Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel. Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.
All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!
This year has been no kinder to California’s vineyards. First a pandemic and lockdown, then an unprecedented barrage of lightning strikes, the Glass fire, more fires . . . over four million acres burned in the state. The impacts are wide ranging: on buildings and equipment, crops and cellars, air quality, the health of farmworkers, and the loss of tourist dollars are among them. A good overview can be found in this National Geographic article which asks: “Will California’s wine industry survive?” If fire season now coincides with harvest season, the future looks precarious for some vineyards.
In the meantime, wine lovers who can afford it might support the growers and enjoy a pleasant at-home experience by participating in a virtual tasting. An online search will yield many options. One place to start might be wine.com. The online wine store offers free wine tasting events which include interviews with leading winemakers and chefs. Registration is required for these weekly Zoom sessions. The company also sells the wines that will be assessed during a tasting. They aren’t free. Their prices reflect the demand for high-quality vintages. If you miss the tasting for your favorite varietal or region, wine.com posts videos of past tasting events.
Many individual wineries also offer virtual tastings such as the “Meet the Maker Happy Hour” at Inman Family Wines. These Zoom sessions allow participants to chat with each other and to ask the winemaker questions. Set at California wineries, these online events provide atmosphere and sometimes include tours.
Another approach is to patronize your local vineyards. The Coastal Wine Trail represents thirteen wineries in Southeastern New England. This region is, in fact, a designated “American Viticultural Area . . . distinguishable by geographic features.” There is still time to visit Westport Rivers Winery for wine and beer by the glass, served outdoors at their idyllic Westport, MA farm. They are open Monday through Saturday from 11am to 5pm, and there is a food truck on site. Beer from their sister company, Buzzards Bay Brewery, is served as well. They hope to resume events such as hayrides, concerts, and guided tours by next year.
Westport Rivers Winery
Wine lovers who wish to dig deeper can enroll in online courses such as “Wine Appreciation” offered by Purdue University. This “trip around the world of wine” visits nine wine-making regions with a winemaker/professor of enology. The course, which may be taken in segments, covers winemaking principles, tasting suggestions, and the history and economics of the wine industry.
I realize that visits to wine country offer more than wine: there is the setting, the climate, the terrain, the towns, the lifestyle. None of the many videos that I watched captured this feeling, but here is a short aerial video that shows the loveliness of a California vineyard in autumn. Cheers!
Thanks to the internet, it is much easier to find and to market unusual lodgings, and the choices have proliferated. There are plenty of tree houses like this lovely Hawaiian retreat.
Similarly, rental listings for lighthouses, windmills, and houseboats have become rather commonplace. Even ice hotels have entered the public consciousness, if not the average traveler’s itinerary.
But there are other options you may not have considered like Dog Bark Park Inn B&B - Cottonwood, Idaho, a themed lodging.
Or, if you want to get close to real animals, you could book a visit to Stable Stays in the Lake District, UK where half the lodging is for you and the other half is for your equine friends.
Maybe you’d prefer to vacation in a drain pipe at Das Park Hotel.
If you yearn for an immersive experience, Karostas Cietums might be right for you. This former prison in Latvia provides an “extreme adventure” complete with bare cells, guards, and drills. Here’s your chance to “Live the part of a prisoner for a dismal night.”
These and many more options can be found at quirkyaccom.com, the “Directory of Unusual Places to Stay.” This website is divided into helpful categories such as “Holiday Cottages” or “Stay on a Boat.” Many, though not all, of the lodgings are in the UK. I have emphasized listings from “The Quirkiest” section which also includes accommodations in a helicopter, a jumbo jet, a silo, a wine cask, an oil rig, a crane, a silver mine, and a bubble. I will let you ponder the attraction of these eccentric places; for now, I’ll just relish their outrageous diversity. Here’s one last lodging in a class of its own: Hotel Casanus. Guests can stay inside this Belgian art piece which is in the form of a large intestine.
Image from BoingBoing.net
Thanks to my colleague, Alyisha, for suggesting this week’s topic.
Delacorte Theater, Central Park
In contrast to The Public’s civic activism, the Fireside Mystery Theatre recreates the vibe of old-fashioned radio. This theatrical group would normally perform its original macabre tales before a live audience in NYC. Yet its performances which mix dialogue, sound effects, and musical interludes are well suited to home listening . . . in a dimly-lit room. Most segments run 30 to 45 minutes. The one I sampled, “All Aboard the Smoking Car,” was a modern take on the Faustian pact. Its mix of melodrama, music, current values, and bygone style gave it an otherworldly feel.
