Tuesday, March 28, 2017
It's the town that my favorite TV show, Northern Exposure was based on. It's not on the coast of Alaska. It sits at the base of Denali Mountain and not too far north of Anchorage, in some of the most beautiful scenery you've ever seen. If this was where they had, indeed, intended to build an Alaskan Riviera, it would have been a perfect idea. Talkeetna is a tiny town with a huge impact. It's one of the best known towns in the state, and it has less than 1,000 residents. It's artsy, it's outdoorsy, it's rugged, and it's stunning. Talkeetna is one of those places that you have to see to believe.
There are many ways to get to Talkeetna. You can drive, take the train, or fly. If you want to travel by boat, you will have to wait until you get there. They have boat tours on the lakes and rivers in the area. You can also take a flightseeing tour over Denali and the area from Talkeetna if you like. It's a no brainer for me. I love flightseeing tours. I never miss out on one of those. aerial views are fabulous and I love planes. The small craft in Talkeetna will thrill you, and I'm not including your reaction to the views.
Let's be honest. One of the best views in America is Denali. It's the tallest peak anywhere in North America. It's dangerous to climb, and you can't go without a guide. The mountain was once called Mount McKinley, but has been renamed in its native tongue. The mountain has it's own ecosystem, so if you intend to spend any time up there, you must apply for a permit. This is also the reason why you should book a guide. Not only is this a national park, it is restricted to a certain number of visitors a year.
Anyone can visit the mountain. There is a road. Just don't think that you'll be able to simply drive into the park. Restrictions limit vehicles. If you want to ride into the park, there are buses. It's highly restricted. I can't stress this enough. It's well worth it to take the bus, however. It is some of the best scenery in the country.
What is there to do in town? Well, there are places to stay from camping to resort. There are several restaurants, many of them have live music on the weekends and in the summer; they even have a roadhouse. And there's shopping. Talkeetna has gone the way of so many tourist towns and is home to many artists. The art is local, unique and includes a lot of native art. But, in addition to that, there are so many things to do that no one can get bored. There is hiking, biking, fishing, tours, and more.
The restaurants are everything from standard to gourmet and standard looking to original in appearance. The lodging goes from camping to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and all the amazing things that go with it. Because Talkeetna is set up for tourists, there is no shortage of shopping, lodging, or food.
There are a couple of activities that anyone can do that are great. Talkeetna lays ownership to the zip lines that are the farthest north in North America. The scenery is dramatic and breathtaking. I mean, you're talking Denali and area. You can't beat that. The other thing that you can do is go and visit a dog sledding farm and take a ride on a dog sled. Don't worry if you're there when there's no snow. The dogs run all year round, and in the summer they use a cart in place of the sleds. Whatever the case may be, these are two Adventures for Anyone in the far north.
Gold miners settled this place. There's lot of history here. You can even tour the cemetery and see just how many people died in the days of the gold rush. One thing you will take away from Talkeetna is how friendly the people are. It's a quirky little village that welcomes visitors year round whether they're skiing, flying, fishing, hiking, eating, golfing or doing something spectacular like dog sledding. It's one of the towns that is so far north you wouldn't think that you'd want to visit due to the weather, but Denali is a sight worth the trip. It's America's tallest peak and it's stunning, especially with the surroundings that it has. So, book early, pack up your things and hop a train to the north where adventure meets beauty and see Denali and Talkeetna. Enjoy!
Monday, March 20, 2017
The list is out for the year, and Norway is officially ranked as the happiest country on Earth. It edged out Denmark which has topped the list in recent years. But, still the happiest countries are Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and Finland. I've spent most of my life listening to people talk about how they want to spend their golden years on a beach on an island, or in the desert, or some other warm place. Why is it that the happiest countries in the world are all countries that have a lot of cold weather?
I find it amazing that four out of the five countries on the list are in darkness for significant amounts of time during the year. I wouldn't think that would make for a happy environment. I also wouldn't want to spend a lot of time shoveling snow. The taxes are also high in these countries, which means that they don't get to keep as high a percentage of the money that they earn as other countries around the world. Many of these northern countries have some of the highest personal tax rates in the world. People in these countries are no where near the longest life expectancies either. Why are they so happy? They don't have a capitalist government, they don't have an enormous amount of possessions. What is there to be happy about?
Norway has what is called a Unitary Government. It's where the government runs a lot of things that in a place like America, we have to take care of ourselves. They take care of education, retirement, health care, and stuff like that. In countries with that style of government, you never have to worry about getting sick, sending your kids to college, or getting old. Is it worth the extra taxes? I would probably think so. This is also coupled with a maternity leave that can last for a year while your job is protected and up to three months of vacation time. It sounds pretty good. As a matter of fact, Finland is the most traveled country in the world. They like to get out and they are happy at home. It's the perfect combination.
