Climbing Concepción Volcano

Some evenings, when sleep is slow to come, I watch the show Naked and Afraid.  If you aren’t familiar with the show’s premise, it pairs up an adventurous man and woman who have never met before and drops them off into the hostile wilderness for 21 days.  They are removed of clothes and personal belongings and left to fend for themselves.  There is, of course, an element of phoniness to the whole thing, as medics and camera crewmen are never more than a few steps away.  Still, the editing, which focuses largely on the snakes (vegetarians, avert your eyes) they often eat and on the ruggedness of the terrain, makes for a thrilling hour of reality television.

A recent episode found the protagonists in a rural swatch of Nicaraguan jungle.  Humidity was in the high double digits and there was an even larger presence of venomous snakes than normal, but of course our heroes survived their ordeal, dirtier and skinnier but with otherwise little worse for wear.  The episode reminded me of my recent trip to Nicaragua, a country about which I have not written nearly enough aside from a single photo gallery in late January.  In particular, watching the participants navigate steep slopes and contend with ankle-twisting tree root “stairs” recalled the vigorous 12 January hours during which time I successfully climbed Concepción, at 5,282 feet/1,610 meters the country’s second-highest volcano.

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Why I Hostel

For more than 15 years, I’ve been staying in hostels during my travels.  While this has saved me a small fortune and enabled me to travel longer, it still raises a few eyebrows when I mention my fondness for hostels to my armchair traveler friends back home.  Methinks they envision a dirty, flea-ridden “truck stop” for backpackers, or a den of vice and sleaze, or, worse yet, a place of abduction and murder, courtesy of Eli Roth’s Hostel.  Perhaps a combination of all three?

As a point of fact, hostels are budget-friendly gathering places for like-minded individuals, couples, and families.  Many of my fondest travel memories stem not from the sights I came to see but from the Jugendherberges in which I hung my hat for a night or two or three.

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Top Ten Mid-Sized European Cities

For a blog that is largely about travel, I have written surprisingly little about Europe.  And yet, with the exception of a few Baltic and Balkan states, and such tiny, hard-to-reach republics as Andorra and San Marino, I’ve been almost everywhere on the continent.  I have decided to share more stories from that corner of the globe.

In many ways, my favorite European cities are those places that are large enough to have decent nightlife and restaurants, a good network of hostels, and a few days’ worth of sightseeing…but not so big as to be overwhelming.  Fewer than one million residents, let’s say.  Not every city on the list below fits all of the aforementioned categories; Venice, for one, had just two hostels at the time of my visit, and the city went to bed early.  Nuremberg, for that matter, had just one hostel.  Of course, both cities had – have – restaurants and museums aplenty, and atmosphere to spare.

I look forward to continuing the series.  Meanwhile, here are my Top Ten Mid-Sized European Cities:

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Photo Locale of the Month – July 2017

Russia has been in the news a lot lately, and for all of the wrong reasons.  From allegations of influence in the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election to questionable political alliances (read: the supposed selling of arms to Syria and North Korea) to nauseous partisan bickering over which U.S. leader has a better grasp on U.S.-Russia relations, all media attention on Europe’s largest country portrays it as a political dinosaur still fighting the Cold War.

While the country’s visa hassles only serve to reinforce this negative image, patient travelers who actually make the long journey to Russia will find a surplus of absorbing experiences to behold.  Visiting Red Square in Moscow, for five decades one of the most intimidating places in the world, is one such experience…and a photographer’s delight.

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(And Still Another) Ten Good Stephen King Books (#41-50)

It is mid-July as I write this, and summer is in full swing.  What better author for summertime beach reading than Stephen King?  The prolific Maine writer of more than 70 novels, hundreds of short stories, several screenplays, and even a few non-fiction pieces has no shortage of material from which to choose.

There are several different types of King books – genres within genres.  Take his short stories.  These range anywhere from 5 pages to 50, let’s say.  Most are all-out horror, but not all have “horrifying” endings.  Or novels.  Some, like The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, are just over 200 pages, while others – The Stand: For the First Time Complete & Uncut – exceed the 1,000 page mark.  Some, like Pet Sematary, are quick-turning and gory.  Others, such as the terrific 11/22/63, are dense and thought-provoking.