Fireside also offers some short pieces, such as the hilarious “Anita’s Pandemic Advice: Astral Distancing.” In this four-minute feature, fortune teller Anita reminds us of how and why ghosts need to socially distance.
Unlike the previous two organizations, the L.A. Theatre Works has extensive experience producing audio plays. Since the 1990’s, the group has been recording both classics and contemporary plays for distribution to radio stations nationwide. The play I heard, Stick Fly, is a 2006 comedy-drama about two African American brothers who bring their new girlfriends to Martha’s Vineyard to meet their affluent parents. In addition to the expected personality conflicts and family secrets, there is both playful and serious consideration of class, race, and gender relations. The extensive roster of podcasts includes works by new and underrepresented playwrights as well as box-office hits like Steel Magnolias. LATW also produces the Relativity Series of science-themed plays such as Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.
Enjoy your “night out”!
Every so often I visit a place with dark skies: the unpaved Denali Highway south of Fairbanks, parc national de la Gaspesie in eastern Canada, parts of the American West. And each time, my childhood delight in stargazing revives. Unfortunately, this simple joy is inaccessible to many of the earth’s people. According to the website AirPano, “Italian scientists determined that 80% of the human population does not see the real sky!”
A quick glimpse at DarkSiteFinder’s “Light Pollution Map” shows why.
So, while you plan your next journey to view starry skies, enjoy the “Milky Way above Sahara Desert,” a 360 video filmed in Algeria. Let it remind you of “the greatness of the Universe.”
I intended to delay this post until winter when the night skies are generally clearer. Then I started reading news articles about a new solar cycle, Cycle 25, and its implications for the night sky. As this is not an astronomy column, I will offer an ultra-concise explanation. The sun’s magnetic activity -- manifested through sunspots, solar flares, and ejected charged particles -- follows an eleven year cycle, one that has been observed for centuries. Last December marked the “solar minimum”; activity will increase until it reaches “solar maximum” sometime in 2025. Periods of high solar activity can have impacts on electric power, radio communications, satellites, astronauts, and the aurora borealis. Let’s consider the latter.
When charged particles from the sun collide with atoms in the earth’s atmosphere, the reaction produces the colorful displays of the northern lights. This week, a burst of aurora activity has garnered attention in Forbes, The Washington Post, Thrillist, Travel + Leisure, and other publications. Fans of the northern lights are excited. The displays have been so powerful that they have been visible in “southern” locations . . . like the northern tier of the United States. In the northern hemisphere, the best and most frequent views of the aurora are seen in the high latitudes of Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, and Alaska -- places that are close to the north pole.
Webcam in Abisko, Sweden, September, 28, 2020
I have seen the aurora only once, in a remote part of Alaska, in early September, which was the very start of the viewing season. Given a heads up by our lodge keepers, we set an alarm to wake us in the middle of the night, tossed on warmer clothes, and observed the sky with cold bodies and high spirits. I would love to see a full-blown display.
While a foray to the Arctic would provide the best viewing opportunities, residents of the northern US can stay alert to aurora forecasts such as those found on NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Its website offers a 3-day forecast of geomagnetic activity, an indicator of aurora potential. The most recent forecast predicted several days of minor (G1) or moderate (G2) activity.
And for those of us who are homebound, there are webcams. Recently, I’ve had the most luck with “Lights Over Lapland,” a webcam in Abisko, Sweden which is updated every five minutes. Just remember that aurora watching requires a special combination of events:
- An active point in the solar cycle
- Very clear skies
- High latitudes, close to the Arctic circle
- Minimal light pollution
- Little moonlight (new moon is best)
- An unobstructed northerly view
- The right time of year, i.e. between fall and spring equinox (September and March)
- The right time of day (remember to convert those time zones)
- And LUCK!
To learn more, visit SeeThe Aurora, an informative site that includes links to webcams around the world, advice for tourists and photographers, data from NOAA, and clear scientific explanations.
Just don’t blame me when you get to bed late!
The experience of travel is rich and varied, much more than a checklist of destinations. On the other hand, it does help to know where things are! So, today I am recommending a few at-home games to keep you amused and to build those geography skills.
