Sunday, July 31, 2016
It's part of Tuscany, and it's just a day trip from Florence. It's the place that you probably haven't heard much about since the last time you watched looney toon cartoons. I ran across a show that actually talked about the lovely ancient town where the construction project gone terribly wrong became a legend. Why is it that we don't discuss Pisa like we used to?
I don't know, but let's bring it up again. Pisa is a wonderful, lovely city that sits on the Arno River in Tuscany, Italy. It rivaled the ports of Venice in the early days, but now it has a lazy feel to it, and it doesn't have the amount of tourists that it used to. This might just make it a great day trip for you. Are you tired of the crowds in Florence? Take the day off and make your way to Pisa.
Of course you will have to stop by the Piazza dei Miracoli, or Plaza of Miracles. The baptismal, the cathedral and of course the amazing leaning tower make a great trio for looking. Like the rest of Italy, this place is wonderful for architectural tourists. The leaning tower is of course, the focal point of this stop. There are all the usual things there for tourists. You can have your picture taken to look as though you are holding up the tower. You can also climb up the tower and get great views of the city. But what else is there to do in town?
There are other churches. There's the Roman Cathedral and the Little Cathedral. Both are worth checking out, and once again, they are great for architecture enthusiasts. The city isn't very large, and it's easy to get around to see all the sights.
How about the gardens? There are beautiful well tended gardens in Pisa for you to stroll and enjoy. Camposanto is a burial place, but a beautiful garden as well. Burial sites in Europe are some of the most beautiful places to visit. There are tombs in Pisa with great sculptures in them. They are worth checking out. The Giardino Scotto is a great manicured garden complete with entry gates and paths to walk.
There are many things to see in Pisa. There are other towers, there are artists' murals, there are bridges, festivals and shopping streets to keep you busy and entertained. Every year they reenact the battle of the bridge over the Arno. It happens in June and it's quite something to see.
I wonder why we never hear about this amazing city any more. Maybe it's because there are so many cities in Italy to visit that it's just gone by the wayside. Maybe people want to visit Siena and Florence more. Maybe there's just more to do in the hustle and bustle of Venice, Rome, or Milan. Who knows why Pisa slipped off the radar. Kudos to Rick Steves for bringing it back to my attention. Thank you to the tourists who have overlooked this amazing little spot. You've made it less crowded for the rest of us.
The colorful little city along the Arno River. Once a great port and a center for religion. It's stood for centuries almost unchanged. There are still walls and palaces and gardens to see. The cathedrals are worth the trip alone. But, most of all, I think that I will remember it as one of the places that was visited by Bugs Bunny. It's strange what makes us think of a place in the world that has been visited for it's unique beauty for centuries. My reminder is a cartoon. My view of the city is that of beauty and architecture. The tower still leans and still stands as one of the greatest accidents in history. Let's not forget about the amazing leaning tower of Pisa. Let's bring it back to the forefront and get people back to visiting it. Pisa is amazing. Don't forget to stop by and spend the day seeing how remarkable this city really is. Besides, who doesn't want a picture of themselves holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Enjoy!
Saturday, July 30, 2016
The USS Nautilus was the first military vehicle to run the polar route right through the North Pole. It was the first nuclear powered submarine ever. It's a historic piece and it's on display at the Submarine Force Museum at the Groton Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. For whatever reason, I had never made it to that museum until the other day. Welcome to my summer of visiting things in my state of Connecticut.
The Groton base has been in use for well over a hundred years. It's the biggest thing in the Groton/New London area. The best part for us tourists is that the museum and the Nautilus are free to the public. The museum is great because it tells you the history of the base and the history of submarines. You get to learn about who invented what and why they decided to make it in the first place. Military history is something that a lot of people don't like to delve into, because war makes them uneasy. I get that. I hate war too. But, when you visit a museum like the Submarine Force, you can at least understand why a whole bunch of other people who also don't like war, had to come up with these inventions in order to defend out country. I think that sometimes we get on our soap boxes and forget that the reason that the military exists is to defend us. We all need to remember that.
Submarines have grown in size over the years as you can see by the example rings in front of the museum. There are also several kinds of rescue subs that have been created. Submarines are amazing vehicles and the soldiers that man them spend months at a time at sea. Without them, we would be vulnerable to countries that don't have such altruistic values as our military upholds. I just think that sometimes we should all take the time to learn a little bit about this part of our world that is so amazingly important but overlooked by average Joe.
