Thursday, March 31, 2016
I've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to make a trip happen. In the world of online everything, it's not as easy as it used to be to go out to the travel agent and have them help you plan a trip. On the plus side of that argument, the internet gives you the chance to look around and see where you would like to plan your dream vacation before you figure out how to make it happen.
I've done a lot of running around over the years, and it's not easy to get into the swing of planning a really good trip. First, I watch television some. That's right, I look for travel shows on TV that showcase interesting locations. I read articles, I look at websites. Sometimes, I spin my globe and investigate the spot that my finger landed on. I'm not joking. Sometimes that's what it takes to start finding a path to the vacation that you really want. I also read blogs, just like mine to see what other people are doing for vacation.
Once I find a place that sounds interesting to me, I start to investigate the location and see what's really there to see and do. I also look to see if the destination is financially viable and safe. I consider what season it is in that location, what the political situation is, and in my case family and woman friendliness. But, the questions that I've been getting lately are about how to find out these things.
First, I check the official website for that destination. You can find them for most countries and states. There are some counties, provinces, regions, areas, national parks, and cities that have online guides as well. You may be able to look up a guide by just using a keyword like "TheHenryFord". It works, and what you will find is great information about the attractions and areas that you are looking to visit.
Other ways that you can find out information about a holiday that you are interested in is to put in a subject. It can be a sport, a hobby, a celebrity, a festival, or anything that might bring up a location to do something that interests you. Just add travel to you keywords. I literally put in where can I see a moose? I got Greenville, Maine. This spot has become one of my favorite little getaways over the years, and they were right. I always see moose when I'm there. But, I digress. You can put in cooking tours, religious activities, photography, waterfalls, and just about anything. You will get information on your topic.
So, you've found a destination that interests you based on your personal criteria. Next you have to find out if that place is viable. Look at the cost of airfare, hotels, rental cars, maybe even some local restaurants. You can check any booking site to find out these things. Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, or any of a hundred other sites to see what it costs to visit the location that you've picked. Remember, after checking travel sites, try to look into what the same items would cost if you bought them direct from the source; the hotel, the airline, the car rental agency, etc. If you can afford to go to your location, you can move on.
Following the obvious, affordability, you must make sure that it's safe to go there. There's nothing more shocking and disturbing than to get to a location and find out that it's not safe to be there. This is where you need brass tacks information. The CIA Factbook is a great place to get information about countries. They have all the basic statistical information on pretty much everywhere. This will also tell you what season to travel to the location in for the best time, and what the most congested areas of the country are. It will tell you the country's religion which can be something that you need to know in some countries. It will tell you if the country does not allow alcohol, what the holy days are, what the national holidays are, which side of the road to drive on, and many other useful tidbits to get you around a country. One of the biggies that it will tell you is if that country speaks English or not. That can be a deal breaker if you're traveling without a guide.
Then you will want to find out if you should go there and how to do it. The United States Department of State is your website. You will find travel advisories there. They are there for your safety. I cancelled arrangements for a trip to Morocco once because they were having some problems at the time. The State Department is where I got a lot of my information on the situation. When I did pick a destination for that trip, I registered me and my family's itinerary on the website for our safety as well. I also found the locations of the embassies in the countries that we were visiting just in case. This site also tells you about passports, visas, immunizations and many other useful things that will help with your travel. There are some countries that Americans aren't even allowed in, so that is something that this site will help you with.
Once you have that spot picked out, and you have all the information that you need to make an informed decision of should you go there and can you afford it, it's time to start looking into booking that trip. Do you want to take a guided tour? Excellent question. Students and first timers should definitely take a tour. If you really want to go on a cruise, that's a tour. There are many tour companies that can help you out. Here's some:
Remember, traveling in a group means doing what is planned for you. If that's not for you, and it probably won't be after your first trip; then you have to do your homework. There are many places that you can find out all the information you need to know. It's really not that hard. If you do want to take a tour, the above list is the best place to go. You can also look up travel agencies within the country that you wish to travel to. Sometimes they can get you in to see things that foreign travel agencies cannot.