Let’s start off gently with World Geography Games, a website that includes over 50 games to test your knowledge and memory of places. Some like “Capitals of the World” are multiple choice quizzes with a correct answer for every round. Other games like “Islands” ask you to click on the correct map location for each feature listed. While this website seems primarily designed for students, it’s also a good review (introduction?) for adults. Do you really know your straits and archipelagos? Or, even the countries of Africa? I particularly like the fact that many locations are accompanied by striking photos. These images, connected to a name and a map, help the traveler retain the information.
For a more challenging experience, try one of the hundreds of matching games on Seterra which describes itself as “The Ultimate Map Quiz Site.” To play these timed challenges, you must quickly click the correct place on the map for the named site . . . or keep trying until you find it! After several unsuccessful attempts, you can continue the game with fewer points. Some of the many options include “Most Populous Countries,” “Mountain Ranges,” and even “Major Airports.” Here’s a screenshot of “World Deserts.”
My final suggestion is not really a game though it could be played as one. It is Random Street View, a site that presents a different Google Maps street view with each click. Each view offers 360 degrees of coverage, and you can travel further along the road by clicking the arrows. The basic view includes the name of the location and a miniature map which can be enlarged. If you prefer to guess the street location, simply minimize the map, make your guess, then click the info icon to get your answer. Identifying these locations will be very challenging. Start by guessing the correct continent! These views include everything that can be seen from a road -- construction sites, farms, litter, traffic, dense forest, massive fields, shopping plazas, and every kind of structure. Perusing the views exposes an entirely different world than one finds in travel guides. Whether it takes you to a previously unknown location, or it makes you see a familiar place with new eyes, seeing the world through these glimpses is fascinating.
Here’s a roadside view in the Canary Islands:
. . . and another road in South Africa.
Enjoy these games, learn about your planet, and daydream about those trips down the road.
The first is quite obvious: the organization formerly called Plimoth Plantation, recently renamed Plimoth Patuxet. Its living history exhibits have reopened with additional health measures in place. The museum, for those who are unfamiliar with it, has several components: the Mayflower II, a full-sized replica of the original ship; the Wampanoag Homesite; the 17th century English village; and the Plimoth Grist Mill. The museum’s website includes information about each of these topics as well as recommended reading lists. There are resources for classroom teachers and “Virtual Field Trips” can be arranged for scouts and homeschool groups. The event calendar also lists some workshops for families. And, don’t forget, the Ames Free Library has a pass to this museum.
Plymouth, Massachusetts is not alone in recognizing the historical significance of this anniversary: there is “Mayflower 400 UK,” an ambitious effort to bring together the US, the Wampanoag Nation, the UK, and the Netherlands to reconsider the history and to commemorate the experiences of the participants and their descendants. This organization’s website lists numerous “Virtual Voyages” to significant locations in the Pilgrims’ story: the UK port of Plymouth, other cities in England, and Leiden in the Netherlands. There are also biographies and personal perspectives in the “My Mayflower” videos. One is about The Man Who Built the Mayflower II; another on the Wampanoag experience, We Are Still Here.
Now, this website contains a lot of video footage. Some of it is corny; some of it is promotional. Many local citizens and experts are interviewed. Yet, it’s still worth a look. The participants seem genuinely committed to remembering, reflecting, and applying their insights to a better future. And, the videos give life to the significant places of this story.
The Mayflower II, the replica completed in 1957, has undergone a major restoration at Mystic Seaport, with nearly 75% of its timbers replaced. This brief segment of Weekends with Yankee describes the work through an interview with the marine preservationist who coordinated the effort. Once completed, the ship headed home -- with some celebrations along the way! Take a look at the Mayflower Homecoming Livestream videos which capture some disconcerting juxtapositions of the historic and modern, such as this image of the Mayflower passing beneath Sagamore Bridge.
It’s time for a walk in the park . . . not just any park, but New York City’s heavily visited and highly influential Central Park. From the start of its construction in 1857, Central Park’s size, style, and goals set it apart. Its 843 acres were intended to provide relief from the stresses of urban life and, at the same time, to encourage the city’s diverse residents to mingle in a common space. One of its designers, Calvert Vaux, described the undertaking as “translating democratic ideas into trees and dirt.” Vaux and his co-designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, guided the transformation of the property into a pastoral landscape replete with rolling meadows, water features, woodlands, and structured gathering places. The seemingly natural appearance of the park was, of course, an artistic creation: trees and soil were imported, dams created tranquil ponds, and explosives reshaped the land.
