Monday, December 31, 2012

12 Images of 2012

 Memorable images can be found everywhere - 

1.  Near home, the Weisman Museum in Minneapolis at sunset,
 as reflected in the pedestrian walkway.

2.  Memorial Chapel at Lakewood Cemetery provides a taste of the Byzantine 
right here in Minneapolis.

3.  Serious children with playful art at the Denver Art Museum.

4.  Hagia Sophia at night, Istanbul, Turkey. 

5.  Looking up into the dome of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

6.  Roman ruins in Turkey and Greece - we saw lots of great ruins,
 these are in Samos, Greece.

8.  Loons on Lake Vermilion - nothing says “Minnesota” like the call of a loon.

9.  Artist shack in the dunes near Provincetown on Cape Cod 
- I wonder if I could live here for a season.

10.  Fireworks as seen from the midway at the Minnesota State Fair as summer winds down.

11.  Fellow sailors on Curieuse Island, Seychelles -  one tortoise, many photographers.

12.  Beautiful beaches in the Seychelles - this one on Anse Volbert
but I could have chosen any of a dozen shots.

These aren’t necessarily my best shots from the year or a full representation of the year’s travels, but they are a few of my favorites.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lodging in the Garden of Eden, Mahé, Seychelles

The Seychelles is an expensive travel destination, although in recent years more options, at a broader range of prices, have become available to the independent traveler.  Still, the choices are pretty limited if you want decent lodgings for less than a few hundred dollars.  For that reason, our expectations for Eden’s Holiday Villas (priced when we booked, well below $150 US) were fairly low. We were hoping the rooms would be reasonably clean, located not too far from the coast, and have some sort of a view from the property.

We had been told that the hotel would be easy to spot right along the coast road, but I was skeptical of that – I knew the hotel wasn’t on the beach. It had to be inland, up the side of the mountain somewhere.

But, I was wrong – it was indeed right along the road.
 And, while it was true that it wasn’t on the beach, it was directly across the road from a tiny beach with views of another gorgeous beach across the way.
The villa complex has a main building with a carport, reception area, bar and (excellent) restaurant, game room (complete with pool table,) and some other common spaces, most with lovely views over L’ Islette to Thérése Island.
Above this complex, the villas crawl up the hillside above, ending at a (mercifully flat) parking lot. Our villa was about ¾ up, which left us climbing stairs no matter where we parked. But climbing those stairs was completely worth the effort, as our large room opened out to a little patio and a semi-private garden with stunning views.  
But then, does it even matter what the room is like when you have a view like this?

All Seychelles posts

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Dream List: Puerto Rico

Despite the fact that most people I know who’ve actually been there rate it among their least favorite places, I’ve long been intrigued by this almost-a-state tropical outpost in the Caribbean.

I’m taking their distaste for the place as evidence that they didn’t go to the right places. Lonely Planet has good things to say about the island, so I’m taking that as a sign that I’m right. To ensure that I get to really experience all the richness Puerto Rico has to offer, I plan to avoid the all-inclusive tourist hotels and instead travel around as much of the island as I can.

This is a culturally, historically, and environmentally rich island with a wide variety of attractions for tourists like me.

Old San Juan

  • Gardens: Every tropical city needs a few gardens! San Juan’s include the Moorish garden at La Fortaleza, the gardens of the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, and the Estación Experimental Agrícola de Puerto Rico, with its lotus lagoon, massive orchid garden, and palm plantation.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Reserva Natural ‘El Faro’ - Located in the far northeast of the island, the reserve includes a historic lighthouse, a bioluminescent bay, rare flora and fauna, and a lush rainforest spread over seven ecological sytems. It sounds like a beautiful hotbed of biodiversity and rare flora and fauna
Coalición Pro CEN, via Wikimedia Commons

Boquerón and surrounds – This laid-back town has a world class beach and is surrounded by nature reserves.

The bioluminescent bay at Vieques – The beaches are gorgeous, but it’s the bay -which glows when disturbed at night - that puts this on my list!

El Yunque National Forest – A lovely and accessible recovering rainforest waiting to show-off for visitors.

Snorkeling along Desecheo Island – As a former military facility with unexploded ordinance still around, the island (which can’t be visited) draws few visitors, which has helped keep the waters pristine and the coral and fish healthy.

Playa Flamenco on Culebra – Identified as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, it is a great place to relax or snorkel.

The Ruta Panorámica – This network of roads is said to live up to its name, providing great views all along the way.

Note when planning a trip that many websites are not available in English. 