Cruising is a comfortable way to travel. River cruises appeal to me more than ocean cruises, but it's up to you. River cruises have smaller crowds on board, because they have smaller boats. There's always a view, because you're never out to sea, and there are more stops and more time in the places that you wanted to see. It's a personal preference, but if you are like me, it's an important one. Make sure that you find a cruise that is right for you if you decide to take a cruise. Don't just pick the cheap one.
What I'm trying to say is that if you want to do it right, do some homework. There is no five minute vacation plan if the vacation is worth a hoot. Look on the website for the location you wish to visit. Get the information from their website. Then look into travel options. I know that Kayak and some other sites tell you that they can save you time, but don't save the time. You want to make sure that you are going where you want and seeing what you want when you get there. You need to make sure that you are traveling within your budget instead of someone else's. You need to make sure that you go at the right time, and that it's safe and that it's really what you want. I am giving you some great sites to check into on this one, and I hope it helps answer some of the questions that you have asked me about travel.
There's a whole world out there, and if you never leave your house, you'll never see it. Take a chance, but do the work. Look into your desired locations. Look into the methods of travel. Look into the customs, the laws, the politics, the religion, and the activities. You may want to add a destination to your trip for a long flight layover. There are tons of different ways to see the world. Just because it's not a piece of cake to go somewhere besides Disney World, doesn't mean it isn't worth it. Do the work. You may just be amazed by what you find. Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
My most common reason for visiting a place is because of the view. I moved from the Midwest to Connecticut because of the view. I went to Iceland and Switzerland and countless other places from Niagara Falls to Oregon to the Grand Canyon just for the view. So, it was of no surprise how interested I was in the tiny Republic of San Marino when I saw the view.
The tiny republic of San Marino is one of the smallest countries in the world. It's number five on that list with only 61 square kilometers or 24 square miles of land that's mostly mountain. It is the oldest independent republic in the world and has a high GDP. It was founded in the year AD 301 by Saint Marinus who went there to take refuge from religious persecution. The republic was obviously named after him and has survived all these years, even though it sits smack in the middle of Italy's mountain country. The city of San Marino is the place that I wanted most to visit. It's medieval, and that just sucks me in.
San Marino has castles. It's an old land from a forgotten time of kings and lords and forts for protection against the many regimes that would try to take it over. They must have done all right, since they're still there, and still autonomous. Today, San Marino is mainly seen as some kind of tourist trap and a great shopping place since there is no sales tax. I hear it's very popular with Russian visitors.
There are a couple of things to know about visiting San Marino. First, it is in the middle of Italy as I mentioned. It is the only independent republic aside from Vatican City that is completely surrounded by another country, and that country is Italy. Rimini, Italy is the closest airport. There is a bus service to Rimini that is considered San Marino's international transportation service. Most people just drive in for a day trip anyway. You won't need your passport to cross the border, since it's all part of the European Union, but you can bring it and get it stamped if you like. It's a souvenir type thing. They do have their own currency in San Marino, but they do accept Euros. It's also very popular to mail postcards and things from San Marino for the postmark and the stamps.
The city of San Marino and Mount Titano are the main focus of a trip to San Marino. There are three fortresses up on the 700 meter high mountain and they are all fabulous historical places to visit. The city's medieval areas are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. To be honest, it's not often that you see a single mountain with fortresses on three separate peaks. The photo ops are amazing, the view is amazing, and the buildings are amazing.
Here's another great feature. You can walk up to the forts, but that's a lot of work, and this is Adventures for Anyone, not Adventures for those who can climb mountains. So, San Marino has a solution. They have tram service to the hilltops. This makes it easy for anyone to go up and be impressed by the forts and the view.
Central Italy, and most of Italy is filled with ancient towns and beautiful churches and San Marino is no different. It was founded by a priest for heaven's sake. Beautiful churches were a forgone conclusion once I heard that. The churches are beautiful, and of course the country is almost completely Catholic. Just remember that everything in this town is ancient and the whole place is on the side of a mountain. There are no flat roads or walkways in this area.
Up 700 meres is not where you will find your average town. This was a stronghold that made it through the Ottomans, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler. They're tough and completely out of reach. But, they do have military. They have a changing of the guards every day at the gates. It's all mostly part of the tourism in this tiny country, but it is cool to see.