The virtual walk that I offer today is guided by the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit that has been managing the park since 1998 and has been responsible for significant restorations. Our tour begins at West 72nd Street and moves east across the park. It highlights ten features along the way, each of which is interpreted by the guide’s pre-recorded audio, by panoramic views, and by a collection of photos of the given location.
As with all virtual tours, you will have a better experience if you explore a bit.
The complete list of features can be found by hovering over the left side of the screen.
Clicking on the arrows at the base of each location simulates walking to the next attraction.
This simple but effective tour includes history, significant features, and some info on the plantings, architecture, artistry, and materials.The pre-restoration photos are particularly impressive. If I hadn’t visited the city prior to these improvements, it would be hard to imagine the transformation.
If you’re still curious, here are a few links to related topics. Seneca Village: African Americans in early New York is a short YouTube video that explores the history of free Blacks who were evicted when the park land was taken by eminent domaine.
I’d also recommend New York: A Documentary Film, a production of the American Experience series which was directed by Ric Burns. Episode 2 includes a 15-minute segment on the development of Central Park. This title is available through the SAILS network or through the library’s free Hoopla app.
Lastly, take a look at the PBS dvd, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America for some background on this pioneering landscape architect.
This form of correspondence, which evolved gradually throughout the 19th century, reached its height of popularity in America during the period from 1905 to 1915 when a variety of factors -- technological, artistic, economic, and cultural -- converged to support a veritable postcard craze. While it may be difficult to imagine now, there was an era when postcards were “the text messages of their time” -- inexpensive to purchase and to mail; quick to write and send. They were used for daily communications, advertising, recording events, and as souvenirs and collectibles. This brief history nicely summarizes the postcard’s rise in popularity, its golden era, and its decline.
It has been a while since I’ve written and mailed a postcard while traveling, though I sometimes purchase them as fine photographs or as stationery to mail at a later date. I can’t deny that they are fun to give and to receive. It would have been interesting to look back on those I’ve received through the years but, alas, I didn’t recognize their value at the time.
In the article, “Are Postcards Obsolete?”, a Washington Post contributor compares the experience of receiving a postcard vs. an image shared via social media. What stands out to me is the way the postcard duplicates the experience of the traveler: it makes a physical journey from a distant place (recorded in its postmark) and is somewhat altered by the trip. In 1894, a London journalist remarked that the postcard “has secretly delivered us from the toil of letter-writing.” * Ironically, we now look to digital communication to relieve us from the toil of postcards!
While the usage of postcards has changed -- with fewer printed, sold, and mailed -- interest has by no means disappeared. Consider Postcrossing, a website that enables members to “to send and receive postcards from all over the world!” With a membership of 794,567 from 206 countries, the site is booming.
And, let’s not forget collectors. One place to shop for vintage postcards is CardCow which, according to their website, has over 600,000 items available in every category imaginable. Here you will find thousands of hotels, restaurants, views of US states and towns, and scenes from foreign countries. You can also find more specialized topics like mosquitoes, barbers, and oil wells. Like all antiques, prices depend on rarity, condition, artistic quality, and demand, but many are available for $15 or less.
So buy (or make) a postcard to celebrate World Postcard Day which is coming up soon on October 1. Then, of course, you’ll need a stamp. You can learn all about those at the National Postal Museum. Yes, there really is such a place. It is part of the Smithsonian and normally open to the public. In the meantime, check out its virtual exhibits of stamps, postal tools, and historic photographs.
Wish you were here!
Many travel articles spotlight where to go and how to get there. Maybe what to bring and what it will cost. Today’s Travel Tuesdays concentrates on the how and why by examining the magazine, AFAR. I was, until recently, unfamiliar with this publication which was launched in 2009 with a focus on experiential travel. Like similar resources, the magazine’s website offers travel guides to destinations around the world, tips and news, and an “Inspiration” section. But there’s a difference, one that can be found in its weekly “Travel Tales from AFAR” podcasts. These are “stories from people who took a trip -- and came home transformed.” Let’s consider two examples.