The Travel Dream List

Friday, December 28, 2012

10 Travel Highlights from 2012

It's hard to pick just ten highlights, but here are some that have stayed in my mind.

1.  Artist's Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota
In March we headed up to Minnesota’s North Shore to stay with some dear friends and visit Grand Marais. While there, we met some other friends. On a beautiful, warm and sunny day we walked out to Artist’s Point. I had never been here before and was delighted by the views of the city and out to the lake. It was a perfect day to amble along with friends, enjoying the unseasonable warmth and sharing time together. 

2.  Evening in Istanbul, Turkey
April found us in Istanbul. Our trip began with stunning weather and I convinced my girlfriend and her mom to go out with me to take night shots around the Blue Mosque. It was wonderful to be roaming the city at night – the city felt smaller and more manageable in the darkness; the soft evening air, warm and humid, was comforting; and the local men were entertaining as they pitched marriage proposals to my friend. 
The opportunities for photography were good too!

3.  The airshow at Pamukkale, Turkey
Our trip to Turkey included a stop at the terraces of Pamukkale. I had been looking forward to this, inspired by beautiful pictures of the otherworldly – and deserted – blue pools suspended in glistening white terraces. In what seemed like an unfortunate coincidence, our visit to the terraces coincided with Turkey’s National Sovereignty and Children's Day and the site was mobbed. People crawled along the edges of the terraces like so many thousands of ants.

It was almost impossible to even get out on the terraces through the crowds, but disappointment turned to awe as the red and white planes of the Turkish Stars began swooping in from all directions, twisting and turning as they danced overhead.

The terraces of Pamukkale had become a giant stadium for spectators. 
As they would at an air show in the U.S., the crowd oohed and awed and cheered as the display continued. I did the same. It was wonderful to be part of the crowd and, for those few moments, I felt a little bit Turkish.

4.  The Travel Blogger’s Exchange Conference, Keystone, Colorado
Spring brought a trip to the Denver area for the TBEX conference. While the Colorado Rockies were beautiful, the conference was a fabulous experience. It was amazing to be around so many people who see travel blogging not as an odd hobby, but part of a business. The speakers were informative and inspiring and I came home with all sorts of ideas (some implemented now!) for improving this blog and – maybe – creating a business in the future.

5.  An Apostle Islands Fourth, Wisconsin
Friends of ours with a boat on Lake Superior invited us out on the lake over the Fourth of July. It was wonderful to be out on the water, enjoying the gorgeous northern landscape and the company of friends (and their dogs).

6.   A Lake Vermilon Get-Away, Minnesota
There’s nothing like starting your weekend with a “cab” ride in a friend’s pontoon. And that was just the first in a string of wonderful experiences during a relaxing summer weekend spent with friends at their cabin on Lake Vermillion. It was the epitome of summer in Minnesota. 

7.    A Night Out in Concord, Massachusetts
Fall brought us to Massachusetts to visit a couple different friends. The whole trip was wonderful, but the night of fine dining, driving my friend’s BMW electric prototype, and then all of us getting locked out of the house provided a lot of adventure for one evening. Luckily, it was a beautiful evening and none of us had any other place we needed to be. . . and now our friends know how to break into their own house without damaging anything!

8.    Ashore on Anse Lazio, Praslin, Mahé, Seychelles
There is nothing that makes a beach more fabulous than having to earn your time there. Anse Lazio is noted as one of the loveliest beaches on Praslin in the Seychelles and it did indeed look lovely from the deck of our sailboat anchored in the bay. Thus I was disappointed when we were advised not to go ashore because of the surf.

But that was just advice, so several of us set out in the dinghy with the goal of landing on that beach. 
Success has never been so sweet.

9.    On and Off the Road on Mahé, Seychelles
The guide books tend to recommend against driving in the Seychelles (especially at night), but it was a treat to move freely around the island.  . .  even after running off the road in the darkness. (The friendly and helpful locals helped us pick up the car and ensured that all four wheels were back on the pavement.)
Still, it was awfully nice to have a friend along to serve as navigator and tour guide on our first day out!

10.    A Friend’s Neighborhood, Paris, France 
A friend in Paris gave us a brief tour of his neighborhood, a neighborhood filled with markets, butchers, cheese shops, cafes and restaurants – all just a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. I can’t imagine being able to call this “home.” 

Every trip has moments that will become a treasured memory. I picked this year’s travel highlights rather randomly, but it turns out that they generally have one thing in common – the moment was shared with others.