The list you are about to read includes a good variety of King works.  His first published novel, Carrie, makes the cut, as does his most recent collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  The first volume of his massive Dark Tower mega-novel, The Gunslinger, is on here, as is his personal favorite piece of his own writing, Lisey’s Story.  Of these, my favorites are listed in rank order, as decided by my admittedly-amateur entertainment critic-self.

So with that, here are (still) another ten good Stephen King books:

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The Walkability of Mexico City

You probably know that the entirety of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico is walkable, with a concrete grid of sidewalks connecting every inch of the city’s storied, teeming humanity between Lázaro Cárdenas (Eje Central) in the west, Anillo de Circunvalación in the east, Granaditas (Eje 1 Norte) in the north, and José María Izazaga in the south.  If that isn’t enough, no fewer than 10 metro stations, one metrobús route, and a cable-powered trolebús (not to mention countless peseros) pass through those same storied streets, ferrying commuters hither and yon.

Wider, better-maintained sidewalks link the Centro Histórico with the city’s green lung, Bosque de Chapultepec, via Palacio de Bellas Artes and Paseo de Reforma, the city’s grandest thoroughfare.  Plans are underway to build a seventh metrobús line that will supposedly run along Reforma, but since public transportation improvements move at a caracol’s pace in CDMX, I will believe it when I see it.

My casual stroll this past March along the Ferrocarril de Cuernavaca, a railway line-turned-walking and cycling path, prompted me to wax further nostalgic about the walkability of Mexico City in general…not just in the aforementioned city center area, but in outlying sections of the city as well.  Traffic congestion has become such a problem that a recent CNN Money article named the city as having the second-worst traffic on the planet!  To me, any chance to walk, rather than drive, is a welcome one.

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Top Ten Large European Cities

Europe has been on my mind lately.  I haven’t visited the continent since 2012, so it could be that I simply miss the place.  Or it could be that recent late night TV airings of Skyfall and Midnight in Paris have left me nostalgic for my wandering days.

I immediately started thinking of some favorite places in Europe.  A few, like the Bernese Oberland of alpine Switzerland, are pleasantly rural.  Most, however, are either specific sights in specific cities…or the cities themselves.

Europe is blessed with dozens of cities and towns worth visiting.  I have decided to share my favorites with you in a series of top ten lists.  I am dividing my rankings into three separate lists.  First, large cities – cities with over 1,000,000 residents.  Next, mid-sized cities – let’s say 50,000 – 1,000,000.  Finally, small cities and towns – any community with fewer than 50,000 people.

Here are my Top Ten Large European Cities:

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Tennessee Hiking

Summer in Tennessee is normally too hot for hiking, but these past few weeks have seen temperatures perfect for enjoying the great outdoors.  Additionally, rainfall for the year has been well above average, so that means that Tennessee’s lakes are full and its waterfalls are raging.

I have tried to take advantage of every free day to get out and about.  Here are a few Tennessee hiking destinations from recent excursions worth mentioning:

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Another 25 Things about Me that You Might Not Know

Last week I stumbled upon a post of mine from 2014 entitled “25 (More) Things about Me that You Might Not Know.”  I gave it – and the original post from the year before – a fresh read, and decided that this blog needs another post on the same topic.  After all, a lot (or not much at all, depending on your outlook) has happened since 2014.  Oh, one more thing: I’m keeping politics out of it!

Another 25 Things about Me:

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Top Ten Cuba

Cuba has been in the news these past few days following an announcement from the Trump White House that U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba will be rolled back to pre-Obama levels.  This saddens me, although I should clarify that Cuba was never fully open to Americans, anyway.  For one thing, American credit and debit cards still do not work in Cuba.  For another thing, travel requires a reciprocal visa and is supposed to fall into one of 12 categories (click here for more information, and check back often, as policies are subject to change).

This is all too bad.  Cuba is not our enemy, and nor is its leader, Raúl Castro, who took over for his more notorious brother roughly ten years ago.  But Raúl has promised to step down in 2018, so who knows what the future brings?

I love Cuba, and it takes at least two hands to count off the number of things I like about the country.  Below, after much nostalgic deliberation, is my Cuba top ten:

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