Norway is happier than Denmark this year. Denmark has been happiest for a long time. I wonder, what is there to see in Norway? Well, they are a very progressive country. They have modern architecture, great sports, a highway that nothing much can match, beautiful scenery, amazing history, and fabulous sports for both summer and winter. They have fjords, historical towns, and a ton of waterfalls. It's the land of the Vikings and all the history that goes with it. They have world class restaurants, music, theater and so much more. You can visit this country by train, ferry, cruise, or car. It's all up to you. You don't need any special visas to go.
I've been reading about the ideals that make the Nordic people so happy. I live in America and I know what makes me unhappy. Most people here have the attitude that they want the government to stay out of their personal business. What we have here is a government that costs a lot to run, has too many people in the works of it , but does not do enough to make sense of it all. We work too much, don't take any time to spend with our friends and family or traveling, and we pay some pretty hefty taxes for a government that doesn't truly provide health care, retirement or time off. The regulations for health care here just say that we have to have it. The idea of Social Security was corrupted decades ago. No one has ever said that we should be allowed to take our vacation, or that we are entitled to time off. We work all the time in this country. That's probably our problem.
The Unitarian Governments don't emphasize material possessions as much as Americans do either. We all want the latest iPhone, huge TV's, the best car, the best house, the best of everything. It takes up a lot of money. It seems as though we would rather have all of this than time with our families and friends. Time is important. Apparently other people around the world have figured this out.
Americans work a lot of hours and we don't take our vacation time, what little we have. We also don't leave the country much. Americans have a low percentage of passport holders at %30 and only %40 of those actually leave the country. We have a lot to do in our own country, but also we are a country of people who have an amazing tendency to go to the same place year after year. We find that favorite spot and revisit it when we have a little time off. We as a people don't leave the country for adventure. Why?
When I was growing up, I thought that I could never afford to leave the country for vacation. Only rich people got to go to Europe or Australia or China or whatever. I also never had the time. No one wants to go to Europe for the weekend. I also kept hearing about all the bad things that were happening in other countries, so it seemed scary as well. Passports in America cost a lot of money that a lot of us aren't willing to spend, even though we'd spend four times as much on a phone. If more people investigated traveling abroad, would they do it?
The sad part is, I don't think so. The people that I know won't try a new food. Why on Earth would they try a new country? Most of the people that I know would never travel to Norway because it's cold and dark. I've been to Finland and Iceland and Switzerland. People ask me all the time why. My answer is because it's great.
I've been to Switzerland more than once, and I'm planning trips to Iceland and Norway in the next few years. I've been to several countries, and I love the north. The people are great, the tourist attractions are great. The activities are great, the history is great. I don't even care what time of year you are there, it's great. So, given what I know about the governments and the fact that I never used to think about going to these countries, but once I did; all I wanted to do was go back; maybe they know how to live. What is the secret to happiness? Not worrying. Not having to give up things to make it through your life. Not having your taxes just fly out the window for naught. Having time to spend traveling, on activities, or time with your family might just be more important than the latest gadget. My suggestion is that you visit one of these countries, whether it be Norway or any of the top five countries for happiness. You will get infected and be happy that you went. It just might be the best time you ever have in your life. You might just be surprised how much fun you have visiting a country where the people are happy. Think about it, go and see for yourself and enjoy!
Monday, March 13, 2017
As with several holidays, there are things about St. Patrick's Day that most people don't know. I thought I would just throw some of them out there for fun.
Did you know that the saying that on St. Patrick's Day everyone is a little bit Irish isn't that far off? More than 12% of the US is a little bit Irish. This of course comes from the great Irish immigration during the years of the famous potato famine. Also, there are more than 80 people around the world that can trace their ancestry partially back to the emerald isle.
Did you know that Saint Patrick was Welsh? That's right, although his work is renowned for being done in Ireland, which it was mostly, he was from Wales.
Did you know that the shamrock was originally a teaching tool? When St. Patrick was spreading Christianity across the emerald isle, he used the shamrock to teach the trinity. He cited the three leaves of the shamrock as the Father, Son and Holy spirit.
Did you know that Dripsey, in County Cork was for years home to the shortest St. Patrick's Parade in the world? It went 77 feet from one pub to another. Now, the shortest one is 98 feet and it goes down Bridge Street in Hot Springs, Arizona.