First, listen to the award-winning story, A Blind Man’s Trip Will Change the Way You Think About Safaris. Journalist, Ryan Knighton, arrives at Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve wondering how he can derive meaningful experience from an activity that prioritizes vision through animal sightings and photography. But the author is open minded and is blessed with a guide who is as well. Safari guide, Alan, is committed to providing his visually-impaired guest (and all his guests) with a richer experience and deeper understanding of the region’s ecology. By the time Ryan leaves Africa, his “mind’s-eye image of where we were grew clearer and clearer, and more alive, than ever before.” By developing “a way of guiding that begins with the animal’s own sensory experience,” Alan enriches the safari experience for all travelers and does justice to the world he interprets. His approach is not kindness shown to a “handicapped” person; he respects Ryan’s abilities and incorporates them into the trip. Alan’s teaching style “effectively communicates the reality that everything around us is a living, working system of taste and tactile strategy for survival, not just a view.”
Photo by Cait Opperman
The podcast is 14 minutes long. I would recommend reading the online, illustrated article as well. And, if you’re curious about the African wild dogs that Ryan describes, here’s a short video for you.
I can relate to this article because experiential education, including an emphasis on sensory experience, was an integral part of my years as an environmental educator. Perhaps more importantly, the author is challenging the view of travel as commodity: destinations aren’t just scenery; local people and wildlife aren’t entertainments.
Another podcast episode, The Incredibly True Story of Renting a Friend in Tokyo, undermines expectations in a similar fashion. When traveler Chris Colin arrives in Japan, he speculates that the rent-a-friend business will be another expression of “Japanese wackiness,” a fad, an entrepreneurial lark. He proceeds to hire three professional friends by the hour through an agency that usually serves local clients. These people, he discovers, believe in the value of their work and are skilled at their jobs. They help him navigate an unfamiliar city and offer insights into their culture and the nature of friendship itself. Their typical clients “just want basic, uncomplicated companionship” which might not come easily to those lacking social skills, or who have become too dependent on technology, or who are reluctant to let down their guard in the company of familiars. Free of the stresses and doubts of long-term friendship, the author found himself able “to focus on just having a nice time, on connecting in that very moment.”
Photo by Landon Nordeman
This 23-minute podcast can also be appreciated in written form.
If you have liked these “Travel Tales by AFAR,” you can subscribe to the weekly podcasts. Seven episodes have been released thus far. Be aware that the podcasts include brief ads for the series’ sponsor.
Travel writing often emphasizes the discovery of new places, cultures, and perhaps value systems. These podcasts and their companion articles encourage a kind of self discovery within a world of others. They urge us, as the publishers do, to “step outside of the familiar.”
State Route 1 is over 600 miles long, running from the town of Legget in Northern California’s redwood country to Dana Point, a little north of San Clemente. Some sections have been given different names (Pacific Coast Highway, Cabrillo Highway, and Coast Highway), and some sections merge with other roads. This matters little to me. There is a road that hugs the west coast including most of California and Oregon and parts of Washington . . . and the segments that I’ve seen are glorious! Read this brief article by the publishers of Moon Travel Guides to get an overview.
The route was built piecemeal starting in the early 20th century and gained momentum during the Great Depression. Everyone has a favorite itinerary: north to south; south to north; Seattle to southern California; SF to LA -- and favorite stops. For a taste of the numerous possibilities, take a look at this piece in National Geographic.
I must say that I’m amazed when some travelers describe their trip in hours! The sections that I’ve superficially explored (Mendocino thru southern Big Sur) have absorbed weeks. Then again, motion sickness does lessen the appeal of non-stop drives for me, especially on windy roads. If you have more time, linger and explore . . . restaurants and vineyards, amusement parks and roadside attractions, museums and aquaria, surf shops, mansions, Spanish missions, hiking trails, wildlife, artist colonies, and magnificent beaches.
Spectacular beaches west of the route . . .
. . . redwood forest east of the road
To experience the journey from a driver’s perspective, watch Freeway Jim’s video highlights of his drive along Big Sur. The winding road, sea cliffs, summery music, and forward motion convey feelings of freedom and discovery; you can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. If the condensed pace is a little too frenetic, you can adjust the playback speed to .75 in YouTube’s setting wheel.
For a wider perspective, try this 4K drone video of the same area. This clear aerial video captures the drama and loveliness of the Big Sur area: it’s hills, beaches, sea stacks, and the roadway weaving along them.
If you are planning a drive on California Route 1, check road conditions in advance. Erosion and mudslides necessitate frequent road work. In 2017, heavy rains caused landslides that undermined the Pfeiffer bridge north of Big Sur and buried a segment further south at Mud Creek. Some areas were cut off for 14 months.* The scale of damage can be seen below in this 2017 image from Google Street View. Repairs caused only minor delays in fall 2019 when I traveled to Big Sur.