A big thank you all my friends for sharing my travels over the past year. I hope to see all of you again soon.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Photo Thursday: Lake Wabana in Winter

I haven't had a chance to get up to northern Minnesota in the winter for awhile, so brought out a few photos taken some years ago on Lake Wabana near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

To me, this is still what Christmas looks like. 

This is my submission for Photo Thursday at Nancie's Budget Traveler's Sandbox. Nancie should be back in Thailand by now, so she will have a very different take on winter. Check it out for more images and stories from around the world.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Memorable Travel Moments: Christmas in Minneapolis, Minnesota 1970

Over Thanksgiving 1970, my mother took me and my brothers (three kids all under the age of 10) to the Twin Cities on a Christmas outing. With increasingly serious talk about the end of passenger rail service to our small town, my mother had decided we should ride on a train before they disappeared forever; Christmas was simply a reason to make that trip.

My father was already in Minneapolis, so we met him downtown. My brother tells me we would have arrived at the long-gone Minneapolis Union Depot.   

I don’t recall that, but I do recall the excitement of Christmas in a place so entirely different from my small town. It was exciting.

I clearly remember shopping at Dayton’s (the building houses Macy’s today) and Donaldson’s flagship stores and I still have the necklace I bought for myself at a glittering jewelry counter. These big department stores were glamorous and exotic places with mirrored walls and glittering decorations. They also had dramatic escalators. Despite never having seen one before, I made sure to swallow my fear and approach it as casually as all the other shoppers, as if I did this all the time. I’m sure I also pretended not to know my youngest brother, who initially viewed these moveable stairways with sheer terror. I most definitely wanted people to think that I was sophisticated enough to belong in a place like this!

The rest of our time downtown is a blur of tall buildings and Christmas lights. All that has stayed with me is the sense of energy and excitement I felt, as if I were in at the heart of something so much bigger than myself. Looking back on it now, I realize that the downtown I saw on the trip – a downtown that was still the commercial and retail heart of the state – is gone. A surprising amount of it no longer even exists physically, either demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. But more importantly, the glamor is gone, as is the sense of being in the heart of everything. After years of disinvestment and ill-conceived redevelopment schemes, Minneapolis is again a vital, energetic city. But during those years the role of cities change and today it is a very different place than what it was in 1970. It has a different kind of energy these days. I’m not sure that is good or bad – it just is, but I’m really glad I got a taste of what cities were like once, before fear and crime and neglect took their toll.

We also took in a holiday show on that trip, attending the Ice Capades, which was doing a Disney-themed production that year. (A low-quality snippet of which is available below. It is the only evidence I've found indicating that there actually was an Ice Capades show in 1970.)

While I have a vague memory of this show, of swirling figures moving in deep darkness, what has firmly stuck in my memory is the group of black kids (a few about my own age) seated in the row just behind us.

A big fan of the TV show Julia, I was fascinated with black people, sure they would all be as interesting and fun as Julia’s son Corey on the TV show. Not having ever actually seen a black person, I was really looking forward to seeing some while we were in Minneapolis. Having these kids seated so near was both thrilling and terrifying – could I actually get up the nerve to talk to them? Fortunately for me, the dad accompanying these children must have seen my interest in them and had them share their popcorn with me. This started an exchange of treats and simple conversation. Thanks to him, I not only got to see black people, but got to meet some. That seems like a good first step in moving from TV-inspired stereotypes to actual understanding.

It was a good trip, a travel experience that let me learn a little about other people and places. Isn't that why we travel?

I really appreciate the effort my mother put into bringing three little kids to the city.

I wish I could find some pictures, but thus far no luck – if I do I’ll add them.

More Memorable Travel Moments 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you happy holidays with a few images from this year's international trips -

From Turkey, I offer both the sublime
Chora Church, Istanbul
Chora Church, Istanbul

 and the silly

From the Seychelles
Curieuse Island
La Digue Island

All Turkey posts

All Seychelles posts

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Memorable Travel Moments: The Sun Appears at Machu Picchu (2005)

In 2005/2006, we spent the Christmas/New Year’s holidays on a group tour of Peru and Ecuador, a trip that included both the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. 

We arrived at Machu Picchu under cloudy skies threatening rain and our tour proceeds through fog and intermittent showers. It is evocative and, perhaps, a good introduction to the site, as it restricts our view to digestible portions.  
But, of course, we wanted to see Machu Picchu under clear skies.

We had selected a tour that allowed us two days in which to visit Machu Picchu. On the second day we woke up early in hope of beautiful weather for climbing Huayna Picchu and spectacular views of Machu Picchu. An early morning peak out my window tells me the clouds are heavy again today.