Did you know that in Chicago, every year, they dye the river green? It's put on by the local plumbers union #110 and the dye, to the tune of 40 pounds, lasts for around 5 hours. The powder itself is orange, but turns green in the water. It's been a tradition since 1962, and Chicago is also one of the best places in the country to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
It should come as no surprise that sales for Guiness beer reach their yearly peak on St. Patrick's Day. The surprise comes from the sheer number. Nearly 13 million pints of it are served on that day alone.
Did you know that green was not the color that was originally associated with Saint Patrick's Day? Surprised? I know I was. Originally, the color green was considered unlucky. The color blue was considered symbolic of Ireland and is still the Presidential Standard today.
Did you know that the colors on the Irish flag each have a meaning? Green is for the Catholics and Orange is for the Protestants. White is for Peace.
Did you know that despite the parades and festivities in Boston and Chicago being more celebrated in the media that the first St. Patrick's Day Parade ever took place in New York City in the 1760's? It is still held every year and is one of the longest running parades in the country.
Did you know that a lot of famous people leave Ireland on St. Patrick's Day? Musicians and others tend to get paid very well to perform in other countries for the world famous holiday. So, if you think that you can go and see Riverdance in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, probably not.
Did you know that Sydney, Australia put green lights on the opera house for St. Patrick's Day in 2010? Why? Well, they had their first St. Patrick's Day in Sydney in 1810 and they did it to celebrate the 200th anniversary of celebrating the holiday in Australia.
Did you know that for many years, St. Patrick's Day was strictly a religious holiday in Ireland and all the pubs were closed? The only exception was at the national dog show which was held every March 17th. It wasn't until 1970 that the pubs opened on the holiday.
Did you know that there have never been snakes in Ireland? St. Patrick has long since in folklore been credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland. Given that there were no snakes, that would have been easy to do. The term probably refers to religious temptation or some such metaphor.
Did you know that Saint Patrick was not born Patrick? His name was Maewyn Succat and he changed his name to Patrick when he answered his calling to become a priest.
Did you know that there is no direct translation for “Erin go Bragh?" The phrase has changed over the years from the real phrase which was most likely "Éirinn go Brách" which means Ireland forever.
Did you know that the leprechaun stories with the pots of gold originally included that the leprechauns earned the gold? They mended and made shoes and saved all the gold that they earned in little pots which they guarded for obvious reasons. The idea that if you catch a leprechaun and take their pot of gold, seems kind of mean and bullyish once you hear that.
Did you know that the world spends around $245 million on beer for the holiday? That doesn't even include food or tips. That's just for the beer, baby.
Did you know that on his first trip to Ireland, St. Patrick did not arrive voluntarily? He was a slave and he was only 16 years old. Once he escaped, he went to Britain and took refuge in a monastery which is where he decided to join the clergy.
Did you know that St. Patrick's Day was not started in Ireland? It was started in America in the 1700's as a way for all the Irish immigrants to display and celebrate there heritage. It really caught on though and today is celebrated all over the world.
Did you know that the US has more Irish folks than Ireland? There are over 30 million people of Irish descent in the US, but in Ireland there are less the 5 million Irish people.
Did you know that the first time Ireland celebrated St. Patrick's Day was 1903? The first public celebration was in Dublin in 1910, and it was a parade.
Did you ever hear the phrase "drowning the shamrock?" What does it mean? Well, it's an Irish practice of putting a shamrock on top of your whiskey shot. It is believed that if you practice this custom you will have a prosperous year. Can't hurt.
Did you know that St. Patrick's Day is the only official day during lent that you are allowed to drink alcohol? It is presumed that this is why it became such a well known drinking holiday.
Did you know that the shamrock is not the official symbol of Ireland? The harp is and you will find it on their money. It's even the symbol on the Euro.
Did you know that there is something symbolic about Soda Bread? I'm not a fan, and I know that sacrilegious when it comes to St. Patrick's Day, but I have had it and I did notice that X cut into the top. It's supposed to be a cross to ward off the devil.
Did you know that corned beef and cabbage is not a tradition from Ireland? It's from America baby. Beef was not the norm for Irish folks in Ireland. They ate way more pork, but here in the US, pork was once more expensive than beef. This encouraged the Irish immigrants to use more beef and pork in their stews. Soda bread is also an American tradition.
Did you know that the American tradition of pinching someone not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day is all about the leprechauns? Folklore says that wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns and that if they can see you, they will pinch you.