It may be a difficult and expensive road to maintain, but what a treasure.
*Thanks to articles on SFGate and KQED
Flow Country stretches across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland (Credit: Eleanor Bentall)
Until last week, I had never heard of this place, but through the years I have sought out bogs in my travels. Indeed, I’ve traveled just to see bogs! Yes, now you know the truth.
My first encounter was at Norwell, Massachusetts’ delightful Black Pond bog, a classic kettle hole formation with concentric rings of vegetation. Then there was Hawley bog in Western Massachusetts and the coastal bogs of Maine. And, on a grander scale, there were peatlands along Alaska’s Denali Highway.
Each place supports an interesting plant and animal community: some have insectivorous plants like sundews; others have dazzling orchids. Berry-producing plants thrive: cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, broom crowberry, and even baked-apple berry! And, of course, there’s moss -- lots of sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum capillifolium, small red peat moss
The starkly beautiful terrain of the Flow Country supports species such as wispy Cotton Grass, the Red Deer, and the Eurasian Curlew with its outrageously long bill.
A fine introduction to Flow Country can be found in this BBC Travel article which summarizes the ecology and human history of the region.
Gaelic-speaking people inhabited this area for thousands of years, their populations declining when small tenant farmers were forced off the land in order to establish more profitable sheep ranches. The region continues to be sparsely populated.
Worldwide there has been widespread abuse of bog ecosystems, from massive peat extraction projects to “conversion” projects like tree plantations which disturb the soil, the flow of water, and the dependent species. But this outlook appears to be changing as people discover the remarkable ability of peatlands to store carbon. Sizable chunks of the Flow Country have been preserved for conservation and as a carbon sink to offset climate change.
But so much for words! To get a real feel for the region, watch this video. If time is short, try the “The Flow Country in 5 Minutes.” Both are found at The Flow Country, a highly informative website that includes resources for teachers, conservationists, and tourists. Travelers will find boardwalks, bike trails, visitor centers, and local accommodations.
Until a flight to Europe is possible, you might visit Ponkapoag Bog in Blue Hills Reservation. While this property doesn’t possess the openness and panoramic sweep of larger peatlands, it will introduce you to some of the species that prefer acidic wet conditions.
Completed in 1908, Unity Temple is constructed of reinforced concrete, an innovative material for a public building of that era. The substantial, windowless ground level reduces street noise. To compensate for the lack of first floor windows and views, Wright flooded the upper reaches of the church with stained glass skylights and a clerestory, and chose a sunny yellow for the interior walls.
You will find more videos of Wright’s architecture at the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation website and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. You might also enjoy the 3D tours of Taliesin West and Los Angeles’ Hollyhock House.
Helpful tip: unmute the sound on these videos to hear the experts’ narration. Also, you’ll need to poke around the 3D excursions to utilize the highlights, narration, and 360 degree views.
We begin our descent to the Emerald Pools during our Tongariro Crossing journey.
It’s a strenuous trip through alpine scenery, old lava fields and steam, not to mention all manner of weather in one epic 6-8 hour journey.
This journey is not for the faint hearted.
My daughter and I made the trek during a January 2017 trip to New Zealand. Of all the hiking my daughter and I have done, this one is a favorite for both of us.
My daughter, Kelly, as we climb one of the many steep sections of the trek.
Getting up as the sun is peeking above the horizon means a pretty chilly morning, even in the summer. Layering clothes on and off seemed normal after the first hour. Dealing with wind, scree, hiking poles and pushing ourselves to keep going to meet our ride back to our hostel on the other side were all part of the experience.
Looking back at the distance we have covered since we set out at 6:30 a.m.
Waking up for a 6:00 a.m. pick up may not sound like a vacation to you. Oh, but the payoff. Other worldly scenery and unbelievable views will more than make up for the early rise. There are plenty of other days to sleep in but not today. The call of these mountains will draw you to the crossing.
One of the many amazing views along the Tongariro Crossing
Planning to hike Tongariro Crossing? Watch this video by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council for help with your plans.
Click here for the history of the park and the Ngāti Tuwharetoa tribe’s involvement with preserving the area.