San Marino is one of those great places to go and wander with your wallet and you camera. It's known as a tourist spot for shopping. But you can spend the whole day wandering museums, the walls, the fortresses, the churches, and eating at great restaurants. It's one of those nice places to go and experience history without the fast pace of someplace like Rome. There are hundreds of tourists during the summer months, but it's still relaxing and fun to look around.
There are just under 200 official countries in the world. San Marino is the oldest tiny independent republic. It is the fifth smallest country in the world. It is the third smallest country in Europe, and it is one of only two countries that is completely surrounded by another single country. It's a unique spot in the world with a lot of history, amazing ancient architecture, fabulous museums, great tax free shopping, easy borders to cross, and views that you will never forget. So, traveling to a place like San Marino is something that I would do just for the view. I would make sure I had my passport stamped, and I would so send postcards home. I already have money from there, so why not go? It's a great place to take a day off from touring Italy. It's that side trip that you'll remember for the rest of your life. Come and see the amazing triple fortresses that overlook the city of San Marino in the country of San Marino. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Iowa. It's one of those places that you just kind of know is there. Most of us have never been to Iowa. I have. I saw a lot of corn there. A whole lot of corn. I did see some other things too. What I did find out was that Iowa has some of the strangest attractions ever. I've seen some whoppers in my day, but Iowa makes the most of movies, religion, terrain, corn, art, and food. You wouldn't believe some of the things that you find in Iowa.
Now, we all know that Iowa has one of the most famous and popular state fairs in the country. We know that there are beautiful natural wonders there. We know that Iowa is one of those places that you drive through on your way to the Dakotas to see Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.
There are quite a few roadside attractions in Iowa that will confuse, amuse, and intrigue you. In Avoca, there is a Beetle Spider. Albert the Bull lives in Audubon. The world's largest strawberry is in Strawberry Point, and there is a giant statue of Pocahontas in Pocahontas. That's just to name a few. The arts and creativity are alive and well in Iowa.
Most of Iowa is pretty flat to be honest. There are a few hilly places and Snake Alley in Burlington is one of those. It rivals San Francisco's Lombard Street as the windiest road in the country. It's a popular landmark and a marathon uses this location every year as it's focal point.
I'm not big on baseball, but even I loved "Field of Dreams." Kevin Costner was great, but so is the location of the movie set. It's now a tourist attraction and you can come and see where the dreams came true. I guess it's true, "if you build it, they will come." It came to Dyersville.
Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein immigrated here from Germany in the 19 century, and with him comes an interesting story. He had Pneumonia and vowed that he would build a shrine if he survived. He did, and the Grotto of the Redemption was born in West Bend. It's an amazing place that took decades to build. Just remember to be very respectful. This is a religious site.
With Catholicism comes art and in Waterloo we find a replica of the Sistine Chapel done in spray paint. Yes, it's in a restaurant. The artist is Paco Rosin. It's not the only work of art around. Paco Rosin is a very well known local artist.
Continuing with the arts, we have Matchstick Marvels. This is a gallery/museum in Gladbrook that is a showcase for models made with matchsticks by Pat Acton. It's got some amazing works and it's a great little stop while on a road trip.
February 2, 1959 is a day that will live in infamy in Clear Lake. This is the place where Buddy Holly's plane crashed. Now, you can visit the crash site and pay your respects to this rock legend. It's not the only plane crash site that is now a tourist attraction. I went to one in northern Maine one time too. If you want to celebrate the singer properly, you can visit the Surf Ballroom as well. It was the site of his last concert.
Ida Grove is full of castles. It's that simple. There are several different kinds and they are all around the tiny little town. Byron Godbersen is the architect and the unique structures are something that you don't find every day in Iowa. It's a great roadside stop, especially if you love photography.
So, there are many roadside attractions in Iowa that you never would have dreamed existed. But, for Trekkies, Riverside is special. This is the Adventure for Anyone to the max. If you love Star Trek, then you know very well that Captain James T. Kirk is from Riverside, Iowa. He will be born there on March 22, 2228. Trekkies the world over are waiting. Riverside has built themselves a little Star Trek museum and there are references to Captain Kirk all over town. The town is tiny, but they have a great claim to fame.