I had a wonderful time at the museum which is open from 9 to 5 and closed on Tuesdays, but let's fast forward to the later part of my day. That's right, I'm adding a little story to my blog. It's rare but I do it once in a while. My husband and I are on the waterfront in New London. It's a great place to hang out. We'd heard some people talking at the Submarine Museum about how a boat was coming in that day. We also saw a sign welcoming the crew of the USS Virginia by the gate to the base. When I saw three speedboats and a tugboat that I had seen at the base go by; I presumed that there was indeed the USS Virginia somewhere on it's way home.
So here we are on the local fishing pier by Fort Trumbull hanging out watching a fish feeding frenzy in the water, and these boats go by. We figured at that time that we had a chance to see a current nuclear submarine go by. I was excited.
New London and Groton are industrial towns and while we waited for the submarine to come by, we enjoyed the industrial scenery. General Dynamics still manufactures submarines for the military today. The harbor is still busy with ships and has a lighthouse at the end. The shipping channel is busy with boats, ships, and ferries. After we waited to see what was happening for a half hour, I noticed that the local traffic was clearing out of the shipping channel. I figured that this meant that the sub would be by at any time.
And it did come by with a bunch of sailors on it that were really happy to be back home. The sub made it's way by us and through the narrow opening in the train bridge that would lead it to the base and the sailors to their families who were waiting to greet them. I was appalled that the locals on the pier didn't even blink. I know that they've grown up with it, but the military serve for our sakes, and we should all respect that. The submarine was quite a sight. The Virginia Class is an attack sub, so there are even bigger ones. It was enormous and I can't imagine what it would have been like to see an Ohio Class come in.
The best part of my experience came from the sister fort across the way. At Fort Griswold they still fire off the cannons when a boat comes in. I thought that was amazing and wonderful. So, men of the USS Virginia; you are appreciated. If not by the locals of New London, by many of us in your country. I am amazed at the things you do to serve your country, and I would like to say thank you. And for anyone who would like to see an amazing submarine and museum, come to Groton, Connecticut to the Submarine Force Museum and enjoy!
Detroit, Michigan has been on everyone's tongue in the last few years. It's got a notorious reputation as the worst city in America. It's filed for bankruptcy. It has a high crime rate. The residents are leaving. Never a good sign.
However, does a dangerous or declining city mean that it's a bad place to visit? That's an interesting question. Here's some of the stranger things that you may not realize when you see those lists of bad places to be. The first thing to know is that there are a ton of these lists. They also change every year. Different agencies use different data to determine what is and isn't good. There are a lot of cities that make both the horrible place to be list and the great place to be list.
Phoenix, Arizona is one of those cities. Phoenix is the place to be with the growing economy and great median wages. There's a lot to do in Phoenix. However, there's a violent crime problem there. Is that a cause not to visit? No. And here's why. Every year these lists are compiled from statistics. They change every year, and they normally aren't relevant to the traveler. Low income issues may be a problem for those who wish to live there, but to the traveler this means good prices on the travel things that you are looking for.
Chicago, Illinois is one of the cities that will forever fall on both good lists and bad. There is a lot to do in this Midwestern metropolis. One of the things that you should do is to stay on the beaten path. There are a lot of neighborhoods in Chicago that you won't want to hang out in. Bad Bad Leroy Brown did hang out in bad neighborhoods on the south side of town. However, the savvy traveler will go to those neighborhoods and see what they're really like. In Chicago, you might just find Chinatown out there.
Houston, Texas stands out. It's on both good and bad lists. It's home to NASA, great sports and wonderful attractions. So, is it good or is it bad? Who knows? It's all about checking it out. If you stay away from a place because of it's reputation; well you won't go anywhere. Considering the fact that most of my favorite cities are on the bad list just tells you that you should only take the travel advise so seriously.
Bridgeport, Connecticut is notoriously famous for it's car theft. I remember those days. Now, the city has been refurbishing their waterfront and cleaning up the joint. Soon, I hope it falls on the good list. I still hang out there. I've been there a lot just this summer.
But, just because a city is deemed bad to live in or dangerous; doesn't mean that it isn't worth visiting. Niagara Falls is on a list of dangerous cities. So is Branson, Missouri. Know what it is that you need for a requirement of a city before you visit. Would I visit Chicago? Certainly. Cleveland? You bet. Niagara Falls? I go there whenever I can. Phoenix? My mother lives there. Indianapolis? I used to live close to there.