Vue Generale de la vieille ville de Chinguetti en Mauritanie
Next, let’s consider the chained library in Hereford Cathedral, England. In this library, the front covers of the books are attached to their bookcases via a chain. The reader would sit at a desk in front of the chained book. Much of the Hereford collection dates back to the 12th century, with some older volumes. Hand-written and -bound, these irreplaceable manuscripts predated the printing press . . . and were extremely valuable. Medieval libraries needed to balance the accessibility of their collections with effective security. Hence, the chains. As books became less costly to produce, chained libraries all but disappeared.
Chained library in Hereford, England: medievalfragments.wordpress.com
These short films are part of the BBC’s “Incredible Libraries” playlist which includes several more remarkable “institutions.” Let’s end with a contemporary library in the Philippines, where one man, Nanie Guanlao, transformed his home into a place where local children and discarded books connect -- 24 hours per day! From a modest beginning, his library now overflows with donations that supply a mobile school that offers outreach to rural towns.
Don’t be put off by the technical language describing climbs at the beginning of the article, or by the scary photo on slide #2 showing a fellow dangling off the cliff. Overall, the text and images are accessible to a general audience and offer a nice overview of the mountain and its people: geology, weather, animals, plants, equipment, views, history, safety, etc. Chart the progress of your “climb” with the inset map and the elevation and distance icons on the bottom left.
And, in some situations, the home is the work of art. Henry Chapman Mercer - archaeologist, collector of artifacts, ceramicist - designed and constructed his totally unique, concrete Fonthill Castle . . . then adorned it with thousands of tiles of his own creation.
As a group, the studios enrich our understanding of the individual artists, the process of transforming ideas into art, the working conditions, and the historical and cultural environments.
Each of these sites is part of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, a coalition of 44 independent museums “that have come together to celebrate and investigate creativity.” The museums, which range across the country, preserve the studios of well-known artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Frederic Church, as well as those of less-familiar artists like sculptor, Elisabet Ney.
Nearby, one can visit Chesterwood in Stockbridge, MA or the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish NH. That is, one can currently visit the grounds. Many of the buildings remain closed until health conditions improve. Until that time, you can expand your interest by reading the newly-published Guide to Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios by Valerie Balint, available as a downloadable book through the library’s Hoopla app.
Few forms of media capture the grandeur of a place better than aerial photography, especially high-quality, 360 degree panoramas. And that is exactly the mission of AirPano, a team of Russian photographers who utilize drones, helicopters, and other “flying machines” to document wonders around the globe. Their subjects, which span all continents, include cultural sites and celebrations as well as spectacular natural areas. Some are familiar; others less so such as this video of the Uzon Caldera in Kamchatka. The Kamchatka peninsula is a remote, wild area in eastern Russia that is renowned for its volcanoes, rivers, snowfall, and wildlife -- especially brown bears and salmon.
AirPano has a number of videos of this area (a commission of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve) including some fine footage of “The Land of Bears.” But these folks get around. In fact, they publish a new 360° video every 10 days. So if you’d like an overview of Petra or Victoria Falls or some other place before your trip, take a look at their selection.
Note: these are short videos, averaging 5 minutes in length. You have the time!
Along with videos, AirPano publishes thousands of 360° photos such as this image of the lovely Detian Falls, on the China/Vietnam border. Just remember that you can rotate these views with your mouse or keyboard.
Chronicle produced a nice 4 ½ minute overview of the Bay Circuit project. Next, explore a brand new “story map” called Welcome to the Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway. This is a virtual tour created by the Appalachian Mountain Club with tabs for history, nature, indigenous experience and stewardship. It’s one of those elegant presentations (based on ArcGIS) that combine, maps, photos, text and multimedia.
If you want to see the trail as a walker experiences it, try the YouTube videos by Chris Rich. Each one shows a section of the trail, along with some laid-back commentary. Here’s a clip from the Hockomock.
The Bowery Boys is available through many podcast services but, if you start at their website, you’ll also be able to access the companion blog that augments each topic with text and archival photos. Be warned: once an episode whets your curiosity, you might be hooked.
Two technical details to note: one must click on the title of each episode to see both the blog and the podcast; and, upon clicking the podcast, wait a moment for the recording to begin.
Next, let’s tour the otherworldly Borobudur Temple, in Java, Indonesia. This famous Buddhist temple built in the 8th and 9th centuries was rediscovered in the early 1800s after centuries of abandonment. Cleared of vegetation, excavated, and renovated, the temple can now be seen as a three-tiered structure that reflects the stages of Buddhist cosmology. Google Earth’s directional arrows and 360 views allow the virtual visitor to walk the terraces, descend stairways, and view the stories communicated through the extensive low reliefs. Find a quiet corner, pause at a Buddha statue enclosed in a stupa, and absorb the misty mountain setting.