None-the-less, we get up and head for the bus and the ride up to the park. The sheer drop into the valley below is obscured by low-hanging clouds and fog. . . for a moment we wonder if it is even worth a return trip, but by then we have arrived.

Given the weather, we decide to skip Huayna Picchu, but we do decided to hike up through the ruins and beyond to the Sun Gate. The clouds were heavy as we started.
I’m not sure why we decided to go up there, given the weather, but along the way the sun began to burn through the clouds. As we came out of the trees at the first stop with a clear view of the ruins, the sun came out in full – and stayed out. 
Who could ask for more?

More Memorable Travel Moments
Celebrating the Holidays in South America   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Dream List: Morocco

Morocco is not only a place we want to visit “someday,” but a place we are actually in the process of planning a trip to in the near future. (I’m hoping for early spring, but that is still very much up in the air.)

So, why do we want to go to Morocco? Well, it sounds exotic and Casablanca is one of my favorite movies and my husband really wants to go there, but like a lot of other places that have captured my imagination, I didn’t really know that much about it. Now I know that there is far more to see than I’ll be able to squeeze into my two-three week vacation.

A few priorities for my trip:
    Jardin Majorelle  by Cate91 via Wikimedia Commons
  • A night (or two) in the dunes, where I want a taste of what life in the Sahara is like for the nomadic people who have learned to survive in this harsh climate. Tours via four-wheel-drive and camels take visitors into the dunes where lodging in Berber-style tents is provided. (I swore after my Egypt trip that I’d never ride a camel again, but hey, when in the Sahara, one should do what the Berbers do.) Most people only go out for one evening, but I’m hoping for two to get at least a little sense of the flow of time here. 
  • Traditional oasis villages and Kasbahs, including Aït Benhaddou. The challenge will be deciding which routes to take to see the best of Morocco’s traditional architecture.  
  • Marrakech, with its shop-filled medina, action-filled square of Jemaa el Fna, and the magical Majorelle gardens
  • Fez,  where the old part of the city comprises the largest intact medieval city in the world. As such, it is a maze of ancient buildings and narrow, twisting streets calling out for exploration. 
  • Silver jewelry is always on my list and Morocco should be a treasure-trove of Berber and   Bedouin baubles! 
  • Chafchaouen, a picture-perfect village in the northern Rif Mountains seems worth at least a quick stop. 
  • The drive between Ouarzazate and Zagora, with desolate-sounding mountain scenery and the oases of the Dra Valley sounds awe inspiring.  
  • Tafraoute is listed as “an artist’s dream” in every guidebook, so I am hoping to get to this traditional village and the surrounding cliffs, but it is a long ways south.
A few things I’d like to see, but will probably end up missing because I can’t see everything:
  • The Atlantic coast from Agadir to the south, where golden dunes meet the sea.
  • Casablanca, though I’m still struggling with this one – how can I go to Morocco and NOT visit Casablanca? Not only does Casablanca (a Casablanca that doesn’t exist and probably never did) symbolize Morocco in my mind, but it also had a significant collection of Art Deco buildings and the over-the-top Hassan II Mosque (one of a very few mosques in Morocco that a non-Muslim visitor like me can enter). 
  • The Roman ruins at Volubilis look lovely, but - having seen great Roman ruins in Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, and Rome (among other places) – just aren’t a priority.

Of course, there is a lot more available. The real challenge will be choosing between all the options!

Fortunately there are a few things I can skip without much regret:
  • Tangier is an ancient city and has begun to see re-investment and restoration. As a city that attracted many famous writers in its heyday, it has some allure – but not enough to feel too bad about not getting there. 
  • Ifrane, the French-build mountain resort, seems to show up on a lot of itineraries. I can’t imagine why. I’d rather go to the Alps for Alpine architecture.
At this point we are planning to work with a travel company to arrange travel within Morocco (including a driver for much or all of the trip), lodging, and guides. We want to be able to focus on what we are seeing and experiencing during our shot time here and hope that having guides in most places can help us do that more efficiently than we could on our own. But again, this trip is still in the early planning stages, so everything is still up in the air.

If you’ve been to Morocco I’d love to hear your suggestions, otherwise you are all free to join me in dreaming a bit about where you will go when you visit Morocco!
Ait_Bougmez by *pascal*  (Uploaded by PDTillman) via Wikimedia Commons
 Morocco photos from National Geographic

The Travel Dream List