So, if you've enjoyed St. Patrick's Day and you've ever wondered where all the lore comes from, hopefully this will answer some of your questions. Let's just say that it's a great international holiday and that we should all take a little time and raise a pint of Guiness in honor of a great man who brought Christianity to Ireland even though his first trip there was as a slave. It takes a great man to go back years later and try to help the people and save them from their pagan ways. Was it wrong to be pagan? I don't know, but it did make for a great holiday even though no one really knows for sure where St. Patrick is buried. They also didn't celebrate him for centuries after his death. The other kicker for me is that the day of his death is celebrated and not his birth. But, at any rate, he is the patron saint of Ireland and people around the world celebrate this every year. It's that one day a year that we're all a little bit Irish and there's only one thing that I can do with that thought. I can raise a pint while having my corned beef and cabbage after seeing a parade while wearing my green. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 9, 2017
There's nothing quite like Iceland. I can say that with great certainty. A lot of things have changed over the years. Volcanoes have erupted. Glaciers have both decreased and increased, depending on which one you're talking about. But, there are some amazing things that don't change about Iceland as well. One of my favorite areas of the country is the south coast. There are some amazing things, places and people there, and I enjoy traveling around that area.
If you want to truly enjoy the south of Iceland, you must try and spend some time outdoors. They have amazing waterfalls, great valleys, glaciers, volcanoes, and so much more. The best time to hike in the area is of course in the summer. The sunlight lasts forever and the scenery is amazing.
The Eldgja is one of the premiere hiking spots. You can rent space in any number of farmhouses in the area from the locals, and you can even camp if you like. The Eldgja is one of the most surreal looking national park style areas that I've ever seen. It's called the Grand Canyon of Iceland and it's beautiful.
Ofaerufoss, Svartifoss, and Seljalandsfoss are just three of the amazing waterfalls in the area. Ofaerufoss is in the Eldgja so it's more difficult to get to than the others. Iceland is famous for it's waterfalls and people like me come from all over the world just to see them. I have yet to see one in that country that wasn't worth the trouble that I went to in order to see it. In my experience, the 300 or so catalogued waterfalls are only the tip of the iceberg. There was an amazing waterfall right behind the farmhouse I rented. It was great.
One of the fabulous stops along the coast in southern Iceland is the village of Vik. Here they are known for their black beach and the amazing cliffs. You can surf here and swim here if you like. Iceland sits at the end of the Gulf Stream, so the water is warmer than you think. There is also a great woolens factory in Vik and a great store where you can buy your authentic woolens for souvenirs. They last forever. I still have the first blanket I bought there. Vik is a regular stop on the bus route and is right on the ring road, so you can't miss it either.
As I've noted, there are many waterfalls in southern Iceland. The one that will be a regular bus stop and sits right along the ring road is Skogafoss. This is an enormous 60 meter high and gorgeous waterfall that is extremely accessible. Not all waterfalls in Iceland are that easy to get to. Take advantage of it when you can.
Of course there are several volcanoes in southern Iceland and Eyjafjallajökull is currently the most famous one. It exploded back in 2010 and shut down most airports in Europe for quite a while. It's still quite a sight and you can book a tour to go and see it up close and personal. It's quite a sight.
But, as is my norm; I decided to talk about southern Iceland today because of something special. Over the last 20 years, Iceland has become the premiere destination for something that was unexpected to the rest of us in the world. They like to swim. There are more than 200 swimming pools around the country that are open to all hours and year round. They are not inside, they are outside. Some have water slides and some are just pools. They are thermal heated like everything else in the country so they stay warm. It's become quite the past time in Iceland. Along with this has been viewing the Aurora Borealis. So, it was only a matter of time until the tourism people put the two activities together. Now, it's fashionable to go to Iceland in the winter and watch the Northern Lights while you sit in a pool outside. So, for an Adventure for Anyone, try out the Hotel Ranga.
Winter is the time of year to see the Northern Lights. It's not as good of a time for hiking and such, so you should go to Iceland more than once. Iceland is the inventor of the stopover, so you can take a few days in the country on your way to and from Europe on IcelandAir. Hotel Ranga is open year round. They have dozens of activities and are a sought after resort in the south of the country. What they do have that is unmatched is a package for people who specifically want to come and sit in a pool and watch the Auroras. They have an outside jacuzzi tub just for the activity.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world to watch the Northern Lights. Hotel Ranga offers a four night package, so that you have a good chance of seeing them. The hotel staff will help you by waking you up when the lights arrive. Then, just grab a drink and head to the hot tub. You get to soak and watch one of Mother Nature's best shows.
So, come to the land that is like no other. Come and see things that you won't see anywhere else. Iceland is enchanting. You won't want to visit only once. I would live there if my husband would go. It's one of my favorite places in the world, and in the winter you can't beat Hotel Ranga and the Northern Lights. Enjoy!