Springfield, Massachusetts falls on some of these lists. Why? Mostly because the northeast is having a terrible heroin problem. Will this affect you on your vacation? Probably not. Just don't do anything stupid. Don't wander dark alleys at night. Don't go to questionable bars. Don't take off with strangers. Don't leave your car unlocked. Would you do any of these things in any city that you visit? Probably not. Most cities and the danger that is reported in them has nothing to do with you. You don't live there.
Remember, most of the violence in certain cities is because of problems between residents. It most likely has nothing to do with you. Most of the world's most dangerous cities aren't even in America. Consider that statistic. One of my favorite city's is Cleveland; by most standards a dangerous and undesirable location. I love New York City which falls on both good and bad lists. By the same token there are cities that fall on the good list most of the time like Portland, Oregon that I find cute but rather boring.
Just make sure that you don't let statistics run your life. I've accidentally ended up in the middle of uprisings and I'm fine. Drama is both a good thing and a bad thing. And while I don't think that ending up in the north end of Hartford, Connecticut is a good thing for any tourist, I do think that Washington DC has a lot to offer. I think that Memphis, Tennessee is a great place to visit even though it's ranked as dangerous. I also think that San Diego, California is a great location and it's ranked as safe.
I will tell you that some of the real bad boys of metropolitan areas are my favorites. I love Cleveland, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Cincinnati, Memphis, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Washington DC, Bridgeport, and New York. Maybe it's the drama that comes with the bad boys. Maybe it's something a little less sinister. I also heard that New York is the snobbiest city in America, but it's my favorite major city. I love New Yorkers. Maybe it's all in how you look at it. Maybe most of it depends on how we act when we are visiting someone else's town.
In a world of information overload, we have a tendency to research things to death before we jump into anything. You look and see what a place is like before you visit. You do it, because you don't want to take your one big chance at a vacation and blow it on a place where you might be mugged or shot. I don't blame you. Just remember that the world loves to throw statistics out there, and remember that I wouldn't have seen nearly as much as I have if I had paid attention to all those statistics. You could really miss out on a great time if you think that some report that says New York City is a dangerous place to visit is applicable to you. Sometimes you should just take a chance and see things for yourself. Love is in the eyes of the beholder. Enjoy!
Friday, July 22, 2016
Summer is upon us, and when that happens, I automatically think of heading north. With that in mind, I give you Oslo, Norway. Oslo is one of those places. It sits along a fjord system that is overrun with cruise ships. The ports here are often clogged with the ships full of tourists heading up and down the coast of Norway to celebrate all things summer. Norway is home to some of the highest fjords in the world and as a result, some of the highest waterfalls in the world. There are a lot of things to see and do in Norway. What is there to do in Oslo?
I think I'll start with the obvious. The skiing is amazing in Norway, and hence the idea that the winter Olympics were there once. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump is one of the great architectural feats of the country. It not only is used as a ski jump, but you can go up it just to see amazing views of the city. There is also a ski museum in it so you can see where the sport comes from.
History is a very important part of Oslo. The Vikings lived in the area for centuries. The Viking Ship Museum will show you all about the boats that they used to navigate the waters in the area. The Outdoor Museum has many buildings to help you visualize the country's history. There are farmhouses, churches and so much more to see.
Tusenfryd is the name of the local amusement park. They have over thirty rides from roller coasters to kiddie rides. Make sure you have enough time in the park. It is a daytime activity, so as the summer goes on, the park closes ever earlier, due to the rapidly shortening days.
There once was royalty in Norway, and the palace where they lived is still there. You can tour the building and see how the royal family once lived.
One of the most famous locations in Oslo is the City Hall. Why you might ask? Well, each year, this is where they announce the winners of the Nobel Prizes. The grand hall is filled with anxious nominees and spectators alike. It is one of the best known places in the world that honors greatness in academic excellence. And what made the money that is given away as the prizes for the Nobel Foundation? The Nobel family became rich from the invention of dynamite.
Akershus Fortress is one of the city's historical monuments. This great fort guarded the city from invaders and others for over 800 years. Today it is a great place to go and see history and great views of the city.
Gustav Vigeland made his mark here as Norway's most prominent sculptor. Vigeland Park is one of the most visited places in all of Oslo. There are hundreds of Gustav Vigeland's visions there. The human condition was the focus, and the rest is an amazing collection of art. The grounds are open all year round.
But, the architecture is one of the main draws to this city. Oslo is known for it's historical buildings, but it is also known for it's futuristic ones. All over town you can see these monuments to the future of architecture. If you like, there are several companies that will take you on a tour of the city's architecture and explain the designers and the significance of the buildings.
