Four Days in Kaintuck

Ever since I moved to East Tennessee four years ago, I had it on my radar to check out Mammoth Cave National Park, three hours to the west and just 30 miles north of the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. I had long known that the cave system includes the largest-mapped single cave in the world, famous not only for its size but also for such geological features as Frozen Niagara. What I didn’t know was that the national park that manages the cave also includes over 80 miles of hiking trails, dotted with sinkholes and natural springs and rich in native wildlife.

I discovered this first hand six weeks ago.

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Comparing the “Mission: Impossible” films

Seven days into the theatrical release of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” the summer sequel and Paramount Pictures tent-pole is a certified hit. The Friday-Sunday opening release garnered $61.5 million in domestic ticket sales, a series-best and career second-best for star and producer Tom Cruise. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an “A” rating, and critics have almost universally praised it as well. With so much goodwill surrounding the film, it seems hard to believe that Cruise was almost written out of the series after the third film, released in 2006, was considered something of a box office disappointment.

But even though his Hollywood star doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it did in the 1980’s and 90’s, his “M:I” movies now seem bomb-proof, with three mega-hits in a row, starting with the 2011 sorta-soft reboot, “Ghost Protocol.” And to his credit, he brings 200% commitment to whichever film he is shooting, even cinematic turkeys like “Jack Reacher” and “Rock of Ages.” (Well, maybe not to “The Mummy,” but the less said about that film, the better.)

Does “Fallout” live up to the hype? More on this several paragraphs down, but in a word: Yes. And as we near the second weekend of domestic release for the latest “Mission: Impossible” film, I thought I’d wax critical about the series as a whole. Oh, and you’ve been warned: There may be SPOILERS.

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Photo Locale of the Month – July 2018

July is a terrific month for visiting Scandinavia. For one thing, the long daylight hours mean that sidewalk cafes and public squares bustle as late as 9 p.m. or even later. For another thing, kids are off school, so museums aren’t mobbed with the usual field trip crowds. For another thing still, the weather is quite pleasant in mid-summer, so it makes it easy for those of us who do not hail from there to see why countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Finland rank so high on quality-of-life meters.

Take Finland. I had a chance to visit that country’s capital, Helsinki, on part of a much longer trip in 2009 that also included time spent in South Africa, Greece, and Russia. It was early July when I arrived, and except for one rainy day, I had mostly sunny skies and long afternoons rife for exploring at a time of year when the sky didn’t grow dark until 11 p.m. One day even found me taking a dip in the Baltic Sea! (Please don’t try that at home, Loyal Reader.) The highlight was taking a ferry past some of the city’s outlying Susiluodot Islands to its fortress and museum complex of Suomenlinna.

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A Friday in Johnson City

In the four (so far) years that I’ve lived in Tennessee, and over countless holiday visits prior to my having established permanent residency here, I’ve managed to explore quite a bit of the Volunteer State, from the Delta blues history of Memphis in the west to the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains in the east. One corner of the state that I have, for the most part, overlooked – and for no real reason – is the “Tri-Cities” corner of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City.

I am actively working on changing that.

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People around the World: The Americas

Over the past several months, I have shared a series of portraits – staged and unstaged – of people from various ports of call around the world. The last three entries focused on the Eastern Hemisphere, broken down as Africa, Asia, and Europe. For today’s entry, I thought I’d “cross the pond” to North, Central, and South America.

I hope you enjoy the photos in this latest entry in the series, as well as the stories behind them. 🙂

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Photo Locale of the Month – June 2018

China has been in the news a lot recently – and for all the wrong reasons. It seems that China’s current premier, Xi Jinping, continuing the efforts of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, to bring the country into the 21st century, has enraged the U.S.’s own orange Cheeto, one Donald J. Trump, with his bullying stance on trade. Not only that, it has long been suspected that China has sold weapons to dictators like Kim Jong-un and Bashir al-Assad, further infuriating his pompous orangeness.

But forget that for a moment. China, already an old nation when Greece was in its infancy, is a treasure trove of history and sightseeing riches – never moreso than in its ever-changing capital, Beijing, home to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

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Greece is the Word

I have been doing my Photo Locale of the Month feature (click here for the latest entry on the subject) for three-and-a-half years now, and sharing general travel memories via this blog since November, 2012. Yet somehow, I barely even mentioned anything about Greece, or the three wonderful weeks I spent there in 2009.

I took a gander through my Greece photo galleries – Athens, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Olympia, and Delphi (in that order) – and was delighted to “rediscover” the birthplace of olives and the Olympic games, of grape leaves and ouzo, of crumbling amphitheaters and restored Minoan palaces, and of azure Aegean waters and the stunning Samaria Gorge.

A few of the photos were of people, places, and experiences I had long forgotten about. Talking about “the American situation” with a stumblebum in an Athens park (who then asked me to buy him a drink). Getting lost on the way back to my hostel from Lykavitos Hill (where I had gone to watch the sunset). Taking a boat ride to hot springs off the coast of Santorini, only to learn that said springs were a half-mile swim from the boat and that I had to jump overboard to even attempt the trip (and to find that the springs were barely lukewarm, let along hot).

Greece doesn’t get as many tourists as other Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, and Spain. According to the World Tourism Organization, even Turkey received more international tourists than Greece in 2016!

But while I love Paris, Florence, Barcelona, and Istanbul as much as the next person, there is something special about Greece. From its bustling cities to its sleepy villages to its pristine beaches to its craggy peaks, “Greece” is the word this summer.

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Botanical Gardens around the World

Last weekend I visited, for the first time, the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum. The nursery-turned-gardens, sloping up a hillside southeast of downtown Knoxville, span 47 acres and offer views of the distant Great Smoky Mountains.

As botanical gardens go, these are by no means best-in-class, or even best-in-state. They have plenty of trees, but few flowers. The lone drinking fountain on the grounds was still not turned on for the season, even though temperatures were in the mid-80’s. The site’s much-photographed Big Red Adirondack Chair, pictured below, needed a coat of paint.

Still, it was free, the view was lovely, and I had the place more or less to myself. I would like to return in the spring, when the neighborhood’s pink dogwood trees are in flowery bloom. In the meantime, here, in alphabetical order, are a few of my favorite botanical gardens from around the world:

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People around the World: Europe

This third post in a series, following entries on Africa and Asia, takes us to Europe, which, with or without Russia and Turkey, is the sixth-largest continent in terms of geographic size and the third-largest in terms of population.

I hope you enjoy the photos below. Leave a comment about which picture is your favorite…and thanks!

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Photo Locale of the Month – May 2018

A common theme of my monthly photo locale features is the concept of time. Namely, where has it gone? Of course, I haven’t traveled much these past few years, a reality that I hope to change as my salary grows.

With that in mind, it hardly seems possible that nine years have passed since my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa, during which time I took a whirlwind “taster” trip to several countries in the region including Botswana, home of the unforgettable Okavango Delta, and South Africa, home of the granddaddy of game parks, Kruger National Park.

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