So, if you wonder about Iowa, don't wonder. They're creative, whimsical, artsy, religious, and very movie worthy. If you ever want a unique place to take a road trip, check out Iowa. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Northern Ireland has been in the news a million times in my lifetime. For the most part, it was about the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants and the terror attacks of the IRA. It was the focus of terrorism for a while, even above and beyond what was going on the Middle East. It was the topic of so many things, including a Tom Clancy novel, that I was surprised when it all kind of faded away. A guarded peace is alive and well in Northern Ireland, with the two opposing religious sides trying to get along. It's not easy to put all that anger away and work to be a whole country. But there's one time a year that Northern Ireland, and a lot of the rest of the world come together and celebrate. That day is March 17th -- St. Patrick's Day.
In America we do all kinds of parades. They have them all over the country. We drink green beer, we wear green clothing, we eat Corned Beef, some folks do go to church, and in Chicago they dye the river green. We have a really good time on St. Patrick's Day, but do most of us even know about St. Patrick? They do in Northern Ireland. This was the favored home of the Patron Saint of Ireland.
You'll find parades all over Ireland as well, with one of the biggest being in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Parades have been the favored way of celebrating St. Patrick's Day since 1762 when the first parade took place, not in Ireland but in New York City right here in America. It caught on and now there are parades everywhere.
So, how did St. Patrick become the saint who is celebrated today? Well, Northern Ireland is a beautiful place with beautiful people. St. Patrick was born in Northern England to a tax collector, however. At age 15 he was kidnapped by some Celtic outlaws and put into slavery in Ireland. He worked as a shepherd until he escaped. He chose to return to Ireland with a calling to serve God, and spread the word of the Catholic Church by explaining the Holy Trinity with a shamrock. That's the legend anyway. It could be true. Reportedly St. Patrick passed away on March 17th, 461. He was proclaimed the Patron Saint of Ireland and the rest is history.
In Northern Ireland there is a St. Patrick's Trail, and it is very popular for pilgrims and tourists. Newry is one of the stops on the trail and is a great town to visit with many ancient sites. It has a cathedral, as do most towns in the area that is dedicated to St. Patrick.
Downpatrick in County Down is one of the most visited stops on the trail. There is a rock outside the cathedral there that marks St. Patrick's final resting place. People come here to pay their respects to a man who changed the way Ireland views the world.
Who could blame him for wanting to come back to this amazing place? The land is beautiful, the cathedrals are beautiful inside and out, and the people are real and friendly and deeply religious. It is interesting that a country so divided by religious beliefs are so devoted to a man who only supported one of those two religions. Every St. Patrick's Day, Protestants and Catholics alike celebrate the day. Catholics even take a pass on Lent for one day to celebrate the feast with traditional foods such as Corned Beef and Cabbage.
Armagh is one of the big stops on the trail. St. Patrick spent a lot of his time in Armagh. This is where he established a church, monastery, and eventually an Archbishop's House. This was his home, and this is where he did a lot of good work for a lot of good people.
So, if you've ever wondered where it all started, it was in Northern Ireland. It didn't really start in Ireland proper. But, no matter what part of Ireland you live in, they all celebrate St. Patrick every March 17th. The parade may have started in New York City, but it's the method of public celebration of St. Patrick's Day all over. Corned Beef and Cabbage has become the staple food for the occasion; so much so that Catholics break their Lenten fast every year for that one day. Beer is the normal drink for the occasion with a little green dye in many places. So, you can follow the trail of St. Patrick from Belfast to Craigavon, to Newry, to Mourne, to Downpatric, to Armagh. There are many sites to see and churches and cathedrals too. And don't forget the view. The Emerald Isle has some of the most amazing scenery in all the British Isles. It is also home to some amazing hiking trails. So, come for the beer and Corned Beef, but stay for the view. Take the time to learn about the amazing saint that this holiday celebrates. So, whether you're in Belfast at a parade, or at the parade in Chicago, Illinois where they dye the river green; take the time to investigate and celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland. Have a beer and toast St. Patrick's Day. Enjoy!