But, after all is said and done, my favorite is the Opera House. This is the only building around that you can walk right from the ground up onto the roof. It is a public building and the roof is open to anyone. It sits right on the waterfront, so you can see your cruise ship sitting in the harbor. In addition to the many amazing performances that go on inside the opera house, the roof is one of the biggest tourist attractions in town.
So, there are a ton of things to see and do in Oslo. Don't forget to spend a little time and hop a ferry to the islands just off the peninsula. Don't miss out on visiting one of the local beaches. Certainly don't miss the fjords. You need to take some time to see everything that Oslo has to offer. Don't rush it. However, you will probably want to work it in before winter when it's dark the majority of the time and the temperature gets very low. But, for the rest of the summer, Oslo, Norway has a lot to offer, and most of it is unique. That's why I love it. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 21, 2016
We've all heard a lot about Bridgeport, Connecticut. Unfortunately, most of it isn't good. So, in my in depth study of places to visit and life in Connecticut, I went to Bridgeport, and I spent some time there. So, we all know that there is a prison right in the middle of town. We all know that the city has a reputation for run down neighborhoods, violence, car theft, and so on. I have heard it all, but just as in the cases of Cleveland and Chicago; I thought that maybe we should focus on the positive. So, what did I find in Bridgeport? I did find all the run down neighborhoods, and I did find the prison. I actually had a little trouble finding a lot of things, but when I did; it was worth it.
Bridgeport is a bustling metropolis of around 140,000 people that sits right on I-95. I normally go to Bridgeport to change trains on my way to New York City. It does have one of the bigger train stations in the state. Downtown is just like any other city with tall buildings and green places put in to break up the scenery of glass and cement. The traffic is what I would call normal for the city. There are a lot of shops and restaurants downtown. Nothing spectacular.
One of the more amazing things that Bridgeport does have is the Barnum Museum. That should strike a chord with anyone who's ever been to the circus. That's right. This is the museum that teaches us about and celebrates P.T. Barnum. You will see some really strange sights in there, but that's what we know P.T. Barnum for, now isn't it? Unfortunately, there was a fire a few years ago, and they are still working on refurbishing the historic part of the museum, but the rest is really interesting.
There's an amazing waterfront in Bridgeport. Seaside Park is the main focus of that. It goes for miles and has an amazing view of Long Island Sound. There are many facets of the park from ball fields to beaches to bandshells and more. It's a great place to be, but keep in mind that you need a permit to park inside the park. If you are not from Bridgeport, it can be quite steep. If you're from out of state, it's expensive. Other wonderful parts of the waterfront include: Dolphin's Cove, the waterfront restaurant that's not open on Mondays, two lighthouses, and a ferry to Long Island. The waterfront is a great place to spend some time.
All of the sports activity in Bridgeport is also along the waterfront. They have hockey and the Bluefish professional baseball team. Connecticut does not have major league baseball, but we do have four minor league teams and they are all fun to go and watch.
As I've said before, Bass Pro Shops has a great store in Bridgeport, and in addition to shopping, you can eat and go bowling there. The restaurant is really good and the bowling is black lighted and basically under the sea. But, Bridgeport has many restaurants that are really good, even though many of them are in what a lot of people would call the bad part of town. I say, go and enjoy. There's Mexican, Peruvian, Italian, and so much more along East Main Street. Give it a shot. And when you're done eating, head to Discovery Park for the Children's Museum and the adventure park where you can fly through the trees.
Note: Connecticut is big on adventure parks. Pretty much anywhere you go you are close to one whether it be inside or out. So, if that's you're thing, then you need to come to Connecticut.
But, by and large, the best reason to come to Bridgeport is for the animals. I had never been to Beardsley Zoo. I loved it and I would happily come back again and again. Look at what you see there.
Now, I am an advocate of the more open and safari type zoos, but most of the animals in this zoo are kept because they are endangered and protected or because they have been injured and can no longer survive in the wild. The habitats are really good, and I would visit this place again. It's right in the middle of town, and sits along a riverside park. It's a great place to spend some time with the family. They have programs that the kids can do and classrooms for the programs right on the grounds. They also have a great greenhouse with plants from all over the world.
So, what can I say about Bridgeport? It's not what you'd expect given what you've probably heard. I found a bunch of friendly people and a lovely place to spend some time. It is true that there are no state parks there, but they have plenty to do without them. They also have a growing university in The University of Bridgeport. They've come a long way. It's looking better than ever, and the food is good. Come on down to Bridgeport and see a place that I think will really surprise you. But, bring a map of the city or have it on your phone. They do need better signage for their attractions. Enjoy!