two have some walking involved. The views are well worth any trouble though.
Now, we've all heard the story about Napoleon sneaking down the steps and taking off in his ship to go back and try to retake France and all of Europe. Not true. There are 140 "wonky" steps that go from the Villa dei Mulini to the harbor below, but as I said; the trip was planned out. The ships took days to ready for the voyage. There was no secret. The locals knew what he was up to. But the steps are a great walk with a great view, so enjoy them. Also, enjoy the water, the beaches, the shopping, the old town, the food, and take time to go sailing. Portoferraio is a fabulous place to spend some time. There are ferries from the mainland and an airport to get you there. There are resort hotels as well. Many cruises stop at Elba, so you can come that way as well. The Europeans thought that it would be a safe place to exile Napoleon to in the 1800's and he took off. It's even easier to get around now. So, take some time to follow the path of the life of Napoleon. Learn something about one of history's most complex dictators. While you're at it, enjoy an incredibly beautiful Mediterranean island off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. Come and see Portoferraio, Elba. Enjoy!