If you enjoyed these “trips,” be sure to visit UNESCO’s website for complete descriptions of each of its 1121 properties, along with maps, photo galleries, and videos.
The first is a “Train Journey to the Norwegian Arctic Circle” on the Nordland rail line. Savor the beautiful countryside, small villages, and snow-covered evergreens -- from the unimpeded view of the train’s cab.
If you’re not fond of snow, try an adventure on the Ferrocarril Central Andino, the world’s second highest railway, running from Lima into the central Andes. This 19th century engineering marvel offers tunnels, bridges, deep river gorges, sheer cliffs, and thrills. There’s a station at 15,673 feet above sea level, and, according to a Fodor’s review, oxygen is available for passengers with elevation sickness!
The videographer split the adventure into four sessions, each running less than one hour. Part 3 ends with this scene.
I was particularly taken with A Glimpse Inside the Secluded World of A Georgian Convent, which vividly portrays an unfamiliar place and set of people. Set on a stark, high-elevation plateau, the Phoka Nunnery looks like an archaeological site. Yet it houses a small group of determined women whose hard work is benefiting the local Armenian population. Both highly-educated and down-to-earth, they have restored the church, started a school, created a cheese-making business, and revived local handicrafts. The photographer’s fine black-and-white images are otherworldly.
And, then, there is Reveling in the Enigmatic Beauty of Easter Island which portrays the moai, the ancient statues for which the island is famous. The photojournalist, to his credit, also observes the local population and the impacts of tourism.
Here’s a link to five more essays in the series.
Or, for pure over-the-top extravagance, visit Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai where Islamic architectural motifs meet theme park entertainment. Here you will find waterslides, palm trees, light shows, ziplining, celebrity chefs, and underwater suites!
Like any good explorer, you will need to poke around: click on the “bubble” symbols to move to the next topic, click on the circular “speaker” to hear the narration, and don’t skip the extra photos and video clips available for your pleasure. Like other Google Earth experiences, this tour provides a 360-degree view simply by dragging your cursor. Now that’s not nearly as strenuous as donning a harness and descending by rope!
Then, watch this very atmospheric short on The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island. This preserve for tropical plants began as a restoration project undertaken by one determined man with vision. Savor his “garden in a valley on the ocean.” Who can resist a tree fern?
This week’s Travel Tuesday suggestion requires thought: yes, let’s keep those brain cells working! GeoGuessr is a game that tests your knowledge of geography and your memory. For each round of play, you are shown a “street view” of a particular location. Your job is to discern where this location is and to pin a map with your guess. The closer your guess is to the correct answer, the more points you earn. It’s not easy.
One can choose to play “World,” “US,” “Famous Places,” “Ghost Towns,” “Where’s that McDonald’s?” and many more.
You do need “sign up” for a free account which lets you play one five-question round per day. If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can purchase the “Pro” option for $2/month.
For years, I’ve played my own version of this game: guess the location of scenic calendar photos. GeoGuessr is more challenging and really interesting because it requires very close observation. This ability to notice small details will make all future travel more rewarding when we can, once again, explore the world.
Their new fynbos exhibit highlights these endangered (and very cute) birds that live south of Capetown. They are active and gregarious which makes for lively viewing. The zoo’s website provides good information in the “learn more about” section.
Next, take a virtual safari at Tembe Elephant Park, a wildlife reserve near the border of Mozambique. This morning, an elephant, giraffe, and birds were at the watering hole. And, the camera rolls day and night. Just remember to account for the time difference.
This time let’s try some indoor entertainment: visiting some of the world’s best museums. Start with “10 Top Museums You Can Explore Right Here Right Now.”
With the help of Google street view, savor Dutch masterpieces at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Or see this dazzling installation at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art:
Or, perhaps, visit the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, whose distinctive building floats above ground and whose prestigious collection appears to hover in mid air:
And, if that’s not enough to quench your thirst for fine art, Google Arts & Culture provides tours of 1,200 other international museums -- slide shows, interpreted exhibits, and more.
‘Til next week, happy travels!
Check out the photos below of Wind Cave National Park, courtesy of our own intrepid traveler, Lorraine Rubinacci.
‘Til next week, happy travels!